Finding Joy: A Novel Excerpt

I hardly recognized the girl that stepped off the boat. Could that tanned kid twittering away with other girls, wide grin showing the gap between her teeth, be my daughter?

Not trusting my own eyes, I raised my hand in a tentative wave.

“Stop making a spectacle of yourself,” Ron hissed under his breath. He wrapped an arm around my waist and dug his fingers into the soft flesh under my blouse.

Immediately, I lowered my arm and clasped my hands in front me to look like the well-trained wife Ron demands. Wincing as his pinch tightened down like pliers and bowing my head, I peeked through my false eyelashes to see if anyone who’s important in Ron’s eyes had noticed my faux pas.

Nouveau riche mothers with flared jeans and glam tops flicked cigarette ash from their manicured nails, while the Beverly Hills elite in Perry Ellis skirt suits rolled their House Beautiful magazines into canvas bags.

But the only person that I noticed was Joy, whose high-stepping filly gait sunk to a slow shuffle. With every step, her wide smile folded deeper into a scowl.

I wanted to run to her, take her in my arms like when she was five and spin her around, but Ron’s hand was there. If I dared move, it would tighten on my waist like a spring-loaded clamp. I put on my half-smile placid mask.

“Hi, Mom. Hi Ronny,” Joy said, giving me a dutiful peck on the cheek before copying my clasped hand pose.

Ron greeted her with a grunt and had started to turn toward the exit when that actor from the Mary Tyler Moore show walked by, arm slung over his son’s shoulder.

Suddenly, the Ron that wooed me all those years ago appeared. Pivoting on his Ferragamo loafers, he lifted a rakish brow and trumpeted, “Who took my daughter and replaced her with a tan goddess?”

When the actor, Ted Kite, glanced our way, Ron squeezed Joy so tight I thought he might break her ribs. She stood there, arms stiff at her sides, lips pressed into a smile that never reached her eyes.

The next thing I knew, Ron was shaking hands with Ted Kite. After a boisterous joke or two about sending kids to camp, he swept an arm in our direction.

“My wife, Iris and this tanned goddess is my daughter, Joy.” He didn’t say stepdaughter.

While Joy stared at her shoes, I nodded politely and gushed how I was a huge fan. Ted’s chortling was cut short when Ron shoved a business card into his hand.

“If you are ever looking for real estate in Santa Juana, give me a call.”

Ted held it up like a mini-flag and said he had to go.

Ron shook his hand heartily and led us out of the terminal. Once we were all buckled into the Lincoln, he rolled up the windows and turned on the AC. But that cold air did nothing to dim the rage in his face.

“Did you have to fucking embarrass me?”

“What?”

“Your head bobbing like a plastic Jesus in a Spic’s low rider.”

“I was only trying to act how you want me to.”

“Looked like an idiot. You could have said something about my listings, but I should have known when I met you, you were just white trash. Take her out of the sewer, she’s still covered in shit.”

“I never was trailer trash,” I retorted.

I felt the heat before the sound. It spiced the cool air, a flashing palm burning skin with brutal piquancy.

My husband, father of the year.

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and  Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Radio Interview!

Tuesday I was honored to be interviewed by radio talk show host, filmmaker, and screenwriter, Dave Congalton on his Hometown Radio program about my new novel, Finding Joy. It was fun chatting with him about writing, growing one’s craft, and the inspiration for my latest work.

Have a listen here.

http://www.920kvec.com/show/dave-congalton-hometown-radio/

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and the middle grade Forest Secrets Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Dreams Do Come True

This book was the most challenging I’ve ever written, but it was a story I had to tell.

When I realized the book was published…

About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and the middle grade Forest Secrets Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Bringing Peace to Children

Just like you, recent events have rocked me to the core. As humanity’s ugly underbelly is exposed with mange and open sores that continue to bleed, I’m seeking hope. For me, it lies with children. I have seen first hand that these innocents desire justice and harmony. I believe children have the power to create profound change in our world. If there is ever to be true peace, it must transcend the generations. But first they must dream of the changes they want. Here are ten creative ideas I’ve used with my students. Let’s all begin the change.

