American Road Trip by Sarah Black
Cover Artist: Tiferet Design
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Sarah Black talking about her latest release, which we highly recommend, American Road Trip. Welcome, Sarah.
After You Fall on Your Face
When you fall on your face, drive off a cliff, stand clueless holding a bomb while it ticks down, like Wile E Coyote while Roadrunner speeds safely away- how do you recover from the massive and irretrievable disasters that strike your life?
Hey, this part is easy. We stagger back to our bloody hands and knees and start down the road to recovery, step by brutally painful step. You know what the worst part of the whole deal is? Deciding it was all your fault. And being right. Because when the screw-up is your fault, there is no place to put your pissed-off except squarely between your own two eyes.
It’s so much easier, isn’t it, when someone else screws up? Then we can sit on top of our high horses and explain to them exactly where they went wrong, and what they should have done. But when we are the culprits in our own lives, all we can do is slink off in shame, muttering, ‘what the fuck is wrong with you?’ over and over again. Not really helpful, but it is a classic.
Some people, and I have to include myself in this group, have become experts in studying personal screw-ups. I remember when I was a kid, thinking that adulthood was when people knew what to do in most situations and stopped messing up all the time. Apparently for some of us, adulthood never comes!
But that isn’t really the point. We know we screw up. Everyone does. The real question for me is how do we deal with it, how do we move on, how do we learn to forgive ourselves? That’s what I was interested in, and why I wanted to write this story. I don’t know if other writers have this experience, but I don’t always know or understand how my characters are going to react. If I ignore things like what the market says, or what the genre says I need, then characters start doing things that I only half-understand, but that strike me as genuine and real. Maybe later it will come to me that this motivation or that issue was behind a character’s actions.
My point of view character, James Lee Hooker, started growing his hair long after the Army, and he used his grandmother’s hairbrush and braided his hair over his shoulder, like she had done. It was a small gesture, but it was something he would do—to feel closer to her, like an unconscious memorial. He did all sorts of small things like this when I was getting to know him. But the bigger issue for me and for him, as a character, was how he was going to punish himself for screwing up. Because he did screw up, a number of times.
I kept trying to make him more heroic, stronger. I didn’t want him to appear in a bad light. I was trying to save him from the consequences of his screw-up. He just sat and stared at me, wouldn’t open his mouth. Wouldn’t move. I finally gave it up and gave him his head. When I decided I wasn’t going to try and write him as a good guy, a hero, strong and brave, then he suddenly became more real to me, and more interesting. And his actions became believable.
I think mostly when we screw up, we try to punish ourselves. And we can usually devise tortures that are particularly brutal and painful, because they are so on-target. We embrace our self-punishments, because we deserve them and they define us. The really tough thing, I’m starting to think, is learning when to say that it’s time to move on. That we’ve punished ourselves enough, and it’s time to move on and enter the world again. Go out into the world again, where our next screw up is waiting. Or maybe not!
Here’s a scene from American Road Trip:
“I’m sorry I didn’t come and find you. Austin too. I’d done something I couldn’t take back. Just that one moment, you know? I couldn’t live it over again. And once it was done, it was done. And I could never fix it. He was hurt. The damage was done. I felt like I had to atone. Put myself in limbo or something.”
Easy stared over at me. “Limbo? Is that some Catholic thing? What the hell does that even mean? James Lee, you didn’t lay the IED in the road. You didn’t tell your spotter to get out of the vehicle, start jumping up and down on the spot where he’d seen a wire buried.”
“That’s what got him hurt. Once you’ve got an injury to the brain, it’s probably for a lifetime. That’s what TBI is, right?”
“Yeah, he’s got a TBI, but that wasn’t what got him hurt. What got him hurt was he had feelings for you, had a big thumping heart of an adolescent crush on you. And you knew it and didn’t do anything to stop it. He was acting like an idiot to impress you. That’s what got him hurt.”
I stared out the window again.
“You did the wrong thing with me, pushing me away. I was a man, and we were lovers. We were in love. We could have made it work, and fuck the Army. It was real. Austin was just a kid. He depended on you, looked up to you. You were his captain, and you got a kick out of all those young boys crushing on you. Big black eyes, ripped muscles, silky black hair. You looked like some vid star, and they would have followed you into hell. Not because you were their leader. Because you were you.”
I closed my eyes. I wanted to be anywhere but inside this truck, with this man shoving his angry truth in my face. Did I really do that? Did I take advantage of those kids, play them when I should have been thinking how to keep them safe?
“I loved you then, Jamie, and I still do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see you. I see who you are. And if you even think about trying to walk away again in the fucking middle of this, I’m going to break you into pieces. I won’t let you do it to me again.”
That’s exactly what I was thinking, about walking away. I was picturing walking down this road, my thumb out, anonymous, no history, drifting across America with the truckers, listening to them talk, and meditating. Not doing anyone any good and not doing anyone any harm. Was that the balance I was looking for, between harm and good? Was it a worthy goal for a life, to try to stop hurting other people? Or did I have a tendency to leave when things got too hard and too real?
“I have about said all I’m going to say on this. Oh, one more thing. We had peanut butter and jelly for supper and donuts for breakfast. I’m hungry. I’m stopping at the first diner I see that has burgers on the grill. And you can stop crying anytime.”
“I’m not crying,” I said, wiping my eyes with the heel of my hand. “I’m allergic to the dog.”
American Road Trip, by Sarah Black, out March 16 from Dreamspinner Press
A single moment—or a single mistake—can change everything.
When Captain James Lee Hooker and his lover, Sergeant Easy Jacobs, were in the Army, they made a mistake that got a young soldier hurt. Three years later, they’re civilians again, living far apart, haunted by what they lost. Now that young soldier needs their help.
With his grandmother’s one-eyed Chihuahua riding shotgun, James Lee climbs into Easy’s pickup for a trip across the American Southwest. They set out to rescue a friend, but their journey transforms them with the power of forgiveness.
Author Bio: Sarah Black is a writer, artist, veteran, and mother. She is a Lambda finalist.
American Road Trip has an epilogue! “Tino Takes the Cake” is offered free on Dreamspinner’s blog on March 16, and tells the story of the main characters’wedding!
You can find it here: