From Lone Star Lawless: “When Cheese Is Love”

Posted by M. K. Waller

*

In November, Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, published its second crime fiction anthology, LONE STAR LAWLESS. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my story, “When Cheese Is Love.”

Lone Star Lawless (Wildside Press, 2017)

To set the scene: English teacher Tabitha Baynes has come to Fonda de Paz, the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Central Texas, at the invitation of Gonzalo, the owner, who moved up from Mexico last year. Tabitha has been giving him English lessons; she has also just finished a year-long medically supervised liquid-only diet, and as a result has skinnied down from XXL dresses to a Size One. She looks stunning, and she’s desperate to stay that way. She must be perfect, because Gonzalo is perfect, and tonight, they will dine together–alone. But first, she must do battle with an old enemy. We watch her cross the parking lot and approach the restaurant.

*

Taking a deep breath, Tabitha lifted her head, smiled, and walked down a pathway lined with trees twinkling with tiny blue lights, toward the evening of her dreams.

First, though, she must pass two serpents.

“Enchilada suizas” is licensed by Steve Dunham under CC BY-2.0.
The first stood in the dimly lit foyer: Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, rearing on hind legs, teeth bared, looming over the crowd waiting to be seated. Illuminated from within, he cast bright reds, blues, greens, yellows across the room. He shone beautiful and fierce—but not nearly so fierce as the serpent that guarded the dining room.

Ana Alvarado, tall and slender, wearing a simple black sheath, its severity lightened by a heavy turquoise necklace, stood at the hostess station. Her black hair was pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. Like a Renaissance Madonna, she glowed with serenity and grace.

When Ana saw Tabitha, her Madonna smile turned into a smirk.

Buenas noches. You know, of course, that you are late.”

Skin-deep beauty and a fake accent, thought Tabitha. Everybody in town knew Ana was just plain old Alva Mae Allen, brought up right here in Bur Oak. Her mother was Hispanic and spoke Spanish fluently, but Alva Mae flunked Spanish in high school because she couldn’t conjugate irregular verbs.

Ana gestured toward a door to her right. “Because you are late, you must wait in the bar. I hope Gonzalo is not irritated with you.”

“Thank you, Ana. I’ll have a glass of wine while I wait.”

From first day of kindergarten to the night of high school graduation, Ana had made Tabitha’s life a misery. “Tubby Tabby,” Ana had called her. Twenty years later, she was still a bully.

But Tabitha had changed. She was the All New Tabitha Baynes, sporting a size one dress and a stylish coif, and her own serenity and grace reached all the way down to the bone. Nothing Ana said or did could touch her.

And tonight she would reap her reward: dinner with Gonzalo in El Nicho, the room he reserved for special, intimate parties.

Tabitha had never seen El Nicho.

“Sparkling water” is licensed by Marco Verch under CC BY-2.0

Seated on a high stool at the far end of the bar, close to the kitchen, she skipped the wine (rosé, 20 calories per ounce) and ordered a glass of sparkling water.

A waiter delivered her drink. “An appetizer, perhaps, Senorita? We have something brand new—cheesy Tex-Mex egg rolls—very tasty.

She shook her head. If there was anything she didn’t need, it was cheese. All her life, it had been her favorite food. Now she was trying to replace it with green vegetables.

The waiter winked and retreated. Tabitha looked down at her glass and drew her shawl close around her neck. She wasn’t used to men looking at her that way. It was flattering, but at the same time, unsettling. It made her feel she was nothing but a body.

Holding the shawl closed with one hand, she sipped her drink and calculated. For dinner, she would order a taco salad without the shell (420 calories). But maybe, after today’s extra-grueling workout, she could afford a real taco (571 calories). She wouldn’t even consider her favorite, the beef chimichanga (1580 calories).

