Prologue Before - NY City 1950’s A spark was ignited fourteen million-millennia ago, back when the first stars formed from carbon dust. Over time the fire has been injected into every one of us who has ever successfully slipped from the birth canal, creating a something deserving of a big, complicated, bombastic, raging and powerful name. But we call it simply “Life.” This ancient, mystical, boundless flash can be shut down and snuffed out in less time than we spend in the cycle of one breath. The entire process, the sentient action to end a life takes a handful of seconds. The methods have been experimented with and perfected and honed and polished within the confines of those thousands of millions of years into an art, a cold and ruthless art. In this case, the process, the art, is the gunshot: shots fired from one gun. ********** The handgun, a revolver, was born shiny and clean and smelling of machine oil in a Smith & Wesson, Springfield Massachusetts factory in 1948, assembled by a couple of guys recently home from the big war. A gun, any gun, is only an object. It can’t be good or bad, it doesn’t feel or think or desire or need, hurt or hunger. But the gun is the vehicle. The violence comes from men, from me, from men like me. Men like me are drawn to many things. To shiny objects of money and power, drugs, and to safe, secure, sane and grounded women. To soft music and softer words of promise while we dance and beg the sweet ladies to leave their pretty summer dresses in a pile on the bedroom floor. But then we run. We run from the women because we run from the comfort, from the terror of family dinners and kids and dogs and well-trimmed lawns. The gun was stolen from its original owner by a kid called Lucky Johnny. Johnny was from the streets of Brooklyn, 1949, a black and white world, a world of large analog and mechanical things. He held odd jobs, lived with his mother in a third-floor walk-up apartment. The stoop out front was concrete and dirty. There were some flowers outside one first-floor window, but they seemed gray too. One of his jobs was as a night janitor at the local police precinct. He hated the job. A couple of the local street cops were good to him and he considered them friends. The sergeant, though, was a master prick and treated the kid like crap, picking on him, calling him a loser, telling him how much he’d like to fuck his mom. Johnny hated him, and so did most of the beat cops. One December, about a week before Christmas, the cops had a party in a back room of the station. Johnny was cleaning out the toilets when he found Sarge passed out drunk in a stall. Sarge had been loudly proud of his newly issued .38 Police Special revolver. It sat unstrapped in the drunk cop's holster. Johnny, looking over his shoulder, reached in where the fat, drunk cop sat stooped over and stole the gun, sliding into his pants. He finished his work quickly, went back to the party, said goodnight to the other cops, and left for the night. Walking home he passed a liquor store and thought of his mom, and the Christmas present he hadn’t yet bought. He needed money. Walking inside, he announced, “This is a stickup!” He pointed the revolver at the man behind the counter. Holding it with both hands, he fired off six shots. Glass and lead and whiskey filled the air. A bullet ricocheted and took out the front window glass and the neon sign that said “Fine Liquors.” He missed the cashier entirely. Johnny ran. Johnny hid the gun under his bed in an old shoe box. He lay there awake all night thinking about the gun - terrified - scared the cops would find out he was the one who shot up the liquor store. The cops would realize he stole the sergeant’s gun. He poked his head under the bed and opened the box. It was real. Lucky Johnny needed to be rid of the gun. He took a train to the Bronx. His friend's brother, a jewelry store owner, wanted to buy a gun for protection. Johnny sold it to the guy for forty bucks, a fortune in 1949. With his money he bought a Christmas tree and took it home to decorate it. He bought his mom some towels for the kitchen. He paid a girl who lived in the building on the floor above him fifteen dollars for sex. It was the best Christmas of Lucky Johnny’s life. ************ The mild spring of 1950 gave way to the summer heat of August. The jeweler was happy with his purchase. It seemed to keep a distance between him and the bad guys of the street. One evening he was on his way to deposit the day’s cash in the bank before heading to his home on the Grand Concourse, near Yankee Stadium. The jeweler was a good guy, a decent guy with a family. He had kids. He liked beer and baseball. But he’d begun to fear the neighborhood where he kept his business, so he carried the Police Special revolver. It made him feel more secure, less afraid. A thug named Angel, working an empty street turned dark and damp and drowned in an early evening and a late summer’s fog, jumped the jeweler and took the gun. The jeweler fought back, taking a long, arching swing but missed entirely and fell face first to the wet concrete. The thug made a snap decision and pulled the trigger on the stolen gun. The process