Reading More Books by Women

One year ago, I asked my friends to recommend novels written by women. This was prompted when I realized I had read one book by a woman in 2014. I don’t have a simple answer for why I was reading so few novels by women. Maybe that’s a topic for another post.

So I spent 2015 trying to read more books by women. I listened to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn with my wife. I don’t think listening to audiobooks is cheating, but you can call the reading police if you think so.

I use a nifty website called Goodreads to track what I’m reading and find new books. Most of what I read is genre fiction: fantasy and science fiction. I read 25 books during 2015, and six of them written by women. I’m glad I’ve made progress, but I’m not satisfied.

I wanted to highlight two of the books I really enjoyed:

This year, I’m excited to try Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Do you have any recommendations for me? You can follow me on Goodreads if you want to see what I’m reading.

Thanks for reading.

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Read It and Write a Review

I’m done with the first draft of my serial narrative, “Runner.” I started writing it about a year ago, and now it’s about 8,500 words long.

Thank you much for your support. It is so wonderful to have devoted readers.

With your help, I’m going to push my story to the next level. I want to know what parts you liked. If you give me some feedback, I’ll send you an annotated version of my novella. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated.

This PDF is the updated version of “Runner.” (As I wrote it, I went back and tweaked a few things.)

Runner – Parts 1-19

Runner – The End

This is the last chapter of my serial novella, “Runner.” Thank you so much for your support!

Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

***

Part 19

I walked with Angel to the bus stop. The town had lost half its population with the departure of students, and it felt deserted.

“I’ll miss this town,” Angel said. “But now I won’t have to drive 45 minutes to Chipotle.”

I laughed. “You’re gonna go on a fast food binge?”

“Chipotle isn’t fast food!”

“You know what I mean.”

The bus stopped at the curb. Angel handed her suitcase to the driver and he stowed it inside. We were left standing together.

I had thought about this moment for a long time. But I was nowhere close to figuring it out — Angel was an enigma to me. She was a mentor and friend. And I couldn’t deny I was attracted to her too.

“I hope the audition goes well,” I said.

“Thanks. Me too.”

We embraced briefly.

“Good-bye, blondie.”

She got onto the bus, the driver started the engine, and the bus drove away. I watched. I imagined myself chasing the bas and catching it. But I didn’t have any words to say if I caught it so I stood still.

The waning sun stained the sky with streaks of gold, and its last rays hurt my eyes. I had no reason to stay in this town. It had been stripped of importance for me, reduced to an empty house. I had come here for an education, and when the school closed I stayed for my friends. Now they were gone too, and all I had left were memories superimposed on empty streets and vacant buildings.

I smiled. I turned and started walking back to my dorm room, my hands shoved into my pockets. Sometimes memories are enough.

Runner – Part 18

This is the second to last chapter of my serial narrative, “Runner.” I will be posting the finale on July 18.

Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

***

Part 18

Angel slammed the door open when she reached the top of the stairs. I heard the two Hatters shout at us. We shoved past knots of people and headed for the door. The party continued around us.

Angel and I burst out of the front door and had almost reached the street before the bouncers on the porch reacted. The two Hatters from the basement shouted at us and tried to chase us. But we were too fast. Our pursuers soon stumbled to a halt, red-faced and barking expletives.

I started to slow down, but Angel grabbed my wrist and pulled me along.

“We need to get off this street before the police get here,” she said.

“What? Why are the police coming here?” I said.

“I had Evan call them.”

We cut through an alley and onto another street. I heard police sirens howling in the direction of Travis’s house. We looked at each other and suddenly we were laughing — we had walked into the dragon’s den and survived. Together, we jogged back to the House.

The town had finally calmed down. The police arrested Travis and two of his housemates for possessing of cocaine and methamphetamine. So far, none of them had said anything, but the police knew they were part of a larger organization.

Shake disappeared as soon as he was released from the hospital. I don’t think anybody knows where he went.

