Thursday, January 24, 2019

Broken Hallelujahs and Bronze Medals


You probably remember the opening lyric of the song "Hallelujah" written by Leonard Cohen but made famous by Jeff Buckley and Shrek:

"Well I've heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord..."

Well, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Buckley and Mr. Shrek, maybe it wasn't just one chord but all of them. Bear with me here.

In the 1980's biopic film "Chariots of Fire" Scottish Olympic Gold medalist, Eric Liddel says to his sister, "God made me for a purpose...but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."
 
If you don't remember the movie, you probably remember the theme.
There's a lot of truth in that line. The first time I caught a fly ball playing centerfield, I thrusted both arms into the air in celebration and immediately looked for my dad in the stands. He was smiling. Can you recall a moment from your childhood like that? Do you remember how it felt?

We all have our own talents or gifts and whether yours is noticeable like writing music like Leonard Cohen and running fast like Eric Liddel or something less noticeable (but perhaps more important) like being a good friend or helping people behind the scenes, the one who created you takes pleasure in seeing you use those gifts.



You aren't always going to be successful but the amazing thing is, effort counts. So whatever is you do, try your best at it and remember this: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17)

Even broken hallelujahs and bronze medals bring God pleasure.

Monday, January 14, 2019

It's here! Really here!

The day has finally arrived. It's time for me to push this little birdy out of the nest and see if it can fly. 

Soar, little birdy, soar. 



Now available!

Click to Purchase


Friday, December 14, 2018

Writing Rooms and Super Powers: An interview with author Jennifer Pierce




Jennifer Pierce’s debut romantic suspense, Hidden Danger, is raking in great reviews on amazon. I had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer about writerly things including her just released follow up Expecting Danger. 



I know you’re a paralegal by day, has your experiences in the legal field informed you writing in any way?

 Not really. We don’t handle criminal cases so all of the information relating to crimes and policing I’ve had to research. My addiction to #LivePD and other cop related shows has helped the most in that area. I’ve also done a couple Citizen’s Academy in my area that have helped a lot.

“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you.” Sorry, I loved cop shows back in the day! Speaking of things we appreciate, what is your favorite aspect of writing?

 I love being creative, putting a story on paper and sharing with the world.

What is your least favorite aspect of writing?

 Commas. Anything grammar related actually. My French grade in high school was always better than my English grade, if that tells you anything.

LOL! Some people dream of falling forever or drowning, we writers have nightmares of being chased by misplaced commas. Another aspect of a writer’s life that has been a hot topic in the twitterverse as of late, are writing rooms. Do you have a certain place where you write?

 After I sold Hidden Danger, I got a desk and set it up to write. I’m sad to say, it’s currently being used to hold clothes and other miscellaneous things. I’ve found that I’m able to concentrate and write better on my lunch break. I don’t know if it’s because there’s nothing there to distract me or what. I actually write in a notebook when I write and then type it into a word document while watching TV with the kids.

You wrote Hidden Danger in a notebook? That’s incredible! You may have to break out your notebook for this next one. Imagine that the readers of this blog belong to an alien race who don’t understand verbs and tell us a little about Expecting Danger. (Just kidding, the alien race that follow this blog do understand verbs, so feel free to use them)

Pregnant Kate good.
Kazakov bad.
Jake good.
Kate and Jake good together.
The end.

You nailed it! Great job!

If you see the answer to question number three, you’ll know why that was hard for me! The official blurb, complete with verbs is:

Kate has been on the run from the men who killed her husband and left her for dead—which isn’t easy considering she’s eight months pregnant—but now they’ve found her. Again. Still reeling from her late husband’s betrayal, the last thing Kate wants is the help of a handsome stranger.

Security expert, Jacob Jones, is still grieving the loss of his pregnant wife, and he’s not ready to move on. But when he thwarts an attempted abduction of the beautiful Kate, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. Despite her reluctance, he’s determined to do whatever it takes to save her, including giving up his own life.

Kate’s only option is to take a leap of faith and allow Jacob to help her. But can she trust him to keep her and her unborn baby alive? Or will he fail her like everyone else in her life?

