Novel


Amtrak writing writer residency

On offer: The chance to ride the rails and write about it.

How many of you would like to engage the creative process while never having to consider acquiring life’s annoying essentials, like food and shelter.

If so, there may be a few opportunities for you (and me).

The news stories I link to today not only engage the artist in most of us; they also are perfectly matched to Change of Venue Friday, that casual day when no one really wants to read about the new rules of arbitration (or whatever else is cooking in the legal profession).

So I invite you to kick back and enjoy a vision of yourself as an artiste, accompanied by your own financial backers.

The first story is one you may have seen: Amtrak is looking for writers. That’s right; your benevolent backer would be none other than America’s passenger-railway system.

Here is a news story that explains Amtrak’s plan to plop writers into a cozy berth from which they will trip the light linguistic.

If you’re ready to board that train, here is a link to Amtrak’s own blog, where you can get more information and complete their application. And yes, there is a dining and adult-beverage car (we are writers, are we not?).

(And for you attorneys still hesitant about blogging: Amtrak is blogging, which is the sound of you officially becoming a super-late-adopter.)

Here’s the serious skinny:

“Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.”

“Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.”

Sign me up! (And yes, that means I’m applying.)

If a less rollicking journey is what your writing arm requires, consider Detroit. That’s where a nonprofit called Write a House is creating a unique “writer’s residency.”

As this news story explains, the organization is repairing vacant and blighted homes to give them to writers.

I was intrigued to see that it was an editor at the marvelous Curbed, the real estate site, who was one of the founders of Write a House. Well, if an editor is involved, it must have been well vetted! (No kidding, we editors have got it goin’ on.)

Pertinent info:

“Write A House will accept applications from working, “low-income” writers in the spring, who will be asked to send writing samples and a letter of intent. The judges include former National Poet Laureate Billy Collins, poet Major Jackson, writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton and editor of the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishing house Sean McDonald. Writers from all over the world, or living just a few miles away, are all encouraged to apply.”

Well, if my Amtrak train makes a stop in Motor City, I’ll stop by your house and we can trade writing stories. In the meantime, let’s apply ourselves!

Have a wonderful—and writerly—weekend.

In the madcap schema that is Change of Venue Friday, today’s story fits like a glove. For today I share something that may be the farthest afield from law practice, and that still involves practicing lawyers.

Today’s topic is … moustaches.

Specifically, it’s about those men who grow moustaches in the month of November, and occasionally raise money during the growth period. And they do all of that in service to medical research.

Confused yet? Let me put it this way: These are the guys who transform November into Movember. Here is how the organizers describe it:

“During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives.”

“Once registered at http://www.movember.com, men start Movember 1st clean shaven. For the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Supported by the women in their lives, Mo Sistas, Movember Mo Bros raise funds by seeking out sponsorship for their Mo-growing efforts.”

“Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health. The funds raised in the US support prostate cancer and testicular cancer initiatives.”

The hair-lipped copy goes on to say that the Mo Bros and Mo Sistas often celebrate with a Movember party at the end of the month.

Local angle? Yes, we’ve got one. It comes to us from those dedicated and occasionally hairy lawyers at Polsinelli Shughart.

I heard from Polsinelli shareholder Leon Silver, who pointed me toward their dedicated team page.

Leon tells me that firm shareholder Brian Flaherty is a cancer survivor and participates every year. But for 2012, they decided to make it an office-wide event. Go to their page to view the leaderboard and read the crazy-comment ticker (which includes photos of the lawyers’ kids with moustaches). Congratulations to all who participated.

Moustaches, huh? I remember three years ago when I spent the better part of November writing a legal novel (a novel!), as part of the national NaNoWriMo effort. Meanwhile, other guys stop shaving for a month and they’re heroes. Whatever, Leon.

Because a terrific event deserves a video, enjoy the following one from Bloomberg Law. In honor of Movember, they feature famous legal faces that were moustachioed.

Have a great—and barbate—weekend.

Who wants to write a novel in November?

Apparently, quite a few people.

In fact, it was two years ago today that I launched my effort to write a legal novel in November 2009. That wild adventure was part of a national movement called National Novel Writing Month. I posted chapters (warts and all) every day on this blog. (Full disclosure: I achieved the required word-count for the novel task, but never felt I had penned a final chapter. Ugh.)

In my novel, I described the exploits of a new law firm whose partner ranks were populated entirely by a unique species: lawyers who had formerly been state supreme court justices. They had anticipated that the firm’s brain-power and power-power would make it irresistible to potential clients. But what they hadn’t counted on was the hard work involved, and the difficulty they would have getting along. And, oh yes, there was an incontinent Corgi named Rufus.

Such the problem.

And now it’s November 1, and I am faced with the question: Do I plunge in again? Do I stay up late and get up early to scribble my required 50,000 words by November 30?

What do you recommend I do? And are any of you taking part? Let me know.

In the meantime, here is the opening of my 2009 novel, titled “The Supremes”:

“Dawn hadn’t yet broken over downtown Phoenix as Bernie Galvez inched his truck toward the parking gate. Much to his disappointment, it remained stubbornly horizontal, as he waved his key card at the sensor over and over. He knew it was still hovering around 85 degrees outside, even in the darkness, so he hesitated to climb out to come up with another solution. But finally he concluded that his vehicle—and all those others starting today at this new business—would be out of luck unless he made a repair.

“Galvez was the office manager of a new law firm launching that day, May 25th. He had been hard at work for three months laying groundwork for Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine. He had overseen the gutting and restoration of space at the Security building, the purchase of furniture, the installation of servers and computers. And today, for the first time, the lawyers and their staff would arrive. For the first time in months, he was using this entrance, the one that would soon be used by everyone on staff.

“The stubborn gate was a bad omen.”

You can read more of it (and the rest of the novel) here.

Shall we get writing?

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Have you ever wondered what it takes to publish a book? An organization guessed that people wondered about that, so they decided to shed some light on the subject.

The group is the Valley of the Sun chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a great group of folks. Their idea was to gather a few published authors, invite folks, and hold the event in a place with great food and drink. So they hosted “From Journalist to Author: Turning Your Beat Into a Book.” Well done!

That is how I came to be at Monti’s La Casa Vieja in Tempe last Friday, October 7. That is a place with a lot of history, and they can mix an excellent martini. Most important, the panel was excellent.

The speakers were Jana Bommersbach, Shanna Hogan and Terry Greene Sterling. Each of them generously shared their thoughts on the highs and lows of book publishing.

One of the first changes you might note about that industry is represented above—every one of these accomplished women has her own website. That and the amount of marketing individual authors are expected to do are striking changes from the past.

This ain’t your grandmother’s publishing industry.

