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

Polaroid: A Novel Excerpt

The crumbling walls

Fall all around

While men draw

Palaces in the dust

It’s been raining all morning. Tried opening White Fang but my eyes kept blurring on the page. Guess I’ve read it too many times. Started looking through some of Mom’s books. She’s got some spooky ones like The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.

In it there’s a girl around my age who lives all alone. She’s mega-smart, brave as shit, and independent. When her dad was dying he said he never wanted her to lose her spirit so figured out a way for her to have money and a house until she grew up.

That would be so amazing. To live by yourself. No school. No one telling you what to do. No mean kids on the bus.

So, this Saturday I curled up in one corner of my room with my giant panda and read how this girl survived. When the lady with the long cruel fingernails came to take her away the Little Girl made her a special tea. The kind that tasted of almonds. The kind she had to serve with almond cookies to hide the flavor.

I was just getting to the part when a creepy guy asks her if she has a boyfriend when I heard a soft knock on my door.

“What is it, brat?” I asked when I saw Kyle standing there, hair combed all perfect even though it was Saturday.

He put a finger to his lips. “Can I come in?”

I eyed him for a sec to see if he was messing with me before opening the door all the way. Once inside, he beckoned me to the other side of the room. I closed it quietly and approached. Then he just stood there searching my face, his long-lashed blue eyes everyone compliments him on blinking.

I raised my arms, exasperated.  “What? Just tell me!”

He cocked an ear and let the silence fill the room before whispering, “It’s Mom.”

“Huh? Did Ronny–?”

“No, no not this time. He’s off at the Club. Golf buddies.”
            I looked out the window at the steady rain. Ronny would not play in that. I gave Kyle a bewildered shrug.

“She is in the living room, just staring at some picture.”

“Of what?”

“Not what, who.”

“Then who?”

“A lady. With lots of make-up.”

“Another magazine? So.” Mom often got lost in her glamor mags. She’d thumb through them for hours until the astray was overflowing with cigarettes.

“It’s a polaroid. Has an X O written at the bottom.”

Then I knew. It was Ronny. Even when he wasn’t there, he still left marks.

I’d seen the way he was at their parties. Telling stories to ladies about the movie stars he met on the golf course. I thought that was pretty cool until he’d lean in close and whisper something in their ears that either made them blush or their faces go white.

And Mom would glance over and then pretend to check a button her blouse or if her necklace was straight before going to our glass and chrome bar for another Seven and Seven.

“Is she crying?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Just staring.”

Part of me wanted to check on her. Make sure it wasn’t too bad. Be the comforting daughter. But another part, the kid one, told me to stay in my room with my book and big panda.

I am only thirteen! I thought staring at the teddy bear Dad had given me three years before. Then I glanced at my baby brother’s face. And Kyle’s only ten so come on. Be brave. Like the Little Girl.

“You stay here. I’ll check.”

Kyle nodded, his face suddenly looking exactly like it had when he was three and off to preschool for the first time.

In the living room Mom was so deep in the suede club chair she’d become a part of it. I mean if a stranger had walked in at that moment, they might not even have seen her and sat right on her lap. Slumped over, both hands clutching a photo I could tell she’d been holding a long time because the edges were crumpled and her hands white. She didn’t seem to hear me when I approached.

For a moment, I wondered if it was real. “Mom?”

Still stared.

“You okay?”

Not even a blink.

“Mom?”

Without removing her gaze, she said. “She’s not very pretty, is she?”

I glanced at the polaroid. “No.”

“Kind of cheap. Like K-Mart.”

I didn’t know exactly what that meant but agreed anyhow. “Not like you. All my friends say so.”

Now she slowly looked up. “They do?”

“Yeah, they say you’re one of the pretty Moms. You know, the kind all the dads smile at.”

“Hmm.”

“You okay, Mom? You been sitting here a long time.”

“I have?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” She returned to the photo.

I didn’t ask where it had come from. Or who it was. I knew. Didn’t want her to have to say the words. Thought about giving her a hug. But we weren’t real big huggers in this family. Searched my brain for something to say.

No words came.

Finally, I just went back to my room where Kyle was waiting with a did-you-find-a-magical-brew-to-fix-it look.

But all my potions were in my mind, so I did what I always do, I lied.

“It was nothing. She’s fine.”

The above excerpt comes from my soon-to-be-released novel, FINDING JOY.

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 

Rubescent Jewels: A Novel Excerpt

Now that I’m a senior, you’d think my family would acknowledge something good about me, but I’ve slowly been turning invisible. Not like in comic books or old black and white movies on Sunday afternoon but the kind where people seem to look through me. When I walk into the living room Mom doesn’t acknowledge my presence but keeps her eyes fixed on that one spot in the wall. The hole we don’t talk about.

The one that’s all my fault.

Oh, I know. I fucked up. Shouldn’t have messed up Kourtney’s purse. But imagine what would have happen if she told everyone I was in her gang? Then I’d be beyond outcast, part of a freakizoid group.

