Category Archives: Author interviews

HerStory (2) – talking books, writers and readers.

Saturday 30th March. Picture for yourself nearly 20 women and two men, aged from about 15 to 70, in an airless, windowless, side-room in Coventry city’s main library. Outside is is a beautiful spring day. Inside we are talking about HerStory – why women write and do they get a fair deal?

The poet, Emilie Lauren Jones compered, and I was on the panel with two poets, Sarah Leavelsey, and Malka Al-Haddad who is originally from Iraq. It was all part of the Positive Images Festival 2019, in Coventry – the nominated City of Culture for 2021. There was plenty of audience participation.

First of all we discussed whether women get the recognition they deserve. Why it is that awards seem to go to books where the protagonist is male, even if the author is female. Is it because female readers will read about male or female characters, but male readers prefer a male protagonist? Why does the gender bias also seem to apply in regard to the author’s sex? For example, the Bronte sisters had to write under men’s names in the nineteenth century just to get published. But more recently, J.K. Rowling chose to conceal her sex when publishing the Harry Potter books (and her more recent books for adults). On the other hand, many men writing romances (for Mills and Boon, for example) will adopt a female pen name. We could all agree that, for many reasons, women writers have not always had the recognition they deserve – though the last Man Booker prize went to Anna Burns for Milkman, which, despite the title, had a female protagonist.

Later we discussed how we decided what to write about. For Malka this was very much her experiences as a refugee, asylum seeker, and campaigner for human rights. Sarah and I drew on more prosaic experiences, listening to those around us and mixing real experience with imagination. For us, getting the voices to sound authentic was important and could influence whether we wrote in the first, third, or even second person. For Malka, the message was the important inspiration for her poetry, which perhaps made her writing more personal. For all of us, making the people in our novels or poems believable, especially our female characters, was very important, and that means drawing on personal experiences – though in my case at least, the experiences get shared around various characters as I am not comfortable writing anything too easily identifiable with me or those around me.

Finally, we talked about our habits as readers, and I find I am not the only one who likes reading in the bath. (Warning – don’t try this with a Kindle). All of us on the panel, and the audience, agreed that reading, as well as being a joy in itself, was important preparation for a writer. A sentiment which led nicely into the time allotted to selling our books.

You may not have been there but, if you are interested to find out more about the panelists and their work, here are the links to our websites or other social media:

Sarah Leavesley http://sarah-james.co.uk

Malka Al-Haddad: amazon.co.uk/Birds-Without-Sky-Poems-Exile

And my links: Links to my books and social media

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

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Meet Author Paige Etheridge

Paige Etheridge is a Black Belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate, Pisces Sun/ Leo Moon/ Aries Ascendant, Taoist, and of Athenian descent. She is also a compulsive writer

What is the title of your latest book? Kissing Stars Over the Rising Sun is my debut. It deals with the forgotten Japanese subculture of the Pan Pan women. They were nearly erased from history for being too sexual and wild. The Japanese were embarrassed they existed and did everything they could to make them disappear. My goal in writing this book was ensuring the Pan Pan would be remembered. It’s a heavily researched historical fiction and erotica set in 1940s Japan. It follows the story of Miyako as she lives as a Pan Pan, while exploring the meaning of sexuality and individuality.

Book Blurb: Emerging from the ashes of Post WWII Japan, the Pan Pan were born. Transforming themselves into the antitheses of what Japanese women were supposed to be; they were the loud, vulgar, and independent lovers of the American GIs occupying their land. For many of these Women of the Night, it became more about pleasure and riches than survival; burning brightly for a few years before being wiped out by the Japanese themselves. Nearly erased from history for being too wild. This is the story of one of these women. Her name is Miyako.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? The emotional roller coaster which comes when writing forces me to face personal baggage can be pretty hard to deal with at times. But knowing the book, and likely the baggage, is finished when all is said and done is wonderful.

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?  Consider why you’re doing it. Are you looking for fame or to answer a higher calling? Consider if your reasoning is truly worthwhile.

What are you working on at the moment? I actually just finished a Cyber Punk novel which includes Cyborg Orcas.  I’m taking the month of February off novel writing.  Then I’m going to have my readers vote between my story idea about the trans-knight or the were-dolphins of Brazil and Peru.