Click through to read more about these writers. Jana is an amazing author (from whom I once took a hilarious and insightful writing class) of the books Bones in the Desert: The True Story of a Mother’s Death and a Daughter’s Search and The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. Shanna is the true-crime author of Dancing With Death: The True Story of a Glamorous Showgirl, Her Wealthy Husband and a Horrifying Murder.

And just to prove that it’s not all blood and guts, Terry spoke about her book Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone.

Their insights about the industry, agents and pitches were helpful. As a writer, though, I really appreciated their comments on that ink-stained craft of writing itself. For instance, Terry told us that “The essence of writing is understanding the human soul.” True that.

Shanna described her brave plunge from “fitting her writing in” to making it her main work. Attendees appreciated her honest assessment of those risks.

And then there’s Jana, who I’m sure would be able to make me laugh even as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse swept into town (“… and the horse you rode in on,” she’d likely mutter to the overly dramatic riders). She offered those gathered some suggestions that we all could use, whether we write book length or something smaller.

“Don’t overwrite the story,” she offered. “But you sure have to write the heck out of it.”

When you conceive of a book, she said, “Write a one-page treatment of it: If I can’t snare the reader in 500 words, I certainly can’t snare him in 15,000.”

Finally: “If you have the first sentence of your book and the last sentence of your book, you’re halfway home.”

Below you’ll find a few of my dreadful cell-phone pictures of the event. But you should go to the authors’ websites for better art and copy.

(And for an odd but related blast this weekend, head to—appropriately—The Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix, where the film “Murderess” will be screened. It is filmmaker Scott Coblio’s retelling of the Winnie Ruth Judd story—with puppets. It’s shown at 7:30 pm Sunday; click here or more information.)

Thanks to the authors and to the Phoenix chapter for such a great event. Have a terrific weekend.

L to R: Terry Greene Sterling, Shanna Hogan and Jana Bommersbach, Oct. 7, 2011

L to R: Shanna Hogan and Jana Bommersbach, Oct. 7, 2011

"We're 1!" I typed.

Later, I will post a story about an annual awards ceremony at which three Arizona lawyers were honored. But before we get to that, I have to tell why that event is significant to me and this blog.

It was one year ago, on March 17, 2010, that I launched my daily posting on this blog, AZ Attorney (and yes, I generally mean weekdays only – cut a guy some slack). And the story that historic day was a post about the same awards banquet, in the 2010 version.

Yes, I had blogged more occasionally before over the preceding six months. And I had started it originally to write my novel-in-a-month, called The Supremes. (The entire thing is still online. Go here to read the Prologue and Chapter 1. And if you want to keep reading about Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine—“Dead Duck”—have at it.)

I’m not much for birthdays, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Writing is a wonderful outlet, and I am pleased that it has become an essential part of my daily routine. It’s as second nature as drinking too much coffee and failing in my battle to not roll my eyes at nonsensical directives.

When I tell others that I write, I often feel that I should add an asterisk. After all, I live and work in Arizona, where the circus never leaves town, and where everyone from the governor on down happily shovels piles of steaming ideas on my writer’s doorstep every day. The primary challenge: selecting among the piles for just the right material for that day’s entries.

And now, I’ll turn to writing about the awards ceremony: the American Jewish Committee’s 2011 Learned Hand Awards Luncheon Honorees.

In the meantime, feel free to send some drinks to my table, or tell the waiter it’s my blog’s birthday—we’ll take the free cake.

The confession is a central icon of the law—and of the Catholic Church, come to think of it. And because I’ve operated in both of those worlds, the declaration of guilt should come easily to me—you would think.

Well, I may as well get on with it. My mea culpa for the day? I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Yes, I know, that is a standard of the American legal literary sphere. Written in 1960, it won a Pulitzer Prize. It travels deeply into issues of racial injustice and the loss of innocence. But it never passed before my reading glasses.

Strange, I know. I even got a few English degrees, along with a law school education, and still no Kill for me. How could I have slogged through Pennoyer v. Neff but skipped the novelistic moral high ground?

All I know is, I can’t be the only one. Anyone care to share?

The timing of this emotional outpouring is related to a State Bar of Arizona event this evening—a screening of the classic 1962 film version of the novel. People like “Atticus Finch” and “Scout” and “‘Boo’ Radley”—much-loved characters in the American lexicon, I’m told—will come to life on the big screen.

(The showing will benefit the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. I wrote about the October 14 movie screening here. And more detail is here. One thing to note: Bring cash, which is all the concession stand will take—not To Kill the Classic Movie Feeling, or anything.)

You never read it, son? I'm very disappointed.

I plan to be there in the Pollack Tempe Theater, with my daughters, as I watch and expiate for my literary sins. I’m hoping you join us too, whether you’re a Harper Lee groupie or not.

Day 29 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 23: Free Assembly

In general. – The Secretary shall carry out a national scenic byways program that recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities by designating the roads as –

(A) National Scenic Byways;

(B) All-American Roads; or

(C) America’s Byways.

—Title 23, United States Code, Highways, Federal-Aid/Highways, National scenic byways program, Designation of Roads

The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, in downtown Phoenix, is, as they say, loosely based on the National Mall in Washington, DC. There, the comparisons come to a screeching halt, except as fodder for stand up comedy.

Like its cohort three thousand miles east, the Wesley Bolin Plaza is an open air affair, a public space that proudly displays monuments, gardens and memorials. In fact, it displays 27 memorials, ranging in level of viewer interest from the Armenian Arizonan Veterans Memorial, to the Police Dog K9 Memorial, to one of the two anchors recovered from the USS Arizona, sunk in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, with a loss of 1,177 lives.

Tom Paine had always liked Wesley Bolin Plaza, ever since it was established in 1978. Sitting just east of the historic state capitol building, it occupied only about two square blocks of acreage, but it provided ample room for the rare and occasional visitor to contemplate in silence.

Until recently.

A few years after the attacks of 9/11, a nonpartisan commission had plunged into a project to create and dedicate a 9/11 Memorial on the Bolin Plaza. All seemed to go well, until pedestrians and, even worse, nearby legislators, began to read the quotations inscribed into the concrete.

Titling toward the sky, the memorial is a 42 foot steel ring. Walking beneath, one can read the words set into concrete that had been suggested by many Arizonans and selected by the committee – to their regret.

Most all of the quotations were what one would have expected of such a memorial: “We will never forget,” “Day of infamy,” “Loss of the innocents.” But a few inscriptions created a fire storm, one that led to a seemingly permanent “under construction” fence that still surrounded the memorial today. Paine remembered some of the quotes:

“Congress questions why CIA and FBI didn’t prevent attacks.”

“Middle East violence motivates attacks in the US.”

The phrase that ultimately almost led to destruction of the monument was “You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles.”

Seeing the forest fire sweeping down into the Valley, the commission acted to inscribe a few counter proposals, which originally had landed on the editing room floor, such as “Must bomb back.”

