Short Story: Fresh Catch

The first time I saw Chase Thorne, he was shirtless, with little shimmering drops of sweat glistening on his skin. Not a bad first impression, if you haven’t seen the like before, which I have. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I noticed the ropy muscles in his forearms as he twisted the rod holding the globe of molten glass at its end. It’s just that the sight of him didn’t affect me as it might have one hundred and eighty years ago, when I met his great-great-great-great grandfather on my uncle’s schooner.

The North Wind had been a fine ship. Uncle Weston had overseen her every detail, from the angelic—and embarrassingly buxom—figurehead at her bow to the navy blue color of the velvet bed curtains in the captain’s cabin in the stern. And he had taken me aboard her for her maiden voyage from Seal Point to Vancouver. It wasn’t a long voyage, but it was long enough that I became well acquainted with Uncle’s first mate: Tobias Thorne, whose muscles were every bit as tanned and taut as his great grandson’s would be.

But that was before the storm that Tobias survived and I didn’t. Now I spend my days wandering Sandy Port, making up life stories for the tourists and then following them around to see if the stories prove true.

Take the woman Chase assists right now. Her hair is smooth in spite of the humidity, which means her hotel lavatory holds an expensive bottle of something containing keratin, whatever that is. She’s twice Chase’s age, but that doesn’t prevent her from leaning into his chest when he puts his arms around her back to guide her hands in rolling the glass rod. She’s a recent divorcee, or I’m not a ghost. And she’ll be a big tipper.

Or how about that family, over there? The parents look frazzled, but happy. The children look…young. They’ll see the prices and leave before the elder Thorne can convince them to give glassblowing a try.

And there they go.

Oh, here’s a promising pair—but wait, Keratin Woman has finished her green-swirled bowl. It’s not half bad. And she is a big tipper. Big enough that when Papa Thorne turns away and she passes her card to Chase, he accepts it.

 ***

The lighthouse is my favorite haunt. In the old days, it was full of cats. Lighthouse keepers knew more about ghosts, back then. But now I have the run of the place. It’s quiet, and it hasn’t changed, except that a big electric light bulb has replaced the oil in the lamp. The kelp flies still keep most people away during the warm months, and the coastal wind keeps them away during the cold months. The only person who is here every day, in spite of the weather, is Elliot Price.

“Hello, Elliot,” I call from the landing of the wooden staircase that leads from the lighthouse down the cliffside to the tide pools.

He glances up, and for a moment, I imagine that he sees me, not the tourists behind me.

“Much to see down there?” a burly man wearing sandals yells.

Elliot grins. “Yes! There’s a chiton in that pool over there, and if you look carefully, you can see four sea stars clinging to the underside of that rock, and—“

“No seals, though?”

Elliot’s smile droops, slightly. “Actually, no. Not this morning. Normally, I see Bonnie and her pup down here, but I haven’t seen them since yesterday. You might try the other side of the point.”

“Thanks!” And the burly man is off, dragging his wife and daughter up the steps after him, ignoring Elliot’s shouted warnings about getting too close to seals.

Olivia, who is on her way down the stairs, moves to the side, one hand clutching the railing and the other holding her sample kit.

The historical society could trade out the lighthouse lamp for Elliot’s face, if they wanted—as long as they employed Olivia as full-time keeper. His grin widens, and he stands.

“Olivia!”

“Morning, Elliot.” She trots the rest of the way down the stairs. “Am I too late to see the chiton?”

“Nope. He’s in his pool.”

“Great!” She places her kit on the big driftwood log at the base of the cliff and opens it.

“Oh! I…uh…I took the water samples already,” Elliot says.

She pauses and glances over her shoulder. “You did?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t have to do that. But…thank you.”

“It’s nothing. You’ve got enough to do without having to worry about water samples.”

She laughs. “I don’t mind. It gets me out of the visitor’s center for a few minutes.” Straightening, she snaps the lid shut. “Well, I guess if I don’t need to take the samples—“

“Wait! You don’t have to leave yet, do you?”