Paulo left the town early in case the Hatter tried something. We had one last, big party at the House before Paulo left. Deacon bought some pizzas at Pizza Express in Cadiz.

Evan said, “This is finals week. Right now.”

It was a good night. At one point, Deacon raised his can of Arnold Palmer and asked for our attention. He smiled at us.

“I’m glad we have this time together before we say good-bye. I will miss all of you. But this is truth: A seed must die before it can produce a harvest. The New Athens club will end, but this is just the beginning.”

Deacon raised his can of Arnold Palmer. We raised our plastic cups, glasses, and beer bottles.

“Run free,” he said.

“Run free!” we cried.

Runner – Part 17

This is Part 17 of my serial narrative, “Runner.” Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

***

Part 17

I followed Angel across the lawn and up to the front door. I was carrying a 6-pack of beer that Angel had bought earlier. Three guys were sitting on the porch. One of them stood and pointed at me, “Scram freshman. We’ve already got a bad ratio.”

Angel said, “If you don’t let in my cousin, we’re both leaving.”

Before they could respond, I said, “You guys want any beers?”

“Give them to me,” the leader said.

We walked into the house. The Friday night party had already started, the music pounded into the walls, and bottles littered the tops of tables. Angel grabbed my arm and breathed into my ear, “We split up.”

I walked into the raucous clamor alone. Paulo had shown me a picture of Travis. I was supposed to pose as a druggie looking for a score, just one of Shake’s crowd that needed a new supplier.

I recognized a few people, but I didn’t know them. I finally spotted the target in a side room. He was sitting on a couch and smoking a fat cigar. I walked by the room twice, getting up my nerve. Finally, I wandered into the room and sat down. He ignored me.

“Hey, you’re Travis, right?”

He looked at me for a moment. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m a friend of Shake. He skipped town or something. Can you help me out?”

I pulled out some bills that the other had fronted me. Travis stared at the cash then looked up at me.

“Wait here.”

He got up and left. After a minute, Travis stepped back into the door frame.

“Come on,” he said and beckoned.

I followed him. He walked to a closed door that led to the basement, He went down first. I looked around when I got to the bottom of the stairs. A washer and dryer, some cardboard boxes, a ceremonial mask. Travis was standing by an empty workbench.

He didn’t speak.

Two guys came down the stairs. I figured these two were Hatter enforcers. I felt the cold rush of adrenaline dumping into my system. I was trapped.

“Who are you?” Travis said.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Who are you?” Travis demanded. “Shake isn’t a friend of mine. I want to know why you know about me.”

“I already told you. Shake talked about you.”

Travis gestured, and the two guys grabbed me. Travis stepped closer. “What’s your name, punk?”

The noise from upstairs became noticeably louder — someone had opened the door. Someone started walking down the stairs. The two Hatters loosened their grip on me but didn’t release me.

I craned my neck to look over my shoulder. It was Angel. She was holding a red cup and looking perplexed.

“Is the bathroom down here?” she asked.

All three of them stared at her for a moment.

“Sorry babe, no bathroom down here,” Travis said. “How about you run back upstairs?”

“The bathroom isn’t down here?” she said.

He walked around me to escort her back upstairs. Angel kicked Travis in the stomach and slammed her knee into the head as he bent over. He crumpled to the concrete floor like a boneless animal.

I had been waiting for her to do something. I yanked free before the two Hatters could recover.

“Run!” I yelled.

Angel turned around and bounded up the stairs. I followed her.

Runner – Part 16

This is Part 16 of my serial narrative, “Runner.” Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

***

Part 16

The address belonged to a frat house a few blocks off Main Street. Beer bottles and trash littered the yard.

“What do you think?” I asked.

We were sitting in the van and watching the house.

“We don’t know if they’re cooking the meth in the house,” Deacon said. “They might not even have any meth in there.”

“Shake didn’t know anything else,” I said.

Deacon grinned. “We’ve got enough information to work with. Let’s get back to the House.”

He twisted the key and the old van coughed to life.

Back at the House, we put together a plan of action.