Hell, I was barely clinging to Lisa’s friendship. She’d already been asked to three parties this year. Once right in front of me. I stared into the chick’s back and pulled on a stray thread unraveling from my t-shirt while waiting to hear, “Joy, you can go too.”

She just walked away.

One late Tuesday I got back from Lisa’s to find Kyle on his belly watching Superfriends on T.V. Even though I walked right in front of him half-blocking his view he kept his jaw in his hands. He didn’t even whine to Mom.

She was slumped in the club chair staring off into space.

I glanced from one to other, before trudging down the hall to drop off my books and binder. When I came in again both were still transfixed on other places. I opened my mouth to say, “Hello? I’m here. Do you see me?” when I noticed the shattered glass on the kitchen floor. I tiptoed toward it wondering why Mom hadn’t cleaned it up yet.

When anyone has dropped something, she was usually so quick to sweep up the broken shards you’d think a flash of lightning had just passed over the floor. When I say anyone, I mean me.  As Ronny always pointed out, I’m the clumsy one in the family. As if I didn’t know.

The glass was spread all over the floor. The quatrefoil pattern (Mom taught me that phrase for four-leafed when she picked out the avocado green linoleum) now looked like it was covered with jewels. For a moment I was transfixed by the beauty of rough-cut diamonds shining on four-leaf clovers.

Then I noticed a ruby amongst all those clear diamonds. I reached down to touch it and realized it wasn’t a piece of red glass but a droplet of blood. Recoiling, I pulled my hand back to see three more stains on the beautiful tableau, a trail of red flowers leading to the sink.

 Don’t look. I curled my hands into fists and stepped closer. There in the sink Mom scrubs daily until it sparkles like yellow daisies was a towel blooming blood.

I wasn’t high but my brain felt foggy when I turned back to Mom. She wasn’t just slumped but hunched over clutching her gauze wrapped forearm.

“Mom, you okay?”

She didn’t answer but kept staring at the hole in the wall. I knelt at her feet and touched her arm just above the bandage. She didn’t so much as flinch. Gently placing a hand over hers, I uncurled the clenched fingers from around her arm. A rose stain the size of my fist lay in the center of the cloth.

My heart fluttered. Red was a new color. Black and blue I was used to. Black and blue you could hide with make-up. Black and blue stays beneath.  But this…

“Mom?” I waited long seconds, but her eyes remain fixed and staring. After rewrapping her fingers around the bleeding arm, I strode into the living room.

I bent down next to Kyle. “What happened?”

Even at thirteen he knew enough to put a finger to his lips before pointing toward his room. My head a jumble, I trailed after him dreading what I’d hear. Once we were safely behind a closed door, he whispered that Ronny’s drink tasted bad so he threw it on the floor.

“Mom didn’t make it right,” he explained.

I give him an exasperated look but didn’t argue. He was always making excuses for his father. “Then what?”

“He told her to clean it up, well started to make her…” His voice trailed off.

“With his fists?”

“He didn’t mean it. He was just trying to get her to do it right.” Kyle jut out his lower lip and hugged himself.

There was no point explaining. Kyle would make this what he needed to.

With a sigh, I trudged back past my silent Mom toward the kitchen where I got out the broom and dustbin. Then, using my thumb and forefinger, I picked up four large pieces. Clunk. They thudded against the plastic trash bottom. Now you couldn’t even tell what had shattered on the floor. As I grasped the broom handle and dragged it across the floor, I understood why Mom always cleaned so quickly. Every pass of the brush erased some part of the story.

Sweep, sweep. The glass no longer sprawled in rubescent disarray but sparkled in piles. Brush. Swish. More of the quatrefoil pattern returned to its soft green.

The tinkling pieces cascaded into the trash like pebbles in a dying stream, yet the bristles kept seeking more fragments. I swept each corner, once twice, three times until every sliver was lying on the bottom of the plastic liner.

Soon the only reminder was the blood. Fucking smears on the linoleum garden. I ripped off a few paper towels and threw them on the floor. Then I stepped on the pile with both feet hoping that would soak up the stain. Still there. Shit.

With more urgency I grabbed another wad and moistened it. Get rid of it, now. I began rubbing like Hell to mop it up, but multiple strokes did little more than turn spots into blotches. I tossed a few bloody towels into the trash.

Began again.

Why the fucking stains wouldn’t disappear was beyond me. No matter how hard I scrubbed and scoured the smears remained. Without any help. Cartoons blared. Kyle kept his back to the kitchen. Mom’s gaze remained on the hole

Then I realized the stains were gone. Had been for several minutes. I hurled the last of the sopping pink towels in the plastic bag and tied it in a tight knot. This I carried to the outside bins. Slammed the lid shut.

When I returned to the living room everyone was gone.

Leaving me to float in silence like the invisible girl I was becoming.

shsadow

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