“Um…I don’t know. You’re in charge. Do I?”

Elliot stuffs his hands in his pockets. “Take your time. Check out the chiton.”

 ***

Olivia smells of fish. Not the smelly bay-side-fish-processing-plant type of fish; she smells of fish dipped in beer batter and fried and served with tartar sauce and a slice of lemon. I’ve never had tartar sauce, but it looks wonderful. Everything looks wonderful when you can’t eat it.

Elliot would adore Olivia whether she smelled of the food she serves at her second job or of fish guts. After she left the tide pools, he nearly collapsed against a muscle-encrusted boulder, only just stopping himself out of his love for the little sea creatures.

“Olivia…” he murmured. “Olivia, Olivia, Olivia…”

She didn’t hear him, of course. Even if she hadn’t already been plugged into her miniature music contraption, listening to the song Chase had recommended to her when he’d come to Fresh Catch on his lunch yesterday, Elliot’s words had been directed only to the ocean and the sky and the plump red chiton.

 ***

Keratin Woman doesn’t waste any time. When Chase steps out the back door of Thorne Glass at the beginning of his lunch break, there she is, all expensive perfume and dark glasses and bronze rouge. She glances at the wall of Pirate Pete’s Pastries before leaning against it and runs a manicured hand up Chase’s still-bare arm. He was wise enough to leave his muscles exposed, donning a black shirt without sleeves.

Ten minutes later, with a sunset boat ride planned and yet another tip from Keratin Woman in his pocket, Chase slips into Fresh Catch and snakes an arm around Olivia’s waist. She nearly drops her tray of dirty dishes.

“Can I order a ‘Catch of the Day’ with a side of Olivia?” he murmurs in her ear.

“You’ll get me in trouble,” she replies, but she doesn’t pull away.

“Trouble’s kind of my thing.”

“Yeah, well, it’s gonna have to wait until the bonfire tonight.”

“Yeah…about that. Looks like I’m not gonna be able to come.”

Olivia twists around to look up at him. “What? You said—“

“I know.” He kisses her on the end of the nose. “I’m sorry. I tripped over some kid in the shop and knocked over a whole shelf. Busted a ton of glass.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I got most of it cleaned up, but then a bunch of tourists came in. You know how it goes.”

“I could come help you after I get off work,” Olivia says.

“Naw. He glances over Olivia’s shoulder. “I better go. Your manager doesn’t look too happy.”

“Well…go sit outside. I can get Mike to rush an order.”

Chase waves at the manager on his way out the door, then settles into one of the wire café chairs that line the bay window on the outside. He greets the crews of several boats as they come into the restaurant, fist-bumps a few deliverymen, and eyes the waitresses, each of whom poke their head out the door to see if he needs anything. When Olivia brings him his Catch of the Day in a white carton, it is to see that he already has a drink and a complimentary bag of Shrimp Nibblers.

Olivia doesn’t mind. She knows Chase can’t help it.

 ***

Glass is breaking in Thorne Glass, but contrary to what Chase told Olivia, it’s the first time today that anything has broken. It’s almost like Chase’s father knew about his son’s lie and wanted to help Chase tell the truth for once.

The elder Thorne has the pasty features of the Glidden side of the family but also has the Thorne bulk, so when he hurls another vase against the wall of the shop, it doesn’t just shatter, it explodes.

“There were fifty people on that bus, and you only got five of them in? Five! That’s forty-five too few!”

I’m surprised Wallace Thorne can do that kind of arithmetic.

Chase scowls at his father. “I can’t force them in if it’s junky souvenirs they want.”

Crash! Another vase shatters.

I leave before it gets worse.

 ***

Elliot waves his hand at a kelp fly that buzzes around his curly brown hair and leans against the iron railing that encircles the top of the lighthouse. The sun is setting over the water, turning the lighthouse’s white stucco a creamy yellow. Elliot opens the keeper’s leather logbook and begins to write.

Monday, July 28 – Weather sunny, tides average.