Sounds intriguing. I’ve read in other interviews you’ve given that you are a pantser and not a plotter? Did that make writing a sequel (of sorts) more challenging?

I really didn’t have much trouble writing Expecting Danger other than trying to remember names and details from Hidden Danger, which I think even plotters have to deal with. I’m currently working on the third in the series and am having all kinds of trouble now. Pantsting worked for the first 15,000 words but the remaining 40,000 is causing me troubles.

Without spoiling anything, what scene are you most proud of in Expecting Danger?

Hmmm. That’s hard. I have two. There’s a scene where Jake and Kate have dinner with Jake’s sister Maggie and her husband Cody (the main characters from Hidden Danger). I really love that entire portion, from sitting at the dinner table to clean up. Jake makes a comment that my daughter laughed uncontrollably at, and so did my editor. If you wanna know what it is, you’ll have to read it. 😊

The second is the final scene. A friend of mine told me it made her cry.

If you can make a reader laugh and cry in the same novel, I think you’ve done your job. Do you have any advice for any new or young writers out there?

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Find other writers and get connected, you’ll be surprised the things you can learn from them.

Final question and my inner geek demands I ask this. Did you know that Jennifer Pierce is the secret identity of a DC Comics superhero? If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

I didn’t know that until I started Googling myself looking for reviews on Hidden Danger. My uncle owns a comic book store and is probably disappointed in me. I’ve failed the family. I think I’d want super speed. I like to sleep. I could sleep in and still make it to work on time. Plus, it’s wintertime so if I had super speed that would be less time I’d have to be outside freezing.

Super speed would be awesome! Thanks for joining me today.

Read on for more about Jennifer Pierce. 



Jennifer Pierce currently lives in Arkansas with her husband and two children. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and River Valley Writers, where she serves as secretary.


Check out Expecting Danger by clicking on the cover.





Friday, December 7, 2018

Baby, it's cold outside! An interview with Canadian author Laurie Wood

In the swirling snow of the Great White North, there exists an author so earnest, talented and kind that I’m sure her debut novel, Northern Deception, will be a hit. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to chat with Laurie Wood where we discussed polar bears, her writing process and the demise of Nickelback.



Alright, Laurie, let’s get this thing started. What is your deepest darkest secret? Just kidding! Did you always want to be a writer or was there some other dream that led to this one?

My deepest darkest secret is that my favorite story when I was a child was Peter Pan, and I always imagined myself as Peter, fighting the pirates and leading the Lost Boys. No being Wendy for me, sewing on buttons and telling bedtime stories! Still, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Always. I went to college and took what we call in Canada “Radio and Television Arts” (although I really wanted to go to university to become a journalist) and there was a lot of writing involved in that program. I didn’t have the luxury of going to university and had to support myself, so life got in the way and writing fiction became just a dream. Later, when I was married and home with our two children, I took up that dream again and wrote a couple of novels. They were “practice” novels, like everyone does and I loved writing them. And then I wrote this book which began as just a first chapter and synopsis for a contest and I banged that off in a day and threw it into the contest. And here we are—it’s the book which I finally sold.

Cool! What is your favorite aspect of writing?

There are two things I love about writing. I love creating my characters and their world. Ideas usually come to me in pieces. I might get a glimpse of a character and his/her issues or them in a particular setting. And the other thing I absolutely love about writing is doing the research necessary to bring the piece alive. Because there’s nothing I hate more than reading a book that’s so generic you can tell the writer did nothing to research anything about the setting  or who the characters are—I want my readers to learn something from my books and I want them to come away feeling like they spent time with real people.

I usually have to tell myself to stop researching because you can go down rabbit holes and waste time. But then, you can always use those tidbits in another story, or take those ideas and use them somewhere else.

I’ve often heard authors refer to researching for a novel as a “necessary evil.” It’s interesting that you think the opposite. What then, is your least favorite aspect of writing?