What do you like to read? Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Inspiration, Self-help, Historical fiction, Horror, Graphic novel, Manga

Where can readers find you? If you follow me on social media, you’ll be able to vote on my future content. Possibly even win some stuff. I post lots of photos of my awesome dog Athena as well.

Amazon:

Book Links:

Instagram:

Twitter:

Facebook:

Meet author Dawn Bolton

Dawn Bolton taught law and economics in Higher Education. After leaving formal education she started a tutorial agency. She still tutors adults and children in English, Maths, Creative Writing and French.

Recently she has started writing stories and novels. She writes historical romances under the name of Alexie Bolton and romances/suspense/crime under the name of Toni Bolton. She is an enthusiastic artist and illustrates her own children’s stories. She enjoys renovating houses and has renovated a pub which she now runs as a guesthouse. She enjoys skiing, yoga and going to the gym. She shares the house with her husband and her cats Angel and Louie.

What is the title of your latest book? Innocence and Deception by Toni Bolton. FBI agent fishes a woman out of the sea and finds she is an escaped convict claiming to be suffering from amnesia. He follows her to where her daughter is living. She hasn’t seen her daughter for years since giving birth to the child in prison hospital. A model prisoner, why did she escape custody when her parole was close?

  • What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding?Building characters in my books who have suffered abuse or have survived unpleasant situations but are still strong and resourceful.  When readers say they enjoy a book and want to continue the series.
  • What is your top tip for an aspiring writer? Build your platform on various sites like Facebook so when you publish your first book you have followers who had read your works in progress and want to review and buy the book.
  • What are you working on at the moment? Bang. A story about a veteran suffering from PTSM for CALM, a charity helping men who suffer depression.
  • What do you like to read? Romantic suspense, thrillers, ghost stories and historical romances.
  • Where can readers find you?

amazon.com/author/alexiebolton

Email kixley@btinternet.com

Dawn’s author page at dawnpbolton@Facebook

Twitter@dawnbolton2.

Series: Men of valour, women of steel by Toni Bolton


Book one, Escape from fear.

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Book two. Whisper softly or you’re dead.


Book three, Innocence and Deception.



Book 4, Saving Grace.

Meet author – Debbie De Louise

Debbie De Louise is an award-winning author and a reference librarian at a public debbielibrary on Long Island. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters-in-Crime, the Long Island Authors Group, and the Cat Writer’s Association. She has a BA in English and an MLS in Library Science from Long Island University. Her novels include the three books of the Cobble Cove cozy mystery series published by Solstice Publishing: A Stone’s Throw, Between a Rock and a Hard Place ***, and Written in Stone. Debbie has also published a romantic comedy novella featuring a jewel heist caper, When Jack Trumps Ace, a paranormal romance, Cloudy Rainbow, and has written articles and short stories for several anthologies of various genres. She lives on Long Island with her husband Anthony, daughter Holly, and Cat Stripey. (*** scroll to the end of this blog for a chance to download this book for free)

Debbie is proud to announce the release of the 4th book of her Cobble Cove Mystery series, Love on the Rocks. eBook & Kindle Unlimited: mybook.to/cc4 Debbie - teaserPaperback: mybook.to/cc4pap

Here’s what it’s all about …

When Alicia helps plan a Valentine’s Day Party at the Cobble Cove library that also includes a surprise for her newlywed friend, Gilly, things go wrong when a mysterious box of chocolates addressed to the director turns out laced with poison.

Clues Lead to A Dead Suspect

Although Alicia promised John she’ll no longer meddle in crime investigations, she and Gilly set out to find the person threatening Sheila who murdered the courier of the Debbie Love on the rocks-001 (1) (2)deadly candy. The three people they suspect include the professor from California who’s been romancing Sheila while she assists him with research for his book; the obnoxious patron Rhonda Kleisman who threw coffee at the director after refusing to pay for a damaged book; and a visiting widow staying at Gilly’s inn who’s unnaturally curious about Sheila and earns the nickname of Madame DeFarge for her interest in knitting.

 While Alicia and Gilly are trying to solve this new Cobble Cove mystery, Sneaky is introduced to Gilly’s new kitten, Kittykai, a calico she brought home from her honeymoon in Hawaii. It’s not like at first sight, but the two cats eventually become friends. They also both play a part in foiling the killer’s murder attempts, but will Alicia and Sheila survive unscathed?

