It’s funny how things come about sometime. Case in point: I was minding my own business this time last year when a friend of mine announced that he had been attending a flash fiction group. I had no idea what flash fiction was at the time, but when he shared a piece he had written for the most recent group meeting, I was hooked. I found out the group challenged themselves every week to write a 500-word story, give or take a few words. Continue reading “Me and Ricardo: A Novel”
Sometimes a novel just begins itself, so I have to catch up to it in due process, and I spend the entirety of the adventure lost in the nuance of the characters, so that when it’s done even I don’t know where they end and I begin. Sometimes a novel burns itself so deeply into my subconscious that I dream of its circumstances as though I were there, engaged in their decisions as if they were me.
But they’re not. They live their own lives, and I am simply the conduit for others to see the journey. Or something like that. Sometimes a novel comes while I’m writing something else, and makes me stop everything so I can write it.
My new book, The Long Con, is such a novel, and I’m pleased to say that it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com in paperback format. Soon, very soon, it will also be for sale in digital form, but why get a digital copy when you can hold the very book in your hands?
For months I lived in this world. I bumped into these characters and said “Excuse me.” I spent literally thousands of minutes breathing them in, so that it became second nature to ask them what they wanted for dinner before thinking about my own. The Long Con is more than just a novel to me; it is an experience that I didn’t want to ever end. And I guess in a sense it doesn’t end here, but it develops a new beginning.
Because now you too can get to know Sally Groves, and Glen Davidson, and everyone else who lives between those pages. But until you can get your grubby mitts wrapped around your own copy, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter…
[From The Long Con, copyright 2017, Sam McManus]
I could tell you what you want to hear, but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? I mean, every story has a good guy and a bad guy, and it would be so simple to paint me as the latter, but things aren’t ever black and white, even if we try to shove them into those categories. I could tell you that I am the victim here, that everything happened to me and not because of me, but I would be lying to you. I am no portrait of naiveté, and certainly not someone to overlook warning signs if I had even glimpsed their existence. What I can tell you is that things are not always as they seem, which includes this crazy world around us, and us as individuals as well. When it comes down to it, we all look out for number one, even if we won’t ever admit to that simple truth.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I often do, because my brain is on overdrive 24/7, and it’s pretty hard for me to catch up, much less for anyone else to. I have many important things to do before this day is over, and I need to keep them well-organized; they’re as delicate as a house of cards in the path of a great wind. Because before this day is over I may well be dead, or worse. What’s worse than death, you ask? Well, if I have to tell you then it’s not anything you need to worry about, which makes me happy for you, but pretty despondent for myself.
First off, it’s about the money. I mean, what isn’t? The love of money might be the root of all evil, but the lack of money is the axe that chops down the whole damn tree. I have plenty of money, but absolutely none of it is mine, at least not free and clear. I’ve spent almost the entirety of my adult life trying to reconcile that seeming dichotomy, with varying degrees of success, but in the end that’s what it boils down to: too much and not enough money at the same time. That’s because it’s been in trust funds that have ages attached to them: the first installment on my twenty-fifth birthday, the second on my thirtieth, the third on my thirty-third… you get the picture. And none of these dates can come soon enough. That’s because I owe several people a lot of money.
I’m not some kind of gambler. I know what you’re thinking. There are many people out there who are addicted to putting in pennies and trying to get dollars back in return, who think that the system owes them one, so they waste their paychecks in seedy casinos and over games of chance. Sure, they win from time to time, but just enough to keep them coming back, to keep them dumping money into the pot, money that they will never see again. I’m not one of those poor people (and here I use the term poor in both of its connotations). But just because I don’t gamble overtly doesn’t mean I don’t take chances I probably shouldn’t take, and they’ve caught up with me more than I’d care to admit.
My addiction is the long con, the patient alternative to the short con. You know the short con quite well, perhaps, when someone steals your identity by taking your credit card, or somehow getting the numbers and running up a big bill that you theoretically end up paying for instead of the thief. The short con could also include pretending you’re leaving money to pay your restaurant bill on the table, but you’re just leaving a Gideon’s mini-Bible instead. It’s simple enough, but you also don’t get very much money from it. At the most the short con can get you a couple thousand bucks, probably, if it’s the identity theft angle anyway. I’ve never done it; there’s obviously just not enough skin in that game.