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1. Make Peace Cards.

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2. Make an anti-bully poster.

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3. Draw cartoons dealing a bully.

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4. Paint a peace sign on a paper plate.

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5. Create a Love the Earth card.

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6. Make a dream board.

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7. Photograph someone doing a kind act.

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8. Create a dance high-fiving and smiling with your buds.

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9. Film a video of yourself singing a peace song.

Colby Jeffers: Change the World

10. Paint a self-portrait.

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Any more ideas? Share  and we’ll turn 10 to 10,000!

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

No Going Home: A Poem

I don’t want to go home.

And face the quiet echoes

Of rooms that once vibrated

With shuffling feet

And a coquette’s laughter

I don’t want to go home

To neatly stacked dishes

And pots as cold

As hoarfrost.

I don’t want to go home

And look at the bed we shared

Night after beautiful night.

Nor crawl between sheets

Become funereal shrouds.

I don’t want to go home

So

I sit by the sea.

Until the blinding mist forces me

Through shadow

In retreat.

Photos by David Stroup

About Laurie: The author of Forest Secrets and  the soon to be released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Hollow Stare: An Excerpt

Last night Ronny was the worst I’d ever seen. I mean he could be bad, a couple punches here and there but it usually was over in less than a minute. And in the last year he’d only been really rough with Mom three times, four? I’d got a couple black eyes but only after getting in trouble or yelling that he couldn’t tell me what to do.

But he’d never gone after all of us like that.

When the sounds woke me around midnight, I knew right away what they were. I’d heard crashes like that ever since Mom’d married Ronny. I used to cover my ears, waiting for it to be over so I could steal into the hall bathroom to soak a washcloth with cold water. Then when Mom came in and closed the door behind her, I could dab at her face or shoulder.

“A call at my office? Why can’t you do your fucking job?” Ronny’s voice came through the door.

“She’s just confused.”

“No, she’s a drugged-out whore!”

The office school called Ronny about the rally? Shit. Why did I trip at school?

“Shut-up, asshole!

“Don’t tell me what to do, you fucking bitch.”

I heard muffled rumbling and a slam. Mom’s cry. “Fuck you!”

I started to cover my ears but then a thump and another slam jolted me out of bed. I peeked through the door crack at the darkened hallway. At the end something was shaking.

I knew what it was. But still headed toward it. Cocked a futile ear. It didn’t stop.

My insides turned to water. Swallowing hard, I clutched my gut and inched forward.

Kyle was already in the hallway by the time I got to the master bedroom. With his door right across from theirs, it must have been even louder to him. His eyes were Night of the Living Dead dark circles begging me to do something.

“Bitch!” Another crash.

I pushed Kyle behind me and knocked on their door.

Another thud. Followed by a muffled cry. Mom’s voice.

Knocked louder.

The door stayed closed.

I glanced back at my baby brother who was clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked even smaller than he had a moment before. I blinked, wondering if fourteen-year old’s could shrink.

Work brain.

Setting my jaw, I pounded. Still no response. Kicked at the door. Kyle came up by my side and joined me. We hammered so hard I was sure we’d soon splinter wood, a desperate rhythm that no composer would ever use.

Another whimper came from inside.

I jiggled the knob. Locked. Yanked harder. Pushed Kyle out of the way and ran for the door.

And fell into Ronnie’s gut.

He only stared for a moment before grabbing me by the hair. As he swung me in an arc, he screeched, “Go the fuck to bed!”

My back hit the wall and I fell to my knees.

A screaming Kyle leapt at Ronnie and wrapped both arms and legs around his torso like one of those sad monkeys in science experiments. “Leave-them- alone!” he said through clenched teeth.

Ronny backed up smashing Kyle into the wall. My baby brother unclenched his jaw and released his grip.

