Lesson Plan

RD never stopped having big dreams. He had most of them sitting on a bar stool behind the counter at Skeeter’s Truck Stop where he had been a cashier for nine years.

A newspaper was sprawled out, opened to the Sports section. As usual, RD read every word and every statistic. Sometimes he’d reread articles and circle pertinent information, fix the grammar errors and typos.

When the door chime rang, RD looked up and got excited. It was Fred Pitre, a black man in his late 50s who passed through once a week for a hot shower. As usual, Fred had his tote bag hanging from his shoulder packed with clothes, towels, and toiletries.

“Mr. Pitre! How are you, sir?!”

RD’s greeting startled Fred.

“I’m okay. A little tired. Don’t smell too good. How are you, RD?”

“I just can’t believe Patterson dropped it in the fourth, twice! You called it again!”

“That boy always chokes in the fourth; I keep telling you. Say, hot water runnin’?”

RD stayed wide-eyed and smiled big. “You bet. Here, this one’s on the house.” RD picked up a stack of quarters he had ready and handed them to Fred. “Enjoy.”

“Nah, I can’t accept that!”

“Well, I’m also hopin’ you can give me this week’s picks before you leave.”

“Ha! You’re alright, RD. You’re alright.” Fred accepted the quarters and headed to the back room where the showers were.

Except for the humming from the freezer, the front of the store felt empty and quiet again. RD sat back and looked at the highway outside. He imagined driving away from Skeeter’s with a full tank of gas to join the sparse traffic with his wife and daughter in the passenger seats fast asleep. The inside and the top of the car would be packed with their most valuable belongings; they didn’t have many.

RD looked down at the sports section again and continued reading. Later that night, he would focus on a different message.
RD was loyal to everyone except himself. He sat front row at every church service that his father-in-law, “Pappy” pastored and this night was no different.

Even though Pappy was a widower, he was married to the only church in town, aptly named “Farms with Arms” or “FWA”. No, not “Church of Jesus”-something; that would have shown weakness.

It was made up of a large group of pissed off families who felt their country was “hijacked by minorities, Gays, and Jews.” Their organization and their sentiment incubated inside Heart City, a small East Texas town off the highway, most of which stayed hidden behind pine trees, and rusty warehouses that sold tractors, storage sheds, and junkyard scrap.

For a long time, the population surfed at a steady 500, but when the recession hit in ’08, it forced over 200 people to move away which chain-reacted further destruction to the strength of this non-inclusive community and the only world RD knew.

Next to RD at church sat his unusually sexy gun-rights-activist wife, Maylee, and their soft-spoken nine-year-old daughter, Caroline. Caroline’s birth put the kibosh on RD’s plans to turn his online Associate of Arts degree into a career as a sports writer. That bothered RD, but he kept it to himself because, in Heart, a surprise pregnancy was God’s way of quickly turning boys into men.

In front of everyone, Pappy often proudly ordained RD as his successor. This excited RD and, quite frankly, softened the blow of his failure to fulfill his original dream. He believed in Pappy’s message not realizing it was the only truth he had been receiving his entire life. Taking over FWA was an opportunity for him to become somebody, finally.

Before Sunday night service started, Pappy whispered into RD’s ear, “Tell Maylee I’ll drive you home tonight after church. Me, you and the boys need to have a meeting.” RD got nervous and coughed out “Okay” after choking on some spit he swallowed. Is Pappy finally handing him the reins? Will RD’s training begin with short practice sermons? These and other questions raced through RD’s noggin as he sat trying to contain his excitement.

All three of Pappy’s sons shared Pappy’s philosophies, but they weren’t as smart at RD, and they knew it. They didn’t mind, though; RD had become “like kin” when he said, “I do” to their little sister at the FWA altar. They ignored that he’d “done her” somewhere on Pappy’s land very early into their courtship according to one of Maylee’s so-called best friends, “Loose-Lipped Lisa”. Her nickname carried a double meaning in Heart, but that’s not relevant to the story.

What’s important to know is that Maylee’s brothers had RD’s back, and this mutual affection grew into a militia kind of brotherly love that involved quality time together shooting bottles and cans, hunting boars and dove, and playing poker every Friday night after church on Pappy’s farm.