Excerpt: “Alicia, come with me to the Reference Desk. I left a few more decorations there and can use a hand putting them up.”

Alicia followed Sheila back to the desk admiring the paper hearts and flowers hanging from the library’s ceilings and the red streamers that lay across the stacks. Two huge red hearts graced a banner strung across the entranceway over the turnstiles. In the center of each, handwritten in glittery purple script were the names of her best friend and new husband – Gilly and Ron. She knew Gilly would be glad they used her nickname but wasn’t sure the sheriff would approve of the use of his first name. Most of the town resident’s knew him as Ramsay.

Sheila ran around the desk pulling out drawers. She reminded Alicia of a hen tending her chickens. “Gilly and Ramsay are going to be so surprised.”

Alicia agreed. The idea for a combination wedding and Valentine’s Day party was hatched up by Sheila, and it was a great thought. The rest of the staff was busy upstairs where the party would be held arranging more decorations there and putting out all the home-cooked dishes they’d prepared along with the red, pink, and white sheet cake that would be served for dessert.

“What’s this?” Sheila paused in her tossing of decorations atop the desk.

Alicia came over to see what had grabbed the director’s attention. A velvet shaped heart box sat by one of the computer stations. As Alicia came closer, she could see a post-it attached to it with the words, “To Sheila from your secret admirer.”

Sheila smiled. “That Ryan. He knows I have a sweet tooth and am particularly fond of chocolates.” She opened the lid. “My favorites. I know I should wait for the party, but these are just too appealing.”

Alicia watched as Sheila took a few pieces and bit into them. Only a few seconds after she swallowed, her smile faded. She began to choke and clutched her throat.

“Sheila, are you okay?” Alicia rushed over afraid she wouldn’t recall how to do the Heimlich maneuver, but Sheila had already passed out on the floor. “Help!” Alicia called racing to the stairs. The romantic music playing above her drowned out her voice. Just as she grabbed her cell phone to dial 911, Ryan Anderson walked through the door, a huge bouquet of roses in his arms. He stopped short seeing Sheila on the ground. “What happened. Oh, My God!”

“I’m dialing 911 right now,” Alicia said. “She ate some of your chocolates and then passed out. I’m not sure if she choked on a piece.”

“My chocolates? I didn’t get her any chocolates. I was bringing her these flowers.” He dropped them on the desk and then knelt down and started administering CPR to Sheila’s unmoving body.

….

FREE OFFER

The second book of my Cobble Cove cozy mystery series is free on Thursday, October 25 and Friday, October 26. You can get it here on those Debbie - betweenarockandahardplacefreeteaserdays: mybook.to/CobbleCove2

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, all my eBooks are free. Check them out on my author page: Author.to/DebbieDeLouise

Synopsis: Librarian Alicia McKinney has put the past behind her…

Two years ago, Alicia discovered both a terrible truth and lasting love with John McKinney in the small town of Cobble Cove, New York. Now a busy mother of twin babies and co-author of a mystery series, Alicia couldn’t be happier.

Alicia’s contentment and safety are challenged…

Walking home alone from the library, Alicia senses someone following her, and on more than one occasion, she believes she is being watched. Does she have a stalker? When the local gift shop is burgled, the troubling event causes unrest among Alicia and the residents of the quiet town.

John and Alicia receive an offer they can’t refuse…

When John’s sister offers to babysit while she and John take a much-needed vacation in New York City, Alicia is reluctant to leave her children because of the disturbances in Cobble Cove. John assures her the town is safe in the hands of Sheriff-elect Ramsay. Although Alicia’s experience with and dislike of the former Long Island detective don’t alleviate her concern, she and John take their trip.

Alicia faces her worst nightmare…

The McKinneys’ vacation is cut short when they learn their babies have been kidnapped and John’s sister shot. Alicia and John’s situation puts them between a rock and a hard place when the main suspect is found dead before the ransom is paid. In order to save their children, the McKinneys race against the clock to solve a mystery more puzzling than those found in their own books. Can they do it before time runs out?

Download for free to find out!!

