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    I’m is a dyslexic/neurodiverse journalist who spent seven years working as a coal-fired power plant operator. I make my living ghostwriting for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest federally owned utility. As a communications consultant for the agency, it's my job to plant TVA stories on the AP wire for syndication. I have two degrees in journalism and was a Presidential Scholar who served as editor-in-chief of Western Kentucky University's student newspaper.
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  1. My favorite stories are the ones that begin with a raised eyebrow and some old man sayin, “You cain’t make this shit up.” Them kinda tales everbody wants to hear, cause there’s always someone who don’t want ‘em told. Not me. I like true stories, and I can already tell this is a good’un in the makin. Hard not to be, beins Mr. Jackson’s done drawed a syringe full of sleepy juice for his tranquilizer spear. First time I’ve ever seen one in real life, cause lord knows Kendall don’t believe in nothin but sweet words and a curry comb when it comes to breakin cattle. Big pussy. “Stick ‘im, Jackson!” And…bingo. Ewww-weee. Popped ‘im right square in the neck vein. Mr. Jackson holdin the needle in there good justa make sure the Sand Man gets into the bloodstream. I’m pretty sure this is illegal. Dern limousin ain’t real fond of it neither. Thrashin and buckin. Fightin against a homemade halter that looks like somebody welded a chain to a steel hula hoop, then slid it over the thang’s ginormous jaws. The halter’s shiny circle is kinda pretty, all except its twelve o’clock, where a patch of pitted rust is gnawin at the monster’s face, like flesh-eatin piranhas, feedin on a river of bloody pus and bone shards. Plumb nasty is what it is, the way that metal ring is buryin itself deeper, and deeper, inside the steer’s rotten nose bridge. Strawberry-green boogers and stinkin goo. Reminds me of a volcano oozin sewage from a ditch of infection, which ain’t never gonna dry as long as the wound stays plugged with punishment. Too bad the limousin ain’t got enough sense to help his own cause. Guess the crazy outfit would rather raise cane and play tug-a-war with a cowboy, which ain’t never gonna work, cause that man’s got his boot jammed up against a poopy fender for leverage. Experience. Works like a readymade winch, windin the steer’s long rope lead through the red-metal trailer bars, tighter and tighter, with a hold Babe the Blue Ox couldn’t break. Reckon I best hunker down and hide. Ain’t no ten-year-olds supposed to be up here in the catwalk, but ain’t nobody gonna see me as long as I’m careful. With that steer goin bonkers under an outlawed halter, and drugs and manure flyin ever which away, everbody’s done got too busy dancin around in the alleyway to pay me no mind. ABOVE: The first-page sample starts the opening scene, which establishes Charlie Goodman (antagonist) as the main character and reveals the childhood traumas (sympathy factor) that created the monster. SCENE TWO: Introduces Sam Riley (protagonist) to the Charlie Goodman wildcard, establishes setting/tone/pace, and foreshadows the primary conflict by ending the scene with a homophobic metaphor. “Hold it!” Sam’s voice snaps me out of another brain fog. I kick my boot heel between the closin elevator doors and listen to the hellacious racket. Damn thing sounds like a Home Depot forklift with Tourette’s. Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. I watch the lights blink red. The galvanized partitions reverse. “Thank you, sir.” “How’s Sam a’doin this mornin?” “Living the dream.” “Psssh. Ain’t that the truth,” I say. “Those ostrich?” “Yessir. Make ya feel like you’re walkin on pillows—soft as a yearlin’s scrotum.” I wait but refuse to smile. Might be the only chance I’ll get for amusement today with this bunch of fuddy duds. Come on, Sam. Bite. You’ve worked with me long enough to know you oughta be about halfway expectin me to milk a rise by now. “Charlie, I’m from Birmingham, and I still don’t have a clue what you just said.” “Sorry.” I laugh. “I grew up on a cattle farm castratin bullcalves for my papaw. Guess I started bout the time I’s in kindergarten. Even gotta a beauty mark to prove it too. Lookie here. You see it?” I poke the penthouse button, then point to a half-inch scar beside my eyelid. The thin, pale line looks like the first signs of middle-aged crow feet. “Had a little white charolais kick when I’s in high school, and somehow that lucky outfit launched a scalpel outta my hand. Musta been karma, cause that nasty-ass blade caught me right behind the eyeball here. Perfect incision.” Sam winces. “One of ‘em once-in-a-blue-million money shots that woulda problee won a stuffed bunny at the