When fear’s as blind as love, how far would you go to find your own happily ever after? One mistake will change Ginny’s life forever. One answer will set her free. Once upon a time Ginny’s road blood ripened, the day she got wise to love. Engaged to the high school quarterback, his quarter-carat ring and enchanting smile should have been enough for her. But, she stands him up and takes a walk where every step questions her happily ever after gone-bad and the fate of the mother she never knew. The mother her father refuses to talk about. Ginny fights to untangle her big, fat, lie-of-a-life on an enchanted road trip to Winnemucca, where she believes all her answers lie. To solve the riddle of her past, she must outrun everyone who wants a piece of her future–including a man determined to see she never has one.
TRAILER | DREAM CAST | EXCERPT
Dream Cast for Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale:
My road blood ripened the day I got wise to love. No one walks Highway 33 but there I was on that godforsaken two-lane road. There was nothing but quail calls, my wind-whipped hair and my twitchy feet. Wedding jitters, Doctor Hernandez had said. But that walk was different than any other. Every flip-flop step asked a question.
Why tonight? Not our wedding night? What if I’m no good? What if I’m worse than the other girls? Did all that matter anymore?
I didn’t have any answers. And for the first time in my life I thought it might be like Daddy said––some things should be left alone. Wild oats blew in the desert wind, bowing this way and that. The oats and I were alike in a lot of ways. Their whispers brought on a prayer even though I wasn’t churchy anymore. I prayed for courage. Not my kind, the kind that makes me sweat so I know it’s there. No, I prayed for Poppa’s war courage. Momma’s daddy, may he rest in peace.
One foot in front of the other.
An almond orchard’s branches tangled against the tie-dyed sky. Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I played in the orchard next to our house and turned its creature-like trees into royal knights. Back then, when I dreamed of my Prince Charming, he built owl houses to help control pests, brought me persimmon presents, and knew the best secret hiding places and how to surprise me. I never dreamed of a fairy godmother though. Not one time. Fairy godmothers don’t visit desert princesses, especially ones who fall for uncharming princes. They prefer wiser girls who live in kingdoms with rolling green hillsides, and the opportunity for their ball-gown-wearing-shoe-losing daughters to dance and fall in love.
One foot in front of the other.
How could I escape my happily ever after gone-bad?
“No idea,” I said, fanning the fingers on my engaged hand, flicking them. One. Two. Three weeks until the wedding.
Bobby-approved friends? Bobby-approved food? Bobby-approved clothes?
The dusty truth seeped in with every step and made me shiver. My whole life was managed––first by my parents, then by my fiancé Bobby, even by my idiot ex-boss Charlie. I didn’t need my feet chiming in. I stopped walking. Fear’s as blind as love. But an asphalt heat rose through my rubber soles and seared my skin. The ripening made me move. Again. So I dug in my heels, did a one-eighty and headed for home, double-time, to make my date, the date, with Bobby. But my know-it all feet spun me back around. I covered my ears to drown out their trouble-making questions, but all I heard were my own.
What happened to Bobby and me? Why was I listening to my feet? Had I lost my mind?
A dirt devil twisted over a fallow field in the tired sun and spun my thoughts backwards to the second in Tar Canyon when Bobby’s eyes met mine and I knew only death would separate us. My Big, Fat, Lie-of-a-Life churned in my gut like the dirt devil. I doubled over, more alone than ever before, and I tied myself into a knot so tight I could hardly breathe. I’d been wrong about Bobby. Wrong about a lot of things.
When I caught my breath and lifted my head, the sun ricocheted into my eyes. Devil’s Rope twisted around the top of the chain-link fences that secured Avenal State Prison. I had no idea why my feet marched me there. It didn’t look like the kind of place a practically married, straight-A student would find the answers her feet demanded. But the ripening liked to surprise me.
I gripped the steel bars of the roadside prison sign and dangled underneath, swinging my feet, like I used to do once upon a time on the monkey bars. Somewhere between dangles, I stopped being me. Through silver links, in between long buildings with long windows, my eyes settled on what they’d only seen from afar, through the windows of Daddy’s car. Orange jumpsuits walking the yard. Some nights I’d walk like that–convict-style, in circles in my room before bed.
