Calling all agents
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Well, I'm about to start the hunt for the perfect agent. I guess all authors go through that process, but I'll bet very few enjoy the hunt. Oh, I know I can submit to some publishers without an agent, and I can self-publish, but that's not what I've decided to do. My goal is to get my next novel published by one of the top publishers in the business---and join them in promoting the novel. (Yes, I know that's every writer's goal.)
Most writers want to get published sooner or later, and I'm getting the itch to have another book on the shelves, so I'm starting to do the grunt work required. I'm a nationally published author and my first novel, The Red Scarf, has already sold almost 10,000 copies, so you'd think getting the sequel published would be automatic. Nope, that's not the way the publishing business works. As Elijah, the prophet said, "Each pot (novel) must sit on its own bottom." So, sometime next week, I'll start sending out query letters, synopsis, and maybe even a few chapters of The Yankee Doctor. Honestly, I think it's a superior novel to the already published, The Red Scarf. --I know hearing an author say that doesn't surprise you, but read the first chapter (below) and decide.
As the replies from the agents come in, I'll keep you posted.
The Yankee Doctor
Family and Friends
September 2, 1945, the Mason farm, a mile south of Norphlet, Arkansas
Heck, in my whole, entire life I ain’t never had nothing upset me as much. Dang. Just upset? Naw, it was a heck of a lot more than upset. Shoot, me and John Clayton was durn nearly kilt, and that weren’t all. We came so close to being sent off to reform school you wouldn’t believe it in a million years. Wow, I just shake every time I think about what happened, and believe it or not, weren’t none of it my fault. You don’t believe that do you? Well, listen up then, and I’ll tell you every little detail, but I’m a-warning you, some of it’s just gonna sound plum off the wall, but I promise, cross my heart, and hope to die, every little bit of what I’m gonna tell you is the god’s truth—so help me. Okay?
Well, it all got going just after last Fourth of July, and at first the little old things that kept a-happening didn’t seem to amount to much, but, boy, then stuff just went plain outta control, and we was almost goners—uh, wait a minute, that ain’t the way the thing started. I guess, if I’m gonna get things right, I oughta start from the very first just so I don’t miss nothin’. Shoot, it all started just so simple, and then before we knew it, the stuff with that sorry Yankee doctor had gotten totally outta hand.
You see this Yankee doctor came to town, and me and John Clayton really didn’t like him and you know…uh, well, maybe I should tell you who in the world is John Clayton. Heck, he’s my best friend, and he’s also twelve years old. He’s got curly black hair, and he’s not as tall as I am, but he weighs about ten pounds more than me, which you can figure, I’m real skinny.
I live on a farm about a mile south of a little south Arkansas town called Norphlet, right beside the big Flat Creek Swamp, and me and John Clayton and my skinny hound, Sniffer, spend a whole bunch of time exploring and fishing in the swamp. Shoot, that danged swamp is just huge; one of the biggest swamps around, and man, it’s full of the biggest and meanest snakes you ever did see in your whole, entire life.
I’m the town paper boy, which ain’t no big deal, but it means I hafta get up at five every morning and go deliver them sorry papers. Sniffer runs along with me every morning.
Let me see, yes, like I said, it was just after the Fourth of July when we heard a new doctor was moving to Norphlet. Course, I didn’t believe a word of it, but I’ll be horse-whipped if it weren’t true. Gosh, you would have thunk it was Santa Claus the way everybody carried on. Well, anyways, me and John Clayton was plenty curious just like everybody else in town. Like, you know, why on earth would a real, big-time doctor move to our little old town of just six hundred folks? Shoot, folks in Norphlet don’t go to no doctor unless they’re about to pass—you know die. Heck, I wasn’t the only one who wondered that, ’cause I overheard my daddy say to Momma, “Sue, why in the world would a doctor move to Norphlet? Just doesn’t sound right.”
“Oh, Jack, maybe it’s like he said, he wanted to move away from the big city and live a quiet life in the country.”
“Well, one thing for damn sure, if it’s quiet he wants, Norphlet sure can provide that.”