fair. Ain’t kiddin. That dern knife hit a tiny artery, right here. See? And lemme tell ya, it would NOT stop bleedin. Soaked my shirt through while I finished makin steers out of the six or seven we had left.” “Only you,” Sam says. “Ahhh, coulda happened to anybody.” “Sure. If you say so.” “Hey, but the funny part of it all was that once Papaw finally did haul me to the clinic, we had this good ole country doc come in and told me, he said, ‘Son, you’re gonna halfta hold still, cause that gash is too close to your eyeball for me to numb.’” “No.” “Yeah, promise ya! Ain’t kiddin. That’s exactly what happened. See, the way ole Doc Beasley had his table shoved in the corner, before that whole ordeal was over, I had to wedge my ass against the sheetrock to keep from flinchin. Cause hell, that was the only way to keep from blindin myself. One boot anchored to this wall and the other to this-un.” I sit on the handrails and give a spread-eagle demonstration. Sam’s gummy teeth beg me to finish. Oh well, I think I’ll oblige. Ding. We step out of the elevator and onto the floor…. “So, there I am, tryin to keep my head from twitchin while this hillbilly with a stethoscope goes to stitchin me up. Then, I hear Papaw holler, ‘Ewwww-weee, I bet that hurts.’” “Stop it.” “True story. Papaw had ever nurse in that place packed in there like Granny Mim’s cordwood. Doc laughin. Nurses laughin. Everbody just a’watchin the show. Small town, I guess. Gotta enjoy the entertainment when it comes.” “Like now?” Sam asks, as he follows me past the doorway of our breakroom. “You ever run out of stories?” I slurp the final lukewarm ounce from my Starbuck’s latte, then drop the empty container through a ported trashcan hole. Wonder how I ever got myself hooked on pussy drinks? “Yeah, but it took bout five years back at the plant. Had a laborer tell me once that if I’da lived another ten years before I hired on with Eastcor, I never woulda run out.” “Is that where you met the woman in yesterday’s feature?” “Do what?” I ask. “You mean people actually READ those things?” “I do. Even showed it to my spouse: Alaine Johnson never knew why Eastcor named her former office the ‘goat shack,’ but the dank cubicle, which smelled of wet socks and mildew, was where she first decided to become a mother. I don’t know what it was about that lede, but I couldn’t stop reading it.” “Sam Riley. You missed your callin. Cause I swear, anybody that bullshits as good as you oughta be a televangelist a’sellin salvation for three easy payments of $19.95.” “I’m serious, Charlie. Your stories are the main reason I pay attention to the Eastcor Connector.” “And why’s that?” “Maybe when I see your byline, I know I’m about to read something besides propaganda for a change.” “And there lies the problem, Sam. Bein real oughta be the norm instead of the anomaly. I guess that’s the good thing about growin up in Soddy Pine. Don’t nobody try putting on no airs. Don’t have to, cause everbody knows everbody.” “Sounds quiet.” “Very,” I say. “But it’s all I’ve ever knowed. Funny thing is, though, there was a time when I used to think it was a bad thing. But that was before I come here and had a revelation, cause I’m tellin ya, Sam. After workin with this bunch for eighteen months, I’ve decided if more people were raised in barns, they’d know that authenticity is the only thing that don’t smell like bullshit.” Sam snorts. “They can fire me if they want, but as long as I’m here, I’m gonna stick with journalism and leave the poodles to PR,” I say. “From what I hear, that’s the main reason you and your boss are always bumping heads. He says you tell a little too much sometimes, and it’s not always flattering for Eastcor.” “Well, that’s his prerogative, not mine.” “If it makes you feel any better, I appreciate seeing transparency for a change.” “And that’s the way I’ve always framed it, but I tell ya, Sam, it’d be hard for a one-eyed billy goat to screw up a story as good as Alaine’s.” “How did she find the baby? Your story never said.” “Guidance counselor at her old school. That woman called out there at the plant one day and told Alaine about a fourteen-year-old gal that was all strung out on drugs and needin a second chance. That’s why Alaine took the job in corporate. The pay cut didn’t matter to her, cause she knew working straight days was the only way she could be a single mother.” “Wow.” “Tell me about it. Ain’t too many people I’ve knowed in this world would’ve dared done what she done. Matter fact, when I’s growin up, I remember my Sunday-school teacher used to always harp bout abortion, but by god, I’ll tell you one thing. I never did see that woman do nothin but quote scripture and prance around with a sticker that said I Voted Today. Aww, they all liked to politic, Sam, but you can bet a paycheck, not she, nor