My stretched-out arms ached under the weight of my heart, hanging heavy in my chest. I swayed my feet from side-to-side, imagining our break-up. Saying the words that made me tremble, I can’t marry you. Saying the words that made me tremble more, I do. I’d walk down the aisle toward Bobby at The First Baptist Church of Avenal, where I’d been baptized as a baby by his father, and make the biggest mistake of my life in front of the entire congregation, everyone I’ve ever known. And my gut tensed like it does in the split-second before a person’s about to do the wrong thing.
A convict paused inside the chain-link with his hands on his hips. I let go of the prison sign, dropped to my feet and stood ramrod straight, as different from the wimpy oats as possible. We stared at each other. Him in his prison. Me in mine. We both knew what kept us walking in circles.
Standing there all eyeball-to-eyeball I felt closer to the convict, heck, the whole Errant Brotherhood than I did to anyone. It wasn’t in our nature to be free. Staring down that wimpy fact for the very first time gave me a clarity. The kind that takes hold when a person peels back their lies.
When the convict slipped back into the circular crowd, I grabbed a handful of San Joaquin soil and swirled the fingers of my free hand in the little mound of dirt in my palm. I touched my soil-stained fingers to my heart and became a Child of The Road. My hair let loose in the same sundowner breeze that caressed every inch of my skin and every people-pleasing part of me blew toward The Sierras and up over The Great Divide. Some take to the road to tame a squirrelly nature, or take to it as a tonic, but for me the ripening was more than a simple call to the road.
Which way? Left? Or, right?
I held tight to my dirt. Sweat beaded up under my bangs. I eyed Highway 33 in both directions. To the left was home––Bobby’s enchanting smile should be enough. But I’d never find my answers as Mrs. Bobby Jennings. To the right, God only knew. There was no guarantee I’d find my answers on the road. The wild oats bowed to the left. I turned right. Into the wind. Tiny rocks worked into burst blisters under the plastic between my toes. Quail flushed out of the pistachio orchard beside me.
A police siren wailed, coming up from behind. Uncle Earl slowed his patrol car to a creep and yelled over the siren before he switched it off. “Virginia Mae? Where in the hell are you going?”
“Didn’t know walking’s a crime Earl,” I said, my eyes fixed on the white line under my feet.
“That’s Uncle Earl, Virginia Mae…and look at me when I’m talking to you…”
But I didn’t hear the rest of what Earl said because the white line brought me back home in my mind to when the horrible-wonderful ripening first buzzed through me after school. I had pulled my bangs back and stroked my next-to-invisible lashes with brown-black mascara when my feet twitched, unsteadying my hand. A prickly heat tickled my toes and crawled up my thighs. It made me move when I most wanted to sit still. So I bunched my white sundress up, unhitched my strapless, boob-crushing, employee-discounted leopard bra and scooted out of its matching thong. I wadded up my sex-wear and buried that perfumed ball of lace and silk in my wastebasket between unwrapped Slimfast pills, crushed wedding-present boxes and crinkled Snickers wrappers.
My heart leapfrogged me back to the road when a gust of wind just about blew the whistle on my commando-self, right in front of Earl. I tripped on some weeds at the side of the highway as I patted down every inch of my churned up skirt, my face hotter than the asphalt under my feet.
“Your momma called two hours ago,” Earl said, leaning out of his patrol car, his face as red as the pomegranates Momma grew in the backyard. “Bobby took you for dead.”
I’d done the worst thing possible by standing Bobby up. Because doing that one true thing meant the rest of the truth wasn’t far behind. I’d have to tell Bobby I didn’t love him and that buzzed the heebie-jeebies through me. The kind I’d get when I’d rush to kill a black widow before it killed me. I had no idea what Bobby would do when I told him. I had no idea what he was capable of. But, in the end, nothing would frighten me more than myself.
My nothing-better-to-do uncle took a drag off his long cigar. “Now don’t you go crossing the Kern County line thinking I don’t have jurisdiction there. Cause let me tell you, ain’t no measily little thing like jurisdictions gonna keep me from hauling your butt back home where you belong. I’ve got lots of friends who owe me favors in Kern County. And I’ll call every one of them in. Don’t make them hog-tie you.” The only thing I hated more than Earl laughing at my life was him managing it.
His lead-foot got in the way of trying to keep my pace. One time he pulled his patrol car up so close I thought he might flatten my feet.
