For those following along at home or who might be interested in the least, I’ve decided to table The Siren’s Lyric for a bit. It has drawn some interest here and there, which is encouraging, but alas it’s my first novel and as such there are kinks in it.
In the meantime, I have been plotting out a new novel idea, one that I think may be more marketable. Plus, it will be fun to apply what I’ve learned over the past three to five years into something new.
The working title of the novel is The Queen of Clubs (check here for frequent updates/additional info). Below is a first draft of the synopsis and the opening couple of pages. Feedback is always appreciated.
Seventeen-year-old Jack Boyd knows that Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease—he’s done his research. What he finds odd, however, is that while Grandma’s brain often reverts back to a long-ago time it also goes to a made-up place found only in the children’s stories she used to tell Father. The strange turns stranger when she makes repeated claims of being a knight from one of those stories.
The simple answer is, she’s crazy–yet when Jack is asked to help Father clean out her basement, he finds a chest containing evidence of a more complex story.
Meanwhile, the strangeness begins to infect Grandma’s nursing home as a beautiful young girl starts showing up in the garden at odd times before disappearing outright, as voices and melodies are often heard with no discernible source, and as a constant pull seems to be coming from the maintenance shed like the grip of an invisible hand.
Jack can’t ignore the signs, nor can he simply turn an eye when playing cards begin showing up in odd spots within the facilities—most commonly the queen of clubs.
It’s damn hard not to be angry at someone for losing their mind. Grandma had moved into the Saint Mary’s Senior Care Center about two years ago and, while there was no logic behind it, a small part of Jack still clung to the hope that she might soon snap out of it. But he knew one didn’t simply “snap out” of Alzheimer’s—the disease would only worsen as it progressed. He had done his research…even dusted off a few thick-as-a-branch library books when his internet findings gave less-than-favorable results.
In the end, Father had said it best: “Growing old is a sonovabitch.”
And that line prattled on in his head as he walked home from school on a sunny-but-chilly Tuesday afternoon. Oh, he would stop by the Care Center on his way just as he did most days, but he was dreading it…and then was fending off waves of guilt for dreading it.
Great. Tommy Pratt—the kind of kid you could waste an hour with in a five-minute conversation. He waddled across the residential street in an attempted run, huffing and panting even as he began. Fatty, Fat Tommy Pratt kids called him. Not Jack, mind you, but some kids. Jack was too nice a person—had far too much morality and junk to tell the most annoying kid in school to leave him alone to his thoughts. And that’s why Tommy would join him on his visit to Grandma’s that day. That’s why Jack often thought of himself as a sissy.
What’s worse than enduring the gibberish of one crazy person, but two, Jack thought—and then the wave of guilt started up all over again.
When Tommy finally made it up to the end of the block where Jack waited for him, it took him a minute or two to catch his breath. He hunkered forward against his knees as if he might spew, facing the sidewalk with his chins testing the strength of his collar. That was the other thing about Tommy: if his personality and chubbiness weren’t enough for him to get picked on, the fact that he always dressed up in collared shirts and slacks for school did the trick.
“Jack! You’ll never guess what happened!” he said with a gasp. “Sally Brunson asked me to be her lab partner in chemistry! I mean she didn’t ask me really, but when Mr. Martin set up the partners and we were paired she turned to me and said, ‘Well, guess we’re lab partners, you and I’—and she was chipper about it, Jack! CHIPPER! I mean, I’m not saying she was into me or anything like that, but…” he took a pause, pinning his lower lip with his upper row of teeth, “…I think I can work with chipper.”
Jack’s eyes were aching. He suspected they needed to roll back in their sockets several times over and the restraint from doing so was the cause of this soreness.
“Isn’t she a bit…out of your league?” Jack asked.
Tommy didn’t look hurt by the comment. In fact, he seemed to have expected it for out came another babbling monologue.