I suppose those days when the words just seem to be all drivel and have no spark. We all have those times when everything we write seems wooden and trite and our story seems like the worst thing we’ve ever done. For me, that’s around the middle to the three-quarter mark. I’m a “plotter” so I’ll have outlined and I know where I’m going with my characters and where the story should be going, but still, it can feel like you’ve just spent the day writing “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” about three thousand times.

On that note, do you have a specific writing routine?

No. Surprise! I wish I could say I have a favorite Starbucks, or I only write to “Ride of the Valkyries”, or I have to light a patchouli candle, but the truth is—I’m at my best between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and I’d better get myself in my chair at the dining table and get writing! I try to get chores and other things done on either end of those hours so I’m available to my adult children when they get home from work (they have special needs), and also to just use my brain when it’s at its most creative. But as to having a specific routine, I guess I’m pretty boring! I have taken my laptop and written in a nearby Starbucks a couple of times when I was on deadline and had to work Saturdays though because when everyone’s home, our house is too small to work with everyone ploughing in and out of the dining room.

I would guess that most writing routines aren’t exactly thrilling so boring is just fine, except in answering this next question. Using the most beautiful prose you can muster and without using the word “the”, tell us a little about Northern Deception. Just kidding, all words are fair game.

Northern Deception was written for a contest originally and it was looking for stories about Canadian heroes. They could be in any job, anywhere in Canada or living outside of Canada, but they had to be Canadian. I thought this was a fabulous challenge! I’d never written from the male point of view before. Then on the news, we saw one of those Jumbotron proposals where the poor guy went down on one knee, and the girl just threw her hands up and ran out of the stands, leaving him high and dry. I felt so sorry for him! Most writers go into “what if?” mode, and I combined that aspect of “what if a girl ran out on a marriage proposal without explaining why?” with “what if she had a horrible secret?” and “what if they both found each other years later in Canada’s far north?” and then once we’d been to our local zoo to see our wonderful polar bear exhibit with polar bears that’ve been rescued from Churchill, Manitoba, it all clicked together. Boom! Both characters had a reason to be in the far north, and once I came up with her horrible secret, the story ran on from there.

Intriguing! Without spoiling anything, what is your favorite scene in Northern Deception?

 I’d have to say both where Kira meets Lukas’s little girl for the first time, and the ending. I wrote the ending so many ways; it was hard. I wanted it to be perfect. Not mushy or overdone. I modeled it on my husband’s proposal to me, although we didn’t have a toddler interrupting the proceedings!

Polar Bears are probably my favorite species of bear, besides gummy bears, and I know that they are featured prominently in Northern Deception, how much research went to accurately portraying them? Since you like researching, I’m going to guess a lot.

I did a TON of research, and it was all enjoyable. I got verified facts, and some written studies from our own Assiniboine Park Zoo here in Winnipeg where we have six rescued polar bears who were either orphaned up north or who didn’t do well in human/bear encounters and needed to be relocated. And I reached out to Polar Bear International as well. One of the fun things I was able to do on my website and with my newsletter subscribers in mid-October into November was to hook up with the link to the Polar Bear webcam that goes live in Churchill. You can watch them on the tundra, and as that’s the same time period I set Northern Deception in, I think that garnered a lot of interest in the book.

Do you have any advice for any new or young writers out there?

Yes! Take some respected writing classes either online or through your local college. Learn your craft. There are writing associations out there like American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, and they run writing courses. You can Google great writing teachers like Michael Hauge, K.M. Weiland, Margie Lawson, Laura Drake, for a few names, and they all teach writing courses online. Put money into learning how to write and don’t just throw your first efforts up for sale on Amazon or at a publisher. Writing takes practice and we’re all learning with every book we write. It’s a wonderful journey and we will never reach our final destination. I think that’s the fun of it!

Final question and I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask this. How do you and your fellow Canadians feel about the rock band Nickelback. I ask because here in the States, they went from being cool to a comment section punchline and I’m not sure why.

