GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY
by C. Lee McKenzie
"My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn’t been laid yet. I couldn’t go into the slammer before that happened." ~ Hutch McQueen.
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped between an abusive mother and an absentee father. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention. When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.
Kranski’s office might as well be home. I spend more time with him than I do with Dee Dee, and for good reason: the principal’s friendlier than my mom.
I ease into the familiar hot seat across from him and face the shiny nameplate on his desk.
“See this?” he says, holding up the plate in front of my face. “It says, ‘Principal Noah Kranski.’ That means you’re supposed to follow my rules as long as you’re in this school.”
I roll my eyes.
“Dump the attitude, Hutch.”
He shakes his head and slams a thick file down in front of him. “This makes seven times this year you’ve cut Mr. Diakos’s class, and it’s only September.” He writes something at the bottom of a page. When he finishes, he looks up. “Did I miss any?”
“I’m not counting.” That ain’t true. I count every day I can escape that stupid class, just like I count every day I wake up in Larkston. But I’m not going to be trapped here much longer.
Kranski jabs his pen into a “World’s Best Dad” cup, and leans back with his hands behind his head. This is what he always does before he sentences me. “You get to think about changing your ways for the rest of the week. When you come back, you’re still responsible for all the class work and the tests, just like always.”
“Just like always.” I repeat the words so I got something to say that don’t sound like I’m a smart mouth. Last time I left saying, “Thanks,” and Kranski told me to cut the sarcasm. Who gives a rat’s ass about what Kranski says? I’m free, for four days.
I’m almost at the door when the secretary pops her head inside. “Sorry, Mr. Kranski, but there’s an emergency in the gym. They need you right away.”
He’s out before me, a gimpy old guy running on bad feet.
I plug into my iPod, pull up The Rockets’ newest hit, and strike out across campus. Blaze’ll be at the Smoking Tree. I follow the hard-packed foot trail that leads from the back of the school, around the curve of the hillside and up the slope. The tree’s just far enough away to keep under Kranski’s radar, yet near enough to drop in for a few tokes when I need them to get through Deek the Greek’s English class, or face going back to Palm Street and Dee Dee.
Blaze is there, talking on his cell and dealing with some kid with slicked-back hair. Blaze jerks around, pockets the phone, and then relaxes when he sees me. “Yo, thought you was the cops for a minute. You get suspended again?”
“Rest of the week.” I take my ear bud out, drop my backpack and plop onto the shady ground. “I need a joint.”
“Where’d you get that?” He points to my iPod.
“Can’t remember. It sort of appeared.”
“Right.” He smirks and tosses me a joint along with a lighter.
The kid with the greased hair ducks under a limb, and walks in the direction of the school. “Hope you got cash, man. I’m outta credit here,” Blaze says.
I dig into my pocket and pull out a ten.
He laughs. “With what you already owe me, for that ten,” he coughs, “you get a few” - another cough - “hits, man.” He holds out a roach clip with a smoking joint. “Give me that one back.”
I hand him the joint, settle against the tree trunk and roll my lips over the small brown tube. Closing my eyes, I suck the warm fog into my lungs and hold my breath. The weed winds its way through my blood and into my brain. Kranski turns into a cartoon of a cup with World’s Best Dad wrapped around his middle. Dee Dee stretches into a giant beer bottle and rolls across the kitchen linoleum. The sky turns soft and blue, with the Smoking Tree splashing crazy shapes over my jeans.
“So, how are you breaking the news to Dee Dee this time?” Blaze reaches out and grabs his joint. “She said she was bouncing your butt the next time Kranski suspended you.”
My mom don’t care what I do, but Kranski makes her life hell when he calls her in to see him. These trips to his office take away from her social life and shake her out of bed before noon. I laugh. “Guess I’ll have to move in with you, dude.”
“Anytime. I told you, man.” Blaze inhales, coughs, and then inhales again to replace the gray smoke he’s wasted in the air.
I plug back into some tunes and hang with Blaze under the Smoking Tree through three more sales. He rewards me with a few hits for acting as lookout, something I can do while I get a story together for why I’m bounced for four days. The weed and the Rockets take the edge off what’s going down later. I’m in for ‘Destruction by Dee Dee’ no matter what I say. I roll over on my right side and trace the white line from my wrist to my elbow - one of her nicer moves with a broken glass.