Too little, too late. The crowds of protestors had turned out in force, fanned to white hot anger by the legislators, followed by the TV reporters, followed by more legislators, in the eternal circle of life.

Why Speaker Alan Spinkter had wanted to meet Tom Paine here, Tom had no idea. Spinkter had identified the 9/11 Memorial as the meeting spot, but Paine decided he had no stomach to listen to speeches and tirades today. He avoided the swelling crowd, the cameras, and a man on a soapbox (“Really?” thought Tom. “A soapbox?”) who seemed to be chanting something over and over again. Instead, Paine stood by the peaceful silence of the anchor of the USS Arizona, and kept a watchful eye out for the client he knew by sight.

This kind of meeting sat poorly in Tom’s stomach. For although Spinkter had retained the firm as a whole to prosecute his lawsuit, the billing partner on it – Spinkter’s “own” lawyer – was Claude Dedrick. Though the founding partner of Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine would never refuse to meet with a client, he had inquired as to how he could help Alan, hoping he could avoid the necessity of a get together. But the Speaker was quizzical, and demanding. Tom figured he could keep the meeting brief, get Claude up to speed afterward, and stay out of it in the future.

Of course, it’s not like Tom Paine had no idea that Alan was unhappy. Tom had heard from Sarah Fujii and Sam Adams about an odd interaction they had with Alan at a downtown eatery. Tom recommended that they not share that story with Claude, who might blame the messenger. Instead, Tom decided he would do what he could do to salvage the lawyer-client relationship. Clearly, this was a client who would require special handling.

Even with the crowds and the chanting, it turned out to be relatively easy to identify Speaker Alan Spinkter in the sunny afternoon. For he was garbed, head to toe, in shades of red, white and blue. Even his head was topped with a sparkled tam sporting all three colors, and a patch that ordered all around, “Don’t Tread On Me!”

Tom Paine, winced, but he waved Alan away from the crowd and toward the USS Arizona memorial. In the distance, it Tom saw Alan frown and deliberately turn his back on the attorney. Alan was engaged in a conversation with a reporter, and Tom could wait.

Over the next fifteen minutes or so, Tom could see that Alan was urging Tom to join him next to the 9/11 memorial, numerous times. But the lawyer decided that two could play the ignore game, so he read for the fortieth time that day the inscription beneath the words “USS ARIZONA, BB39.”

Eventually, Paine heard the voice of Alan Spinkter, standing at his elbow.

“Hey, didn’t you see me over there?” he asked Paine.

“Oh, hello, Mister Speaker, I did. But you appeared to be engaged in conversation, so I thought I would just wait for you over here.”

“But the cameras, and the crowds, are over there –“

“Indeed, I can see that,” replied Paine.

“– and the, you know, voters,” said Spinkter, his voice growing higher, almost wheedling.

“Oh, Alan, I’d be surprised how many of the people standing over there ever actually vote,” laughed Tom. “They appear to be attracted by the cameras, the vitriol and the ability to speak in public intemperately without consequence.”

(“My people,” Alan thought. “He’s described my people.”)

“Besides,” said Tom, “it’ll be easier to speak quietly over here.” Although Tom wasn’t sure if that would be true. Alan’s outfit – including a flashing American flag lapel pin that Tom had not seen before – guaranteed a near constant stream of well wishers, reporters and homeless. Tom thought that some of the questions posed by the homeless were more pertinent than those asked by the professional media.

(“Fine,” thought Spinkter. “If Tom wants to avoid the media, I’ll keep this short and sweet.”)

And so he did.

“Let me keep this short and sweet, then, Tom,” Alan began. “Your man, Dedrick, is not what right looks like. I am terminating your representation of me in this lawsuit against the Governor,” Alan finished.

Tom knew that possibility had been brewing, but he had anticipated a more lengthy conversation, more avenues of discussion, more opportunities to reassure the Speaker.

“Well, Alan, I know that Claude is an acquired taste –“ started Tom.

That was a mistake.

“Exactly,” said Alan. “I’d say he’s a fruit loop, but I don’t want to insult the breakfast cereal.”

Spinkter continued.

“Don’t get me wrong – I deal with all types of people, some who are actually certifiable” – Spinkter glanced over his shoulder at the twin modern buildings housing the state House of Representatives and Senate. “But he doesn’t even pay attention to my case.”

Tom Paine then made a first year associate mistake: He asked a question he himself did not know the answer to.

“That can’t be the case, Alan. Give me an example.”

Spinkter obliged. Holding up one finger after another, he recounted phone calls unanswered, e-mails barely responded to, concerns minimized, fears dismissed out of hand, avenues of attack laughed at. Alan was on what would have been his third hand when Tom Paine cried uncle; he had heard enough to agree that Speaker Alan Spinkter had a point.

Spinkter concluded.

“It’s almost as if Dedrick does not even want my case. He seems distracted and occasionally loopy. Loopy I can handle, but distracted? Not on my dime.”

“I certainly hope you will give our law firm another chance, Alan,” said Paine. “I know for a fact that we have expended a lot of time to this case, and I would hate to see it all for nothing.”

“It won’t be for nothing,” replied Alan. “You guys can order some of those high priced associates to box up all the files and send them over to the new firm.”

Paine was shocked how bad this had gotten so quickly. He didn’t even bother to hide his surprise.

“What, you already have spoken to another firm?” he asked.

“If you must know,” said Alan, “I’m seriously considering Lowe, Witt & Howe. Now, they have a fire in the belly.”

Paine rubbed his forehead.

“You would have no way of knowing this, Alan, but that particular firm is representing Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine in an unrelated legal matter, so your retaining them would likely be inappropriate.”

“Don’t condescend to me, Chief Justice Paine,” Spinkter bristled. “Of course I know they represent your firm – in that matter of Claude’s insane pirating of a boat on Tempe Town Lake. What, do you think I live under a rock?”

“Of course not, Alan. And I have to add that we expect to have the entire simple matter resolved soon, so it will all be behind us.”

“Uh huh, whatever you say, Tom. But while Claude gets his jollies playing Captain Queeg, my case is going down the drain. And I need lawyers who care.”

“Our firm cares,” Tom replied, convincing not even himself.

“Yeah, got it. And as for the supposed conflict you’re suggesting, I have it on good authority that, because I’m suing the Governor and not your firm, there’s nothing unethical in Lowe, Witt & Howe taking over my case from you.”

“I’m not sure where you’re getting your advice, Alan –“

“From Harvey Shinblock,” Alan responded without hesitation. “I’m not hiding the ball from you. Before Harvey was disbarred for playing law too hard, he knew all there was to know about conflicts. Tell me he’s wrong.”

“Well, not wrong exactly –“ Tom spun out as long as he could.

“Yep, just as I thought,” said Spinkter.

“But it is, shall we say, unseemly for lawyers to take work from other lawyers, while they are representing those other lawyers in a serious matter.”

