Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sample Sunday Excerpt: An Unassigned Life -- Prologue

In anticipation of my fourth book's release, I am offering the first few chapters of An Unassigned Life over the course of the next few Sample Sundays. An Unassigned Life will be published by Inknbeans Press in February of this year.

Prologue – The End…

Tim slammed his cell phone closed in disgust. The barely audible clack it emitted only served to infuriate him more. When he was a kid, the phones were heavy; when you hung them up, you had to be careful not to set them down too hard or the party on the other end would think you were angry. Not so with these modern-day phones: the only way for them to make a loud noise was to break them. Tim did just that, shattering the phone into five or six pieces and leaving a good-sized dent in the wall.

Damn her, he thought, sitting down in front of his still-empty computer screen. Ellen knows I have writer’s block. He let his fingers click angrily on the keys, creating a few lines of gibberish.

His first novel was a critical and popular success, but his second novel had been a disaster. The New Yorker book critic had called it “florid.” Hah! Working for The New Yorker, you had to wonder how that hack would be able to recognize floridity. Now the publisher was demanding that he produce the third book due on his contract or return the advance he’d received. Tim didn’t have their damned money – he’d used it to buy the old bungalow he was sitting in right now. He’d thought the house would inspire him, that the previous residents of the past century would show up and tell him their stories. They hadn’t, though.

Looking around the sparsely furnished house, he thought he missed Tina’s things – the comfortable sofa, the antique dining set, the king-sized bed. He paced through the rooms, taking inventory of the missing furniture and art. She’d left him only a few items: his desk and chair, the old computer that served as his long-term writing partner, and a recliner that had seen better days. After she was gone, Tim had visited a second-hand shop and dragged home a mistreated dining room set and an old twin-sized bed. A twin was big enough for him and might keep him from inviting others to stay the night.

The doorbell rang and Tim hid behind the dining room arch and peered around the corner to see who might be there. He could see it was a man – probably that same bum that kept coming around asking for a handout. The guy must have circled Tim’s house on his map of easy marks. The first time the unshaven, filthy man showed up, Tim had been in a benevolent spirit. He had opened his door, invited the man – Tim remembered his name was George – to have a sandwich with him and had even given him a few dollars when the meal was done. Ever since then, George rang the doorbell every few days, despite the fact that Tim had never opened the door to him again.

It rang again, and Tim’s heart raced in his chest as he continued to hide behind the dining room arch. Finally, Tim heard the man’s boots clomp across the porch and down the stairs. Slumping against the wall, he breathed a sigh of relief and allowed himself to slide to the floor, hitting the wooden slats with an audible thump.

Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was a damned good writer – better than Nicholas Sparks, that was for sure. Yet that hack kept turning out book after book while he sat in front of a blank screen day after day. He glanced toward his desk and saw the lines of gibberish filling up the screen. That was the most he’d written in months. He didn’t even have an outline to show Ellen or the publisher – nothing to convince them that he was working on the third book.

He thought of Dorothy Parker’s ode to suicide, “Resumé.” Nooses give, he thought. Not if they are tied right. He’d had a therapist since that incident a few years ago with the pills. His therapist had told him to call if he had suicidal thoughts again. He slid himself around the corner into the living room and eyed the pieces of his phone. He smiled. Sorry, Doc. The phone’s out of order.

With renewed sense of purpose, he exited the house to the garage, where he located a length of nylon rope he had purchased a few years ago for a camping trip that he and Tina had never quite gotten around to taking. Carrying the rope inside, he sat down in front of his computer and researched nooses. It didn’t take long to find instructions for tying a noose on the internet. He thanked his father for insisting he participate in Boy Scouts when tying the knot proved a simple job. With a real sense of accomplishment – the first he’d felt in a long time – he put the noose aside and went back to his page of gibberish. He opened a new Word document and wrote a flowing and detailed suicide note, assigning blame and praise appropriately to everyone in his life. When he reached the end, he reviewed it. Remembering The New Yorker critic’s accusation of floridity, he deleted the whole thing and replaced it with a simpler, all-purpose note: Fuck you all. I’m out of here. He saved it as “suicide note,” printed a copy that he left on his keyboard, and emailed it to his sister and his agent – neither of whom would see it until Tuesday morning, since it was a Friday afternoon before a long weekend.

He walked out his back door without locking it, went into the garage and threw one end of the rope over the exposed beams. Standing on the hood of his old silver Honda Civic, he secured the rope with one of the knots he’d learned in Boy Scouts, slipped the noose over his head, and jumped off the car.


  1. Thank you, Patricia! You just made my Sunday! :-)

  2. Ha! I love the notion of a novel being florid. good stuff. thanks for posting for sample sunday

  3. A very interesting prologue. Definitely leaves you wondering what's going to happen next. Did he survive? Does someone find him? Look forward to seeing more. Thanks for sharing.


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