But the long con – the long con is one of the most beautiful experiences on the planet. It takes patience and perseverance, but in the end it can land you much more than a couple thousand bucks, and if you play your cards right the long con could completely set you up for life…
Seriously, check it out if you’re into suspense, into solving puzzles, but also into getting inside the minds of characters who are so real maybe you’ve seen them on the street already. I know I certainly enjoyed living with them for a few months. Now they’re yours.
Six months later, plus a couple of breaks, and the hectic nature of work, but I’m finally nearing the end of the yellow brick road on this new novel. The hardest part is finishing the first draft, especially when the world tends to intrude on the fictional more often than not.
It started with the challenge, to create 50,000 words in 30 days, way back in November, and I accomplished that with no problems. The words just flowed more often than not, my imagination soaring and the characters coming to fruition as characters tend to do. The month flew by, and I was over 60,000 words when it did, but once the rush was over I still had to finish the novel.
Because it’s not enough to just stop on November 30 and pronounce it all done, to let it collect dust on a flash drive, never to be seen from or heard from again. I’ve done that before, and I don’t think I could do it again. These characters want to live. They want to breathe. They want to be out in the world, living their lives. And I will oblige them, but I just want to make sure I’m faithful enough to them before unveiling them. It’s my job as an author.
So I’ve been working, in bits and pieces, over these past six months, trying to finish the story, to take them to a satisfactory conclusion that makes me feel something inside. It’s been a difficult process, not because the words won’t come (because they always do), but because I let the real world intrude way too often. Without a strict timeline it got easier every night to just let it slide, to say I will work on it the next night, and like dominoes the nights fall one by one, and no writing on the novel gets done.
But somehow here I am, and I’ve been writing, really writing, on the novel for the past five days. My word count has gone up drastically, but more importantly my characters are progressing. They’re stressing out, and falling in love, and getting hurt, and just simply living their lives again after an interminable pause. And I’m falling in love all over again myself, with this world, with these characters, and with this storyline.
This is the point I always get to in my novels, when I know I’m nearly done, and I’m dying to reach the end, but I know I’ll miss having them so close to me. It’s a wonderfully thrilling part, though, a culmination of so much time spent together, the words an extension of myself. They always will be. Now it’s time to finish up this draft, to begin the editing process, to let this story live on its own, to let these characters breathe on their own.
And write the next one.
It’s the last day of November, which means I’m down to the end of the novel I’ve spent the last 30 days creating on fast forward. During the course of this month I’ve gone through the highs and lows of novel writing — the weights and balances that make the process of writing so dynamic, and why I love it so. But as tedious as it was in places to keep going day after day, to hit the deadlines I set for myself, to hit 50,000 words in 30 days, it was also an adventure in forming a narrative I would like to read myself someday.
Its working title is Faded, testament to my lack of creativity when it comes to working titles, and yet somehow it seems to fit the constructed narrative as it now stands. In some way the entire thing is all about an experience that happened twenty-five years before the events in the present day, a faded memory that never truly fades, because they never do. And the characters need to adjust to their memories of that time, to bring it back into focus so they can deal with the repercussions from it that have come home to roost.
A girl shows up on Glen Davidson’s doorstep with a sad tale of death and disappointment, begging him to show her mercy, to offer up a leap of faith on her behalf. He does so, but unbeknownst to him the story is a lot murkier than she’s made it out to be. Can this investment banker beat the odds and discover this girl’s secret before it’s too late for her… or for him?
Sally Groves claims she’s Glen’s long lost daughter, that she needs money, and that he’s the only one who can help her with her current problems. The only hitch: she isn’t who she claims to be, and the trouble she’s in is beyond her means, even with his help.
Glen Davidson is a man who made a huge mistake twenty-five years ago, and it’s haunting him now in the form of the girl who emerges from the shadows to make him second guess everything he thought he knew about himself. In his fight to protect a girl who doesn’t want his protection he might just lose himself.
He can see the tears in her eyes again, and he wonders why she didn’t come to see him before now, why it took something so drastic to look for him after all this time. She rises, and he does too, but things are awkward with them, as they are at the very beginning. He reaches out his hand to her, and she takes it in an approximation of a handshake, but it lingers for a moment before she lets go first. Then she is gone again, out of the room and down the hall like an apparition floating on invisible wings. It’s easy for his subconscious to believe for a second that it didn’t just happen, that he didn’t just meet the child he never knew he had. But his conscious mind is busy dealing with the ramifications of the words they’ve just spoken to each other, the aftermath of it all.
