The Autistic Boyfriend

Alan, the surfer boyfriend of Ronnie in ‘One Summer in the Sun,’ is almost certainly autistic. I prefer not to actually label my characters, and the term autistic wasn’t in as common use when the story is set (1968). But there are clues, including a tendency to seem distant and self-absorbed.

Ronnie, on the other hand, is simply introverted (not that there is anything ‘simple’ about any personality). She and Alan bonded after she had spent her high school years dating rather normal and boring guys. They share many interests, both are enthusiastic readers, both prefer not to socialize much.

But she does begin to feel something is lacking in their relationship, that he is not ‘all in’ the way she is (though, in truth, he is probably the more ‘in’ of the two). This will lead to trouble, eventually. Will their romance survive the summer? Or for that matter, those of her best friends, Joey and Kris, the other point-of-view characters in the novel? No spoilers here; you’ll have to read ‘One Summer’ when it comes out!

On a Friday Night

Saving herself for marriage seemed terribly old-fashioned to Rhonda Deerfield, yet that was just what she had been doing. She had no illusions that her best friends had done the same. Rhonda would not change her habit this night. No. If it were going to happen it would not be with Roger.

Roger was trustworthy. She was pretty sure of this. Oh, he could be encouraged. Couldn’t all guys? Roger Starr was no one she intended to encourage. He was someone to go out with, just to have someone to go out with. She felt she should have that someone on a Friday night and assumed Roger saw her the same way.

They wouldn’t see each other after this summer, anyway, would they? She’d be at the University of Florida, he was bound for Florida State. That should make them mortal enemies the rest of their lives!

At least during football season. She wouldn’t see any of her friends, not the real friends. Everyone was headed a different direction. Or in Joey’s case, staying right here in Naples while the rest of them left. Joanna Varney was bright, maybe even the brightest of them all. She could do better than the local JC. She deserved better.

Pink lipstick? If she got much tanner it wouldn’t look quite right. She finished her makeup and stood to look herself over. Maybe she should have gone more casual. It was only dinner and a movie with Roger. Oh, chances were he’d have on a jacket and tie. It was so stupid of them both.

More so when the weather was this hot. Ronnie almost wished she’d been the one invited to a keg party on a deserted beach, dancing to car radio music by headlight illumination, wearing shorts and slapping at mosquitoes. She wasn’t sure she would enjoy it, she knew she would feel out of place, but maybe just to do something different. Instead, an evening in a white dress, neither boring nor exciting. Just an evening.

The doorbell rang. That was almost certainly Roger. Yeah, there was his dark blue Falcon in the drive. Did someone let him in? “Hi, Ronnie. Ready to go?” Mom was at his side, at the door.

Mom liked Roger, of course. He was solid and bland and polite and was going to be an engineer. Big and sort of good looking too, but slow-moving, not athletic. Dad, of course, made jokes about him, the same sort Kris made. Those two were kindred spirits.

Yes, he was in a jacket, gold colored, with a striped tie. He might have worn both last time they went out, for all she knew. “Bye Mom,” she said. “Home before midnight. We don’t want Roger’s car to turn into a pumpkin.” That set a time without her mother awkwardly attempting it. Mom had become unsure about curfews now she was officially an adult.

With a polite goodbye to her mom, Roger followed her out the door. He held the car door open for her, being painfully polite as usual, a robot gentleman. Before turning the key in the ignition, he turned and asked, “Blackbeard’s Ghost? Or should I drive to Fort Myers? There are better movies playing up there.” Roger did not sound eager.

She wasn’t that eager to spend an hour riding north either. Not to mention coming back. “Don’t bother. It’s just a movie.” Maybe neither would enjoy it much but it was something to do on a Friday night, an excuse not to sit home. “We can catch the first show, can’t we? And eat after.”

“Sure.” He cranked the engine and eased away from the curb. Even were they a little late, it wouldn’t matter any. Was this going to be her summer? None of it mattering any?

“Huh?” Roger had said something.

“I just asked about work,” he said.

“Oh, it’s okay. How about with you?”