Momma shook her head and smiled as Daddy walked out of the kitchen laughing.
Heck, Momma’s always looking for a silver lining in everything, and she’ll give you the benefit of the doubt anytime it’s possible. However, slacking off on your work is one thing Momma won’t stand for, ’cause she’s a working woman, and it don’t matter none what kinda work: milking cows, hoeing the garden, or working in El Dorado as a part-time switchboard operator. Momma just works. She’s thin as a rail with coal black hair just like mine.
Daddy’s a whole bunch different than Momma, ’cause while Momma works just to work, Daddy works so he can go out and have a good time. The only bad thing about it is that Daddy’s good times are always drinking, and it’s not just one beer. On weekends he leaves every Friday and Saturday night and about eleven he wobbles in drunk as a skunk. Last year, right before Thanksgiving, he quit drinking for two whole months, and things were a whole bunch different around our house then, but heck, it didn’t last and now things are just back where they were with the Friday and Saturday night fights, and I’m right in the middle just like some boxing referee.
But back to the new doctor. Our gang of boys and Sniffer were sitting on the breadbox in front of Echols Grocery when we heard about the new doctor. The breadbox is our meeting place, and we spend hours just sitting there talking about what to do, or meeting and going somewheres.
Norphlet has stores on just two streets, and Echols Grocery, where we buy groceries, is right off Main Street in the middle of the block. Anyway, when we heard the doctor was from Vermont, one of our good friends, Ears, who just happens to have saucer-size ears, hooted. “A Yankee? You bet he’s a Yankee! If he was from any farther north he’d be a Canadian.”
“But why in the heck did he move all the way down here?” said John Clayton.
“Well,” I said, “Daddy said something’s fishy.”
“I don’t know,” said John Clayton, “but I’ll tell you one thing, all them ladies in the WMU (that’s the Women’s Missionary Union at First Baptist Church) think it’s just great, and they’re gonna have a poundin’ for him Sunday night.”
“Really,” said Tiny, who’s another one of my friends who uh, is slightly, well to be honest, he’s as fat as a hog.
“Hey, it’ll be a potluck supper!” hollered Tiny, who was a lot more excited about a big table of food than a Yankee doctor.
Donnie Echols, another one of our friends, walked out of his daddy’s grocery store about that time and heard us talking about the new doctor.
“Hey, guess what?” Donnie said. “The new doctor has rented the building beside the old Central Hotel, and he’s moving his equipment in today.”
So, we really were getting a new doctor, and he’d be at church Sunday night for the big pounding. I couldn’t wait to see what he looked like. A Yankee doctor from way up in Vermont; huh, I wonder if he’ll talk funny?
We sat around on the breadbox for a while, and were just about to leave when that sorry old man Odom ambled by heading for the grocery store.
“Well, if it ain’t the five little thieves,” he said.
“Good mornin’, Mr. Odom,” I answered. I shouldn’t have said nothing to him, because last summer we’d stolen his big seventy-pound, prize-winning watermelon, the one he’d raised using some newfangled water troughs, and although he couldn’t prove nothing, he just knew we stole that dang melon, and he darn sure wasn’t about to forget it.
“Good mornin’? Hell, boy, don’t say no good mornin’ to me, you little thief!” Then Mr. Odom wheeled around and glared at the five of us, until we were about to drop off the breadbox. Shoot, that old man looked as mean as a sack of snakes, with a slobber of tobacco juice dripping down his chin, and his old sunburned face all crinkled up.
“Y’all come on back to my watermelon patch this summer!” He was just a-waving his finger at us like it was some kinda gun, and then he looked real mean and said, “’Cause I’m takin’ the birdshot outta my old shotgun and puttin’ in double-aught buckshot! Y’all little thieves done cost me the state championship watermelon ribbon, and I ain’t ’bout to let you forget it!”
Well, old man Odom had us backed up against the store wall like a bunch of criminals. Heck, I could see Ears, who helped carry the watermelon outta the patch, and he was shaking like a leaf. I gave him a nudge and a shake of my head to be sure he didn’t break down and confess. Course, old man Odom couldn’t prove nothing so I just sat there and hoped he wouldn’t slobber tobacco juice on me.