I’m a HUGE Nickelback fan! Love them, love them, love them, although I’m not a fan of how Chad treated his wife Avril when she came down with Lyme disease and their marriage fell apart. However, how did they go from being “cool” to being a “punchline” is easy—the muck and mire of social media. They’re a perfect example of how a mob can form on social media and gossip takes off and before you know it, a career is tanked. James 3:6 tells us: “And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”  We all know that what goes out on social media is out there forever. Even we Christians need to remind ourselves of that from time to time. And not just about social media, but in our daily interactions with each other. Gossip will kill a church faster than anything. But, the short answer to your question is: Canadians love our boys from Alberta and social media mobbing is what killed off their career. And I always felt sorry about it.

I appreciate the wisdom and it’s good to hear that Nickelback still has some support out there. I’ve enjoyed this interview immensely. Thanks for joining me.

Thanks so much for hosting me today, Sean, and for putting a little twist on your questions!

Find out more about Laurie and Northern Deception below. 


Reunions can be deadly.

After a savage attack in university, Kira Summers fled to the safety of northern Canada and her work as a polar bear scientist. But when her whistleblower brother dies in a mysterious car crash, she must return home to bury him and pack his belongings. Unaware she’s carrying explosive evidence someone’s willing to kill for, she has no choice but to rely on the one person she never thought she’d see again.

Lukas Tanner, a widowed single father of a special needs toddler, moved to Churchill five years ago. As the proud owner of Guiding Star Enterprises, a wilderness tour company, he and his daughter lead a simple life. But when Kira comes crashing back into his world, he realizes God has other plans. Now, Lukas and Kira must confront a merciless killer as their past and present collide in a deadly race—a race they must win if they have any hope of a future together.


About the Author:

Laurie Wood is a military wife who’s lived across Canada and visited six of its ten provinces. She and her husband have raised two wonderful children with Down Syndrome to adulthood, and their son and daughter are a wonderful blessing to their lives. Over the years, Laurie’s books have finaled in prestigious contests such as the Daphne du Maurier (twice), the TARA, the Jasmine, and the Genesis. Her family lives in central Canada with a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats. If the house were bigger, no doubt they’d have more.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Getting Published Part 3: My favorite Spy


Cool, Clever, Resourceful and Handsome.

No. I’m not talking about me, though I am none of those things.

His name was---Oh! I forgot one more thing…

Deadly.

He was that, too.

His name was Eli, and he was a super spy. An amalgamation (a.k.a. rip off) of my three favorite characters of the spy genre:  James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt.



I met Eli in a dark Manhattan alley on a rainy, spring night. He was running surveillance and calling the shots on a job that was about to go south. Dripping wet, I climbed into the car with him and another man. A few drops of water spattered onto Eli’s arm, but he barely noticed. He was locked in. What unfolded over the next thirty seconds is still a blur to me, but Eli remembers all of it. A gunshot rang out. Shattered glass. Blood and brain matter splattered onto the leather interior of the sedan, on my lap, in the crevices of my fingers. We scrambled out of the car to face his attacker, and, thus Eli’s adventure began.

I tagged along and learned the most basic of writing lessons.

Writing can be a heck of a lot of fun.

My first book, a historical fiction novel set during the American Civil War, took me six years to write and the rush of emotion I felt when I finally typed the words “The End” was exhilarating, but in many ways I didn’t enjoy writing that book. Like Mamma’s paddle, it taught me some hard lessons.

Eli taught me some hard lessons as well. However, kind of like that high school buddy who talked you into doing something stupid every time you hung out, we had a lot of fun learning them. 
And that’s what I want to focus on now.

Fun.

Whatever you do in life, as long as it’s appropriate, try to have a little fun. Cut loose. Do something kind of crazy. Make someone laugh or laugh with someone. Let those moments linger, breathe them in deep and wait to exhale for as long as you can. Be thankful for the sweat (both literal and metaphorical) at the end of the day, because you’re alive and you’re doing something.

Hard lessons will come. Life’s paddle won’t stay away forever, but remembering that gut busting joke shared at the lunchroom table or that pleasant surprise you received just when you needed it will lessen the sting.