“’A serious matter’? Tom. I thought you expected that ‘entire simple matter’ to be resolved soon.”

Spinkter was laughing at Tom Paine, and not even choosing to hide it. He could see that coming to this meeting had been a mistake.

Alan continued.

“So I guess we’re agreed that I am entitled to take my legal work to anyone I’d like?”

“Of course, Alan. That is always your prerogative. There would just be the matter of our fee.”

Now it was Alan’s turn to look perturbed.

“About that, Tom –“

“You mean ‘Chief Justice Paine’?”

Alan laughed, trying to keep the moment light.

“Actually, Tom,” said Spinkter, actually poking the lawyer in the ribs jauntily, “I believe that this case will be so historically significant, your firm may benefit greatly just for having been associated with it.”

“Even though we’re getting fired,” deadpanned Paine.

“Fired, schmired,” continued Alan, “we’re going in different directions. But we’re all going to be in the history books.”

“And the fee?” Tom asked.

“Entirely too high and beyond the limited means of a simple country legislator,” said Alan.

“Six time incumbent legislator, who happens to be the Speaker of the House?” asked Paine.

“Potato, potahto, Tom, I’m no millionaire, I’m a mere servant of the people.”

Tom Paine had been around long enough to know what was coming.

“Our firm is legally entitled to be paid for the time and resources we’ve expended, Alan. We could pursue this in other ways.”

Alan smiled.

“In court, Tom? Please, the firm of former Supreme Court Justices is going after a client for a fee, for some filthy lucre? And they’re pursuing a client who left because Claude Dedrick sailed a boat off the edge of sanity? Is that the case you want to pursue? The papers would have a field day.”

Tom Paine knew he was right. He had a flash of the future, and it included an angry and hurt Claude Dedrick. For not only was the firm unceremoniously dumped overboard (Paine reminded himself not to use that metaphor). But far worse than that, this case, on which Dedrick had staked so much – and spent so much – was going to bring in not one cent to their coffers. This high profile case would yield nothing. Tom sighed as he predicted Claude’s reaction upon hearing that an associate’s dog bite case would mean greater billings to the firm.

Added to that, the managing partner thought, Claude was probably right on one important matter: Sarah Fujii’s representation of the Chinese American community would likely be pro bono. This all would affect the firm’s bottom line.

Tom Paine began to rise to take his leave, when another well wisher approached Spinkter. It was the man who had been chanting on a nearby soapbox. Most of the TV cameras had been switched off, so he took the opportunity to speak with the Speaker, one news hound to another. Up close, the homeless man looked like he could have used quite a bit of that soap.

“Speaker Spinkter, hello, hello.”

The man spoke as if a crowd was keeping him away from Alan, though the concrete around them was desolate.

“Yes, my good man,” replied Spinkter, in a tone and manner rehearsed and honed since the earliest lie was ever told in recorded history.

“I just wanted to thank you for all you’re doing for the people of Arizona.”

“No, thank YOU,” said Spinkter. “You are part of the heart and soul of this great state.” Paine noted with distaste that Alan adjusted his stance so that his flashing American flag pin was more visible to soapbox man.

The man blushed (“Really,” Paine thought, “BLUSHED? What sheep we’ve all become”).

“That means a lot coming from you, sir. I love how you, you know, fight the forces of evil, and bring sanity back NOW.”

Spinkter had been about to walk away, his standard three and a half second constituent interaction completed successfully. But he paused.

“That quote,” he said, “sounds familiar.”

Soapbox man smiled.

“Well, it should, your Excellency” – with no irony, Paine noted – “because that is one of the standard repeated Twitter posts you send out to all of us SpinkterHeads. I read that at least once a day, and it guides all I do.”

Alan almost teared up. Sure, it was great to hear from a true fan (or follower, as Twitter would call him). But even more, it was great to know that the $23,000 his office had spent with a Scottsdale branding agency had paid off. “SpinkterHeads” – now that was gold, baby, gold.

“Well, thank you again, my good man,” said Alan, finally deciding he had learned enough from this man. “If there is anything I can ever do for you, please do not hesitate to contact my office.”

The man beamed.

“Well, how about this for a start?” he asked. “Would you sign this petition that would strip the Governor of the right to veto legislation? I’ve heard that there might be something called ‘constitutional problems’ with that, but I don’t care: This Will Not Stand.”

“What’s that you said there?” asked Spinkter, his ear clinically designed to capture sound bites.

“’This Will Not Stand,’ he answered. “I’m not really sure what it means, but it has a nice ring to it, especially when you say it with capital letters. And it’s good at stopping any argument cold. It’s a guaranteed winner.”

Alan Spinkter’s training and experience were founded on the ability to locate and secure guaranteed winners, and his ear was tingling.

“Change ‘Will’ to ‘Shall,’” he said, “and you’re onto something, my good man.”

Spinkter took out his pen and reached for the petition.

“What did you say your name was?” he asked.

“William Blount,” he replied with pride. “But you can call me Bill.”

Tom Paine realized with a start that Alan Spinkter had forgotten that he was there, and he may have forgotten that they ever met. The Speaker was huddled in conversation with the soapbox man, who now could be called Bill, and there was no cause for Tom to remain any longer.

The retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court walked slowly back to his truck. As he passed through the remaining throngs of protestors and speakers and super patriots, no one recognized the former leader of one of their government’s three branches.

 

Day 22 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 21: First Date

No person or persons, company or corporation, shall introduce into any State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia from any other State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia, or sell in the District of Columbia or in any Territory any dairy or food products which shall be falsely labeled or branded as to the State or Territory in which they are made, produced, or grown, or cause or procure the same to be done by others.

—Title 21, United States Code, Food and Drugs, Adulterated or Misbranded Food or Drugs, Introduction into, or sale in, State or Territory or District of Columbia of dairy or food products falsely labeled or branded

The four of them walked, sometimes together, mostly apart, gazing at the art on display. The show’s theme was art work created out of recycled materials, which led to some odd reactions and even laughters of recognition.

Sarah’s favorite work was a coffee table constructed out of used oil filters. Because the filters had been removed from a variety of cars and trucks, the table appeared unstable, even though it sat rock solid on the concrete floor. The diversity of company names and labels on the sides made the work intriguing, even if the aura of greasiness that hovered over it made people unwilling to get too close.

Sam was more taken by a business suit – leave it to a man, Sarah thought – constructed out of newspapers. More specifically, they were all newspaper stories about the “roundups” of undocumented immigrants the local county sheriff had been conducting for the past few years. His campaign against illegal immigration had made national headlines, which means the artist was able to stitch together pages from the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers around the country. Sam especially laughed that the suit’s vest was bright and colorful, completely manufactured out of pages from the Travel section of newspapers, all touting the wonders of Mexico.