“We need to stick this to the Hatters,” Paulo said. “Bloody them and put the spotlight on them. The Hatters will crumble if we can put enough police pressure on them.”

“So what do we do? We can’t just walk in,” Evan said.

“I’ve got an idea,” Angel said. She smiled at us.

Runner – Part 15

This is Part 15 of my serial narrative, “Runner.” Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

***

Part 15

We decided to continue their efforts to subvert the Mad Hatters. Ryan articulated the group’s feeling when he said, “I came here 3 years ago for school. Now it’s my home.”

Deacon suggested that we should talk to Shake in the hospital. The group agreed and picked me to visit the injured drug dealer.

I went to the hospital the next day to see Shake.

I walked up to the nurses’ station, and I stammered as I said Shake’s real name. Shake was, of course, a nickname. A stage name.

I went to his room and pushed the door open.

His face looked like someone had used it for violent, radical psychotherapy. He was sitting up in bed, both eyes black and puffy. I put his phone on the bedside table. We stared at each other for a bit.

“What happened?” I finally asked.

“I went back for my other stash of meth.” Shake smirked. “I’m no fool. Any dealer worth his bread won’t hide his junk in just one place.”

His smile faded. “That’s when they jumped me. Those Hatter thugs had been waiting for me. They beat me up and took the rest of the meth.”

He touched his swollen cheek and said, “They really gave me a makeover.”

“Did you know the guys that jumped you?”

“Nah, never seen them before,” Shake said. “I’m not really part of the Hatters. I can’t believe you’re messing with them. I’m getting out of town as soon as I’m released. This town is a bomb waiting to be poked.”

He looked at me. “You guys still serious about messing with the Hatter?”

I nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to give you the address of my meth supplier. Give me some paper.”

I handed him a notepad from the table and a pen marked “[Redacted] Memorial Hospital.” Shake scribbled on the notepad then handed it back to me.

“His name is Travis, and that’s where he lives. I don’t know if he’s the only one that lives there. I’ve only been inside twice.”

I ripped off the page and stuffed it into my pocket.

“Thanks. Sorry about your face.””

He shrugged. “Life is about collecting scars, brother.”

Runner – Part 14

This is Part 14 of my serial narrative, “Runner.” Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

***

Part 14

I called Deacon with my cellphone, praying that he’d pick up.

“Are you guys okay?” I asked.

“We’re fine,” Deacon said over the phone. “Those two goons were Hatters. We scared them off. What happened to you?”

“I lost him. He ran back to his house, and two guys grabbed him. I didn’t want them to follow me back to the House.”

Silence on the other end. Finally, Deacon said, “They were waiting for him?”

“Yeah, seemed like it.”

“Okay, come back to the House. We’ll figure this out.”

The police arrived about two hours after the skirmish. Deacon had called them after he talked to me. When the police arrived, it was a single officer in a patrol car. The man looked like he had forgotten to shave in the morning.

The officer listened to our story and took some notes. His expression changed when I told him about Shake.

“Let’s go over to his house then.”

The officer drove his cruiser to Shake’s house and got out. We walked up to the porch, and the officer knocked on the door.

“Hello, this Officer Fields from the New Athens police department. This is just a courtesy visit — just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

Silence. The officer looked over at us.

“Your friend … you think he knew these people?”

We looked at each other. “Maybe.”

“So it’s possible he left with these people.”

Officer Fields handed Deacon his card.

“Call me if you something else happens,” he told us. “You can file a missing persons report if you haven’t heard from him. Sorry guys. This town has gone to the wolves since the university shut down. We don’t have enough men since they killed the security force.”

The officer drove away in his cruiser, and we walked back to the House. Deacon decided to call a Pathfinder meeting for that evening.
Later that night, I returned to the House.

Angel pushed open the shattered front door and stepped into the House. She scanned the room. When she spotted me Angel marched over and grabbed my arm, pulling me into the next room. We were alone.

“What the hell is your problem?” she said.