When we were in old man Odom’s watermelon patch last summer, he’d shot birdshot at Ears and me, but outside of a small scratch where a little piece of shot nicked Ears, we was unscratched. There was feed sacks over our heads so he really couldn’t tell who was in his watermelon patch, but boy did he think we were guilty.
Sniffer, who didn’t like the sound of old man Odem’s yelling, started howling to beat sixty.
“Boy, shut that stupid hound up, or I’m gonna knock its ears off!” Mr. Odom drew back his foot to kick Sniffer.
“Yes sir, Sniffer, hush, hush!”
Sniffer calmed down somewhat to where he was just letting loose with one of them hound howls about every thirty seconds, and old man Odom continued to holler at us. Shoot, now, he was really worked up, and with Sniffer joining in with a howl every now and then, it was quite a scene. I could see folks in the grocery store start to look out.
Thank goodness the door opened and Slim Echols, the store owner, stepped out and patted old man Odom on the back.
“Henry, don’t let these boys get the best of you. After all, you don’t know for sure if it was them that got into your watermelon patch.”
“Hell, Slim, just look at ’em; they looks as guilty as a hound suckin’ eggs.”
“Come on in the store, Henry, let ’em be.”
Old man Odom and Mr. Echols walked into the store, and then we relaxed and took a deep breath.
“Richard, if you ever say another word to old man Odom, I’m gonna pound you into the ground, and for god’s sakes, don’t let that stupid dog howl like that. Shoot, you had that old man so worked up he was ’bout to jump us!” yelled John Clayton.
“I’m dang tired of gettin’ yelled at and hassled just because he thinks we got in his watermelon patch,” I said. “Heck, he can’t prove a danged thing. You know what he deserves?”
“Naw, what?” said Ears.
“Well, he’s raisin’ ’nother bunch of them big watermelons, so we oughta raid his danged patch again. That’s what the old fart deserves.”
“Ha, you’re out of your ever-lovin’ mind, Richard. Didn’t you hear him say his gun was gonna be loaded with buckshot next time?”
“Yeah,” said Ears, “and he’s always right round his house. He never goes nowhere except to the grocery store.”
Then I had one of them real smart thoughts that turned out to be not quite as smart as I thought it was right then.
“Huh, you’re right. He just comes down here to the grocery store once a week, so this time next week he’ll be back.”
“What are you thinkin’, Richard?” asked John Clayton.
“Well, next week, as soon as we see old man Odom comin’ down the sidewalk, we’ll scatter like bunch of quail, and he’ll think we’re takin’ off ’cause we’re a-scared of him, but we’ll be runnin’ right down the road straight to his watermelon patch.”
“Yeah! Yeah!” said Ears.
“I don’t know,” pondered John Clayton. “Maybe he’s fixed them melons with that croten oil stuff that’ll make you sick as a dog, or he could have somebody watchin’ the patch.”
“Shoot, you sound like one of them yellow-belly chickens,” I hooted. “’Fraid of old man Odom?”
“Naw, I ain’t ’fraid to raid that watermelon patch; I’m just wonderin’ if he’s fixed a trap for us. You know he’s just a-darin’ us to get in that patch.”
“I double-dog-dare both of you,” declared Ears.
“Heck, nobody double-dog-dares me!” I said. “Let’s do it next week.”
So the plan was made—a daring midday raid on old man Odom’s watermelon patch, while he was in town buying groceries.
Yeah, I’ll admit it: I’d thought a whole bunch about stealing that big seventy- pound watermelon last year, and even though we shared it with some of the soldiers that were camped right outside of town, it sure worried me, especially during last year’s revival. When I got home that night after the revival services, I wrote on a piece of tablet paper, “I stole a big watermelon from Mr. Odom’s watermelon patch and I’m sorry.” Then I signed it and put it in an envelope, and I wrote on the envelope “Do not open unless I’m dead,” and I put my name on the front. But as I sat there on the breadbox after that sorry old man yelled at us, I forgot all about being sorry for stealing that watermelon last year, and I was itching to get even with him for yelling and harassing us, even if we did deserve it. That old man was as mean as some slimy snake.