It was right about then that the couple realized that they had not seen their daughters in a few minutes. In the span of time between “I’m sure they’re nearby” and “We should call the police,” they heard a crash, loud enough to be heard over the pulsing beat of “Hoof and Mouth,” the band currently playing.

Instantly, like all parents in the room, they knew that their kids were the source of the crash.

Unlike the other parents, Sam and Sarah were correct.

They raced toward the sound. Until a few moments ago, the largest piece in the art show had sat stolidly in the center of the gallery. From its broad base, it had reached up to a height of almost 20 feet. It had been playing a variety of songs and movies out of its embedded speakers and video feeds. It had been topped by a multi tiered wedding cake, crowned by a rooster. And, most striking, it had been constructed almost entirely out of toilet paper rolls, stripped of their paper.

From a distance, Sarah and Sam could see that the space in the center of the gallery now appeared empty. Fighting their way through the crowd, though, they saw that the work had broken into numerous pieces, and the formerly vertical art work was now largely horizontal.

“Olive, Mia, are you OK?” shouted Sarah, over Hoof and Mouth, who decided to play through what they thought was performance art.

Sam began to toss toilet paper rolls aside, thinking the worst. But then, rising from the disaster, he saw four figures emerge like zombies from the grave. They were children, and they were laughing.

“We’re OK, dad,” said Mia. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to do it.”

“Yeah, mom, really,” said Olive. “This thing was pretty tippy, and when Mia and I were looking at it, a guy on a unicycle bumped into us, and we fell. Claire and S.D. tried to catch us, but we all ended up falling.”

“Wow,” laughed a girl about Mia’s height, also standing amidst the wreckage, “this thing came down like a house of cards.”

To say that Sam and Sarah were shocked and disoriented would be an understatement. But before they could ask any questions, two things happened.

The first thing is that the gallery owner appeared, visibly distraught. Though she was understanding, and pleased that none of the girls was hurt, she made it pretty clear that someone – her eyes lingering on Sarah and Sam – someone was going to purchase an art work tonight.

The other thing that happened was that another couple emerged from the crowd, looking just as shocked and chagrined as Sam and Sarah, the new owners of “Totally Tubular Waste / Mixed Media, Audio, Video, Toilet Paper Tubes, 2009.” Sam, seeing their panic and exhaustion, pegged them right away as the parents of the other children.

As the crowd disbursed and the gallery owner returned Sarah’s credit card, the two couples stepped toward each other over the recycled materials.

“Hi, my name is Sam, and this is Sarah. Good to meet you.”

The young, attractive couple appeared relieved that something besides blame was coming their way, and they both smiled.

“Hi, I’m Ben Davenport. This is my wife Sabrina.”

As easily as Mia and Olive had joined forces that evening, the four adults relaxed into each others’ company. They laughed at the misfortune, were relieved that their children escaped injury, and marveled that toilet paper had become art. Sabrina offered to buy half of the scuplture – because it would have been easy to shovel up half from the floor – but Sarah declined, saying she had a special place in mind for it at work.

“So those are your kids?” Sarah asked.

“Yes,” said Sabrina. “S.D. only goes by initials, but she’s named after her grandfather. And Claire – “

“Claire is named after a school in the University of Wisconsin system,” interrupted Ben proudly. “We always thought it was the prettiest name. I mean, what were we going to call her – Oshkosh?”

“How about – Madison?” Sam mused.

Ben looked stunned.

“I hadn’t thought of Madison,” he said, his voice trailing off.

“But Claire is really pretty too,” said Sarah, shooting Sam an annoyed look, which he took to be proprietary and, therefore, very alluring.

S.D. poked her head into their circle.

“I call her ‘Ewww Claire’ after the school’s name,” she said, laughing and running off.

“S.D., it’s Eau Claire,” said Ben. But he and Sabrina were smiling.

As the adults sat cross legged on the floor, they watched their four kids interact. Olive and Claire, both thirteen, and Mia and S.D., both eight, spoke with each other as they sat in their own circle. The adults were pleased to see that the older girls didn’t exclude the younger. And the younger girls even appeared to be the jokesters in the circle, keeping all four rolling on the floor, which was littered with disintegrating art.

“Do you come out for First Fridays much?” asked Sarah.

“Pretty often,” responded Sabrina. “It’s easy, because we live acros the street.” She pointed out the plate glass windows toward a building. At first glance, Sarah took it to be a commercial storefront. But then she could see that there was a home behind it.

The kids must have been at about the same place in their conversation, because Mia and Olive shouted out in a rehearsed sentence, “Mom and Dad, we want to live in a house on this street too.”

Without pausing, Sam called back, “Maybe we will someday, girls.”

Then, trying to hide his panic, he tried again.

“I mean, someday, Mia, we might – you never know – I mean – you and me – “

Sarah tried not to laugh at Sam’s juggling act.

“First date?” Sabrina asked.

“Yes,” said Sam, miserable.

“But not last,” said Sarah, squeezing Sam’s hand. His spirits soared again.

Turning back to Sabrina, Sarah asked, “Did somebody park in front of your house?”

Sabrina paused, and said, “No, that is Jeeves, the World’s Largest VW Bus.” Her face was a pattern of conflicting emotions.

Ben’s face was less conflicted.

“Pretty cool, isn’t it? I did the steel work, and others worked on other parts. We’ll have to show it to you.”

“It is cool,” said Sam. Initially, he had thought that the truck was another structure, not a vehicle. “It must be remarkable to drive.”

“It is,” said Ben.

“That thing should be on display,” said Sam. “Now THAT is a work of art.”

Sam couldn’t take his eyes off it. How cool would it be to have created that, and to park it in your yard. Sam started to think about what kind of dollar offer he could make for something that was so one of a kind, for something that kicked ass so totally.

Sabrina saw the calculations behind Sam’s eyes.

“No need to think about it, Sam,” she said. “Despite my best efforts at persuasion, the beast is not for sale.” Her eyes closed as she finished her sentence.

“That’s right,” agreed Ben. “She’s a keeper.”

“I can see why,” said Sam. Two minutes before, he had no idea that on this earth there was a Volkwagen bus as large as a house. Now, he was surprised to find himself sad that he could never possess it. First Fridays could be an emotional outing.

They sat in silence. But that state never lasts long when there are children present. Within a few minutes, calls of “What are we going to do now?” and “We’re hungry” were shared with the adults. In short order, the new friends decided to visit the tiny restaurant next door.

The Chill Out Café was a bright, pie shaped eatery that adjoined the gallery. It contained about eight tables, and the group grabbed two of them. They quickly ordered some Calcutta wraps and tabbouleh and chipotle hummus wraps. The girls also asked for the red curried noodles and veggies and a Panini with brie and pears. They ordered ginger lemonade all around.

“This is perfect,” said Sam. “Just recently, Mia’s developed an aversion to gluten, so it’s good to find a place that indicates what has wheat.”