The red chiton of the July 25 entry remains in the same tide pool. Internet research leads me to believe that it is nearing the end of its life cycle, and, as is the case with many of Nature’s creatures, has returned to the location where it was born.

Bonnie and her pup, whom the crew have christened “Clyde,” left East Point this afternoon and have not returned, though it is sunset. I will look for them by telescope and on foot tomorrow, and, if necessary, by boat. The Light Skipper needs gas, and the historical society has deemed those funds “unnecessary.” I can spare a few dollars, though.

The crew is in good spirits, for the most part. Jackie got into Yale, and her little sister, Mariah, who graduates from high school next spring, turned in her application to take Jackie’s place. I think Mariah would do well. Jackie tells me she’s got a better head for heights than her big sister, which will be helpful when October comes and it’s time to whitewash the tower. I’ll present Mariah’s name to the historical society next week. We really do need to keep a full staff, even if the society says we don’t. I’m in the process of writing up a possible set of responses to the suggestion that I anticipate the society president will make that Jackie’s position remain unfilled.

Olivia continues to be an invaluable addition to the visitor’s center staff. She’s good with people, which is a relief after that fiasco with Kevin and the tourists from New York (see June 4). Kevin has taken over pamphlet production. He wants to change the present format to a comic book style, and I can’t seem to persuade him to reconsider. I hope to add Olivia to the lighthouse tour schedule, but I haven’t yet broached the subject with her. She’s a fashionable dresser, so she may be opposed to wearing costume. The costumes are pretty hot (as in, over-warm).

 ***

Chase wears a black t-shirt, jeans, and a bruise to his sunset cruise date.

 ***

“Mom? Are you home?” Olivia opens the icebox and removes a bottle labeled Lemonito’s Sparkling Water. Her mother peers out of her office.

“Hi, Livvy. Just give me a minute.”

Olivia sinks onto a bar stool at the kitchen island and pulls a book from her purse. I can’t see the title, but it must be a good one. I saw her with the same book at Fresh Catch, yesterday, and she wasn’t nearly as far into it as she is now.

Olivia’s mother leaves her office, closes the door, and sits beside her daughter. “How was work today?”

“Good. You?”

Sighing, Olivia’s mother runs a hand through her hair. “It was okay. We found a home for that little boy I was telling you about. A cousin in Portland wants to take him.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah.”

Olivia puts down her book. “Mom? You okay?”

“I guess I’m just worried.”

“About what? The case?”

“No. Your dad called.”

Olivia rolls her eyes. “I told him I’d let him know by this weekend. It’s like he thinks Oregon State’s the only school that’s worthwhile.”

“Livvy—”

“If he was teaching somewhere else, he’d want me to go there. He won’t even give the community college a chance. I have tons of friends who go there, and they love it. Nina at work, and—”

“Olivia, listen to me. He’s going in for another surgery.”

Olivia closes her eyes. “More cancer?”

“It looks like it.”

 ***

The old woman across the hall raps twice on the wall separating her place from Elliot’s. She has a kind of fog around her, this old woman. It appeared a month ago, when her husband died. I’ve seen this kind of thing before. It means she doesn’t have long.

Elliot rises from the couch, still clutching the letter from the U.S. Navy Research Team Northwest.

“Hi, Mrs. Banks,” he says when she answers the door.

“Hello, Elliot.”

“Did you need something?”

Mrs. Banks widens her eyes, innocently. “No, dear.”

“Oh. I thought I heard you knock.”

“No. But since you’re here, why don’t you come in? My daughter brought by some cookies, and I can’t eat them all myself.”

Elliot glances down at the letter he still holds.

We would be pleased to offer you a position aboard the USNS Pursuit.

 Then he folds the letter and tucks it into his back pocket.

“Thanks, Mrs. Banks. I’d love a cookie.”

The old woman smiles and steps aside to let Elliot in.

 

Okee-doke, folks. That’s it for this one. I had a lot of fun writing it. It feels more like the beginning of a new novel than a short story, and maybe that’s what it will be. I’ve had the idea kicking around in my brain for several years, and it felt like it was time to explore it. I would like to either eliminate the ghost character altogether, or develop her so there’s a reason that she is the narrator. We’ll see what happens. I rarely write contemporary, so this was fun and different for me!