nair-reee-a-one of ‘em dart-throwin do-gooders in that church house ever had enough conviction bout savin babies to do like Alaine did and adopt.” “Charlie, I think you should give the diversity message at our next all-hands meeting.” “And all I can say bout that is you better hope you don’t have to give a urine sample this mornin, cause you’ll pop a random for sure.” “I mean it, Charlie. You’d be great.” “You’ve got to be jokin! Me? A diversity message? Pssshh. Hell, cain’t you see? I’m white as Hellmann’s mayonnaise.” “And?” Sam says. I stare at the moron in front of me and hope to goodness whatever one-on-one he’s scheduled with me this afternoon ain’t about this kinda kumbaya crap. “Well, by god, at least now I know why you’ve been butterin me up this mornin. Profile me all you want, Sam, but just cause I’m the biggest redneck you know don’t mean I’ve got no business bein Eastcor’s D-and-I champion.” The accused follows me to my cube. “That’s not what I’m doing, Charlie. No one is going to force you to tell your story, but I do think others could benefit from it because you’ve worked inside the plants and have seen things that others haven’t. You’re one of the few here who understands the industrial culture.” “You daggum right I do. And what happened at the plant ain’t the kinda stuff we can talk bout in no Eastcor diversity message or inside some corporate circle jerk.” [END OF SCENE]
  2. PRIMARY SOURCES: upmarket/Southern noir by Wes Nolen STORY STATEMENT Befriend the enemy or die trying. ANTAGONIST Charlie Goodman (auto-fiction alter ego) is a disgruntled asshole who’s pissed off at the world after becoming a blue-collar casualty of the nation’s push toward green energy. He’s a former coal-fired power plant operator who’s lost everything and is now fighting to save his family with a journalism degree he’s never used. The rookie communications consultant wants to be judged by the words he puts on the page, rather than his ADHD/dyslexic disabilities, Kentucky diction, and farm-boy roots. But when a closed-door conversation challenges his conservative Christian values, Charlie defends his manhood and conceals his personal insecurities by unleashing a searing gauntlet of one-liners and turn-or-burn bigotry in an all-out crusade against the poignant intrusion of the sinful gay enemy. BREAKOUT TITLE · LINE OF THORNS · SECONDARY SOURCES · PRIMARY SOURCES · WHEN THE ROSE IS CALLED UP YONDER COMPARABLES PRIMARY SOURCES is Dallas Buyers Club meets Hillbilly Elegy in a Southern noir novel, in the tradition of S.A. Cosby and Eli Cranor. HOOK LINE At Eastcor Energy headquarters, where political correctness rules, a hypermasculine homophobe stumbles into a closed-door debate with an AIDS survivor who smirks at the opportunity to evangelize a coal-blooded Southern Baptist. PROTAGONIST TURMOIL/CONFLICT “I don’t have a wife, Charlie. I have a husband.” Sam Riley has just outed himself in front of a known homophobe with extreme Bible acumen and hardline Southern Baptist roots. Sam’s been here before, but to make an ally out of this adversary, Sam knows he’ll have to ignore his own triggers, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt as he risks a mental breakdown in the face of certain persecution. i. Sam’s first internal conflict is having to relive his best friend’s suicide and the circumstances leading up to Harvey Milk’s murder. ii. The second conflict is having to relive his brother’s death, the AIDS epidemic, and a coming-out conversation with his father in which an insecure Sam learns the reason for his existence and the true circumstances that forced his childhood friend to suicide. SETTING Job security and personal convictions trap two sworn enemies inside a sound-proof office where dignity forces them to fight with intellect and resolve until death, truce, or surrender. Each battle over today’s hot-button headlines serves as a time machine that transports each character into their polarized pasts of livestock sale barns, San Francisco airport and Linda Clifford disco parties, power plant dystopia, a backwoods hunting cabin, a secret ride on the gay underground railroad, an Oprah cheese-burger debate in a hardware store, sex in a park, feed mill with a bench seat made of fertilizer bags, ride in a cop car, amputation in a hayfield, snow cones in Alabama, deathbed catheter and piss bag in New Orleans, a scuba diver swimming through the running blades of an industrial water pump, and a cattle beauty salon in Soddy Pine, Kentucky. LINE OF THORNS is inspired by true events and is based on a single conversation that upended my thirty-year struggle with homophobia and racism in the rural South. I revisited the experience on the page in hopes that it might do the same for others.
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