Debbie - reviewteaserbetweenarockandahardplace

Debbie’s Social Media Links

 

 

Meet Author – Donna Alice Patton

 Donna Alice Patton is a gardening enthusiast from the Midwest who has won numerous donna-alice-patton-1trophies and ribbons for her flowers and vegetables. In the winter, when she can’t play in the dirt, she soothes her creativity by writing instead. She’s the author of five books for children including: Saddle Up!  – based on a real-life California horse camp, and a finalist in the 2017 Silver Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, as well as Snipped in the Bud: A Tale from the Garden of Mysteries.

 What is the title of your latest book? The Mystery in the Maze – Book Two in the Maggie and Em series. When a friend tells them about an overgrown maze and a Donna 1missing treasure in gold coins, the twins are off on another adventure!

Blurb: What do ten silver dollars, an invasion of annoying relatives and a cackling voice in a mysterious, overgrown maze have in common? Eleven-year-old Maggie Brandenburg! While most of the US suffers through the Great Depression of the 1930s, all Maggie’s first-wish-on-a-star dreams have come true. Her family has a new home. Maggie and her twin sister, Em, are enjoying school and their first ever new bicycles. Best of all, her parents aren’t struggling to make a living. Life would be a bowl of cherries – except for those pesky, lip-biting worries.  If those vanished silver dollars aren’t found. . . if the relatives can’t be helped . . . and if that maze didn’t hold so many mysteries! Mysteries that are squeezing all the happiness out of Maggie’s dreams.  Can Maggie find her way through the tangled maze before time runs out?

 What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? The most challenging aspects are the social media and non-writing related activities.  Self-promotion does not come easily to me! The most rewarding aspect is just writing and finishing a story – having it feel ‘done.’

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer? Keep writing! Don’t stop or be discouraged because publication doesn’t happen right away. Try new things like entering contests or writing something different. 

What are you working on at the moment? At the moment, I’m doing the final editing of a western for children. It’s part of a series – wish I could think of a clever name – but right now I call them the Jenny books. This one is The Cattle Rustling Catastrophe. It’s almost ready to send to the publisher. 

What do you like to read? My reading habits are hard to pin down!  I’m interested in just about everything. Currently I’m on an armchair travel kick – reading Heidi’s Alps, A Walk in the Woods, The Hitchhiker’s Diary, etc. Mysteries, westerns and historical fiction never let me down! 

Where can readers find you?

Donna 2Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Books-by-Donna-Alice-Patton- 1111365852244019/

Website: www.donnaalicepatton.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/donnaalice22@donnaalice22

Blogs:  http://www.layers-of-life@blogspot.com

http://www.myvintagepointofview@blogspot.com

 

 

 

Meet Author – Nancy Wood

Nancy grew up in various locations on the east coast of America, and now calls central California nancy_wood_author_photohome. She retired recently, having spent 35 years as a technical writer – translating engineer-speak into words and sentences, which she describes as like translating ancient Greek, where you’re not too familiar with the Greek part!

From September, 2016 to August, 2017, she and her husband wandered across the planet, visiting France, Spain, England, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand, ending up in the delightful city of Ghent, Belgium for three months. They’re still on the move, having just returned from Amsterdam, where they participated in a home exchange. They’ll be travelling in India in December and January. You can check out their travel blog at: hansandnancy.wordpress.com. In addition to travelling and writing, Nancy is a keen photographer, especially macro photography. She keeps a photography blog at: nancywoodphotos.wordpress.com.

What is the title of your latest book? My latest book is called The Stork. It was released by Solstice Publishing in February 2018. It’s the second book in the Shelby McDougall series. This book picks up Shelby’s life five and one-half years after the events in Book 1, Due Date. The Stork can be read after Due Date or as a standalone. I included plenty of backstory for a couple of reasons: I didn’t want to require that readers read Due Date before reading The Stork. And, because of the gap between the two books (six years), I knew that no one would remember any of the characters or the story line!

Book blurb for The Stork: It’s been five and a half years, and Shelby McDougall is finally on track. Back in Santa Cruz, California, she’s sharing an apartment with her nancy the stork-001brother, and is in her second year of criminal justice studies. She’s landed her dream job as intern to local PI Kathleen Bennett. And her stone-cold love life is heating up. Her past is behind her. Almost.

A late-night phone call puts Shelby’s perfectly ordered life into a tailspin. One of the twins she put up for adoption has been kidnapped, snatched from his home in the middle of the night. There are no witnesses. After meeting the family, Shelby knows something is off. The adoptive parents tell her the children don’t sleep. They eat constantly, and their IQs are off the charts, qualifying them for either Ripley’s Believe It or Not or a sideshow act in the circus.