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When the Book Ends

 

Every now and then I’ll read a book that is startlingly well written. You know the kind: You find yourself thinking that the sentence you just read would taste like chocolate if you spoke it aloud; you close your eyes and see that perfect verb the author used sashay across your brain, towing your soul along in its irresistible wake. Yeah—you love the writing. It’s a good, good book.

And then it ends.

Okay, so maybe you don’t fall in love with a book for the same reason that I just wrote about. Maybe it’s a conflicted hero that makes your heart race, or perhaps it’s a rip-roaring plot. Regardless of what it is that causes you fall in love with a book, the fact remains: That novel that you love will end.

So what do you do next? Do you re-read that book—and only that book—over and over again? Do you Google search “Books like ___________________ (insert that cursedly magnificent book’s title)” in the hopes that someone out there will have compiled a list that will help you find something similarly perfect? Or do you chalk it up as Just One of Many Awesome Books and dive right into the next novel in the pile on your bedside table, hoping that the next book will also be full of sashaying verbs?

My hope is that whatever you do, you don’t fall victim to the idea that no other novel could ever be as engrossing as the one you just read. Why do I say that? Because I first fell in love with reading when the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins books were hot, hot, hot. Please hear me when I say that there’s nothing wrong with those books. I am so grateful for them, because they taught me to love reading. They didn’t do a whole lot to expand my worldview, but they did infect me with the Reading Bug.

Not long ago, I was giving a lecture on cultivating strong readers (particularly among youth), when a woman asked me what advice I could give to her in regards to helping her son read “better” books. I asked her what he read, and she replied, “fantasy novels.” Now, I’m a fantasy freak. A fantasy fiend. A fan of the fantastical. So you may dismiss the answer that I gave to that woman as the words of one whose brain is muddled by magic. But I think my brain is in fair working order—except for when I try to remember the incantation that’s supposed to allow me to levitate my laundry using my magic wand, which I lovingly constructed from salt dough wrapped around a sparkly pipe cleaner core.

Seriously, though, I think I’d have given the same answer to this woman even if historical fiction were my favorite genre (as it once was—post Babysitter Club and SV Twins—and may well be again).

In a nutshell, I advised the woman to let her son read fantasy, if that’s what gets him reading. Reading, in general, is an enormously powerful thing. I don’t have to reference the many studies whose results indicate that strong readers succeed more readily in school, and I don’t have to talk about how neuroscientists have proven that reading fiction cultivates real-life empathy (Google it. It’s cool.). There is tremendous value in reading books (even fictional ones) that teach us about our history. I really believe that. But who is to say that a fantasy novel can’t teach effectively, especially if the story doesn’t appear to young readers to be a moral-of-the-story kind of tale?

Should we really be concerned about leading our children out of their favorite genres and into other genres, if they’ve found something they love? If they get the Bug, won’t they branch out on their own? Or maybe it takes a loving parent or librarian to gently encourage kids to explore other kinds of stories–when they’re ready. It’s worth thinking about. Also worth thinking about is this question: “Why do I want my kids to be readers?” If we stubbornly adhere to the idea that only certain genres are worthwhile, then perhaps we’ve lost sight of what made us fall in love with reading in the first place. Maybe we also need to think about what it is that makes us fall in love with books right now, as adults.

This post isn’t meant to suggest that those who promote the reading of one genre are blind to the merits of other genres. But I do think that there are a few folks out there who are too quick to dismiss fantasy as a worthwhile genre since it’s not “real.”

As a writer, I’ve heard over and over again to “write what you know.” It wasn’t until I attended one particular writers conference in Utah that I learned to examine what it is that I know. I know snow and sagebrush and Mormonism, that’s for sure. But I also know what it feels like to be ostracized (for my religion, among other reasons), and that feeling is something I know. So I can “write what [I] know” and still write a story about a girl who has a webbed foot and experiences terrible feelings of loneliness, as a result (that book is in the works). Fantasy novels might be be about dragons or magic or unlikely heroes who discover magical worlds that are in need of their saving, but that doesn’t make the emotions the characters in those books feel less “real life” than the emotions felt by characters in, say, historical novels.