We sat around on the breadbox for about another thirty minutes until John Clayton looked in the store and hollered: “Mrs. Echols is makin’ out old man Odom’s charge ticket!”
Shoot, he didn’t hafta say nothing else, because we were off that breadbox in a flash and heading home. Sitting there waiting for that mean old man to come out and yell at us wasn’t something anyone wanted.
“Here, Sniffer. Here, boy, let’s go!” I yelled. Sniffer stretched and started ambling down the sidewalk, with me right behind him.
“Oh! Oh! Dang it!” Walkin’ on that old, broken-up sidewalk thinking about old man Odom had caused me to stump my toe on a piece of concrete. I’d been going barefooted since mid April, and after school let out I hadn’t worn a shirt, except when I went to El Dorado or to church. All I ever did wear during the summer was a cutoff pair of blue jeans. The soles of my feet were as tough as leather, but stumping your toe on a piece of concrete, even with tough feet, still hurts like crazy. Tough feet ain’t no protection from doing something that stupid. I limped on down the sidewalk mumbling about old man Odom. My house is about a mile down the El Dorado Highway, and by the time I got there my toe was back to normal…almost.
It was eleven-thirty, time for lunch, when I got home, and Momma had a big bunch of fresh vegetables and fried chicken again. Sniffer plopped down on the front porch to wait for me to come back outside, and I went in and sat down at the kitchen table where I went through a couple of pieces of fried chicken and a big helping of purple hull peas, and drank a big glass of buttermilk with cornbread crumbled up in it. That was lunch for me except for the blackberry cobbler, which I ate with some cream poured over it.
“Richard, as much as you eat, I can’t believe you don’t gain some weight.”
“I know Momma. I don’t seem to do nothin’ but get taller.”
Uh, oh no, ’nother grammar lesson.
Momma smiled and I slurped the last bit of fresh blackberry juice.
I spent the rest of the afternoon out behind the barn practicing shooting marbles, and I’d just walked back up to the house, when Daddy sauntered out wearing freshly starched khakis and a felt hat, and smelling of Old Spice. Momma was right behind him, and I thought she was just gonna say, “Don’t go out, Jack,” ’cause Momma always is ragging Daddy about his drinking. But she didn’t. Momma didn’t see me a-standing there by the side of the house, and Daddy was just about to get into the car when she grabbed his sleeve and pulled him around.
“Jack Mason, by god, I’d better not hear you’ve been seen with Helen Simpson tonight!”
“Oh, Sue, you know I just kid around with Helen out at the refinery. She’s just a friend.”
“Jack Mason, you’re a liar!”
“Sue, don’t be jealous; I’m just goin’ out to have a beer, nothin’ more.” And with that, Daddy shut the car door and drove off.
I stood there not knowing what to think. Sure, I’d been around Daddy plenty of times when he stopped and talked to different women. Daddy works around a whole bunch of women at the refinery because so many men have been drafted, and they’ve hired a bunch of single women and War widows to work in the oil canning part of the plant. I understood it a little bit better after John Clayton told me what his momma had said about Daddy.
“Heck, Richard, my momma said your daddy is so good-lookin’ all the refinery women are just hangin’ on him. She said your momma better watch ’em.”
Well, I’d never thought of Daddy as being good-looking, but I guess he is. He’s over six feet tall and weighs one hundred and eighty pounds, and he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. He has sandy light red hair and deep blue eyes, and really likes to dress up and go out.
After Daddy left and Momma went back inside the house, I thought about Miss Simpson. She’s a really pretty woman—tall, with long brown hair. Most of the women in town keep their hair cut short, but Miss Simpson lets her hair grow long, and it curls around her face and hangs down over her shoulders, which even I think is pretty. Momma and Daddy sure didn’t know it but last summer when John Clayton and me were out frog gigging, we’d walked by Miss Simpson’s bedroom window, and saw her standing there in front of the window cooling off without no clothes on from the waist up. I’ll never forget that as long as I live. Me and John Clayton just stood there with a blank stare. She had, well, her, I mean she was larger in places than I’d ever imagined. So, as I stood there and thought about what Momma said, I could see that maybe Daddy was interested in Miss Simpson, even though she was nearly forty years old.