I didn’t know why she was angry.

“When this went down, did you think to tell me?” she asked. “I care about this town more than you do. The next time you go and do some crazy stunt — tell me first. Got it? I don’t wanna find out because Deacon calls us together for a meet-and-greet.”

“I’m sorry.”

Angel sighed.

“There’s a lot happening here,” she said. “And it’s dangerous. We need to stick together, okay?”

“I can handle myself. I’m not a child.”

Angel smiled. “I know you can, blondie.”

She patted me on the shoulder and walked across the room.

The meeting began after the remaining students arrived.

First, Deacon explaining how Shake started peddling meth. Then Paulo told the group about the two visits to Shake’s house. I told them about chasing the drug dealer and the two strong-arms that grabbed him.

“The policeman called me this evening and told me that Shake is in the hospital.” Deacon paused to let the phrase sink in. “Shake told them he fell down some stairs. I don’t think anyone believes that.”

Ryan said, “If we continue provoking them, we’ll have something close to gang warfare very soon. They won’t shrink from this. The Hatters will see this as a direct challenge to their turf.”

Runner – Part 13

This is Part 13 of my serial narrative, “Runner.” Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

This post contains some PG-13 language.

***

Part 13: Skirmish

We were waiting. All four of us were sitting in the family room of the House.

Deacon had tried convincing Shake to leave town, but the young man wouldn’t listen. Shake had packed a few essentials into a backpack then we escorted him to the House. None of us has left since then.

Deacon was reading a book, The Great Gatsby. Shake tapped his feet against the floor — an erratic, discordant tap-tapping.

“Can’t you sit still, man. You coming down?” Paulo asked.

“No bro, I just want to get out of here …” Shake said.

“Tweaker …” Paulo muttered.

Suddenly I heard the screech of metal-on-metal from outside the house. Paulo cursed. We jumped to our feet. I saw the door shiver as it was struck again.

“Get the bag,” Deacon ordered.

Paulo retrieved the bag and pulled out one of the baseball bats. The door splintered around the doorknob from another blow.

The door shattered and swung open after the next strike. Two guys were outside, one of them was holding a crowbar. I saw Deacon lift a wooden bench and hurl it at the two intruders. The bench knocked down Crowbar Dude. Paulo tossed the other club to Deacon. Sometimes people try to forget that a baseball bat is a glorified club.

I heard Shake run to the back of the house. A second later, the backdoor opened and slammed shut.

“Follow him!” Deacon yelled.

I ran through the backdoor. I caught sight of him running down the street. Shake had a big head-start, but I immediately started closing the distance between us.

He looked over his shoulder and yelled, “Leave me alone!”

He ran up to the porch and bounced off the door. He opened the door and scrambled inside. I was running across the front yard when he slammed the door shut. I twisted the knob, but it was locked.

“Open the door!” I yelled.

I heard Shake say from inside, “What the hell?”

Someone unlocked the door and opened it. But it wasn’t Shake.

I had never seen this thick-shouldered male before. The young man had a puzzled expression on his face. Behind him, I saw Shake struggling in the grip of another buff guy.

I shuffled backwards, eyes locked on the bruiser. He started toward me, and I ran. As I ran down the street, I realized I shouldn’t lead them back to the House. I cut into a side road and kept running.

I had no idea what had just happened.

Runner – Part 12

This is Part 12 of my serial narrative, “Runner.” Here’s a link to Runner – Part I if you haven’t read that yet.

This post contains some PG-13 language.

Sorry about the long wait.

***

Part 12

A week later, Deacon called and asked me to come over to the House. He said Shake hadn’t stopped selling meth. I jogged over to the House.

Deacon let me in and said, “You don’t have to come with us. We’ll probably have to break the law.”

I shrugged, “I want to go.”

Deacon nodded and handed me an equipment bag. Inside were two wooden baseball bats, smooth and dead.

“I’m more of a basketball guy,” I said.

Paulo laughed.