“A pain. But it’s college money.” Roger was actually working construction, working for his father’s company. It felt odd to think of him in work clothes, doing whatever he did.

“What does your dad have you doing?”

“Digging, mostly. Trenches for concrete footers.”

Hard manual labor. It did feel odd. She tried to picture Roger shoveling dirt in a sweat-stained tee and found she couldn’t. Did he sit and talk with the other guys on the job? Did he use the same profanities, maybe drink a beer—maybe more than one—at the end of the day? Ronnie had seen construction workers and thought she knew a thing or two about them.

“I hope you showered well after a day of that,” she quipped. Why did she say that? It wasn’t the sort of thing she did. Roger only chuckled. She didn’t seem to have embarrassed him. Not as much as she embarrassed herself.

“Lots of cars,” he mumbled. “I’ll see if there’s a parking space on Broad.” He pulled into one about halfway up the block. Only a block and a half from the beach. Ronnie thought she might prefer to walk that direction instead of back toward the theater. She got out before Roger could come around and get the door.

It wasn’t quite dark yet. A glow came from the direction of the Gulf, the just-set sun. Black silhouettes of coconut palms stood against a smoke-purple sky. They lined both sides of Broad Avenue, had as far back as she could remember, tall when she was still a little girl. They clipped the nuts off before they matured these days but once one could drive about in the early morning and pick up freshly-fallen coconuts.

Too many had fallen on people’s cars. That wouldn’t do as more and more took up residence in town and in the developments beyond, northerners who didn’t understand a few dents from fallen coconuts were part of the price of life in paradise. That was what Dad said, anyway.

There were kids standing around the theater entrance, and at the drugstore next door. The venerable Beach Store—it was older than she was, in a town where very little was old. The theater was old too and located in a Quonset hut. That definitely would be torn down soon. Everyone knew that. Some would miss it, eyesore though it was.

“Just a coke,” she murmured to Roger when he paused at the concession counter. She didn’t really want that, even. She just thought she should let him buy her something, so he wouldn’t feel awkward if he got something for himself. How dingy this place was, its dim tiled and stuccoed walls, the dark red ragged carpet, littered with bits of popcorn and paper. Up a couple steps from the lobby; to the right was the gallery where black people would have sat only a couple years ago. To the left, the main seating. It was a reasonably large place, really, with just as big a screen as any theater in Fort Myers.

Unless one counted the drive-ins. She was glad Roger didn’t suggest that. The opening credits were running. Perfect timing. Enjoy the movie, she told herself. It will be okay. Even enjoy Roger’s arm around you and don’t mind if he kisses you later. It’s something to do on a Friday night.

This is Chapter Two from my novel-in-progress, ‘One Summer in the Sun,’ but I realized it can work as a standalone short story. So here it is. This would take place in the summer of 1968.

An Opening

I am going to begin posting some excerpts from One Summer in the Sun (a novel of the Summer of 1968, in progress). Here is the opening of the story:

“I wish this summer would never end.”
“Not me. There are so many things I want to do with my life!”
“Sheesh, Ronnie, can’t they wait a while?”
“Time and tide wait for no man. Nor woman.” Ronnie sat up and looked out over the nearly motionless Gulf waters. “The tide is coming up, isn’t it?”
“I think so,” mumbled Kris, turning over on her beach towel. “What difference does it make?”
“None. I just wondered.” Her eyes swept the white sand before she, too, settled back onto her towel.

Naples Novels

I have recently reread—neither is particularly new—two novels set in my home town of Naples Florida. Both are by friends but I’ll attempt to not let that influence my comments! One of my own works-in-progress is set in Naples; more on that below.

First, “Sea Red, Sea Blue” by Jean James and Mary James (the latter is also known as performer and instrumentalist par excellence ‘Mean Mary’). The story is in the action/thriller mode, or close to it; I’m willing to simply call it a mystery as it is certainly that as well. A moderately convoluted plot has the protagonist, Katherine Gale, hurriedly leaving Chicago for Naples, where she is unwittingly embroiled in criminal schemes. Although a stock heroic male—played at least a little tongue-in-cheek—comes to the rescue, she is quite resourceful on her own, getting both into and out of trouble.