Against her better judgment, knowing that every cop in the state of California is doing their best to find this boy, Shelby agrees to help. By the time she realizes she’s up against something powerful, something evil, it’s almost too late. As Shelby fights for her life and that of the kidnapped boy, she learns the shocking truth about her babies. And she also discovers her own truth, a lesson she has to learn over and over: her best instincts might have unexpected, damaging, consequences.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? Most challenging: Making the time to write. For me, it’s something I have to do every day; it’s truly a practice. Most rewarding: Holding the actual book with an actual cover in my hands!

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer? Don’t let your inner critic wear you down. It’s there, it’s persistent, and it’s deadly. Best ignored!

What are you working on at the moment? I’m working on the third, and final book, in the Shelby McDougall series. I have the plot figured out, and am currently working on outlining each chapter. Once that’s done, I’ll start to write.

What do you like to read? Before I decided to write a mystery, I never read crime fiction. Now, it’s all I read! When I was growing up, there was Agatha Christie and that was about it. Now, crime fiction includes any subgenre of literature you can think of. Literary, social, cultural, historical, romantic, horror: it all can be incorporated in a mystery. There’s something very compelling about a one-size-includes-all genre! I also love a series; getting to know a character over time and in multiple settings.

Where can readers find you?

  • Website: nancywoodbooks.wordpress.com
  • Email: nancywoodbooks@gmail.com
  • Buy links: 
  • The Stork: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079N77LQ9
  • Due Date: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00876174M – About Due Date (Book 1 in the Shelby McDougall series): Surrogate mother, Shelby Nancy - due date-001McDougall, just fell for the biggest con of all—a scam that risks her life and the lives of her unborn twins. Twenty-three year-old Shelby McDougall is facing a mountain of student debt and a memory she’d just as soon forget. A Rolling Stone ad for a surrogate mother offers her a way to erase the loans and right her karmic place in the cosmos. Within a month, she’s signed a contract, relocated to Santa Cruz, California, and started fertility treatments. But intended parents Jackson and Diane Entwistle have their own agendaone that has nothing to do with diapers and lullabies. With her due date looming, and the clues piling up, Shelby must save herself and her twins. As she uses her wits to survive, Shelby learns the real meaning of the word “family.”

solstice logo (1)

 

 

Meet Author – Jim Cronin.

Jim CJim is a retired middle school science teacher, who now works part-time as an educator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has been married for forty years to the love of his life. They raised two incredible sons, and now have four amazing grandchildren to spoil rotten.

Jim was born in Kansas City, Missouri and lived in Arlington, Virginia, before moving to Denver where he attended High School and eventually college at Colorado State University, graduating with a degree in Zoology and a teacher certification. He and his wife currently live near Denver in the small town of Parker.

After writing The Brin Archives trilogy, Jim wanted to try his hand at reaching a new audience. The idea of a nerdy teenager with few friends suddenly learning the fate of all earth depends on him struck him as a fun sci-fi adventure. He hopes you’ll find it fun too!

 What is the title of your latest book? Aeon Rises – Justin Madrid is your average teenJim C cover nerd, outcast among his peers because intense migraines result every time he tries to look at a video screen. No computer games, no smart phone, nothing the other kids enjoy. Then, out of the blue, the aliens try to kill him. That was the day everything changed. That was the day he learned he was not who he always believed, and that the fate of humans everywhere depended on him. [You can read chapter one of Aeon Rises at the end of this blog.]

 What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? – The most challenging is getting all that crazy grammar and punctuation right. I was a science teacher after all, not language arts. The easiest part is simply listening to the voices in my head as the characters in the stories tell me what is going on with them. My job is easy. I write down what they tell me.

The most rewarding part is completing a new novel. There is something very satisfying about starting out on a new project with nothing more than an idea for a story, and watching it through completion.

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer? Stick with it, get advice from experienced writers, and find a couple of good editors. I received over a hundred rejections before Solstice Publishing took me under their wing. Since then, I have seen the value of good editors and how they can help make my story great. Learning everything from writing tricks, different styles, and marketing strategies from those who have been through it all before me is an invaluable help. I have found most authors very willing to talk with me about all of this.