When he slid down to the floor, I thought Ronnie would stop for sure. He never went after Kyle. It was like Kyle had this special glow to him, heavenly angel or superstar spotlight or something. And he did stop for a sec. Kind of stared confused at his son.

Then his eyes went red. I knew what was next and started to crawl forward.

But was too late.

By the time I reached Kyle, Ronnie had already lifted him over his head and tossed him back toward his room. Kyle bounced off the bed, a weird circus act. He landed on the floor with a sickening crunch.  And did not move.

“Kyle?” I croaked pushing past Ronnie toward the crumpled heap that was my brother.

His arm was twisted in a weird position and his breath came in short gasps. It sounded like his lungs had shriveled and now could barely hold air. I reached out and pet his hair.

“Joy?”

“Yeah.”

“It hurts.”

I swallowed a big lump in my throat. “Sorry.”

“Look at what you did,” Ronnie growled. “Should have left well enough alone.” He kneeled and reached out, but Kyle shrunk from his grasp.

Mom appeared, loose bathrobe belt dragging on the ground. I didn’t dare look at her face. “Baby?”

“Mom.” Kyle stretched his good hand toward her.

She squeezed it then ran her fingers over his forearm. He cried out. “It’s broken,” she said in a distant voice. “But it’ll be okay. We’ll get you to the doctor.”

Only now did I look at her. Disheveled hair. Split lip. Right eye almost swollen shut. She couldn’t go out like that.

“Get your keys, Ronnie. We gotta go to the hospital.” The words didn’t seem to come from my mouth but from some stranger wearing my face as a mask.

While Mom wrapped Kyle’s shoulders in the baby blanket he’d had since he was little, I ran to my room and threw on some jeans and a tee.

Cradling his arm, Mom led my sobbing little brother toward the car and onto the velvet back seat. Then she just stood there, hands extended.

“I’ll take care of him. I got this, okay?” I gently unclenched Mom’s hand from under Kyle’s arm and got in beside him.

Mom’s good eye was a hollow socket as she closed the door.

Ronny said nothing but turned the ignition and pulled out of the garage slower than coagulating blood.

During the silent ride to the hospital, Kyle kept his eyes closed against the pain while I stared at the little trucks and cars on the faded blankie. They dipped and bobbed with each hollow in the road as if trying to drive off the blanket. I watched one and imagined that it escaped the fabric and rolled out the window.

Toward the twinkling lights of some distant and empty street.  

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net 

Crumbling Horizon: A Poem

He emerged on the horizon

Of a crumbling walk

And paused to swab

Caked and

Bleeding feet.

 

Pointing downward

He spoke:

 

Tread lightly on love’s esplanade

Skip rope, draw chalk figures,

And dance upon it,

Let it lead you to

Wondrous playgrounds

And home again.

 

And beware

The falling snowflakes,

So beautiful as to blind,

Whose ice crystals

Seep into cracks

Breaking

The consecrated.

And turning it to dust.

 

Until all that is left

Are aimless fragments

On the wind.

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About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

You Are Not Alone Even in Lockdown

When I saw the headline yesterday that said, “Newsom orders all California counties to close indoor restaurants, bars,” the Covid pit in my gut I’ve tried like hell to keep at bay hardened.

I was at the gym listening to upbeat music as my feet twirled ever faster on the elliptical when I glanced up at the bank of televisions overhead to read the sad news. “Cases have climbed dramatically since then, and the number of people hospitalized and in intensive care with COVID-19 has increased steadily. As of Monday, more than 334,000 confirmed cases statewide. The state has been reporting, on average, more than 8,000 new cases a day over the past week.”

Shit. I thought trying to go to that happy place exercise usually takes me. But even though I chose the most positive songs from my playlist and willed my legs to circle strongly, I couldn’t stop the stressful thoughts from coming.

I’m going to be so lonely. Again. Just when I was able to get out and see friends, enjoy my community, try a few dates it’s all shutting down. I’ll be trapped at home. Don’t even have a boyfriend to hold at night.

