Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Shameless Plug

I belong to a group of about a dozen writers from all over the country, and once a year we get together. We call ourselves the Red Dogs, after the title of one of our member's novel, and it's a jolly reunion. We exchange gossip, eat a lot, review each other's literary efforts, and devote two full days to a writing workshop led by an established author or publisher.

This year, we're meeting at Hueston Woods Conference Center, a lovely site in Ohio bordering a lake, and we have retained the services of Robert Gelinas.

Gelinas is an author and the owner of Arche Books, a small publishing outfit in Florida. He's also a workshop leader who has put together a high intensity series of lectures and exercises for writers who really want to get published and haven't managed to do so yet.

Lets face it, a writer's life is seldom a fulfilling one. I remember reading years ago that the average annual income of all writers--from Stephen King to the lady at the church who does the newsletter--is $360. Additionally, less than one percent of writers' output ever gets published, so we're not talking a high success rate here. I've been fortunate; a couple of my books have made it into print, but I am still a neophyte and need all the help I can get.

I mention all this because this year we have decided to open the workshop to a small group of ambitious folks who are serious about their writing. The workshop will be held May 28th and 29th, though we suggest participants plan to arrive the 27th and leave the 30th. Cost is $800, and this includes three nights at the conference center, all meals, and the workshops and workshop materials.

It's a pretty good deal, all told. If you've been thinking that it's time to finish the novel you started writing a decade ago, give this gathering some thought. If you want more info, email me at, and I'll give you all the information I have.

Here's installment 64 of Wasted Miracles.

Mamadou dropped by later that day. “I tried to call but you were out. Things are all right?”
Colin nodded. ”Went to talk with a friend.”
“No. Someone else.”
Mamadou nodded, then asked, “But Catherine, she’s doing well? Bearing up?”
“As well as can be expected, I suppose.”
Mamadou was thoughtful for a moment, said, “When I lost Amelie, I thought the purpose of my life was over.”
There was an awkward silence, then Mamadou said, “I couldn’t... protect her from the same thing threatening Catherine’s daughter.”
Colin sensed Mamadou wanted to say more. He waited but the Senegalese had ceased speaking, was staring at something outside the window. Finally, Colin said, “I’m sorry.”
Mamadou blinked, rubbed his eyes, changed the subject. “So we have the same news. Yours came in slightly rougher form, I take it. Tell me about it, I’ll fill in what I learned from Aunt Mim.”
Colin did, there wasn’t much. “They were here when I came in, whacked me around, tied me to the machine,” he pointed to the Monkey Ward device. “They asked me about Herbie, and I told them what I knew, which is nothing. They mentioned the Zulu, asked why I was interested in ‘his woman.’ Their words. Then I managed to break free, and that’s pretty much it. Oh, yeah,” he smiled, “I vomited on their shoes. That made them pretty angry.”
Mamadou laughed out loud. “Yes, I’m certain it did.” He peered at Colin. “But you’re all right?”
“A little sore.”
“And quite lucky. The Zulu is a very nasty person, according to Aunt Mim. It’s fortunate you’re not a lot worse off.”
“Aunt Mim knows about him?”
“Aunt Mim knows about everybody.” Mamadou paused, walked to the sofa, sat. “So she knows about the Zulu, who really is a Zulu, incidentally. There’s a man named Comfort who works for him, and Comfort as been buying take-out food and bringing it back to the Zulu’s house. A lady neighbor noticed that because it was unusual to see Comfort at all. He doesn’t socialize much. And suddenly he’s coming home with bags from Burger King, almost as if there are guests at the house. And yesterday, this man, Comfort, appeared briefly on the front porch of the house with a young blond woman. The lady neighbor noticed that too, and more. The lady is a retired hospital worker, she spent 20 years watching addicts come in and out of where she used to work, and even from a distance she can see the young woman is under the influence of something. She guesses crack. That’s what it looks like to her.”
Colin closed his eyes, lowered his head. “Bastard.”
Mamadou nodded, continued. “This isn’t a neighborhood with a lot of white faces. A white one, a blonde one at that, stands out.” He paused, added, “I think it’s about time for us to intercede.”
Comfort didn’t like the Zulu’s new employees, they looked like thugs, had no finesse. He was vaguely pleased they’d been hired to do the strong arm stuff. Truth was, Comfort really didn’t have the heart for it anymore. He’d done it many years, in many places, it had been part of his job and he took a certain pride in doing any job well, but in fact he hadn’t enjoyed it much, not really. He could remember the first time he’d killed a man. It had been far messier than he’d planned and he’d learned some valuable lessons. The subsequent deaths he was responsible for had all been as surgical as could be managed. Until Herbie. He sighed, opened a window to let fresh air in.
He was in the efficiency apartment he’d been renting for close to two years though he’d never spent more than ten nights there. The Zulu didn’t know about it or, if he did, didn’t care. The rent was cheap, the building nondescript and not as well kept as Comfort could have wished, but the neighbors never asked questions and at least the hallways were clean and didn’t smell of urine.
It was sparsely furnished, sparsely decorated. The walls were bare save for a tourist poster from better times that entreated tourists to visit Nigeria. The poster showed a lakeside resort with white sands and mostly white people gazing at a red sunset. It read, “Come to Nigeria and Fall in Love.” Comfort wondered if anyone in the past two decades had come to his country for that purpose. He doubted it.
An adequate stereo played selections from a Muzak station, a small color television was tuned soundlessly to a sitcom featuring a black family with a bellicose father and three hapless teenagers.
Comfort sat at his desk, a yellow legal pad before him. The numbers he was multiplying, adding and sorting through, he’d already seen a hundred times. But it pleased him nevertheless to go through the calculations again. He did it twice, smiled to himself. Soon he could go home.
This pleasant thought was vaguely disturbed by the image in his mind of the young white woman in the Zulu’s basement. He hoped she wouldn’t die, or that if she did, he would not have to witness it.
It worried him slightly that she had not yet told the Zulu what he wanted to hear. The idea of helping her was tempting--a few words from him would do it, but Comfort was not yet completely at ease with the notion. He had not come this far to be led astray by a wisp of misguided compassion. He wondered whether leaving the girl alone with the two new thugs was a good idea. They probably wouldn’t harm the girl, had certainly been given orders not to touch her, but you never knew.
Comfort glanced at his watch. The girl had been without drugs for eight hours now and her cravings would be fierce. He glanced at his watch again, nodded to himself. He’d finish his calculations and go see her, maybe give her some milk laced with sugar to lighten her suffering.
He wet the point of his pencil with a flick of his tongue, focused on the numbers once again, hummed along with the music coming from the radio.

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