Eli and I only hung out for nine months before our time together came to halt when I typed the words, “The End.” But I often think of him when my well of inspiration runs dry or when I’m standing in the shadow of a mountain of editing, and I plow forward knowing the sting of life’s paddle makes all the fun times that much sweeter.


Thanks for reading. God bless!

Also, my book, The Truth about Romantic Comedies, will be available in less than two months.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Cover!



Sixteen-year-old Timothy Gephart’s life is a chronicle of loser-hood. Trapped by the decaying walls of his family’s trailer and saddled with the responsibility of caring for a grandmother stricken with a wicked combination of Alzheimer’s and cancer, Timothy isn’t exactly thriving in the teenage chapter of his life. To make matters worse, his girlfriend inexplicably dumps him through a text message. Heartbroken, Tim drives his grandmother to and from her radiation treatments as if the last page of his life has already been written. And then the enigmatic Rachel Wilson struts into the cancer center’s waiting room.

Self-proclaimed social scientist Rachel Wilson hasn’t reconciled herself to her mother’s cancer, but she’s doing her best to stay positive...and distracted. With his dry wit and easy acceptance of her bright blue hair, Timothy might be the answer to a prayer Rachel hasn’t had the strength to ask.

As a fast friendship blossoms into something more, Timothy and Rachel learn that Rachel’s father’s job will soon take her family to a new life across the country. Knowing that their time together is running out, Timothy and Rachel go all in on an experiment that will put every romantic comedy cliche to the test, to say nothing of the foundation on which their relationship was built. Happily-ever-after has never been so hard.


Ebook available January 15, 2019

You can learn more at



Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Spaceman: A Short Story



Classified Recording of Candidate 749’s Psychological Evaluation

Dr. Namor: “What’s keeping you here?”