is simple: the trigger pulls back against the force of a spring. A pawl pushes up and a ratchet is turned. A barrel spins one-sixth of one turn and is locked in place by another pawl. The spring, under pressure from the trigger, pulls the hammer back. The finger applies more pressure. At the apex of the cycle, a pause, that is only microseconds long, but seems a lifetime - possibly because that is all the time that remains for the jeweler - somewhere between that second and the next second, a life will cease. After the pause, the split second, the trigger as far back as it can possibly go, now slams forward, like a hammer, like an uncontrolled and angry cock. It releases its kinetic power - driving into the primer of the bullet cartridge. The primer, pushing forward causes an explosion in the little shell, enough to force the lead from its casing and down the barrel. To decide a fate, to take a life, in a moment, just a moment - breathe in and out - and count the seconds. The bullet entered the jeweler's body, bursting through skin and muscle and bone and passing through the heart at six-hundred feet per second. Angel exhaled. The jeweler didn’t. The damp, sticky air echoed the sound of the explosion that follows the lead from the barrel. It bounced off and was absorbed by the walls of the buildings on the foggy street, up and down the alleys and hollow city caverns. Angel heard sirens in the distance. He pocketed the man’s wedding ring and cash, the day's proceeds from the jewelry store. And stuck the gun, the snub-nose .38 Smith & Wesson Police Special, into his waistband. ********** Angel hunkered down, he did his job, he hated his work, and he lived modestly, quietly. He met a pretty girl and dreamed of a farm and a life away from all of this. He hoped the farm would somehow silence the screams of those he killed with the .38 Smith & Wesson Police Special. He married the girl and found the farm. The gun went with him. He was a terrible farmer. He got a job in a factory and raised his family and tended to his land and cows and chickens. Angel lived like a guy with a mortgage and bills and a crummy job. He never showed the world the money he took from those streets. Angel became “Unk” to everyone - his friends, his family, even his wife called him Unk at times. He had a favorite nephew. That boy's name, my name, is Richie O’Malley. This is my story. #writersofinstagram #bibliophile #bookworm #bookworms
My editor is a better writer than me. i am OK with that.
I am not sure, exactly, how we met, but like one or two other people I have stumbled upon during this writing journey – Shari Stauch is another – I am deeply grateful and a little in awe.
She scared me when I realized she was going to review my work. Elle gave me a better review than I deserved. It is astounding to me – how I get to work with people of this caliber.
This is an except from Elle’s blog.
FOR I HAVE SINNED
By Elle Michael River
When Jesus walked into the nuthouse, I knew things were going to get interesting. Our savior wore a gray t-shirt, ripped jeans, and a pair of orange, converse sneakers. An angry red sore oozed over his fat, brown lips, and he had the tell-tale bruising of a black eye almost healed. He was smiling. I guess he knew something we didn’t. He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet and hummed what sounded a bit like Jingle Bells.
No one else paid Jesus much attention. It was close to lunchtime, and meals were a serious business in the nuthouse. I was bringing up the caboose of unit B2’s lunch line, picking at my overgrown nails, when the singing began.
“Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almiiighty!”
Jesus’ crisp tenor pierced through discussions of Connect Four triumphs and whether there would be pie. Everyone stopped short at his sudden serenade. Silence. Here was our savior, smiling at us, his teeth a rancid, smoker’s yellow.
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah! Praise ye the Looord!”
Jesus wasn’t a very good singer.
Pete let out a bark of laughter and turned his crooked smile to Jo and me.
“Wow, this one’s even better than Crazy Katie! Someone screwed up downstairs,” he said. He rolled his eyes in that Pete way.
A stiff, brunette woman wearing nurse’s white came by with her clipboard and began to count us off by twos for lunch. A line of dark lipstick had smeared beyond the left of her smile. I couldn’t stop staring at it. She called my number – forty, the last in line – and I shuffled forward, sucking at my lips. She gave me a weird look, but I cast my gaze to the ground. I didn’t like being last. My favorite number was nine, but I wasn’t always fast enough to count eight places and wedge myself in. It was easier to be number forty.
Jesus was all but forgotten during our meal. Hunger has a way of taking over your brain until all the mashed potatoes are gone. Pete, Jo, and I always sat together at lunch. We weren’t really crazy, not like the others. The doctors couldn’t keep us for long when they had actual psychos like Katie to deal with. The three of us stuck together because it was important to have allies in the nuthouse.
Crazy’s contagious, you know?