 What are you working on at the moment? I am working on a series of short stories now. My idea is to provide science teachers with a set of stories about real science concepts, but told through a sci-fi / fantasy lens. My hope is that the students will find the stories a fun and enticing entry into a wide range of scientific concepts before the boring textbooks kill their interest. I currently have about four of these done, I hope to write about a dozen before compiling them all into an anthology. 

What do you like to read? I will read almost anything, except maybe romance genre stuff. I love science fiction and fantasy, but also historical fiction, biographies, action/adventure, and science content books are all in my library.

 Where can readers find you? I am on Amazon.com:  https://www.amazon.com/Aeon-Rises-Jim-Cronin-ebook/dp/B07H5PCSJ4/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1536631484&sr=8-4&keywords=Aeon+Rises

My Webpage:  http://jimcroninscienceedutainer.weebly.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JimCroninScienceEdutainer/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/authorjimcronin

Aeon Rises – Chapter One

“Okay Mom,” he yelled, yanking the blankets over his head. “Okay, I’m up already! Gimme a break! I don’t know why I have to get up before the sun. It only takes a minute to get ready.” Struggling through the fog in his head, Justin rubbed his eyes and shook his head trying to clear it.

“Man, that dream was so real.” The dream, so vivid only minutes ago, faded quickly as he awoke fully. Only a vague memory of his father, long dead now, spoke to him as they stood together among the stars. While most of the conversation was gone now, there was something about it being time. Time for what? That was so fricking weird.

As the dream faded completely, Justin gave in to the inevitable, sat up, and tossed the covers to one side.

Today began as every other day began…unfortunately for Justin. Still having homework with only a week left in the school year, his ever growing and never-ending mountain of chores, his ancient cell phone, and, most important of all, the lack of privacy in his own home were chief among his gripes.

“Don’t give me that tone of yours, young man. Just get yourself up here with a smile on your face and get your breakfast before you miss your bus.”

Mumbling through his hands as he scrubbed his face, Justin argued back. “Maybe if you would drive me to school I wouldn’t have to get up so fricking early just to catch the bus.” He made that mistake once before of saying this sort of thing loud enough for his mother to hear and did not want a repeat of that long lecture again, so he was more careful to not let her actually hear his response. The twice-daily torment on the rolling yellow prison was unbearable. Did she really need to remind me about the bus? As he brushed his teeth, a new strategy came to him and his mood brightened. His mind searched through dozens of ways to open the conversation once again before settling on what he considered the most irrefutable, and logical argument. Putting on his best Mom-pleasing smile and one last check in the mirror, he bounded up the stairs. The meadowlarks sang sweetly in the field behind the house as he entered the kitchen.

“So Mom, I heard they’re going to start charging extra to ride the bus next year…”

“Hurry and finish breakfast so you can fix your lunch, young man. The bus will be here before you know it.” Justin poured a bowl of Apple Jacks and chugged his orange juice, then went to examine the fridge. PB and J on whole grain bread, an apple and an organic juice box. “Don’t forget to take one of those packs of carrots too,” his mom called out as he stuffed everything into a reusable bag.

“And another thing. I’m not going to be your personal chauffer, mister. We are perfectly able to afford any sort of bus fee. It won’t kill you to take the bus. You could even do some homework or extra studying on the ride if you put your mind to it. Your grades aren’t so perfect you couldn’t put more effort into them, you know…” Her soapbox speech lasted for a good three minutes, rambling from one pointless reason to the next. Justin zoned her out—a skill perfected by most teenagers. He only caught the edges of her diatribe and forgot the details.

He sat back at the table and added some milk to his cereal, but did not lift the spoon to eat any of it. Two fingers of his left hand scratched nervously at the table. “I don’t like the bus. They bully me on the bus and nobody does anything about it.”

She moved to empty the dishwasher, but cocked her head, carefully measuring her son’s mood. “Have you reported it to the dean at school?”

Realizing he had made the comment too loudly, Justin shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and decided his best course of action was to finish his complaint before the “I am your mother and you can tell me anything,” speech started up. He gobbled up a mouthful of cereal while he organized his thoughts. “I tried once, but that only made it worse. Nobody would be a witness so all they got was a warning. Everyone except Kevin looks at me like I’m some sort of freak. I try to fit in, but I don’t know anything about the benefits of Xbox versus PlayStation. I can’t text them, or go on Snapchat to talk with them. They all laugh at me in the lunchroom. I don’t fit in with them, so I’m a target. You don’t understand. The school can’t do anything about it so I just try to ignore it. Besides, they’re right. I’m weird.”