Candidate 749: “Gravity.”
Dr. Namor: “Seriously, Candidate. You can leave the program at any time. You can always go home.”
Candidate 749: “Now why would anyone want to go and do a thing like that?”
****
0300: Approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes until launch
Joseph Redgrave slid into a booth at the 495 Truck Stop, grabbed a menu and vacantly stared at it for a few minutes.
A truck stop wasn’t his typical hangout. The smell of burnt bacon grease and stale cigarettes wasn’t something that appealed to him. But it was the only place open and better yet, no one even deigned a glance in his direction when he walked in.
A potbellied man in a corner booth lit a cigarette then punched in a number on his cell-phone. Joseph’s attention shifted from the man to a no-smoking sign posted on the wall a few feet away from the man’s booth before shifting back to the man. As he pulled in a drag, the end of the man’s cigarette lit up orange, calling to mind the glow of rocket exhaust from the archival footage of the Apollo missions Joseph watched again and again when he was a kid. Joseph’s stomach knotted up.
Did those Apollo guys get this nervous before they launched?
“Coffee?”
Joseph snapped his attention away from the man’s cigarette.
A young woman with olive skin, dark eyes, and long hair pulled back into ponytail stood at the edge of his table, holding a steaming pot of coffee. If Joseph were to venture a guess, the waitress was of Puerto Rican decent and probably 18 or 19 years old. Twenty at the most.
“It’s fresh,” she said with an awkward smile.
“No thanks,” he replied.
“Can I get you something else? A soda? A beer? An orange juice?”
Besides the alcohol, none of those things were on the prohibited list. The rest of the crew were massive coffee drinkers, but he’d never acquired the taste despite his lifelong propensity to rise early and work late into the night.
“Water,” he said, simply.
The young woman nodded. “Coming right up.”
The waitress vanished behind a set of double saloon style doors and Joseph returned to the menu. Nothing seemed particularly appetizing. But that wasn’t too surprising, considering that very little about Earth was appetizing to him anymore. This cold detachment, which didn’t fully blossom until his father passed away the night before Joseph graduated from high school, was also the decisive factor in him being selected to the mission. The admin at NASA claimed publicly that it was his superb credentials, military experience and work ethic, but Joseph had read the classified file and he knew that it was the psychologist's recognition of his borderline anti-social disorder that put him over the thousands of other applicants. Joseph wasn’t a sociopath, but just close enough to be the perfect candidate. In the psych’s words, “Mr. Redgrave is empathetic and pragmatic enough to successfully work as part of a team but lacks the ability to form personal relationships that could harm the mission.”
When Joseph had read those words initially, he’d felt a sense of relief as they confirmed something he’s always suspected about himself, but just hours before the launch they were threatening to become something else, a chain holding him to the earth. He’d mastered everything he’d ever tried to do and soon would master space travel, yet a sense of failure lurked at the edges of his mind. He had tried to attach himself to others, but he could never maintain the grip. People were just too slippery.
The young waitress returned with a cup of water and crushed ice. She placed the glass on the table.
“Do you know what you want to order?” she asked.
Joseph tapped the menu against the surface of the table. He had to order something, he couldn’t just hang out with a cup of water. He blew out a long breath. “What’s good?”
“Honestly,” she replied. “At this time of night. Nothing. But we do have a special that started at midnight.”
“Let me guess, steak and eggs?”
The woman flashed genuine surprise. “How’d you know? We haven’t even written it on the board yet?”
She gestured to a smudgy whiteboard located near the entrance that still listed yesterday’s special; fish and chips.
“Lucky guess,” he replied.
Luck had nothing to do with it. Every diner, truck stop or small-town café within a fifty-mile radius of Cape Canaveral would run the same special today. Steak and Eggs was a NASA tradition going back to when they first strapped Alan Shepherd to a 5-ton missile and launched him into space.
“Or maybe you’re one of those clairvoyants I’ve seen on YouTube. You do look familiar.”
Joseph shrugged. “I’ll take the special. Steak medium. Eggs over easy.”
The waitress scribbled his order onto a little notepad. “Biscuit or toast.”
It didn’t matter. He probably wasn’t going to touch his meal.
“Surprise me.” He folded the menu and extended it to the young woman.
The waitress scribbled his surprise onto the paper then took the menu. “Name’s Maria, just let me know if you want something else.”
Maria’s accent was unique as if it had a slight north-eastern flavor. It reminded him of his college roommate’s accent. Reggie was from New York.
