Love Is Not a Dirty Word–Story #4

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Click on the link to purchase the book

 

I’ll admit that it was pretty cool this morning going to Amazon and Barnes and Nobles and seeing the book sitting on their cyber book shelf waiting for eager readers. If you click on the photo next door, you  will go to Amazon. You can also buy the book on Barnes and Nobles site (click on the hyperlink). I mentioned a long time ago, I’m not going to get rich selling a book of short stories, but I would like it to sell well enough that the publisher breaks even. Lamar University Press is a small press, and we need to show some love for those folks who work tirelessly to keep publishing writers who might not ever make the big time.

When you read below, you will see the opening paragraphs of the collection’s title story. “Love Is Not A Dirty Word” was my first fiction publication and probably went through the least amount of revision before going into the book.

Last night at the 19th Annual Angelo State Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton, Dan Choan mentioned that he’s started making up town names to avoid hearing from various Chamber of Commerces. Cleveland, where Choan lives, he said isn’t particularly happy with the way he portrays the city.

This strikes me as an ever present danger when you write fiction. Readers, especially family and friends, tend to look for themselves or shared moments as they read the stories. But, as Choan pointed out last night, the art of writing fiction is the act of inhabiting various lives. Writers float in and out of people and things, taking what they need before flitting to the next thing.

The title story certainly has some connections to my personal life. I live in San Angelo and my wife and I have to drive to Houston for Thanksgiving and Christmas if we want to see her family. It’s also true that the idea for this story did come about on a drive to Houston one Thanksgiving. We left early and near Buchanan, we saw a deer (or what was left of it) on the side of the road. About a 100 yards further down, the highway was blood-stained. I guess I was in a bad mood that day, though, because all I could think about was how we hurtle down the road to visit people, battling memories the whole time. Nietzsche once wrote that “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”  That quote actually makes into another story in the collection, but I had this sense of the irony regarding holiday travel and the stress associated with it and that blood stain somehow seemed important.

Interestingly, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that blood stain when I started writing, but this story, unlike many moved pretty seamlessly along. I knew from the outset the bulk of the story would take place in a car, on the highway, and that music would be important. I wanted to see how the tension–the excitement, resentments, happiness, anger, love, family, marriage–that the holidays seem to evoke might play out for this young couple as they drive to see her family. I’m not saying the story was an easy write (because I’m not sure any story is easy to write), but I didn’t struggle as I moved between characters.

So, in so far as I have a wife, drive to Houston, and like music, this story is all about me. All the other details must be about some other body I spent some time in.

Love is Not a Dirty Word

Five-thirty in the morning and San Angelo is crispy cool, with patches of ice on the rooftops. West Texas in the fall—what we lack in color we make up for in clear skies tinged with wood smoke from early morning fires. My wife and I are headed to Houston for her family’s annual Thanks- giving celebration, and the car is packed with clothes and Christmas presents we’ll deliver early. I’ve always insisted on at least one major holiday at home, even though I would prefer all of them. We’ve started alternating Christmas and Thanksgiving with maybe one extra trip to Houston each y year. My wife has eight brothers and sisters and twenty-five nieces and nephews. The first Christmas we spent with her family, I pointed to the noise and mayhem and offered to buy everyone a pack of condoms as stocking stuffers.

“Good thing we don’t have kids, or they’d have to ride strapped to the roof.” I slide into the car.

She doesn’t laugh—who would at 4:30 in the morning? I envision driving the sun up, Diana Krall in the cd player, and a hot cup of coffee.

“Will you be okay if I go to sleep?” She rubs the back of my neck.

“I will unless you keep that up.”

I’m accelerating onto Highway 67 toward Eden, sipping my coffee and grooving to “Popsicle Toes.”

“Mom called last night. Fred and Julie won’t be around, neither will Aunt Barbara’s family. Maybe a stray cousin or two.”

“That’s a real shame. I’m not so lucky about the Jesus-freaks, am I?” I can almost hear Jennifer roll her eyes. I take a sip of coffee. “I sure hope Neal will be there. His conversation is always so stimulating.”

(If you want to find out how where the dead deer shows up (or if the Jesus-freaks are as bad as they sound), click on the image above and buy the book.)

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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