The three of us walked out of the House and down the street. The sky was blue, streaked with Heaven’s dust.

We reached his house, and I saw the faded, orange curtains were still drawn. Deacon told us to take the bats out of the bag. I handed one to Paulo and kept the other for myself. Deacon stepped onto the concrete porch and knocked on the door.

“Hey Shake, open up,” Deacon called.

I heard the oily snick of the lock withdrawing.

The young man’s eyes widened when he saw us. He choked out a curse.

Paulo torn the door open and pushed Shake back into the hallway. The drug dealer slipped on the linoleum and fell on his butt. For a short interval, we stared at each other — native and outlanders — as if waiting for a divine cue.

A dog walked into the hallway. It was an adult Boxer with brown hair, square-headed and mournful. The dog looked at its owner then swung its blocky head to look at us.

Shake glanced over at his dog.

“Get ‘em, Cerb!” he yelled.

The dog barked and charged us. Deacon darted forward and grabbed the dog’s collar and pulled it close. He wrapped his arm around its neck as the dog’s nails scrabbled on the linoleum floor.

I thought Deacon would snap the animal’s neck like a piece of soggy wood. Instead, he laid his head alongside the dog’s square head and whispered in its ear. Slowly, gradually, the animal’s stance relaxed, and it stopped struggling.

“She doesn’t like you very much,” Deacon said.

“Oh yeah?” Shake said. “Why do you say that?”

Deacon released the dog. The animal gazed up at him and wagged its tail. Shake grimaced and muttering something I didn’t hear.

Deacon stood.

“Sit him down over there,” Deacon ordered, pointing to the living room.

Paulo grabbed the drug dealer’s soiled T-shirt and shoved him down onto the slumped couch.

Deacon pointed at me. “Search the house. Find his cell phone. Make sure nobody else is here.”

“You can’t do this …” Shake said.

Paulo laughed. “You gonna call the cops?”

I checked the kitchen first. Old pizza boxes on the kitchen table. His smartphone was sitting beside the pizza boxes. I palmed it and slid it into my pocket.

I found his marijuana plants in the basement. A complex lighting system hung from the ceiling, now unlit. I had never seen a marijuana plant before.
I walked back upstairs and handed the phone to Deacon.

He looked at Shake and asked, “Where is the meth?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Paulo leaned over the drug dealer.

“Tell us where you hide the glass, or I’ll break your fingers,” Paulo said.

“I can’t tell you, man!” Shake said. “Do you think they’re going to let this slide?”

Deacon walked over to Shake, knelt down in front of him, and looked him in the eyes.

“You are a pawn in this power struggle,” Deacon said. “In chess, a player will sacrifice a pawn to gain an advantage. You are nothing to them. The Hatters don’t care if you cooperate with us or not. You’re expendable.”

He paused.

“We can protect you, Shake. This is just a smart business move for you. But if you don’t help us, then we can’t help you.”

Shake stared at the ground. Finally he said, “It’s under the kitchen sink …”

Paulo left the room. He returned and held up a Ziploc bag filled with white crystals.

“Get rid of it,” Deacon said.

“Oh, come on … don’t do that!” Shake said. “That’s hot stuff right here. Do you know how much dough that’s worth? What’s wrong with you guys??”

Paulo disappeared. A moment later, we heard the toilet flush. Shake groaned.

“Who is your contact?” Deacon asked.

“Why do you want to know that?”

Deacon handed the drug dealer’s phone back to him, “Call your supplier with the Hatters.”

Shake stared at Deacon for a long moment. Finally, he dialed a number. Deacon took the phone back. A pause. Then he started speaking when someone on the other end answered.

“Listen very carefully,” he said. “My friends and I just destroyed Shake’s meth supply. Don’t sell that shit in my neighborhood.”

He ended the call and tossed the phone to me.

“Are you insane?” Shake asked. “I’m dead. We’re all dead!”

“You have maybe fifteen minutes to pack,” Deacon told Shake. “You’re coming with us. It won’t be safe here.”