Is the underlying mystery convincing? I suppose so, though it sometimes seems just a tad far-fetched. The final plot twist does too, and the whole idea of the criminals secretly using Katherine’s newly-purchased boat for smuggling does not make a whole lot of sense. There would be plenty of other boats in the sea that would be more convenient and less likely to raise suspicions.

The drawing of Naples is pretty good. To be sure, I know Naples so I would have noticed anything off there (aside for a conspicuous absence of anyone not white). It’s not quite the town it is today, however, but more like the one of two or three decades ago. As a date for the story is never mentioned, I guess that doesn’t matter!

The prose can be a bit clunky—more so than in other books I’ve read by the duo of writers. More hurried? A different hand on the final draft? I don’t know, but the writing certainly could have been more polished. Having said that, I’ll also say that it is completely serviceable and rarely detracts from the story.

I’d call it a good novel, overall, enjoyable enough but not really out of the ordinary. My other read I would rank higher. That is “The Dictator’s Children” by Stephen Brooke, a spy/adventure tale partially set in 1948 Naples.

Now I’ll admit to knowing Stephen fairly well. He graduated from Naples High in 1968, the year my own novel-in-progress is set. But twenty years earlier? It was another world then. So was Miami, where part of the book is set; no more than perhaps a quarter of this fairly short novel takes place in Naples. But it is a very well drawn Naples, recognizable even then as the Naples I know. It’s the little details he seems to casually throw in that make it come alive.

Parts of the tale also take place in Cuba and Central America, as John Wilkins, aka ‘Wilk,’ becomes involved with drug smugglers, gangsters, and revolutionaries in a fast paced (and occasionally humorous) story of action and adventure—and, in true secret agent style, a few brief love affairs along the way.

Although I read them some time back, I shall briefly mention a couple other novels here, ones Stephen Brooke recommended to me, and these are “Miss Dreamsville and The Collier County Women’s Literary Society” and “Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County,” both by Amy Hill Hearth. Stephen does not know Ms. Hearth personally but did go to school with her husband. Yes, another 1968 graduate of Naples High. The books are humorous and fairly well written, but there were a number of inaccuracies in their description of the time (mid-Sixties) and place. Whether these were for the sake of the story or simple the result of poor research, I can’t say, but they do detract from the book for anyone who knows Naples. I may reread them one of these days and put up a more thorough review.

Sea Red, Sea Blue is available at Amazon (and I assume other book sellers) or directly from the Mean Mary website (meanmary.com)

The Dictator’s Children is also at most booksellers or at Arachis Press (arachispress.com). Yes, that is who will be publishing my book, just so you know.

June to July

My WIP novel One Summer in the Sun stands currently at about 35,000 words (fairly well-edited words as I am one of those who rewrites and edits as I go). This takes me through the end of June and into the first days of July in the summer of the title (that being the summer of 1968). So, it looks like the novel is going to end up being rather long! I’ve gone on a short hiatus since finishing June, work on other projects, but will come back to it. Many things are going to come to a head over the July 4 holiday—a pivotal point in the story.

I have been dabbling at a completely different sort of novel, a possibly Young Adult (depending on how much sex I end up including) fantasy. It is possible I’ll try to work it up before finishing Summer. That is to be seen. Speaking of sex (we were, weren’t we?), there is going to be more of it as I move forward in Summer. How graphic? That has yet to be seen. So far, nothing has gone further than a bit of frank talk about it among our young protagonists. And it is just possible I won’t go any further—but don’t hold me to that.

The Triumvirate

It’s a silly name, but the three young woman of ‘One Summer in the Sun’ have been calling themselves that since junior high. At the time of the story, they have just graduated high school and are spending what they know will be their last summer together. If that sounds like it might be a young adult novel, believe me, it is not! It is quite adult (though I have not quite decided how much sex to keep in it). Anyway, my editor/publisher did up this graphic of the three of them for me. I think it is reasonably accurate in matching the way I envisioned them. Of course, anyone is free to have their own mental picture; words go only so far in describing appearances!