“Olive too,” said Sarah, “though for her it’s lactose more than gluten.”

They looked over toward their food intolerant children. Sam and Sarah still marveled at how well their kids were getting along. And Claire and S.D. made the group complete.

“You know, Ben,” said Sam, still thinking about the VW. That bus – “

“Jeeves,” reminded Ben.

“Yes, Jeeves. I was just thinking he would be really cool to take to Burning Man.”

“Burning Man?” said Sarah. “I’ve always thought it would be cool to go there, at least once.”

Sam was surprised, and Ben continued.

“I had never thought of that. But now that you mention it, it’s a great idea.”

As their food arrived, they heard a “bang” and a cry of pain. Instinctively, the adults looked toward their kids, whose activities had led to art deconstruction earlier in the evening. But it wasn’t the girls.

Instead, a man sitting at a two top against the wall was bent over, holding his head in his hands – and beginning to holler. The scene appeared tragic, with red liquid sprayed on his table and the wall and floor surrounding him. Only the overturned bowl revealed that it was gazpacho, not blood, that decorated the space.

“I’m going to own this place,” the man yelled. “You guys are in big trouble!”

Fellow diners crowded around, offering sympathy. They soon determined that a small framed picture, propped into a window space above rather than nailed to the wall, had tumbled through space following one too many slams of the restaurant door. The frame’s corner had grazed the diner’s head, causing a lot of shock but very little injury.

The owner came out and spoke with the man, who insisted he be given his meal free. The owner readily agreed, and people drifted back to their tables.

“You know who that is, don’t you?” Sarah asked Sam quietly.

“No, not really,” replied Sam, not needing to be inconspicuous in his stare, as the entire restaurant had been watching the scene develop.

“That’s Alan Spinkter, the Speaker of the House,” said Sarah. “And our firm’s client.”

“What a horse’s ass,” said Sam. “I mean – it’s unfortunate he had a picture fall on his head.”

“Yeah, unfortunate for us,” said Sarah, “if he realizes his law firm is sitting in the restaurant where he suffered such a grievous blow.” She could hardly get out the last words with a straight face.

“But that’s easy,” said Sam. “We’re witnesses – we couldn’t take this matter, even if we were silly enough to want to.”

“True,” said Sarah, “but I don’t want to have to explain that to him. Let’s hope he doesn’t notice us.”

All seemed well, until –

“Sarah Fujii, I presume,” announced Spinkter, standing suddenly at her elbow.

“Oh, hello, Speaker Spinkter,” she replied, hoping she sounded like she had just noticed him. “What are you doing out tonight?”

“The gazpacho,” he said. “That soup is about the best thing you can put into your body. Or ONTO your body, I guess.” Much to Sarah’s surprise, he was laughing.

“Yeah, I noticed the, um, mishap. Are you OK?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” he said. “It’s just second nature for me to yell ‘Lawsuit,’ I guess. All my years with Harvey Shinblock, I assume.”

Sarah smiled, not knowing where this was going.

“Do you mind if I pull up a chair?” asked Spinkter, dragging one closer without waiting for a response.

Sarah quickly introduced everyone at the table. After some small talk in which he also marveled at the VW monster outside – men and their vehicles, Sarah and Sabrina thought – Spinkter turned toward Sarah and lowered his voice.

“This Dedrick of yours – is he all right?”

Sarah’s red flags went up.

“Why, of course, I saw him just today, and he’s – all right.”

“No, no, I don’t mean is he injured. Although I did hear about the boat crash.”

Sarah and Sam – who could overhear – were startled, and showed it.

Spinkter continued.

“I keep close tabs on the media. I happen to know an Arizona Republic reporter was present at the lake, and he even got some pictures.”

They turned ashen.

“It’ll be in tomorrow’s print edition, I’m sure,” Spinkter said. “And it’s online right now.”

He held up his PDA, letting them read the headline and lede:

 

DEAD DUCK

An unauthorized race between two boats on Tempe Town Lake yielded extensive damage to a boat and the dock after one of the boats crashed. The boat was piloted by well heeled lawyer and former state Supreme Court Justice Claude Dedrick, who is the managing partner at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine, Phoenix. Dedrick’s Mercedes Benz was also reportedly destroyed in the accident.

Check in later for updates, including possible criminal charges. …

 

Spinkter continued talking, but Sarah and Sam kept seeing the words “Dead Duck” and “criminal charges.” Their firm – their livelihood – had been reduced to a humorous sound bite. That could only mean bad things.

“Soooo,” Spinkter said, trying to regain her attention. “What I want to know is, is Dedrick all there, or is he a few elements short of a charge? You know: ‘All damages, no standing’?”

Sarah didn’t know what to say, so she fiddled with the straw in her ginger lemonade.

“Well,” he continued, “I know you’re going to be loyal to your colleague, but I need to know whether to go forward against the Governor with this guy, or whether to find somebody else. I need to know if he’s what ‘right’ looks like.”

Sarah wasn’t getting into the middle of that.

“So tell Tom Paine I need to get together with him. Feel free to tell him my concerns. He’ll be able to tell me if the firm is completely behind me in this lawsuit.”

He stood up to go.

“Nice boots, by the way,” he said. “If I were a younger man …”

His slam of the door was strong enough to make another picture tremble, and the owner quickly climbed on a chair to remove them all from their delicate perches.

“Work stuff?” asked Ben.

“Yes, work stuff,” replied Sarah. The exchange had deeply troubled her. She had her own case beginning in earnest in the next week; she didn’t want to have to think about another lawyer’s unhappy client – maybe unhappy enough to dismiss the law firm.

When the group finished their meal, Ben and Sabrina said they were heading home, but they all promised to get together again.

The four First Friday survivors – Sarah, Sam, Olive and Mia – began walking south, toward their cars. Sam agreed he’d return to retrieve the toilet paper art work, but he wanted to walk alongside Sarah Fujii once more that evening.

They drew to a stop in front of Chez Nous Cocktail Lounge. Its had recently shut its doors forever – even bars were affected by the economic downturn. The evening had wound down.

“You were really bothered by that,” said Sam, “weren’t you?”

She knew what he spoke about.

“Sure. I decide to join a firm, and it becomes a public joke only months later? Yikes.”

“Well, you should look at the bright side,” he said.

“Oh, and what is that?” Sarah asked.

“At least Dedrick refused to put your name in the firm’s title.”

Sarah had been close to crying, but now she broke out laughing.

“What a pisser you are,” she laughed through her tears.

“Ouch. Mind the mouth, counselor.”

“Oh, I will, counselor. I will.”

And with that, Sarah turned toward Sam, looked him in the eyes, and kissed him full on the lips.

Olive and Mia, skipping ahead, were informed by their children’s radar that something disgusting was occurring in their vicinity. They spun around and, together, said “Ewwww.”

Sam chuckled.

