Flashback to Sunday. We left Beaumont, Texas after driving all day Saturday from our home in Pontotoc, Mississippi. We arrived in San Antonio in the early afternoon without hotel reservations (our version of free-ranging) and drove downtown for a glimpse of Monday's destination, The Alamo and Riverwalk. I'm a huge fan of history, so visualizing myself standing in the mission where Davy Crockett died, along with so many other brave men, had me excited.
Downtown San Antonio, for those of you who have never experienced it, is a traffic nightmare. I've driven in my share of big cities, but I quickly found myself flustered and grouchy. It was like being thrown into a giant maze with hundreds of other vehicles all fighting for a way out. Not a problem, I told myself, because Monday will be all about walking. Just park the car and set out on foot.
Now back to Monday.
The weather in Texas was beautiful. Spring had popped out all around us. Birds sang and warbled, and darted from ground to branch and down again with little regard for the humans around them. I parked the car in the first public parking area we came to once we exited the freeway onto Alamo Drive. No way was I going to ruin my mood so early by throwing us back into the maze just to save a few steps. As we left the parking lot, I told Logan and Sharon, in a half-hearted manner, to remember where we parked. Logan looked up and saw Marriott on a tall building to our right and said we could just look for that. It seemed logical enough to me. The only other thing that registered with me was that the parking lot belonged to a Presbyterian church. I remember thinking it was a good way for a church to make money by renting out their parking lot during the week.
First let me say I was somewhat disappointed in The Alamo. At the risk of offending Texans, I found it to be severely lacking in historical upkeep. Pictures weren't allowed inside the mission (I gave them the benefit of the doubt that there is some valid reason for that). Inside the mission were display cases of old guns, and a lot of tourists. So many tourists you couldn't really stop and reflect on the historical significance of the place. What disappointed me most, however, was the lack of information about the battle. Other than a row of markers bearing the names of the fallen, I didn't see anything about the battle. Nothing.
Not to be daunted, we bought a few souvenirs and headed for the Riverwalk to spend the remainder of the day strolling along the San Antonio River, not knowing that, though the Riverwalk is every bit as beautiful as the brochures make it out to be, navigating it is a bit like driving the streets downtown. A person can easily walk in circles. One thing Logan noticed first was that the maps posted along the way all had the "You Are Here" red dot in the legend, but not a single one we saw had the red dot on the map, so we had to try and figure out where we were by looking around and finding intersecting streets (which was not always easy to do). Still, walking in circles wasn't so bad because we had no particular destination in mind. Our goal for the day was to relax and enjoy.
Back on solid ground again, we continued walking in search of nothing but the joy of strolling as a family one story beneath the busy streets of downtown San Antonio. There's a certain peacefulness in not having a destination, especially when your daily routine so often revolves around scheduled places to be and deadlines to meet. We found humor in the fact that a man approached us and told us there were restaurants all around us, then frowned that he normally gets $1.25 for that information. I mean, how could we not know we were surrounded by restaurants?
Remember that part about me telling Logan and Sharon not to forget where we parked? After the carriage ride, we set out in search of our car. It was getting late and the streets were mostly empty. Logan reminded us of the Marriott hotel, so we found that word in the skyline and headed toward it. Nothing looked
Let me pause here to say that I have a few recurring nightmares, one of which is that I leave some event and can't find my car. In the dream, I walk in every direction, trying to remember where I parked, frantically searching. I never find my car in that dream. As we walked the streets, tired and aching, I feared that dream might become reality. I tried to put up a brave front for my wife and son. They depended on me to protect them. We walked.
When I tell you this next part, it's important for you to understand how adverse I am to asking directions, or for help. I'm more likely to leave a store empty-handed than to ask someone if they have what I'm looking for. I'll drive and drive, refusing to stop and ask someone for directions far longer than I should.
As we walked down yet another empty street, Sharon told me she smelled fresh paint. So did I, though I hadn't realized it until that moment. We glanced to our right and saw freshly painted graffiti on the side of a box truck parked at the curb just feet from where we stood. At that moment it hit me how vulnerable we were. Hundreds of miles from home, lost and afoot.
I collected Sharon and Logan and we started out again. I saw the concern in her face when she asked if he was going to help us and I told her no. We walked less than half a block before the police car appeared beside us. The officer called me over and told me he had located a Presbyterian church on Alamo Drive (he was looking at google Maps on his phone). He told me which streets to take, then drove away.
Roughly ten minutes later, Sharon spotted the church. Nothing about it looked familiar, but there appeared to be a parking lot about two blocks to the rear. It was dark, so we couldn't tell for sure. As we walked, things began to look familiar. We entered the parking lot and Logan noticed the Marriott sign in big red letters high above. A few steps later we saw a black car with a Nissan emblem in the grill, but I tried not to get my hopes up in case it proved to be another dead end. Not until we reached the car and I saw all of our clutter inside did I breathe that sigh of relief. Few things have ever felt so good in my life as pressing the button on that door handle and hearing the thunk of the lock disengaging.
As we drove away, I thought about the homeless people we had seen earlier in the day, especially the one I had given money to, and thanked God to be as fortunate as I am.
March 23, 2015 was indeed a special day. My anniversary. The release of my new book, and the day I hopefully put one of my recurring nightmares to rest. Been there, done that.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Monday, March 23, 2015
I never intended to write a sequel
Since its release, The Night Train has received more reviews and triggered more reader comments than my other two novels combined. I have had the honor of speaking to middle school students who read The Night Train as part of their curriculum, as well as to teachers (retired and active) who have told me it should be required reading for all middle school students because of its subject matter.
Again and again, readers have repeated two comments: it should be a movie, and I should write a sequel. I can’t do anything about the movie request, but there came a point when I felt I could no longer dismiss the second request without failing the very people who have made these past few years so special — my readers.
So often sequels fail to live up to the original. When I decided to do this, I made a commitment to write a novel that can stand on its own merit. I wanted readers who haven’t read The Night Train to enjoy the full experience of reading a novel that is not part of a series, while not including too many spoilers should they choose to go back afterward and read The Night Train. At the same time, I didn’t want to subject those who have read The Night Train to excessive repetition of the original story. Striking that balance proved to be the most difficult part of creating Red Eyes.
A word of caution to parents: Red Eyes is not a children's book. While it does not contain gratuitous profanity (I never use the F-word or GD in any of my writings) or excessive sexual content, some of my characters do use some bad language. Since some people considered The Night Train to be a YA novel, and since so many young teens have read it, I feel the need to be clear that Red Eyes is written for an adult audience. My advice to parents is this: read it, then decide.
I know what you're going to ask: If a primary reason you wrote Red Eyes was because so many middle school students asked you to, why did you not write it to fit the YA category? To be perfectly honest, that is exactly what I set out to do, but as with all of my novels, the characters took over and I found it too hard to restrain them. That may sound silly, but that's exactly what happened.
People often ask me which of my novels is my favorite. My answer has always been, Norton Road. The reason? I fell in love with the characters. While it's too early to know how readers will react to Red Eyes, my gut tells me this is my best work to date. Why? Again, it's the characters. To put it simply, the cast of Red Eyes feels like family to me after a year of wrestling them for control of the story.
So what now? Hopefully, for you, it will be reading Red Eyes and enjoying it enough to tell your friends, your co-workers, your Facebook community, and the rest of the world by leaving a review on Amazon (reviews are an author's lifeblood). For me, it's working on the manuscript that will become my fifth novel, but more on that later.
Red Eyes is available on Amazon for your Kindle or in paperback format. If you would like a signed copy, visit my website and fill out the request form, or drop me a note at email@example.com.