Maria disappeared into the kitchen and Joseph peered out at the window. Trucks buzzed by on I-95, the roar of the diesel engines still audible over a country crooner cooing from an old jukebox. The endless parade of headlights sparked the memory of the first time he’d climbed into the kiddie version of NASA’s G-Force training centrifuge. Attached to the end of a metal arm, the machine spun him so fast that the ceiling lights stretched into a single line. He’d went the fastest and lasted the longest, his heart swelling with pride as he recounted the accomplishment to his father during the ride home from Space Camp. Of course, he left out how he fainted and woke up covered in vomit, but that would’ve made little difference anyway. His father was proud. Joseph could still feel the touch of his father’s calloused hand as he tussled his hair.
What would his father think now? Would he still be proud? Or would he be sad that his son was leaving Earth forever?
It doesn’t matter, Joseph thought, because he’s dead.
Joseph closed his eyes and pushed down the ache bubbling up inside. Time didn’t heal all wounds. 
“Excuse me, are you all right?”
Joseph opened his eyes. Maria stood at side of the booth, tiny notepad in hand.
A bit of flush rushed to Joseph’s cheeks. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just a little anxious about something.”
“Me too.” Maria lowered her left hand to her stomach.  “I’m not exactly looking forward to when I get off my shift.”
Joseph brought the glass of water to his lips. “Like working here that much, huh?”
Maria chuckled. “No. I don’t even like living in this state.”
That’s how Joseph felt about the planet.
“I can relate to that.”
“Yet here we are,” she said.
“For now…”
Her eyes narrowed and Joseph felt a sting of panic at the thought that he’d blown his anonymity.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
She still didn’t recognize him. “You’re young enough. You can move.”
“I wish it were that easy, but...”
“Why don’t you just go back home?”
Maria leaned back a bit, taking on a playfully combative posture. “How do you know that this isn’t my home?”
“You’re from the Northeast. New York probably.”
Her eyes widened. “The Bronx actually. How’d you know? Are you really psychic or something?”
“Your accent,” he replied. “It pops up here and there.”
Maria frowned. “I guess you can take a girl out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of a girl.”
“You make it seem like that’s a bad thing.”
Maria shrugged. The potbellied trucker lit up another cigarette. Maria glanced over, a mixture of frustration and something else, helplessness maybe, swept across her countenance as the smell of his cigarette smoke quickly filtered throughout the dining area.
“You don’t like him smoking in here, do you?” Joseph asked.
“We still have ash trays which means the owners don’t care so it doesn’t matter what I think. Even if…” She drew her lips into a line and brought her left hand to her stomach.
A realization clicked into place and Joseph slid out of the booth. “Excuse me for a moment.”
Maria stepped aside and Joseph approached the trucker. “Hey mister, can I have a word with you.”
The trucker blew out a long puff of smoke. “What do you want?”
Joseph braced himself on the surface of the table and whispered, “Normally I wouldn’t care about you smoking in here but that young waitress over there is pregnant, so do the decent thing and cut it out or take it outside.”
“Oh,” the man said, his expression shifting to one of remorse as he snuffed out his cigarette in the ash tray. “My bad.”
“Thanks.”
Joseph returned to his booth. Maria waited there with curious look on her face. “What’d you tell him?”
“I just went over there and did my best Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse impression.”
Maria crinkled her brow. Obviously she didn’t get the reference.
Joseph shook his head, “Never mind,” then quickly changed the subject. “How far along are you?”
Maria seemed a little caught off guard by the question. She titled her head slightly. “How’d you know?”
“I have a sixth sense about these things.”
This time it was a lucky guess, or a lucky hypothesis. Maria could’ve just been afraid of the dangers of second hand smoke.
“So you really are a psychic?”
“No,” he replied. “Just a jerk unafraid to make an ass out of himself by assuming a woman is pregnant.”
Maria laughed. “Now you sound like my dad.”
“Glad to hear that I’m not alone.”
“You two would probably get along real well, as long as you aren’t a Red Sox fan.”
Joseph pulled up one of his pant legs. “Whites only for me. I had a bad experience with red socks once. They turn the rest of my whites pink.”
“And that’s a joke only he would laugh at.”
“That’s two things we have in common.”
“Actually it’s three,” she said. “Because he like you was always wide awake cracking bad jokes at three in the morning.”
Joseph tipped his glass of water in acknowledgment then took a drink.
Maria turned to leave but abruptly whipped herself back around. “You’re not a baker, are you?”
“A baker?”
“You know, donuts and pastries?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“Because my dad is. He’s the second generation in a pastry shop.” She frowns again. “I was supposed to be the third.”
Joseph nodded. “Is that why you left home?”
“You ask a lot of nosy questions, mister.”
Joseph shrugged again. “People interest me.”
At least she did, for the moment.
“It was mostly because of a boyfriend…an ex-boyfriend.”
“You followed a boyfriend here?”
She sighed. “All over actually, but he dumped me here after a gig, but not before leaving me….” She placed a palm over her stomach. “At least he’s paying for the---
----Maria!” A cook in a greasy white apron smacked his hand on a bar, next to plate of steaming food. “Order up.”
