Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Writing Prompt Wednesday ~ A Snippet From Blackbird Flies

Well, I can't believe that it has been six years since my first YA book, Blackbird Flies, was first released. Although it is a shorter, fast-paced novella, it seemed to have touched the hearts of many with the issues it tackles (death of a parent, suicide, drug abuse). The main character, Payton, is surrounded by chaos and struggle but rather than giving in to it, he turns to a more positive place through his music.

I am very proud of this book and am so grateful to Stephanie Taylor and all those at Clean Reads who gave me a chance when no one else would.

Today, I am sharing the opening chapter. Feel free to share your thoughts and/or comments. And thank you all for your support over the years for my work, especially this book.


A train whistle echoed into the frigid night. Bythree o’clock  a.m., most of the passengers had been lulled to sleep by the swaying of the steel wheels slicing   through the snow. But not everyone was enticed to sleep as easily.
Fifteen-year old Payton MacGregor stared out his window. He pressed his forehead against the   frost‑fogged glass then attempted to stretch out  his legs. Man, it was like trying to get a giraffe  comfortable in  a  station  wagon. Designers  of  passenger  train  cars must have gone to the same   engineering school as airplane  designers:  all  passengers  should  be  able  to  fold  themselves  into  the  two‑foot  space  between  rows  of  seats.

Payton twisted around until he finally settled into sitting with his legs bent up, his shins leaning  against the seat in front of him and keeping his head against the window. 

Excellent, he thought. By the time the train stops in Edmonton, I’ll be numb from butt to ears.

He  squinted  out  into  the  darkness  then  closed  his  eyes,  his  head  vibrating  against  the  window.  John  Lennon  crooned  through  his  MP3‑player  headphones  about  someone  named  Julia.  Who  was  the  song  about  again?  His  mother?  A  girlfriend?

When  I  cannot  sing  my  heart…I  can  only  speak  my  mind,  Julia… 

Payton  laughed. Speaking his mind was what got him on the train in the first place. All his life he tried singing his heart but nobody listened. When he finally spoke his mind, he got into trouble. Well…not  trouble  exactly.

His grandparents had decided the week before that it was time for him to ship off and meet his   father, a man who’d run off to join the army and left Payton with his alcoholic, bipolar mother.   Not a phone call or a letter or  a “How the heck are ya, son?” Just…gone.

“Yeah, that’s a guy I’d love to get to know,” Payton had said, picking at a hangnail on his  thumb. 

Grandma’s  fork froze at he  lips. “There’s no need for sarcasm,  young  man.  Especially not at the  dinner  table.” 

Payton  rolled  his  eyes. “Grandmother, you told me what a  jerk  Dad was and  how he ran out on  me and  Mom. Why would  I  want to go and ‘get  to  know  him’  now?” 

“Because he’s your father.” Grandpa had said around a mouthful of roast beef. “And mind your   temper. You’ll respect your elders.” 

“Yes  sir.”  Payton  said, softening his tone. “But  why? Where was he when Mom went manic and  left me? Where was he when she  drank and took off?” 

His grandparents had stopped eating and looked at each other. Grandpa reached over his plate and   squeezed Payton’s shoulder. “We just think it’s time for you to know both sides of who you are.” 

“I have no interest in getting to know yet another person who never cared."

"He should be the one to talk to ya about it all. Grandma and me think the only way you’ll become who you’re supposed to be is to see where you came from.”

Payton’s eyes rimmed with tears, but he wouldn’t let any fall. “What  if  I  refuse  to  go?”

Grandpa picked his fork back up and continued eating. “You’re going. We already got your train ticket. We’ll take you to the station on Friday, and  your  dad will meet you in Edmonton on Sunday. End  of  discussion.” 

Payton stared into the living room at the glossy black laquered baby grand piano. His grandfather   had polished it that morning. It was so shiny, it reflected the morning sunlight into the room. His  stomach ached.

“What  about  my  music?  Does  he  at  least  have  a  piano?” 

Grandma gripped Payton’s forearm. “You have to give him a chance, Pay. You need to do this. You shouldn’t be so negative and pessimistic this young.”

So, they’d packed him up and carted him off to the train station, where he was hugged and then shoved  onto the train. Just like  that. Music…the only gift his   mother ever gave him…music always helped him.  

A train conductor grabbed Payton’s shoulder, startling him out of his daydream. He couldn’t feel his legs anymore. “S’cuz me, young man. Edmonton’s comin’ up. Best   get  ready.” 

Payton nodded with a weak smile. He rubbed the frozen numbness out of his forehead. He  put  his  MP3 player and his CDs back into his canvas carry‑on bag.

He descended the staircase off the train, almost whacking his head on the metal door frame, then shuffled out onto the platform. There were squeals of excitement as  people greeted one another.   People hugged, some crying tears of happiness, and he  searched, wide‑eyed, for a Dad‑person whose  eyes were the same as his.

His heart pounded. Then somewhere from the crow he heard his name. “Payton!  Payton!  Over  here!”

He  turned  to  see  him,“Dad”, waving from the other side of the crowd. Payton guessed his father  had to be at least his  own  height, six foot two, because they both had a full head height advantage over most  of the other people on the platform.

His father lowered his arms behind his back and stood in an ‘At Ease’ military stance. Payton squinted at the man’s wire‐rimmed glasses, with Coke-bottle lenses, from behind his own.They had the same dark blue eyes, similar pale skin tone, dark hair, buzzed short (only “Dad’s” was salted with gray) and  identical, big, red‑tinged noses.

How weird to look so much like someone you hardly know, Payton thought, repressing a shiver.

“Dad” rubbed his lips together, his bushy moustache sweeping against his lower lip. Payton froze. His body wouldn’t allow  him to move forward. He  stood there, with crowds of squealing, hugging, crying people, as his father did the same. How does a person greet someone he hasn’t seen his entire life but oddly, for whom he’s also secretly longed to meet?

His  father  moved  toward  him  at  a  slow  shuffle,  then  stood  in  front  of  him. “Let’s start this way,”  he said, sticking out his hand. “My name is Liam. I’m  your  Dad.”

Payton stared at Liam’s hand, chewing the inside of his lip. Then he shoved his hand into the rough, meaty palm and said, “Payton.”

After a firm handshake, he pulled his hand back. Liam picked up the bag containing all of his son’s precious possessions and flipped it over his shoulder.


“Not   really.” Payton said. “But I could use a good, strong cuppa coffee.”

Liam smiled. “I didn’t sleep much either. Let’s go to Tim Horton’s on the way back.”

Payton watched as Liam did a casual quick march towards the end of the platform. The  people around him still hugged and cried.

“You can tell a lot about a man from his handshake,” Grandpa had said often. Payton pulled the hood  of his sweatshirt over his head and stuffed his hands deep inside the kangaroo pocket. He shuffled down the platform at a comfortable distance behind Liam.

Handshakes were a good place to start. For  now.  

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