There is, certainly, an element of “this really happened” in an historical novel that doesn’t exist in fantasy novels–unless readers are discerning and realize that while the stuff that’s going on in a fantasy novel may not have actually happened, the emotions the writers write about are real emotions that “happen” all the time. There are lessons to be learned from any book, especially those that don’t appear to try to teach lessons (Moral tales are more readily swallowed by those who don’t suspect they are being force-fed their whole grains. Harry Potter, anyone?).

Great books are, to me, a conversation between the story and the reader. Like any conversation, what is gleaned from the shared communication differs depending on the worldviews of those who are involved. Worldviews are dynamic (I hope). They change over time. So I suggest that instead of pushing our kids away from the genres that we think they are stuck in, we tell our kids what we loved about the book we just read, and we talk about the books we used to love. I suggest that we have conversations about how we, as humans, revise our characters (forgive me–I’m a writer), and how our tastes and what touches our hearts changes depending on our experiences and resulting worldview. And I suggest that we get brave and pick up more books. And more books. And more books.

Because while books don’t change (they will always end, unfortunately), we readers do.

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Cover Love: NOT IN THE SCRIPT, by Amy Finnegan

NOT IN THE SCRIPT (that adorable book above) will hit bookshelves in October of this year, but some lucky reader is going to win his/her own advance reader’s copy (ARC) through the fabulous giveaway advertised on this blog.

Here’s a synopsis of NOT IN THE SCRIPT:

Millions of people witnessed Emma Taylor’s first kiss—a kiss that needed twelve takes and four camera angles to get right. After spending nearly all of her teen years performing on cue, Emma can’t help but wonder if any part of her life is real anymore . . . particularly her relationships. But her new costar, Jake Elliott, couldn’t care less about how many scenes he has to fake his way through; he needs the money. Toss in a reckless heartthrob, desperate for a comeback, and a resident diva who may or may not be as evil as she seems, and the production of Coyote Hills heats up in unexpected—and romantic—ways. Along with offering front row seats to the real life drama that often unfolds within the entertainment industry, NOT IN THE SCRIPT is a story about two not-so-typical teens who are searching for themselves, and just happen to find each other.

Sigh. It’s an amazing book, folks. Not just because the cover is fabulous. You see, I was lucky enough to read it back when it was in draft form, and even then, I thought it was so well written. The romance is super sweet, the laughs are of the throw-back-the-head-and-let-loose variety, and the plot is super fast-paced and fun! I’ll post an actual review of the book on its release day, but if I could choose just one more thing to say about NOT IN THE SCRIPT, it would be this: buy it.

Okay, just one more one-more thing: I LOVE the cover, and I think one of the reasons that I love it is that I know what the story is about (beyond the synopsis). It’s really, really fitting that the characters that are pictured on the cover are the only things that are really solid, aside from the title and the director’s chair. This, to me, represents the fact that while these characters have a script to act and careers to nurture (represented by the pencil-sketch-type film-related graphics)…they’re really just people. They are what really matter, and they are the directors of their own lives. Whoa. That got kinda deep. Anyhow, high five, Bloomsbury art department. Ya done good.

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Finding Great Books | Tagged | 6 Comments

Updates!