“Oh, there’s no such thing as a league…not for guys, anyway. I mean, look at half the romance movies out there—good lookin’ ladies are always ending up with guys who don’t match their looks. I blame the media, really. Women are projected as sex objects while there’s a much lesser standard for us men. It’s really tragic, but it does work in my favor.”
“Men?” Jack muttered, but kept his eyes in front of him, hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his worn jeans where he fidgeted with loose thread. He knew that casting another opinion meant more blabbering from Tommy, but he couldn’t help himself from slipping in a sarcastic remark.
“In all those movies, don’t the ‘ugly’ characters just take off their glasses to suddenly become gorgeous?” he said with a snort. “Neither you nor Sally wear glasses.”
But Tommy had a response for this, too. “No, no, no, that only applies to female characters and in a completely different kind of movie. Think more along the lines of…The Flinstones.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “The Flinstones? The old cartoon?”
“Well, sure, but…” Tommy seemed to be searching for the words. “Fred Flinstone is overweight and a loudmouth, and Wilma’s a fox!”
“Ah, well then…good for you, Tommy,” Jack said, hoping to end it there. If the fool wanted to map his love life around animated drawings from the sixties, that was his prerogative. It was a free country after all, even for lunatics.
“—but I know what you’re thinking,” Tommy added. “A lot of times in these movies there’s a bully in the way, or some kind of obstacle, like a more handsome-looking guy going after the same girl…maybe not in the Flinstones, but…you know…other movies…”
“I really wasn’t—”
“Well, I’ve thought about that,” Tommy continued, “but I still think it could work for me. I just have to get her to see my inner self—I’m talking about my heart, Jack. Fat guys like me, we have great hearts. And besides, if Jeff Hilliard can get head cheerleader, Tanya Glassman, to go steady with him, there’s hope for me. He’s not that great looking, Jack—maybe a four outta ten!”
“Maybe not,” Jack said, “but Jeff is starting quarterback for the football team.”
Tommy beamed. “Ah…yes…but just the other day I overheard Sally saying she wasn’t even that much of a football fan—I can work with this, Jack…I’m telling you!”
“Shut up, Tommy.”
Tommy withdrew, giving a look as if he’d been struck in the face.
Jack sighed. “I just mean…this is my stop. Got to visit Gran, you know.”
They had been walking parallel to a steel fence that stood a head or two higher than Jack. At the corner was where that fence became a large gate, which opened up into a courtyard with stone fountains and displays of marigold, iris and hibiscus plants. A cement pathway cut through this display, winding around a medley of shrubs with a young cherry tree sprouting out from the center. This path led to the Silver Center, which to Jack looked more like an old museum than a nursing home, with brown eaves in need of a paint job and a tan siding in need of a power wash.
“So…Jack…d’you know what Senior Centers like this one typically smell like?” Tommy asked with a broad grin on his face.
Jack sighed. “No, Tommy, I don’t. What do they typically smell like?”
Before he could deliver the punch line, Tommy was already laughing so hard his eyes were welling up. “Depends! Get it?”
Jack grimaced a little, but kept quiet.
“Say, how ‘bout I go in with you today?” Tommy wiped his eyes and moved his blue and yellow backpack from one shoulder to the other. “Old people love me!”
“What?” Jack said, and then nearly choked on the next series of words. “No…no…you don’t have to do that. It may be better if you don’t, in fact.”
With a heavy pat on the shoulder, Fatty fat Tommy Pratt smiled and said, “Oh it’s no bother at all. That’s what friends do, right?”
“What friends do?” Jack stood before the gate, staring into the courtyard—so close to freedom only to have it snatched away at the last second.
“…they meet their friend’s grandmothers, of course.” And before Jack could object, Tommy was several paces ahead, skipping along the winding cobblestone path while humming some insufferable tune that made Jack want to turn and run.
“Friends,” Jack grumbled in a voice too low to be heard. Then he let out a harrumph and followed Tommy into the building.