Me and Momma had another one of them suppers by ourselves, because we knowed Daddy wasn’t about to come in before eleven. After supper I went over to the radio with Momma to listen to Walter Winchell give the War news. Momma turned the dial to KELD and soon Walter Winchell’s rattley voice filled the room. I don’t know how anyone can talk so fast. I can barely understand him.
“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America, North and South America and all the ships at sea … let’s go to press! Jap troops surrender by the thousands, American Marines capture Okinawa, and casualties are high. Over twenty thousand Japs killed. The attack on the major islands of Japan is only weeks away.”
“Gollee, Momma, did you hear that! Them sorry, stinkin’ Japs are ’bout finished!” I yelled.
“Shusss, Richard, he’s not finished.”
Well, after that Walter Winchell went on and on mostly about the dang Japs and their suicide planes. Me and Ears had a talk about the suicide planes last week, and I don’t think Ears understands the whole thing.
“Heck, Richard, what I don’t get is how they gets outta the plane ’fore it hits a ship.”
“Shoot, Ears, they don’t get out. They crashes it right into the ship with them in it.”
“You mean kill themselves? They don’t either! You’re just makin’ that up. Nobody, but nobody, is gonna fly an airplane into a ship on purpose.”
“Yes, they do, Ears. I promise, cross my heart.” But Ears didn’t believe me. He thought they were just acting like they crashed the planes into the ship, but right before it hit they’d bail out and float down while the plane flew on and crashed into the ship.
Soon Walter Winchell was over, and I settled down to listen to The Green Hornet and then The Shadow. Momma came in and made a half-hearted attempt to get me in bed, but she knew better. I won’t go to bed until Daddy has staggered into the bedroom and passed out, and tonight would be more of the same. A few minutes after eleven I heard our car pull up by the gate. Sniffer let out a welcome howl, and soon I heard Daddy’s unsteady steps on the porch. He made it to the front door and started fumbling with the lock and doorknob. I couldn’t stand it no longer, and I ran to the door and opened it. He stood in the doorway just waiting for Momma to light into him like she did every night when he came home drunk. Momma got up from the couch, where she’d been reading a fashion magazine, and started slowly walking toward Daddy. I would always just wait to hear Momma’s opening line, and most of the time it was, “Jack Mason, you’re drunk again! Don’t you care anything about your family?”
Daddy was sure to answer. “Sue, I’m not drunk. I’ve only had two beers.”
Well, if anything was funny about this whole stupid mess it was that statement. Daddy, who was so drunk he had to hold onto the door facing to keep from falling down, had certainly lost count of the beer he’d drunk.
However, that night Momma was different. She walked over to Daddy, looked him over, reached up and touched his collar, and, I’ll swear, she smelled him. Heck, what was that all about? I could smell beer from across the room. What was she doing? Momma took about two steps back and through gritted teeth, where I had trouble hearing she said, “You’ve been with her, haven’t you?”
“What? What did you say, Momma?”
“Sit down, Richard; your dad and I are just talkin’.”
“I know Momma, but what did you say?” Well, Momma wasn’t about to repeat that again in front of me, and strangely enough Daddy stopped talking and just went to bed. He passed out and was dead to the world in five minutes. Heck, I was in shock. Daddy, who is easygoing and never yells or fusses around the house, is a different person after he starts drinking. Usually, he and Momma will go on for almost an hour, yelling and threatening with me right between them. I tried to talk to Momma about what was certainly a-whole-bunch-different evening, but she just sent me to bed.
I lay there in bed that night knowing something was happening in our family that wasn’t right, but I didn’t know exactly what. Maybe it was Miss Simpson. In a few minutes I dozed off wondering if Ears was right. Maybe them Japs do jump out right before the plane hits. It was five o’clock and time to deliver them danged papers before I knew it.