Wednesday, September 17, 2014

#WW Writer Wednesday - Flash Fiction - OFF RAMP

by Linda Browning

Moving into the passing lane on the expressway, I was careful to give the vehicle on the shoulder a wide berth. I glanced to my right as I passed and noticed that the car was empty. I was returning to the cruising lane when I saw the woman’s hair: a neon-dime-store-blonde dye-job. She trudged along several feet behind a burly man who was marching quick-step down the road. The woman scurried along, head lowered, cradling something against her chest…a baby, perhaps? I assumed they were the missing occupants of the stalled vehicle and were making their way toward the next exit in order to get some help.
I've never picked up a stranger, but this little family tugged at my 68-year-old heartstrings. I had  just come from a support group for grieving spouses—I need all the help I can get coping with the loss of my husband—the preacher’s message lay fresh on my heart. To lessen our own pain, he suggested we reach out with compassion to others who may be hurting. My heart overrode my head and I stopped on the shoulder to offer them a ride. A few minutes out of my afternoon to tote this young family to the nearest gas station would make a good sharing story for my support group.
 I regretted my Good Samaritan-ism the moment the man opened the front passenger door. A grubby looking man, saturated with the odor of tobacco, dropped heavily onto the seat with a loud rumbling grunt, “Thanks.” A minute later the loud-haired woman scrabbled into the rear seat. The cigarette stench from those two was almost a separate entity…it was that dense and determined. The woman held a small dog with white, matted fur against her chest. Neither one said anything beyond the aforementioned appreciative grunt. 
“I’ll drop you at the next exit.”  I announced cheerily.
Damn that preacher. Forgive me, Reverend.
 “Please buckle your seatbelts.” I instructed.
The woman immediately starting twisting and fumbling around in search of the gadget, but the man just turned heavy lidded eyes in my direction. If eyes could growl, those eyes were screaming at me.
“Please?” I pleaded.
All I got was an irritated grunt, but he did reach over and yank the belt around him like he was trying to start a lawn mower.
“Thank you,” I nodded meekly and proceeded to pull back onto the freeway.
“My wife put the wrong kind of gas in the car and now the damn thing is ruined.” His voice growled at me along with his eyes.
The woman bleated, “Ron, I didn’t. I swear I didn’t. I put the right kind of gas in the car.” 
The small dog whimpered and the man all but spat the words into the back seat, “Shut-up!  And, shut that dog up. I told you not to bring that damn thing!”
Way to go Sharon…you try to do a good deed and pick up a serial killer.  If I die at the hands of a some strange man, my late husband is absolutely never going to let me hear the end of it. In all likelihood this man isn't a murderer. I doubt that serial killers are this mean tempered and obnoxious.
This guy is probably just an arse. Forgive me, Reverend.
I felt sorry for his wife and flicked my eyes at the rearview mirror in an effort to catch her eye to communicate sympathy. Instead, the trembling eyes of the dog stared forlornly into my soul. I've always been a sucker for animals. My mother, and later my husband, used to say, “Sharon, you can’t save them all.”
The dog whined again, and the man yelled, “Shut that dog up!”
Again I flicked my eyes at the rear view mirror. The woman jerked the dog’s collar sharply and snapped at the animal, “Shut up!”
Oh, that little bitch. Forgive me, Reverend.
The dog was just a little bitty thing, and I could tell that it was some kind of supposed-to-be-fluffy dog, like a poodle mixed with something else. Nobody said anything, the dog was silent, and I quickly moved onto the off-ramp and pulled into a gas station. I put the car in the park so the doors would unlock and allow them exit.
“Good luck folks,” I sang.
Now, get the hell out of my life. Forgive me, Reverend.
The man clicked the seat belt open and it flew past his face, almost clipping him on the chin. He grunted, heaved himself from the seat, and stomped into the store. The woman was juggling the dog trying to get to the seatbelt button. I reached both hands into the backseat and said, “Give me the dog, honey. You need your hands free to get the door.” I hit the electronic lever to lower the window of the front passenger seat; which may have given her the impression that I intended to hand the dog to her through the window. People get funny ideas sometimes.
The woman handed me the animal, popped the latch on the seatbelt, and opened the car door. As the door swung closed, I punched the lever on the window to quickly power it up and slapped the car into drive. I quickly pulled away from that miserable man and woman, and their stinky miasma, with a grin.
I drove with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the back of the little dog in my lap.  I can't save them all, but I got this one. I named him Off-Ramp.

© 2014 Linda Browning

 Linda Browning worked for many years in clerical and supervisory roles at the Clinton Valley Center in Michigan until she followed her husband to Tennessee when he was asked to relocate for work. Both are now happily retired (sort of) and living in a middle Tennessee retirement community. Linda rediscovered her love of creative writing again after requesting a laptop for Christmas in 2011. She'd dallied in various crafty endeavors like quilting and painting, but it was her thirst for storytelling that really stuck. In her own words, "Life is good, and at 62 years of age…I’m finally getting going."
Readers fell in love with Browning's sleuthing seniors, Leslie and Belinda, in No Wake, the 2013 Mystery Times Ten winning submission, and now they're back! The sassy duo will soon be bringing their wise-cracking ways to a cozy mystery series.
Watch for the release of DAREDEVIL in early 2015.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday series. Join us again on October 1st when author Paula Benson will be sitting in the guest seat!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Interview with the Stone Trilogy's Leading Lady, Naomi Carlsson

Our latest #WW Writer Wednesday feature is by Mariam Kobras. Let's listen in as she interviews the heroine of her Stone Series: Naomi Carlsson . . .