The kitchen door opened and the aroma of onion, cumin, chilis engulfed her. Her stomach, which since last night had seen nothing more substantial than broth, gave a lurch. Oh, why bother, she thought. Gonzalo would serve whatever he wanted to, and it would be smothered in what he called his “signature ingredient”—cheese. And she would scarf down every bite.

She checked her watch. Gonzalo had said something about meeting with an architect to discuss plans for adding a new dining room. But what if there was another reason he wasn’t waiting for her? Maybe Ana was right, and Gonzalo was angry because she was late. Or maybe she’d gotten it all wrong, and they weren’t going to share an evening in El Nicho. In the past two months, since she stopped trying to lose weight, he’d treated her to dinner once, twice, sometimes three times a week, to thank her for teaching him to speak English. But she’d always sat by herself in the main dining room. Maybe that was the plan for tonight.

Tabitha had been giving Gonzalo English lessons at the library every afternoon for over a year. He had a good ear and learned fast. She dreaded the day their lessons would end.

Lately, however, there’d been signs he might be interested in extracurricular activities. Free meals at Fonda. Lingering looks. Hands touching when she handed him a pencil. Heads close together as they leaned over a workbook. The gleam in his eyes when she pasted a gold star on his progress chart.

She shrugged. Maybe she was here tonight because he liked gold stars.

She was tying the shawl around her neck when Gonzalo strode in. Her stomach gave another lurch. This time it wasn’t from hunger.

“Ah, mi amor.” Enfolding her hand in both of his, he gazed into her eyes. Her knees melted to the consistency of queso.

“I’m so sorry I was late—”

Mi querida, I would wait for you until the end of time.”

If Fred Schmidt, the high school industrial arts teacher who had been hounding her for weeks to go with him on Saturday nights to the Polka Barn, said he would wait till the end of time, she would laugh and ask if he’d been reading Wuthering Heights. From Gonzalo, the words sounded like a sonnet. . . .

***

A launch party for LONE STAR LAWLESS will be held at BookPeople in Austin on February 4, 2018, 5:00 p.m.  Authors will speak and sign. The book is dedicated to Gale Albright, AMW member and our dear friend, who died in November 2016.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George, Laura Oles, and Kaye George (our valued emerita)

Friends who contributed stories: Alexandra Burt, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, Terry Shames, Larry D. Sweazy, George Weir, Manning Wolfe, and Scott Montgomery

Kathy Waller, Laura Oles, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler
Kaye George

 

*****

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, has published stories in LONE STAR LAWLESS, MURDER ON WHEELS, and DAY OF THE DARK (ed. Kaye George), and in the online magazine MYSTERICAL-E.

Here are links to her personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly,

to the Austin Mystery Writers blog,

and to the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter’s newsletter/blog, HOTSHOTS!, which she edits.

Advertisements

Bad Men, Lawless, and BSP

 Posted by M. K. Waller

I turned on my Kindle today to find Laura Oles’ Daughters of Bad Men, had appeared in its library, overnight, as if by magic. That’s a perk of pre-ordering. Laura is one of my critique partners in Austin Mystery Writers, and Daughters of Bad Men is her first novel.

I’ve been in AMW for six or seven years–can’t remember exactly–but membership is one of the best things that’s happened since I began writing for publication.  Examining others’ work and hearing their comments on mine has made me a better writer. Members have become my friends. Together we’ve enjoyed workshops and lunches and weekend retreats.

And I’ve acquired a new virtue: I’m genuinely happy when other members get their work published.

My skin turns Shrek green, but I’m happy.

Offsetting today’s greenish tinge over Laura’s debut, I’m also happy to announce that AMW’s second crime fiction anthology, Lone Star Lawless, was released last week by Wildside Press. 