And it went on and on.

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I kept working out. One hour. An hour and a half. When I started to get weak around the two hour mark, I showered and headed for home. Here I was met with my sweet girls: my daughter and my roommate. They were chatting and giggling over a glass of wine and I joined them. We told jokes, silly stories, debated politics, and shared insights and I felt better.

Later, I was doing my nightly meditation of “I am” affirmations when one phrase struck me. “I am a wonderful friend. I am here for others.” And I realized that even in lockdown, that I am able to live my best self. I can continue to be part of and give to the human community .

Dear ones, if you need me I am here… Together we can endure.

With love.

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Finding Gratitude

Thank you. A simple phrase. So easy to utter.  It falls from our lips multiple times each day. Yet, have you ever thought about what it means to be thankful? To embrace the gifts all around?

I know I don’t always show gratitude. Sometimes I live in resentment,  blaming others for my successes and failures. If my step-father hadn’t beaten the women in my family, I’d have been assertive in my romantic relationships.  I would have stood up and demanded that my needs be met. If my husband hadn’t had an affair, I wouldn’t be doubting my lovability today.  Even if we’d still divorced I would have begun dating with confidence in my attractiveness.  It was my boyfriend’s job that kept me from committing fully. If he had just gotten a better paying one, we would have had the perfect relationship.

And it goes on and on.

So often, I’ve argued with what is the truth of my experience.  But I have no control over past events. I cannot change the fact that my ex-husband had a secret seven-year affair. I cannot rewrite an old boyfriend’s resume. I cannot magically erase the black eyes and broken bones my step-father inflicted.

But I can choose where to focus to my thoughts. I can say thank you for every experience. I can choose gratitude. I can thank my ex-husband for believing in me when I was just an insecure kid unsure of my life’s path. I can admire how my step-father sought counseling and tried to overcome his anger showing me that anyone can change.  I  can be grateful for how my boyfriend told me time and again to be kind to myself . How he modeled self-acceptance and making peace with what is.

Instead of fixating on what never manifested, I will remember what has.

I may be single, again, but wondrous relationships abound. My children fill my heart and mind with joy. My silly dad and worry-wort mom say ridiculous things that make me chuckle. I have rocking times with friends dancing, chatting, sharing stories. Kisses and caresses from lovers of the past linger on my skin.  I have an abundance of love for myself and others.

I am blessed.

Thank you all.

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(Photo by David Stroup)

About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Sleepless Prayer

I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Keep waking somewhere between two and four. Thinking…too much. Letting the world’s problems fill my psyche. Wondering if I have any power to effect change.

It happened again last night. I glanced at my phone. 2:17. Got up peed, washed, snuggled back down inside the sheets. Rolled over onto my stomach. Thought of all the hate filling the feeds. Wishing I had the words to turn it inside out. Rolled onto my side. Remembered a cruel barb an ex-boyfriend had thrown me. Put on a meditation tape.

The British woman’s soft voice filled my room. “I am love. I am goodness. I am a wondrous being immersed in spirit.”

The back of my head was now on the pillow and feet were splayed out like Vitruvian Man. I waited for sleep to come.

It didn’t.

I am love. I thought. It’s the essence of my spirit. 

So I began to pray. Not for myself but for the rest of them. The angry. The suffering. Those who look in the mirror or through windows to see only ugliness.

“God, help me to be kinder. Help me to be more forgiving. Please watch over my babies and keep them safe and in joy.”

“Help Mom to smile more and Dad to relax into the day.”

“Keep gentle hands on my students” shoulders. Help my colleagues know that, yes, they make a difference.”

“God, help me to help them. To have integrity and act in a way that doesn’t harm. And for he whose presence made my heart soar,  but doesn’t know his wonder, help him bring down the walls  and barriers that block out the world. ”

“God, help me to be love.”

And I finally drifted off.

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About Laurie: The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net