Justin’s mom stood up with a handful of plates and turned to face him. Her eyes narrowed as she tilted her head. “What do you mean weird? What makes you say such a thing?”

Justin swallowed another spoonful of his breakfast, sat back, and leaned on one elbow as he faced his mom. “You know… just weird. I don’t like the same things other kids my age like. Those video games they play all the time give me headaches. The glasses you got me help some, but they’re trash. Can’t I get contacts like everyone else? I don’t get what they see in all those dumb You Tube videos. I mean, like really, what’s so hilarious about cats playing the piano after the first eighty-three times you’ve seen it? And I enjoy reading real books, not Audible or Overdrive everyone has. I mean, like real paper books. Real books never give me migraines. Those books just don’t feel right to me. You see? I’m just weird.”

His mother sighed and placed a gentle hand on Justin’s shoulder. “All that means is you have better things to occupy your brain and your time with than all the nonsense those other kids are filling their brains with. You’re not weird, honey, you’re more mature than they are. You’ll see. In a few years they’ll all catch up with you and things won’t seem so bad.”

Justin rolled his eyes at her well-meant remark, knowing she simply did not understand the problem. “So, in the meantime, can you like give me a ride in to school instead of making me ride the bus?” Her look instantly told him the answer had not changed. “Well then, can I get a real phone instead of this piece of crap? At least they won’t be able to mess with me about having a junk phone.” That last statement escaped his lips before he even realized it. He knew it was a mistake, but just couldn’t help himself again. Oh crap!

“Justin Madrid, we’ve been over this before.” His mother’s voices suddenly became a lot less motherly as she continued her efforts to clean up the kitchen. “You said it yourself: going on the internet gives you headaches, and you know how I feel about kids your age being able to text anyone at any time. You don’t need that sort of distraction. You know I don’t even have one of those idiotic smart phones myself. A phone should just be a phone. Now let’s not have any more of this nonsense. I have work to do. Finish your breakfast. If you want, I’ll go in and have a talk with the principal about the bullying.”

“No!” he shouted, spewing cereal from his mouth. “Don’t talk to anybody about anything, Mom.” He turned to face her. His hands gripped the table so hard his knuckles turned white. “You’ll only make things worse. I can deal with it on my own. School is just about over anyway. Maybe next year I won’t feel like such an alien.”

She turned to face him, her eyes wide as if in shock. The muscles in her forearms knotted as her grip on the dish towel tightened. The morning sun coming through the window caught Justin at the perfect angle. For a mere second, his eyes reflected golden the soft light, the way a dog or cat’s eyes reflect a car’s headlights at night.

His mother’s face paled and she dropped the plate she was drying. It shattered loudly all over the floor. She grabbed the counter top to steady herself before kneeling down to recover the shards.

“Mom! Are you okay?” He jumped up to help her pick up the pieces off the floor.

“I’m fine. It just slipped. Must have still been wet, I guess. What was it you said?”

“Nothing.”

“No, I’m serious.” Her voice trembled slightly despite her effort to control the fear. “What did you say about being an alien?”

Justin sighed, rolled his eyes again, and reached for another piece of broken plate, forcing up a few tears for added effect. “I just said that sometimes I feel like I’m so different from everyone else my age I must be from another planet or something. Don’t go all crazy over it, okay? You have enough to worry about taking care of us on your own and all. It’s just… like a kid thing, Okay? Let’s not turn it into a big deal. Don’t worry about me, I’ll figure it out.”

His mom sat up onto her knees and took Justin’s hands in hers, capturing his attention with her gentleness. “Justin, I know things have been tough for you lately. I’ve tried to be both parents to you, but you’re getting older now and I’m not sure how to handle some of the things you’re going through. I’m sorry your dad can’t be here for you.”

He felt her hands shaking as he saw the worry on her face. “I’m fine, Mom. You’re the best mom ever and I love you. The only way I even know anything at all about him is because of all the stories you tell me. Are you sure you’re okay?”

She tousled his hair and placed one hand on his cheek. “Just go get yourself changed before you miss the bus. I’ll finish up here.”

 

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