Sometimes Pappy would buy-in, win all their money and crack himself up in the process. He had an old rustic contagious laugh that singed the hairs off their hides when they heard it. But they got over it quickly because they respected him and admired the fact that he was a legendary poker player written about in books before he began FWA.

Pappy donned black attire like Johnny Cash, strutted around in expensive ostrich boots and crowned his silver Cesar-style haircut with his collection of beautiful Stetson cowboy hats.

When the organ sounds of the first Negro spiritual faded into silence, he removed his hat and laid it on a bar stool next to his podium. It sat there looking like a hunting dog ready to fetch the kill.

He would grip his 30-year-old podium with his big farmers’ hands and deliver salvation with nail-driving platitudes, sometimes trailed with spit from the sides of his mouth, a baptism of holy saliva on a few lucky members.

26 thoughts on “Lesson Plan

  1. C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

    You may be right on the exclamation points. I can probably take one or two out. Thank you.

    I respectfully disagree with you on the opening and not out of pride or ego. Several people have told me they were hooked. Thank you, though.

    Good luck to you as well and keep writing!

    • C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

      A man joins his father-in-law’s secret 21st century lynch mob but tries to leave when their violent deeds clash with his inherent good morals.

  2. Gentle Reader says:

    Sounds interesting! Glad you liked the article.

    I still want to encourage you to spend more time on your opening.

    For me, the very first line is generic.

    Also, I’ll point out a couple of specific examples in the very beginning of telling instead of showing:

    1. “When the door chime rang, RD looked up and got excited.”

    The words “got excited” are an example of telling. What can the character do to show the excitement?

    2. “RD’s greeting startled Fred.”

    This is another example of something that (in my opinion) you want to show instead of tell.

    The first scene at the truck stop doesn’t seem to have any real conflict in it. A guy saying he can’t accept quarters and then taking them isn’t enough of a conflict. Every scene in a novel should contain conflict. (http://theeditorsblog.net/2015/02/07/get-pushy-push-character-conflict-and-reader-emotion/)

    C.S. Lakin wrote an article called something like “The Five Essential Components of Scene Structure,” and I’ll leave it to you to Google it if you are interested.

    Janice Hardy wrote an article called “Open Up! Writing the Opening Scene,” which you can Google if you are interested.

    I would strongly encourage you to reconsider your first scene. Please don’t shoot the messenger. I’m only trying to help. One thing you might consider trying is taking a look a ten of your favorite novels. Read the first scene in each and identify the conflict. Then, revise your scene. Good luck!

    • C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

      Wow. Thank you for taking the time. It shows you care and you’re not looking down from a high horse. I see this a lot when I read reviews of books and movies.

      I’ll take your advice to heart and read these articles.

      Thanks again, “Who-was-that-masked”-critic. 😉

      Seriously, I appreciate it.

  3. C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

    Hey Gentle Reader, I just wanted to give you an update. You definitely opened my eyes on what I need to improve at the beginning and I’ve made significant changes on your points. Thank you, my friend.

  4. C. Longoria Gonzalez says:

    Hi “y’all”,

    I just wanted to thank you again for your generous input. My defenses went up at the initial reading of your suggestions, but when I took a step back and gave each point a serious consideration, it motivated me to seek out more information on your points. All of them.

    What I didn’t see coming: It helped me spur more of my creativity which breathed new life into these characters, expanded them and ultimately opened up new pathways and conflict. A chain reaction is the best way I can describe what happened after your reading all your suggestions, and I am forever thankful.

    This writing thing is a hard road, but we must love this because we keep going like stray mutts looking for a home, not giving up, confident we’ll be accepted somewhere, somehow eventually, maybe scrawny and beaten up, but accepted.

    This stray is at chapter five and can’t wait to find out what happens next.

    Best of luck to you and YOUR writing.

    I leave you with a quote from a song by the band, Wet Willie:

    “Singin’ in a honkey tonk cafe
    But nobody’s hearin’ what you play
    They’re too busy drinkin’ anyway
    You gotta keep on smilin… Just keep on smilin””

    Okay, back to writing. I’ve/we’ve procrastinated enough. 🙂

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