(Please click link to continue on to Elle’s site and to read more)
People tell me I’m a good writer. That’s a stretch. I’m sure they are referring to the final product. That, to me, is a great honor. It is hard to describe the feeling when someone says good things about my work. It is more than a quick stroke of the ego. The positive feedback touches something very deep inside me. As does the criticism – always deserved – and IS the side of the writing process that leads to actual growth.
I am equally grateful for the criticism or the praise. It takes some work to appreciate criticism. Learning to say “he/she is right” and start over is tough, but it makes you a better writer. Suck it up, buttercup.
All that said, you people are nuts. Continue reading Writing
I’ve seen a lot of American flags strapped to pickups trucks lately. I see them at night, I see them in the rain, I see them touching the lumber and garbage in the back of the trucks; beer cans and coffee cups and bags that I assume are destined for the local landfill, or the side of some back road. I see them flown, on pickup trucks, alongside Confederate flags.
I’ve never been much of a flag waver. I was raised around men who took the flag and what it stood for very seriously. They took patriotism – not nationalism – very seriously. Guys who were in fights like the Battle of the Bulge and Pearl Harbor in WWII – I actually had two uncles at Pearl Harbor – and some who saw some really heavy, terrifying things in Vietnam. Some got medals. Some threw those medals away. Continue reading Old Glory, Faded Glory, Ragged Glory
He turned and looked at me and said, “These machines, this equipment was built by a good man, good men who went to work at seven in the morning every day and brought their sandwiches in bags and on weekends they played baseball and drank beer and they took their families on picnics on Sundays. When they died people went to their funerals and genuinely wept because men like this would be missed in a community, the community was somehow diminished by the passing of men like these. They built things that were good and strong. These old machines are their legacy. They still work and do the job they were designed to do long after these men have passed. We will never be men like this, we will never understand men like this. We are another type of men. There is no good in men like us. Sometimes I come out to this barn just to be alone with this equipment and try to understand what it must’ve been like to be the man who built such things. To be a good man. A simple and good man.”
Then he looked over at me and said, “What will our legacy be, nephew?”
With that he turned toward the barn door, stopping to wait for me as I let his words sink in.
As I joined Unk he continued, “We live in a world without walls to contain us or boundaries. But, we come to learn we cannot trust anyone. Allegiances and allies change, seemingly by the minute. Your right hand, the guy you always trusted, you end up putting a plug in him because he fucked you over. Life happens, keep moving.
We lose touch with who we were, we lose our life before this. Every day in the life pushes us farther and farther away. We lose the simple things. We lose right and wrong, they are ever changing. Right and wrong are simply a result of circumstance. A condition of the now.
Basically that means what I can say about my book in the amount of time I’m stuck on an elevator with some poor, unexpecting, future reader…
Here’s my shot — what do you think?
30 Second Elevator Pitch:
Heroin and prescription drug and alcohol abuse in this county is out of control. Worse now than when I was young. The war on drugs is a complete and dismal failure.
I survived this Hell. I found the twelve steps, fell apart at the Third Step: Continue reading 30 Second Elevator Pitch – Third Step
So, here we are at the very end. This is where things start to get interesting. After six months of bitching and complaining about friends and editors and marketing people, after all that screaming and blaming the universe, I am now down to the last 300 printed pages to read myself, out loud, Shari’s orders.
This mess of a manuscript has been professionally edited three times, it has cost me all my friends. It’s been read by 25 beta reader and corrected it a thousand-thousand times. It now comes down to this. Continue reading The Publish Button, Complete With Sireeeeens
Settling in and enjoying the heady aroma of my book burning in the fire pit, I remember I have to call Rob. You know Rob by now, the guy with the sound advice. The guy who actually helps me and wants me to succeed? The guy who’s advice I finally decided to take? I call him, the conversation goes like this:
Rob: “How’s the book coming?”
Me: “Firepit, I think I see page 278 going up now. That was a good page, I’m gonna miss it.”
Rob: “Why don’t you calm down and let us edit it.” Continue reading Our Hero Meets His Match…
And so self publishing becomes self loathing… I hate this book. I hate me for ever starting it. I hate every word. All 128,000 stupid, fucking, misspelled, incorrectly punctuated, echoed, passive words.
I hate editing. I’ve read this nightmare 12 times. No one should have to do that – ever.
I hate Frankie, I hate his friends. Somedays I want to rewrite it just so everyone dies. Maybe end it with a nuclear war so that no one is left except the cockroaches, but then a cockroach would say, “Great job, but there is a typo on page four.” I hate the cockroaches. Continue reading Self Publishing Becomes Self Loathing…