“Looks like your steak and eggs are ready.”
As Maria retrieved Joseph’s order, a group of bikers walked in. They occupied an entire wall of booths. One of them cast a long glance of recognition in Joseph’s direction, then nodded. Joseph nodded back. His anonymity here wouldn’t last for long.
Maria placed Joseph’s plate of food on the table before him, then topped off his water. “You need anything else?” she asked.
“Everything looks great.”
“Good.” She reached into the pocket of her apron and produced the notepad. She tore off the bill and sat it on the table. “You can pay here or at the register. It was nice talking to you, mister.”
Joseph smiled back. “You, too.”
Just as Maria ventured over to take the bikers’ orders, a Florida State Police officer and a Military Police-woman entered the truck stop restaurant. Joseph sighed and reached for his wallet. The pair approached him.
“I’m surprised it took you this long,” he said without looking up.
“Are you aware that you are in violation of launch procedure protocol,” the military policewoman said.
“Don’t fret, I’m not trying to run,” Joseph said, counting out the money he needed to pay the bill. “I just wanted to stretch my legs a bit before I go.”
“Well I think you’ve done that enough,” she replied.
Joseph finally looked up. “One of you wouldn’t happen to have a pen on you, would you?”
The state patrolman pulled a pen from a front breast pocket and handed it to Joseph.
“Thanks, kindly.” Joseph pulled the rest of the cash out of his wallet and placed it on the table. It was a large sum, but he wouldn’t need it anymore anyway.
 “Come on, sir,” the policewoman said. “Admin is anxious to have you back.”
                “And they’ll have me back, after one last thing.”
                Joseph flipped over the bill and quickly scribed a note on the back before placing it on top of the cash. The military policewoman tapped her foot impatiently.
                Joseph piled a salt shaker on top and slid out of the booth. “Take me to your leader.”
                As the two officers escorted him out, one of the bikers shouted, “Good luck, spaceman!”
                Maria, seemingly frozen in place, stared at him with curious disbelief.
                Joseph winked at her as he passed by. “I left you a tip.”
                Without another word, the spaceman exited the truck stop.
****
                The Uber waited for Maria at the back of the parking lot. She climbed into the backseat, her feet aching from a long night of work and her stomach in knots. The disbelief about her encounter with the spaceman had faded, replaced with the heaviness her upcoming appointment deserved.
                The driver paid her little attention. Gripping his steering wheel, he leaned forward to peer at something though the windshield.
                A commentator spoke with restrained excitement from the car’s stereo. “This is it folks. T-Minus 10 seconds and counting…”
                The driver reached over and turned up the radio.
                “5. 4. 3. 2…”
                Her knee bouncing with nervousness, Maria glanced up from her phone. A bright light flashed across the horizon, like a firecracker bursting in the distance, followed by a streak of exhaust.
                “We have lift off! We have lift off! There it is, folks. History in the making! The first colonists of Mars are on their way, led by Commander Joseph L.----
                The driver flicked off the radio. “That was nothing like the movies,” he said, before turning back to Maria, his arm stretching over the back of the passenger seat. “1020 Wipple Road, correct?”
                Maria watched the streak of exhaust for a moment longer, transfixed by it.
                “Ma’am,” the driver said.  “The Planned Parenthood on 1020 Wipple Road, right?”
                At the mention of her appointment, she snapped back to reality.
                “Ummm, yeah.”
                “Okay.”
                The man put the car into gear and pulled away. Maria, gazed at the streak of exhaust spiraling upward, pressing against the rim of a beautiful blue sky for as long as she could, the words of the Spaceman’s message lingering in her mind until they compelled and abrupt shift inside her.
“Sir,” she said, reaching forward grabbing the driver by the shoulder. “Can you take me to the airport instead?’
“Sure, but it will cost you extra.”
Maria peered into her purse. The wad of money wrapped in the spaceman’s receipt was more than enough.
“Do you take cash?”
The driver smiled into the rearview mirror. “Sure do.”
Maria smiled back then reached for her phone. Biting down on the corner of her lip, she called a number she hadn’t in over a year.
A gruff but familiar voice picked up after the second ring. “Lugo’s Bakery, this is Diego.”
“Umm...” She squeezed the bottom hem of her dress until her knuckles turned white. “Pappi?”
“Maria. Maria! Is that you? Please tell me that’s you.”
“Yes, Pappi, it’s me.” she said, her voice cracking as tears welled in her eyes. “And I’m coming home.”
****
                Declassified Recording of Commander Joseph L. Redgrave’s Psychological Evaluation
Dr. Namor: “Seriously, Candidate. You can leave the program at any time. You can always go home.”
Joseph L. Redgrave: “Now why would anyone want to go and do a thing like that?”

The End
Copyright © 2018 by Sean C. McMurray