Stretching out on the lawn, I stare up through the tree branches. How’d it be to fly straight into those clouds, poke my head inside and stay until I wind up on the other side of the world? Goodbye, Larkston. Goodbye, Dee Dee.
I must doze off because when I open my eyes the shadows from the tree have shifted from my right side to my left. I squint at my watch. It’s after three. My ride! Hope Eddie didn’t take off without me. I hate that walk, halfway across town to Palm Street. I grab my books. “I’m out of here.”
A drunk and neglectful mom, absentee dad, and vision problems have already stacked the deck against Hutch McQueen. When an arrest lands him in court, it’s doubtful he’ll ever succeed. But a sympathetic judge sends him to an after-school intervention program run by a priest with a similar past. Hutch hates the extra schoolwork and doesn’t like being paired with a forgetful elderly woman to work on his reading, but he finally has people on his side. Will the support be enough to keep Hutch out of jail and make a success of his life? One of the biggest strengths of this gripping novel is that McKenzie keeps us guessing as to the outcome. Hutch is a realistically flawed character whose compassion shines through, and the realizations he makes by the end are compelling and left me cheering. I always find this author’s writing superb and Double Negative is no exception. Highly recommended.
Guest Post by the Author
Where Do Stories Come From?
Someone at a book signing recently asked me where I came up with the stories I’ve written and what my process was for getting those stories out of my head and onto the page. The short answer would have been, “Don’t ask me.” But I’m not into short answers, so I gave the question some thought and here’s what I’ve come up with.
Stories come like clouds, usually when I least expect them and usually when I’m attending to other things, like brushing burrs out of my cat’s fur. Some of these clouds are dark and filled with the promise of a storm; others are those lovely white ones that come in spring and mist the air before scudding out of sight. Some look like mythological creatures or rabbits or faces that shift expressions while I watch. Once a cloud has settled in my brain it pretty much stays there until I do something about it.
The problem is it stays day and night, mostly night, so when I’m trying to sleep it’s shifting around in my brain, storming or misting or behaving like a unicorn or a satyr. Then my bed starts to fill with characters. They talk to me and to each other. Locations like cities or forests or horse ranches pop up like movie sets and suddenly those characters are in a place, their place, the one they expect me to create on a page, so they’ll be able to have somewhere to live.
Then the question of “What’s this story about?” starts nagging at me. Who are these people yammering at me, and what do they want or need? I usually wrestle that down in a one or two sentence premise. Once I have that I can start entering the words into a file. I do almost all of my writing on my computer, but during the early “wrestling” stages I’ll make notes on just about anything, including the back of my hand--really.
The rest of the process is daily grind or euphoria, depending on how the writing goes. I look forward to plowing through to the end, so I can start the real delving and expanding. Rewriting is my all time favorite job, and I’m not being sarcastic. I have the main threads woven from beginning to end; next it’s all about embroidery and texture. It’s at this stage I really feel free from the mechanics of who, where, when, how, and why. I don’t know if that makes sense, but this is the closest I can come to explaining how I feel.
While this topic of “where do you get your stories” keeps coming up, I don’t think readers or writers tire of hearing about the creative “process.” Each writer is unique and that’s what makes books the treasures they are. We can enter those writers’ worlds, look at life from a different perspective, and learn or enjoy so much every time we turn a page.
I love to hear how other writers “find” their stories and what their process is, so if you’re one of those writer types, please share.
Thanks for this opportunity to appear on your blog. It’s been great to be here.
From the Author
In my other life - the one before I began writing for teens and younger readers - I was a teacher and administrator at California State University, San Jose. My field of Linguistics and Inter-cultural Communication has carried me to a lot of places in the world to explore different cultures and languages. I can say, "Where’s the toilet?" and "I’m lost!" in at least five languages and two dialects. Go ahead. Pat me on the back.
My idea of a perfect day is one or all of the following: starting a new novel, finishing writing a blockbuster novel, hiking on a misty morning trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains, saying Namaste after a great yoga practice, sipping a cappuccino topped at a bustling café, reading in front of a fire with snow outside, swimming in an ocean someplace.
I've just set out my perfect life. Day after day after day.
Enter the giveaway for a chance to win an ebook copy of Double Negative by C. Lee McKenzie. The prize will be sent out by the tour organizer after 17 September.