My latest novel is equal parts coming of age story and mystery. It is fraught with controversies — some earned and others the product of gossip — and its main characters are not immune to any of it. In fact, the lynch pin that holds the entire book together is the frailty of everyone who inhabits it. With that being said, though, it is a quiet strength that keeps things from falling off the rails in the end.
Welcome to Arcadia, gateway to the Midwest, the “Town that God Forgot,”or if he didn’t forget it then perhaps Santa Claus did on his way back from the North Pole. Whatever the excuse, the town is bereft of both a true heritage and a viable future. As for its present, well, that’s up in the air too, dependent as it is on a shaky infrastructure and poor management of town funds.
Life is a boring experience for nine-year old Jeremy Renton, a stranger in his own house, so he’s learned to head into the far reaches of his family farm, where excitement waits in the form of his bountiful imagination. But something happens out on that land that imagination can’t control, that shapes his life, and the town’s very nature, in ways that he never could have fathomed. In the course of a year things change immeasurably, causing Jeremy to doubt everything he’s ever known, as summer turns to fall, and winter looms on the horizon.
For Kimberly Jones, her entire life has been an exercise in futility. Her father is the town big shot, but his reign hasn’t extended to her, and she’s struggling to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary in a small town. When a juicy piece of gossip shakes Arcadia, though, she can’t help but get swept up in it, and in its possible implications. As she begins to put the pieces together, with a help of a few others, a picture begins to form that leads her in directions she hoped she would never go.
With this small town backdrop, where everyone knows everyone else, and where all secrets come out in the end, Leaves in Fall comes alive, keeping you on edge throughout in a race to know everything before the thrilling conclusion.
The whole of Maryland is quiet tonight, or at least it seems that way to me as I sit on this perfectly made bed and stare at the wall. It is nearly Christmas and I’m not with my family for the first time in my life. That talk was an exhausting one, when I told my mother I wanted her to drop me off here, that I wouldn’t be going with them to West Virginia to visit my family. But I’m an adult now, and I firmly believe that love conquers all, except that I’m not sure, except that I’m deathly afraid that love won’t conquer even this, much less whatever comes after.
I have already gone through the rack of CDs by the stereo on the far side of the room and mentally placed each one into genres — soundtracks, gospel, rock and roll. It was something to do on a Monday night, far away from home, in a house as silent as a tomb, but I wouldn’t dare go out into the hallway. Angela’s mother could be out there, waiting in the dark, ready to pounce on me if I were to venture forth. So I sit here on this bed thinking about my innermost fears, healthy or not.
When we got here my mother insisted on coming inside, on meeting the woman I might someday call my mother-in-law, because I think she sees what’s so obvious to me, that I’m crazy for this girl. Sure, the timeline is off, somehow sped up in this age of instance, but the emotions are real, for both of us. I’m sure of it. And my mother wanted to size hers up, to see where she stands, how solid she is in the midst of this sudden love. There is one check in her favor because she offered to let me stay for a week, a boy she had never met before we arrived in Maryland two days ago.
There is a creaking in the hall, not unlike a door being opened, or perhaps it is my imagination running wild with me. Since ten o’clock I have been shut in here with only these CDs to keep me company, as I was last night, and the night before. It is Angela’s curfew, the time at which she must be in bed, and although I don’t have to follow that schedule, I cannot disturb her. Rules of the house. But I cannot sleep, and I couldn’t last night, or the night before, because while I am here this week it is the last I will see of the girl I love for five months.
This seems like such wasted time.
Then I see a beautiful milk chocolate hand wrap around the corner of the door as it eases open and makes no sound. Perhaps the sentry has gone to bed herself, but I don’t even care. I am just so overjoyed that I can have a private moment with the love of my life, with the girl I hadn’t even known six months ago but who now takes up the entirety of my existence. She leaves the door open as she slips inside and flops down unceremoniously on the guest bed, the one that was so pristine before she showed up but that now resembles the aftereffects of a thunder storm. I have never been so proud of such destruction. She smiles at me, and my heart melts.
“Midnight is where the day begins,” she says, quoting our favorite band.
“But it’s not even 11 yet,” I reply, feigning shock at her entrance.
“Yeah, I couldn’t wait so long to see you again,” she admits.
I wrap my arms around her, because I know these moments are fleeting, that these moments are like glass, that we may not have this time again. At the same time, as I look into her eyes, I can see our future reflected back at me, and I feel it can be spectacular. If we can only make it past the next five months.