Free Sample Chapter
Here's a free sample chapter from my book. Yes, free. Does Stephanie Meyer do that? I didn't think so. And do you know why? Because I love you more than Stephanie Meyer. That's why.
Author's note: Please don't leave me for Stephanie Meyer. She's already sold plenty of books. Try something new. Come on. You might like it.
Monday, 9:28 a.m.
"What the hell, Dixie?"
A piece of paper slammed against Dixie's computer screen, eclipsing the game of Ski Free that he'd been playing for the past hour. The paper, with the headline reading, HOMELESS MAN FOUND DEAD, was now stuck on the screen, fixed to the monitor by the magic of static electricity and the sugary glue of an RC Cola stain from the early nineties.
"Excuse me?" Dixie brushed the loose strands of hair off his forehead, ran his tongue along the smooth plastic of his retainer, and looked up in the general direction of his journalism teacher, Ms. Trasker ("Ms." as of eighteen months and one Hungarian yoga instructor ago). Though, somewhere on the wrong side of forty-five, she was still attractive in a Glenn Close, masculine, frightening kind of way. So not so attractive at all, really.
But she was a woman, and sometimes that was enough. At least for Dixie who had become enough of a man in his fourteen years to make the whole dance possible. In theory. His body's transformation into adulthood had been a slow, uneven process, and Dixie was still unsure which parts were operating at full capacity. His face produced oil but, beyond a few dark patches on the sides of his mouth, no hair. His arms and legs sprouted out from the fabric borders of his clothes, but gained none of the expected muscle tone or coordination.
Ms. Trasker's cheeks flared red as she pointed at the paper stuck to the computer screen. "This! What the hell is this?"
Her voice ricocheted off the walls of the newspaper's small office. The space had previously been used as a darkroom for the photography department, until state health standards forced the reassignment of the room toward a less noxious-chemical-dependent endeavor. However, there was still just enough room for a computer, a printer, and a verbally abusive menopausal woman; and Dixie understood that was a solid enough foundation for any successful newspaper.
This was Dixie's elective period, and though most students used the time for study hall or model rocketry or any other excuse to get academic credit for napping or huffing rubber cement, Dixie decided to bolster his academic resume by signing up for the school newspaper. As the most intelligent, dedicated, and only enrolled student in the class, he quickly became the lead reporter.
Dixie wiped the Trasker spit off his glasses. "That's my story, Ms--"
"No, I assigned you two hundred words to review the school play."
She did, and he went, but reconciling his secret admiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber with his discomfort around drama kids proved much too difficult to endure when Dixie sat down to write the article. That, and Frasier was on.
Oh, and there was the whole "homeless person overdose" thing he'd heard over the police scanner while his dad drove him to school that morning. Like Mel Nichols (journalism professor at Fresno State University, author of the textbook Elementary Journalism, and Dixie's personal and professional inspiration) said, "news is making priorities."
"This isn't a play review!"
Dixie's father was a cop. Adoptive father. Second adoptive father to be technical. His first adoptive father had been a figurative "bleeding heart" Berkeley professor, who became a literal bleeding heart Berkeley professor after a car crash two months into the adoption experiment.
The professor had no wife or children of his own, so custody was transferred to his closet living relative. And that's how, at the tender age of seven, Dixie came to live in the small mountain town of Stilton with Police Sergeant Dario Presto (second adoptive father), Mrs. Presto (first adoptive mother) and old brother, Brandon (first sibling of any kind of Dixie's knowledge).
"Pay attention!" Ms. Trasker struck the computer screen with her palm, rocking the bulky Macintosh just enough to knock the paper off the screen and onto the keyboard.
Dixie checked the progress of his skier: eaten by a yeti. At least he didn't hit a tree. That's how Sonny Bono died. So did a Kennedy. Wait. No, that was a bullet. Really not so much like a tree when he thought about it.
He looked back at Ms. Trasker and smiled; it was probably best to go with the soft sell on this one. "That's uhh...that's, you see, I decided to take the story in a different direction."
A rush of blood bottlenecked through Ms. Trasker's jugular. "A different direction? Do you know what week this is, Dixie?"
He looked down at his watch.
"Not the date, Dixie! It's homecoming week!" Ms. Trasker breathed deep and rubbed on her nicotine patch. "Homecoming week! You know that, right?"
He did. The cheery voices over the PA had told him so between the Pledge of Allegiance and the joke of the day ("What did the fish say when he hit the wall? Dam." Freaking hilarious.).
"So why do you want me to put a story about a bunch of dead hobos in my homecoming edition?"
Dixie looked down at the pocket notebook on his desk and scanned through the notes for the story: drugs, death, mystery, transients. According to Nichols, it had all the elements of a "hard hitting" story. Well, the "transient" thing was a bit of a stretch, but front-page material, regardless. Besides, homecoming was completely retarded.
"Well, Nichols says that..."
"Screw Nichols!" Ms. Trasker slapped the computer monitor to punctuate her words. "We only use that piece-of-crap book because the school can't afford anything better. He's a hack."
No, not Nichols, Dixie thought; all the man ever did was give.
"But it's the third overdose since the beginning of the school year. People might think it's important."
"Oh really? And I suppose that people would know better than the editor of a 1,200-circulation newspaper?"
Beyond serving as Ms. Trasker's favorite saying, that was also technically true. Twelve hundred students were enrolled at Stilton High School. Twelve hundred editions of the school paper, The Stilton High Wildcat, were photocopied at the Kinko's. Twelve hundred newspapers were stacked on homeroom desks every second Friday. by third period, nine hundred were scattered across the quad, two hundred were in the trash, and fifty usually found themselves in the harder-to-reach nooks and crannies of the campus. That morning, Dixie had aimed at last week's sports section while using the urinal.
So that put the readership at about forty-one. But Ms. Trasker was still the editor in chief, and Dixie felt obligated to respect her judgment. Terror was also a factor.
"So you want me to write about homecoming, then?" Dixie asked.
"Only if you want to pass my class."
It was an empty threat but still got his attention. High marks were essential. Dixie liked to think of each grade point as getting another mile farther from Stilton to attend college. Currently, he was somewhere around Lubbock, Texas, and hoped to cross the Mason-Dixon Line by spring of his senior year.
Dixie blinked hard and readjusted his glasses. "Okay."
"Good, Dixie." Ms. Trasker put a hand on his shoulder. He suspected it was an attempt at affection. It had quite the opposite of the intended effect, but a sweet gesture regardless. "There's going to be a bonfire rally tomorrow night. I want two hundred words."
Five hundred meatheads dancing around a fire--that should lead to good things, Dixie thought; but what's another sexual harassment lawsuit for the sake of school spirit?
"What if there's another...you know, another overdose?"
The hand on Dixie's shoulder tightened. Hard. He stifled a whimper. He didn't want to get her overexcited. If he learned anything from Steinbeck, it was to tread lightly amongst those with strong grips and simple minds.
"Good," Ms. Trasker said, and released his shoulder. "And I'm going to need your play review by sixth period."
"Be a dear and fetch me a cinnamon roll from the cafeteria."