Twelve years after Karen MacInerney founded the critique group, AMW published its first anthology, Murder on Wheels. The idea, like the anthology, grew out of collaboration. Kaye George, facilitator of the group after Karen left, describes it in the Introduction:

The genesis was a ride my husband and I took a couple of years ago on the Megabus (a double-decker bus that makes express runs between major cities with very limited stops). I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder: isolated setting, finite number of suspects, possible amateur sleuth. There was one problem–where to hide the body. So I asked the group, Austin Mystery Writers, for suggestions…. Once we got started, the Austin Mystery Writers came up with murder scenarios on vehicles, then expended that to included all sorts of wheels…

Somewhere in the brainstorm of titles–Assaulted in an Automobile, Batted on a Bicycle, Conked in a Cart–Kaye said, “We should do an anthology.”

So, after inviting two accomplished writers, Reavis Wortham and Earl Staggs, to contribute, we wrote, critiqued, revised, re-critiqued, submitted to an independent editor, queried, and signed with Wildside, and Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move came out in 2015.

Kaye was an established writer with several novels and a zillion short stories to her credit, but the rest of us–Gale Albright, V. P. Chandler, Laura Oles, Scott Montgomery, and I–had never published any fiction. We were officially Pleased With Ourselves. When Wheels received the Silver Falchion Award at the 2016 Killer Nashville International Writers Conference, we tried to remain humble but couldn’t.

One anthology led to another. This time, AMW are joined by eight friends–Alexandra Burt, Mark Pryor, Larry Sweazey, Janice Hamrick, Terry Shames, George Wier, and Manning Wolfe–for Lone Star Lawless: 14 Texas Tales of Crime.

I would like to say, in a tone dripping with sophistication, “Been there, done that.” But I can’t. As with Wheels, I want to put Lawless in a baby carriage and, in a flagrant fling of Blatant Self Promotion, roll it up and down Congress Avenue and so everyone can see my magnificent creation.

Wouldn’t be prudent, though.

But if Laura wants to borrow my baby carriage to roll Daughters of Bad Men up and down Congress Avenue, I’ll be more than happy to chaperone.

*****

Note: Kaye George’s first book, Choke, is the funniest mystery novel I’ve ever read. My review on Telling the Truth, Mainly begins,

Question: If you combined Lucille Ball with Inspector Clouseau, what would you get?

Answer: Imogene Duckworthy, amateur P.I. and main character of Kaye George’s new mystery, CHOKE.

Here’s the entire review. Everything I say in it is the truth.

*****

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, 
has published stories 
in Austin Mystery Writers’
crime fiction anthologies

MURDER ON WHEELS
& LONE STAR LAWLESS,
in DAY OF THE DARK: STORIES OF ECLIPSE,
and in Mysterical-E.

 

A Fast 400

MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)This post by Kathy Waller

I admit it: I forgot. I wrote it on my calendar: “2/1/2016: Post on Writing Wranglers and Warriors.” Yesterday I remembered. Then I forgot. So I’m late. [Sigh.]

Anyway, just under the wire–Here are four stories I wrote and published on my personal blog as part of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers. Each was written from a photo prompt. Each is exactly 100 words in length. (Or was when I last counted.) I hope you like.

#1

Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT © Georgia Koch
Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT © Georgia Koch

 

When Derek fell for LucyMae, he immediately introduced her to his wife.

“Look, Mandy.” His tone was reverent; his eyes betokened lust. “Isn’t she gorgeous?”

“Good gosh.” Mandy touched the hull. “Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink. Where does the albatross sit?”

“Hydrate her, the boards’ll plump up.”

“They’re rotten. . . . What’s that thingy?”

“It’s a . . . I’ll fix her.”

He switched on pleading puppy eyes.

Sigh. “Okay.” Mandy took his arm. “Let’s go look at that treadle sewing machine I want.”

“You can’t sew.”

“No. But it was love at first sight.”


Embed from Getty Images

 

 

#2

Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT - Copyright - Madison Woods
Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT © Madison Woods

Screams pierced the air. The woman dropped her trowel and raced across the yard. “What happened?”

Pushing through a ring of children, she lifted the crying child, examined the swelling lip.