“Well, as long as we can hear the kids whine, I guess we know they’re safe.”

And so, in front of the former Chez Nous Cocktail Lounge, before the assembled smiling faces of the homeless, the prostitutes, Olive and Mia, Sam kissed Sarah back – more than once.

Day 22 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 20: Art Detour

The Congress finds and declares the following:

(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.

(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.

—Title 20, United States Code, Education, Support and Scholarship in Humanities and Arts; Museum Services; National Foundation of the Arts and the humanities

The broad and brightly lit store front beckoned passing cars and pedestrians as they made their way up and down the more than slightly seedy but increasingly cool Grand Avenue. Behind the parade of plate glass windows, one could see crowds engaged in conversation or examining the art on display.

The site was Flagg’s Cake Factory, so named for the business that once occupied the ancient building. Transformed in recent years by an artist entrepreneur, Flagg’s was the center of Grand Avenue’s renaissance. Its massive volume contained a tremendous gallery space, almost three stories high, and numerous smaller artist’s studios honeycombed behind. What once had been a dreary and quiet stretch of road way was now vibrant and worth seeing. Even the remaining homeless and prostitutes had to agree, this was a pretty cool joint.

Because of Flagg’s central location and recently allowed street parking, Sam and Sarah had agreed to meet there, thinking it would be easy to spot each other. The volume of the crowds on this sweltering Friday night surprised them, though, and it took each a good twenty minutes of strolling the gallery and sidewalks outside before they stumbled upon each other.

Secretly, both Sarah and Sam had their misgivings about the wisdom of tonight’s outing. They would have laughed to know just how much the other’s worries mirrored their own.

First, they thought, what the hell were they doing? They still worked together, after all. Neither had been born yesterday, and each had seen the negative results that could flow from mixing the sweet with the suite.

Second, neither had dated in quite some time and, frankly, they felt exhausted before they even began. Both Sarah and Sam believed themselves to be pretty difficult to get along with – for Sam, it was largely true – and their previous relationships had been an ongoing negotiation and accommodation to adjust to competing needs, desires, and quirks.

In that, they were like most everyone. But they each suffered more than most from a sense that making a new start with someone else might just be too much work.

How much did Sarah really want to nod with interest as Sam described where he was raised?

Would Sam be able to focus his gaze sufficiently as Sarah described where she had worked in the past, and what brought her to their current law firm?

Was Sarah prepared to feign interest as Sam parsed the difference between a puppet and a marionette, or the relative benefits and challenges of bait fishing versus fly fishing?

Could they really bear to engage in a discussion of whether each had gone out on First Fridays before, and the relative merits of strolling on Roosevelt or Grand Avenue?

For these and many more are the topics that sustain or more often drown a first date conversation. If we were honest with ourselves, all of us also would hesitate to plunge into that maddening endeavor.

For you readers of tender years, this may be a paradox that is completely foreign to you, but Sam and Sarah knew the truth:

Many, many, many people are simply boring. For reals: Boring.

Unlike the teenage years and even the twenties, when all seems new and bright and shiny and full of possibility, both Sam and Sarah knew that the truth was a little gray around the edges. Sure, everyone’s story may be somewhat unique, but how far beneath the surface do we have to mine to reach a glimmer of ore? And how many of us have the energy and bravery to once more don that ridiculous head gear with built-in flashlight to rumble beneath the surface, hoping to find gold?

“So, what kind of music do you like?” Sarah and Sam thought they’d rather throw themselves under a train.

(In fact, this “suicide over dating” impetus had long roots. For example, the history of attempts to legalize prostitution wrongly focuses on the proponents’ sense that adults should be allowed to do what they want. That was a factor, but closer examination shows that in every case of legalization efforts, from 1800 to the present, the proponent had been divorced or separated and was now being urged by his cohorts to “get back into the pool.” So distasteful and exhausting was the prospect that these men and women pioneers simply sighed, “Can’t I just pay for it?” and launched a reform effort – still largely unsuccessful).

Like most people, though, Sarah and Sam found a way to overcome their distaste for dating and showed up for the event. And that reason was the oldest one in the world: their ability to overlook their own knowledge and experience and to yield to their inner child-like interest and optimism. (There was a second reason, of course, but because this is a family friendly narrative, we’ll simply say it was “attraction.”)

To raise their courage sufficiently to allow them to arrive, though, they had to overcome something else related to children: Their own kids, Olive and Mia.

Because they were decent people, both Sarah and Sam had a concern that they were requiring their children to accompany them, not because the kids might love First Fridays, but because the kids’ presence would take some pressure off the adults.

But because they hadn’t dated in awhile – and because both had thought more than once that afternoon about their close proximity and rising temperature as they had lay entangled together on the deck of the Michael Brag – they dispensed with that concern without much effort: “Come on, come on, are you ready to go?” each had urged their daughters. The time for saint like niceties was passed. It was time to get out and ask those inane dating questions, and Sam and Sarah were surprised at how much they looked forward to it.

Like reluctant daters since recorded history began, many – though not all – of their concerns evaporated when they saw each other.

Sarah was pleased by Sam’s appearance, and she was a little embarrassed that she was so surprised that he presented pretty well.

That, of course, has to do with the work place, especially a law office. After all, who does not look good in a suit? Or, at least, whose appearance is not aided by the presence of a suit? It could be said that men are uniformly benefited by being able to wear a uniform.

Sarah, like all women, had come to understand that you have to view a man in various other guises before you can really make a determination about his eye and his judgment. And in this regard, things looked good.

Sam was wearing jeans, dark ones, but not leather or pleather or anything of that sort. They were fitted, but didn’t go overboard, and they were topped by a handsome leather belt with silver grommets.

But it was Sam’s shirt that impressed her most. A collared and buttoned garment, it was dark blue with black stripes. It was buttoned properly, the chest not demanding the viewer’s attention. And, most important, it was not simply a shirt he wore to work during the day with a suit; it was entirely different, clearly bought and used for different occasions. The “repurposed” shirt never worked, she thought, because it hollered “I have too little self respect and imagination to own a non-work shirt.”

His shoes, too, were ones she had never seen in the office. Black leather and coming to gentle points, they were not his grandfather’s shoes, but they didn’t better belong on a teenager. They fit him and who he was.

Sam had done well.

And “Sarah,” Sam thought. “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.” He could see that she was going to make it extremely difficult for him to feign interest in the art work and to act as though their first date was a casual walk with two families.

She had thought a lot about what to wear, but had opted for something nice that was comfortable. Fortunately for Sam, “nice” and “comfortable” translated to “head turning” and “wow inducing.”