Wow! I think this is the longest I’ve gone without writing a post since I started this blog! Life has been crazy busy at the Thacker household, though. Here’s the rundown of “happenings” since my last post, in December:

  • Christmas! We took a spur-of-the-moment trip to visit family in Utah and Wyoming, and we totally surprised our families! I cried (which is not surprising). It was an unforgettable Christmas.
  • January and February were a blur of shoveling snow, helping in my oldest’s classroom, crafting until my brain fell out (Where did it go? Where did it…? Who? What?), and starting on an ill-fated new writing project. I say “ill-fated,” because, as we  just learned, my brain was gone during this period of time, and without its presence in my cabeza, my fingers thought it was a good idea to flit along the keyboard in pursuit of a story about a boy who sees ghosts. Pah! It was an ill-fated tale, but it wasn’t a disaster of an experience, because at least I got to pound out some new material. In fact, you might see it as a short story, here on the blog, sometime soon. Don’t judge it too harshly–remember that I was brainless, at the time of its writing.
  • The first week of March, my husband got accepted to Florida State University in Tallahassee for his PhD in Creative Writing! Wahoo! We’re really excited about this upcoming adventure. So excited, in fact, that we’ve already started selling our stuff. We plan on taking very little to Tallahassee, since it’s ridiculously expensive to move across the country.

And that’s basically that, folks! It doesn’t look like much, when I read it, but believe me–it was much.

Now I’m back to revising The Novel That Ate My Soul, and, oddly enough, I’m glad to be back at it. I missed working on it. I think that means there’s still a kernel of something worthwhile in there. Will that kernel pop? Only time (and perhaps a weak metaphor) will tell…

Books I’ve recently read and loved: The Screaming Staircase, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, Steelheart, the first book in the Bartimaeus series (Jonathan Stroud), The Unbound, and Sorrow’s Knot (a new absolute favorite–it’s incredible).

Books on my To Read pile: Year of Mistaken Discoveries (Eileen Cook) and the second book in the Bartimaeus series.

Tootles!

P.S. Any “Sherlock” lovers out there as glad as I am that Moriarty will be returning to the show next season? For those of you who don’t watch “Sherlock” on the BBC, the animated photo at the top of this post shows Jim Moriarty, who is Sherlock’s nemesis. I adore Moriarty. And you should definitely start watching…

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Snow!

Photo 451I drew this snowflake for the cover of a Christmas card that I made to send to a friend in England. For some reason, the photo of it shows color, but in real life, it’s done in black ink, only. The color is super cool, though. Sorta stained-glassish. I wonder why my computer camera did that? Maybe because the lines are so close together?

Anywho, is it snowing where you’re at? This time of year, I love digging out the classics–especially Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. What are your favorite snow-day-cuddle-up-by-the-fireplace books?

Posted in Finding Great Books | 2 Comments

Super Excited for DIVIDED WE FALL, by Trent Reedy

Huzzah! I just found out that I am going to receive an advance copy of DIVIDED WE FALL, by Trent Reedy, in the mail! I entered a Goodreads drawing, and I won! I never win, I swear. I’m the most unwinningest person ever. So I’m really, really excited! If you haven’t read any of Trent’s books, you definitely should. WORDS IN THE DUST is one of my favorites.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

My daughter is destined to become a great illustrator. Check out her cute picture of a turkey that she drew for me for Thanksgiving! She even labeled all the parts, like the “spine of the tail fether” and the “egghole.” What a cutie.

Not long ago, one of the other Bookshop Talk hosts, Amy Finnegan (who is being published by Bloomsbury! Look for her debut it 2014!), asked a great question on Bookshop Talk’s facebook page: “This month is Thanksgiving, so which novel/s have made you grateful for the life YOU have, in comparison?”

Answers ranged from classics such as The Mill on the Floss to books written in our day, such as The Lovely Bones. I mentioned a young adult novel that I adore, called The Book Thief. Did you know it has been made into a movie? I’m dying to see it. Here’s the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92EBSmxinus

Doesn’t it look wonderful? It didn’t get rave reviews, but I’m still going to see it. You can’t beat Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson!

But back to the facebook question. I think this is an excellent topic for discussion, particularly since I firmly believe that reading creates empathy. To be directed to a link to a great article in Scientific American that talks more about this idea, click here.

Finally…I hope each of my American friends has a lovely Thanksgiving Day tomorrow! I’m grateful for many, many things, including all of you who support me in my efforts to (slowly) become a published writer.

Cheers!

Posted in Finding Great Books | Tagged | 4 Comments