“Could haul your butt back right now, runaway,” Earl said, pointing the slobbery end of his cigar to the backseat. “Come on, hop in back with your wedding dress.” It hung, covered in clear plastic, behind Earl’s secured shotgun. A white-sequined, sweetheart neckline sparkled blue and red, keeping time with Earl’s police lights.
Earl eased his patrol car to a stop.
“Earl, it’s the twenty-first century, the one where women take walks by themselves or fly to the moon if they want to,” I said. “That time of the month, huh?” Earl chuckled under his breath. Most family get-togethers found the men patting each other on the back for being Masters of the Universe, while their wives huddled in the kitchen, some wishing away their vows to obey. Women in the family assumed us kids were hard of hearing once the white zin flowed.
Earl spun his tires on his way to catch up to me. “Get in the car, Ginny,” he said.
If I did, it’d be all over town in the morning––Virginia Mae Nolyn, lunatic walker, driven to insanity by her nosy feet. Apprehended by her Uncle Earl.
One foot in front of the other. Will I huddle? And drink white zin? And wish my life away?
“Did you hear me?” Earl said.
“I’m almost eighteen and I don’t take orders from anybody.” I twisted my too-tight engagement ring. Don’t want you ballooning up after our vows, Skinny Ginny, Bobby had said when I wanted it resized. “I’ll turn around. When I’m ready,” I said.
Earl glanced at my wedding dress, the ghost of myself behind bars in Earl’s backseat. “Wasn’t anywhere near Fresno, but I picked it up. Saved your runaway butt one hundred whole dollars––don’t your Auntie Dee just know everybody. No need to thank us,” he said like I was as deaf as Poppa.
On my wedding day Daddy would take his ranch-worn hand in mine and we’d walk down the red-carpeted aisle of The First Baptist Church of Avenal, toward Rev. Jennings. Daddy would lift my veil off my face and kiss me for the last time as his little girl. I’d walk past the very first pew to the altar and take Bobby’s hand. But my wedding dress turned into a convict’s jumpsuit in my mind.
“We have ways of bringing in hardened criminals such as yourself,” Earl said. His smile faded and he mumbled into his handheld radio before rolling his eyes and driving off. Earl’s siren blared when he took a right on Twisselman Road. I’d never been in more danger in my Big, Fat, Lie-of-a-Life.
The Story behind Winnemucca
I’ve known Avenal for over twenty-five years and love the people and the history of the town. There’s such a beauty to the hills outside of Avenal and to the way everyone knows each other. I have many special memories there. Some of my favorite times have been over Old Timers’ Day, or on the 4th of July and also at the Sand Drags. There’s a scene in Winnemucca at the Sand Drags. Tar Canyon is just outside Avenal and is where the San Andreas Fault is very visible. “The backbones of the earth” jut out of the ground. To stand there is simply electric. There is a scene in the book in Tar Canyon also. There are many more reasons why I love Avenal but the last one I’ll leave you with is the sight of an abandoned oil derrick decorated with Christmas lights at Christmastime. I’ve always loved the sight of that derrick. Avenal is a very special place as are the people who live there. So I knew I wanted to set a story in this town.
I also know that in my own life I don’t listen to my intuition as much as I should so I wanted to write about a character that awakens to her intuition in a bold way. In her feet. On a road trip.
I have a lot to learn about designing covers though. Here’s a little story about the cover for Winnemucca. The background image of the cover is a photo of Highway 33 in Avenal where we meet Ginny, a seventeen-year-old girl who is just beginning her enchanted road trip to her true self. One foot in front of the other, her walk will take her to the state prison just outside of town. You see a glimpse of the prison on the right hand side of the cover, complete with barbed wire fences and a guard tower. I really wanted a picture of the Avenal State Prison sign too because it is there at the sign that Ginny becomes “A Child of The Road.” After this photo was taken the photographer was swarmed with sheriffs. They asked him what he was doing. I wish I could have heard the convo. In my head it goes something like this: Laura wrote a book and the main character takes an enchanted road trip…Um. Our bad. Note to self: can’t take pictures of prisons. The sheriffs were nice enough but deleted a bunch of photos on the camera. I’m super-happy that they didn’t arrest my friend and even happier that they didn’t delete this photo, one of two I used to make the cover. And no, those aren’t my legs, but I get that question all the time. I photoshopped them in.
© Laura A. H. Elliott, 2014