I drove all the way out to Amagansett on Long Island to meet with author Naomi Carlsson at her summer house for this interview, a solid two-hour drive. But that’s what you do for someone who’s been short-listed for the renowned Man Booker Prize.
Her house—where she lives with her rock star husband and their daughter—is close to the beach, well hidden behind hedges and trees, and guarded by a high wall and gate. They value privacy, that much is clear.

Naomi Carlsson meets me at the door in cut-off jeans and a tank top, her hair in a braid. We head out back to the swimming pool where a tray of iced tea and cupcakes is waiting for us. Her daughter, about twelve, is hovering near the tray, her eyes fixed on the cakes, ready to pounce as soon as her mother allows.
Sitting down, we watch her dance away, a cupcake in each hand, over the lawn to her father—Jon Stone, the famous singer—is lying on his back, arms crossed under his head. So close, yet so far away.

“I didn’t write to win an award." Naomi says when I ask her about the Booker, "I started writing because I felt compelled to. I wasn’t even looking for a publisher.”
That story is well known by now. Her publisher rescued Naomi from an abductor, and consequently became her friend.
We talk for a while about the book which has been the center of some controversy in the newspapers, and on TV. No middle ground for Naomi Carlsson: people either love it or hate it.
“I think my writing is too old-fashioned for the American readers of today,” she says by way of explanation. “My books are too long, and too slow.” She smiles.

“Tell me about yourself,” I offer, and she nods.
“I’m shy.” Naomi’s eyes stray away from me and across the lawn to her family. “And not very outgoing. I like the quiet life. I’m not made for fame or glamour.”

That reminds me of another traumatic episode in her life.
Years ago, a former girlfriend of Jon's shot her on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. It was all over the news, of course. A terrible thing, an event that left her physically and mentally fragile for a long time. Her husband, built high walls around her in an effort to protect her and give her time to heal.
“Yes.” Naomi nods when I mention that. “He was very protective, just like my family. I was so badly wounded, but even worse was the trauma. I had panic attacks for a long time. It nearly broke us. I tried to be strong and pick up our life, but it didn’t work. I realized that a lot later, long after our daughter was born. I was suicidal for a while, after the shooting. And I was constantly fighting the urge to run away and hide, from Jon, and well, from life really.”
Again she looks away, her eyes stray toward the ocean.
“I grew up like a cherished princess, with people always telling me what was good for me. I was in a golden cage, the precious heiress, the only child.” Her lips twitch again. “It’s funny how people think that if you’re rich and can have any material thing you want, that you shouldn’t complain, that you should basically be a very happy person. But that’s not how it works. Great wealth can be like shackles to the heirs. I had everything, but the one thing I wanted most: my freedom to choose what I wanted from life.”

She offers me another cupcake. They are fabulous, fresh, moist, very tasty. I give in to temptation. Sitting here on the deck of this beautiful, roomy beach house while a fresh breeze cleans my hair of the humid Manhattan air is wonderful.

“I don’t like controversy,” she goes on, “And I tend to run from it. My husband hates that in me. He’s been telling me since we first got together that I have the right to speak up for what I want, like every other person in the world. But it’s hard to overcome if you’ve learned early in life to get around things by lying and evading discussions. He says I come across to some people as whiny. I’m not whiny.” Her chin comes up. “I’m… evasive.”
It’s strange to realize that she is so insecure when her books are written in that strong, lyrical voice.
“When you’re always surrounded by alpha males, when both your father and your husband know how to run the world and always get what they want, well…” She shakes her head. “No. No. Jon isn’t like that. He doesn’t want to run the world for me. He’s the one who pushes me to own my life, and do as I please. He’s the one who makes me write. He, and my publisher, Jane Rutherford. They're great supporters. I’m very happy where I am right now, with my writing.”

Her hand flutters through the air, vaguely pointing toward Jon and her daughter.
“You know that I sent him some lyrics when I was a teenager, right? He loved them so much that he came to see me in Geneva, where I was living with my parents, and lured me away to Los Angeles. We fell in love, and that was that.”
There’s more to that story, of course. Every self-respecting celeb journalist knows that.
Everyone knows by now that she left Jon Stone after a drug raid at his house and vanished for nearly sixteen years.
“And when Jon found you, you returned to LA with him,” I prompt, and she nods.
“Oh yes. I wasn’t happy about returning to LA. But there was no alternative. We had so many heart-wrenching discussions during that time before we finally got married. We were staying at my family’s hotel in Norway at the time, and we literally molded our lives and our world into the shape we wanted. It hurt, and it seemed to last forever. But in the end, the music returned. We were one again.”

We watch as Jon rises from the grass and stretches. I have to admit that I’m jealous. He really is a beautiful man.
“It’s time,” Naomi says. “We’re leaving for Toronto tonight, to my parents’ house. I love to spend fall at their lake house. The forest, the colors… and the quiet. It’s really lovely.”
She sees me to the door, even waits while I get into my car and drive away.
The heavy gate closes behind me.
Naomi Carlsson is back in hiding again.

Award winning author, Mariam Kobras was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Growing up, she and her family lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia before they decided to settle in Germany. Mariam attended school there and studied American Literature and Psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen. Today she lives and writes in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband, two sons, and two cats.

Her latest book: Waiting for a Song, Naomi's Story released June 3rd. 

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