Her black leather jacket said “Saks” more than “Hells Angels,” and that was fine with him (“Target,” she would reveal later). Her dress, which considered going south of mid thigh but wisely stopped where it was, was black with randomly sized gold stars. It was made of a material he couldn’t place, but that he suspected would be soft to the touch. The portion of her legs that was visible were sheathed in black leggings. And reaching up from the ground toward a place Sam tried not to stare were two high-calf boots. The heels were modest height, but entirely befitting a woman who had lifted him from death’s door this very morning. Sam found himself more interested in the stars than he ever had been before.

“Wow, hi, you look great,” Sam said. Once again, the typically glib Sam Adams found himself tripping over his words.

“You, too,” said Sarah. “Nice shirt.”

“Thanks, I bought it this afternoon.”

Sam visibly winced, remembering too late that he had specifically instructed himself not to reveal that fact.

But Sarah smiled, which immediately turned his idiocy into a strength.

“Well, you chose very well,” she said, touching him on the arm softly. Her touch thrilled him but made him mourn the fact that she would likely withdraw her hand soon, which she did in just a moment.

“Actually,” he said, “Mia helped me.” With that, he stepped half a foot to the right, revealing a young girl.

“But you can call me Mum, if you’d like,” said Mia. “I don’t mind.”

The girl’s voice could barely be heard over the dull roar of conversation that filled the gallery in Flagg’s Cake Factory. But Sarah immediately knew that she liked this young girl, whose voice was soft but determined, and unafraid to chat with adults.

“Well, it’s terrific to finally meet you, Mum,” said Sarah. “This is my daughter Olive.”

Olive then stepped forward. She had been gazing about the gigantic room, her eyes taking in the masses of people and the odd art works, as well as the band in the corner moving through its set of original work as well as covers by Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore and Fall Out Boy.

Olive’s age – thirteen going on twenty – and her temperament demanded that she consume every bit of it. She was immediately fascinated by the space, the people and the constant motion around her. The adults in the room saw a large white walled space. She saw a rainbow of colors, each a different person in the room.

Sarah had been concerned that Olive would be indifferent to Sam and his young daughter. She knew that Olive was a very sweet kid, but her burgeoning teenage spirit meant that the sweetness was increasingly masked by a certain sourness. Sarah could never be sure if the tartness was affected and put on, or a part of her growing DNA. Like all parents, she had no way of knowing whether the self centeredness was more standard juvenile development or a sign that Juvie would be her future.

Also like most parents, Sarah worried too much about it. True to her essential nature, Olive stepped forward, extended her hand in greeting, and smiled a smile that added myriad new colors to the room around them.

“I’m Olive, Mia. It’s great to meet you.”

“You too,” replied Mia. “I like your blouse.”

And that was it. Except for the time it took Olive to shake Sam’s hand and say “It’s nice to see you again,” Olive and Mia hardly stopped holding hands the rest of the evening.

The two girls liked each other from the start. The pair of them – Olive in her combination of fashions from Wet Seal, a funky resale shop and Sarah’s own closet, and Mia, in anything that contained a skull or a monkey – looked immediately at home in the gallery. From the first, they laughed at each other’s jokes and gave each other a hard time. Olive, for instance, would never call Mia “Mum,” though she was later to enuniciate “Chrysanthemum” whenever she got annoyed. And Mia took great pleasure in mocking Olive’s interest in boys and featuring her own – Mia’s – superior spelling ability.

Maybe it was the speed with which Mia and Olive became fast friends, or maybe it was seeing them holding hands, but Sam took the initiative as their two daughters walked off, looking for adventure. Acting as if this was the most natural thing in the world, Sam took Sarah’s hand in his own and began walking next to her.

“Afraid of getting lost in the crowd?” Sarah asked with a  smile, not sure how firmly to return Sam’s squeeze.

“More afraid of losing you, Sarah,” Sam replied. “After all, if any boots were made for walkin’, those boots were.”

Sarah laughed, squeezed back, and didn’t mind – not at all, really – when the crush of the crowd forced them more closely together. Sarah could not have known it, but Olive was absolutely right: First Friday had never appeared so full of color.

Day 21 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 19.1: A Novelist Dodges a Bullet

No one is falling for this, the novelist thought. I mean, this noveling effort has included some missteps and false starts. But that last chapter – what a disaster!

He looked back at Chapter 5 – the State Fair chapter – to be sure his memory was accurate. And sure enough, there it was:

As the girls disappeared into the crowd, Sarah said, “Now, that worries me.”

“She seems like a good kid,” said Sam. “Are they all yours?”

“No,” Sarah exclaimed. “Just the one. We just finished a week with a pretend baby, so we both deserved a break.”

“And her papa?”

“Divorced. You?”

“The same. But no kids.”

“But no kids.” “BUT NO KIDS.” Arrrgh.

How could he have typed that, and sent it out to readers? What was he thinking? How could he have closed a door like that, so finally. How could he have made Sam Adams childless, and in such an unthinking way?

He remembered his Learning Annex classes on creative writing: Keep your options open. Don’t close any doors. If you’re going to kill a character – or keep one from being born – be absoluterly positive of what you’re doing. And at the very least, don’t share your pages with readers until the first draft is complete.

The bottle of seltzer sat on his desk. He found it calmed his stomach, especially late in the evenings when he wrote, or avoided writing. He took a large swig and turned back to read Chapter 19.

Ten minutes later, he felt at least somewhat relieved. Most readers, let’s face it, gave up reading long before Chapter 19. And Chapter 19 was long, like sleep inducing, hand me another martini long. Those who stayed are probably only reading sporadically, he thought, or skipping every other sentence. They may not notice that an eight year old child who did not exist in Chapter 5 has been created out of whole cloth in Chapter 19.

And what especially drove him nuts was that he should have spotted the need for that little girl. Was there a novelist or a reader in the cosmos who didn’t detect that the characters Sarah and Sam were being drawn together? But where was the common bond? Where was the signal flare that demonstrated Sam was not a troubled loner who monitored sleeping fax machines all day, but that he was a highly functioning and engaged adult, someone worthy of an attractive character’s fictive attentions? That sign would be sent through the little girl, one whose very existence was now delayed by poor planning.

Now, he saw, he was committed to a chapter he had not foreseen at the beginning. Sarah, Sam, Olive and Mia were going out to an art fair. What the hell was he going to do with THAT? He decided he really did have to start thinking before typing. Honestly. The readers would certainly appreciate it. And it would do wonders for his indigestion.

He took another deep draught of the seltzer, and considered his next steps.

First, he wasn’t sure what all should happen on the First Friday art walk.

Second, he thought the boat crash required at least a little follow through.

What to do, what to do?

The first step to deciding is to decide, he decided. And so he did.

He figured the readers would forgive his delaying an addendum that explains the fallout from the crash on the lake. Instead, like the hearty soul that he was, he opted to plunge directly into the art fair events. He would send those four characters into the swirling and whirling dervishes that comprised one of the largest monthly art gatherings in the United States, and he would see what befell them.

He hoped it would be interesting.

And then he began typing.

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