A Greek chorus erupted.

–wasp–“

–hydrant–“

–stung–“

Lisabeth, I told you not to drink from the hydrant.” Then, turning, “Lisabeth’s four. You’re ten–“

I was rescuing Kitty from–Mom, I can’t watch her every second.”

Get the baking soda.”

TLC applied, the woman returned to gardening.

Screams pierced the air. She ran.

Lisabeth teased Kitty and–“

Lisabeth, I told you–“

 


Embed from Getty Images

 

#3

Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT - Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy
Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

I heard them talking.

Daddy said, She wants a pogo stick.

Mama said, She has enough presents.

Santa brought a pogo stick.

Daddy smiled. Sturdy.

We went outside.

Mama frowned. Don’t fall.

She’s fine. Daddy lifted me on.

I bounced. The pogo stick didn’t.

Daddy frowned. Spring’s tight. You’re not heavy enough.

Daddy tried. He bounced down the sidewalk.

Mr. Smith came over. Can I try?

Daddy jumped off. Sure.

Mr. Smith bounced down the driveway. This is fun.

Let me try again, Daddy.

Daddy bounced up the driveway.

Mama brought me my doll.

She’s right. I have enough presents.


Embed from Getty Images

 

#4

Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT © Erin Leary
Friday Fictioneers PHOTO PROMPT © Erin Leary

John ambled into the kitchen. “What’s cooking?”

“Mushroom gravy.” Mary kept stirring.

John frowned. “Toadstools. Fungi. Dorothy Sayers killed someone with mushrooms–Amanita.

“These are morels.” She added salt. “Everybody eats mushrooms.”

“I don’t.”

“Suit yourself.”

He sat down. “Where’d you buy them?”

“I picked them.”

You?

“Aunt Helen helped. She knows ‘shrooms.” Mary held out a spoonful. “Taste.”

“Well . . . ” John tasted. “Mmmm. Seconds?”

“Yoo-hoo.” Aunt Helen bustled in. “Like my new glasses? With those old ones–I couldn’t see doodly squat.”

Mary looked at the gravy, then at John. “Maybe you should spit that out.”


Embed from Getty Images
###
MOW cover - amazon pixKathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth–Mainly and at Austin Mystery Writers. Two of her stories, “A Nice Set of Wheels” and “Hell on Wheels,” appear in Austin Mystery Writers’ crime fiction anthology MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015).
Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, Friday Fictioneers, and the photographers whose art prompted these stories. As to how the dinosaur-looking creature prompted a story about a pogo stick–it’s complicated.

 

 

Why I Go to Critique Group

0kathy-blog

 

Posted by Kathy Waller

***********************

I said to my critique group last week, The whole draft is stinky, it stinks, there’s no hope.

They read chapter 13 and said, But it’s so good, so funny, Molly is so funny, it’s not stinky.

I said, Yes, the first part of chapter 13 and the last part of chapter 13 are funny and very very good, but there’s still no middle of chapter 13 and what there is stinks, and anyway the other 47,000 words stink except for a few hundred here and there.

And they said, But the middle could be revised, edited, it has promise.

I said, But it won’t work because I have written myself into a hole and can’t get out, so I have to trash that part, and anyway the whole concept stinks.

And they said, NOOOOOOOO you can fix it,  just keep going, because we like Molly, she’s so funny.

And that is why I go to critique group every blessed week.

IMG_2439IMG_1873IMG_1854

***********************

I was looking over old blog posts, trying to determine who I was back then, when I came across this piece from a September 2009 Whiskertips. Over the past six years, much has changed, but two things have not:

1. The draft is still stinky; and

2. I still go to critique group.

Note: The photographs were taken on special occasions. We don’t have nearly that much fun every week.

***********************

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and at Austin Mystery Writers. Two of her short stories appear in Austin Mystery Writers’ anthology of crime fiction, MURDER ON WHEELS.