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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The First Chapter of Castles Made of Sand

I started this on Goodreads and now I shall delete my posts on there (because my blog is shown on my page there and showing this twice would be redundant) and do it all here. I am giving you all the preview you would get on amazon of Castles starting with chapter one:
Castles Made of Sand
Chapter 1
Part 1
“I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade, into my own parade. Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.”
-Bob Dylan

It was the summer of 1964. There I sat on my old twin bed surrounded by remnants of my soon to be surrendered youth. Recently graduated, I looked around me at the things my mother had indulged me in for her own pleasure. Worn porcelain dolls, teddy bears, and my old ballerina slippers seemed somehow to clash with my Beatles pictures and my overly used record player. This is the day, I thought to myself, the day that you leave behind all you have ever known to walk blindly into a new world, a strange world, a world soon to be made your own. Are you ready? Can you ever be prepared?
My thoughts were interrupted by a honk outside my window announcing that my ride was there. The freshly printed note of bullshit was in my hand ready to be left for my parents on the mantel. Sure, they knew that I would be leaving soon; they simply didn’t know when and they certainly had no idea where I was headed. What would they think? The frightened child from Ohio making her way to California? I never told them about the scholarship I got from U.C. Berkeley. It was best that way. Their generation was a strange one for me. How could they ever comprehend this? Picking up my old leather case that was decorated with proof of my father’s trips to Europe I couldn’t help but ask, ‘Do you even comprehend this yourself?’
“Did they freak out?” My best friend, Julie, asked as I jumped into her broken down ’58 Chevy.
“They don’t know yet. I’ll call them when I get far enough away to where they will have to extradite me if they want me back. They won’t come looking for me that way.” I replied, trying to appear nonchalant about it all.
Shrugging, she pulled away. I couldn’t help but sneak a look back in the cracked rear view mirror. “So long, suckers!” I found myself whispering, though I still wasn’t sure who the fool was. After all, they would be safe and warm in the life they had created while I wondered around unsure of everything.
“The Beatles?” Julie asked as she turned up the radio. As if I would ever say no!
Still reeling from the death of Kennedy over six months before, I had found a new place to hang my dreams. Music was going to change the world. The whole move to California had been fueled by that. It was Julie’s idea to begin with. While we drank in her mother’s musty basement she had turned to me and said only, “Berkeley!”
“What?” I asked in confusion, having never heard of the town or the college before.
Laughing, she explained, “The University of California. They have a campus in Berkeley. I heard about it from a chick who came back to visit. She lives out there in California. The music, the stuff in Birmingham, they help you make sense of it, you know? The kids out there, the teachers out there, they don’t think like the squares here. They know that women have a purpose. They don’t expect us to get married and just pop out kids the way our moms did. They will accept us out there. What do you think?”
From that night on the plans were set in motion. Berkeley was where we were headed. The feeling when we crossed the state line was almost overwhelming. Before it had seemed unreal. It was only an idea, a concept. Now suddenly as I looked at the sign proclaiming that we were entering Indiana I knew I would never be the same. With Julie sleeping in the passenger seat and only my wine and the A.M. radio for company, I wondered how I dared to keep such an epiphany inside. Yet I would. Like a quarter I would put it in my jar of secret lessons realized and hope that when a rainy day came it would be enough.
“Liz, wake the fuck up! Come on. I got us a burger and some smokes. We’re almost there!” Julie said loudly putting emphasis on the word there.
“California?” I asked, groggy and confused.
“Hell, we passed that line a long time ago. No, I mean we are almost to Venice Beach. That’s where we are supposed to meet up with Cindy. Now get up and get ready because we are just a short time away from the trip of our lives!” Somehow this statement sounded prophetic. It was almost like she had a secret bank of knowledge that I lacked and therefore she was allowed to know what I could not. Sitting up I lit a cigarette from the half empty pack of Lucky Strikes. Some eye liner, some lip stick, and I would be ready to face the world…at least physically.
“So what’s the story with Venice Beach? I was never good at geography but it seems like L.A. is on the other end of the state from Berkeley.” I inquired.
“It is. It’s just a place where all of the college kids around here hang out when classes are over. It’s like a summer camp for disenchanted youth. I think we have the credentials, don’t you? Frisco has always been for the beatniks. Venice Beach is more for the…hippies. I think that’s what Cindy called them.” Laughing, she smirked, “Hippies. What the hell kind of name is that? Leave it to the Beats to come up with something so stupid!”
Not understanding the connection between the two groups, I shrugged and began applying the lipstick I had stolen from my mother before graduation. My mother… “I forgot to call mom and dad. I hope someone in Venice Beach has a phone.”
Once again a ripple of laughter escaped her. “Sure, this place is a long way from Ohio but it’s not like we’ve gone to the moon. Of course they have phones here, Liz. Now try to stop acting like a spaz, please. Just keep in mind that this is what we wanted. It’s what we’ve dreamed about for years. This place, these people, this is our home now.” Yeah, right, our home.
“Hey, mom, it’s Liz. I’m just calling to let you know…”
“Where the hell are you, Elizabeth? Your father and I have been worried sick! We’ve done everything short of call the police and I am still not sure if we should or not. How could you treat us this way? Leaving a note that told us nothing about where you were going or what you planned to do? After all that we have done?” Holding the phone away from my ear, I had to stifle a laugh. Julie had started cracking up the second my mother’s tirade began. And the worst was yet to come.
“Well, I’m in California. I’m going to go to school here. I only needed you to know that. I’m fine, Julie’s fine, everything is just fine. I would appreciate it if you would refrain from calling the police. I don’t know if they would try to come after me but I doubt it would look good if they did. Give my love to daddy. I promise to write soon.” Before anything else could be said I just hung up. On the one hand, I felt bad about the way that things had been done but there was no taking it back and no good could come from arguing.
Looking around I couldn’t help but wonder if Julie had been wrong in assuming that we were far from the moon. People seemed to be everywhere. The evening shadows were playing across the city which looked as if it were just waking up from daylight’s crazy slumber. Lights were coming on in the huge L.A. buildings but who could focus on the city beyond with the beach and its inhabitants all around? People were dancing on the sand where no music could be heard. Couples were walking and smoking grass as they talked of philosophy and the state of the world. One girl had a guy on each arm as she laughed and swigged wine like water. Yes, I was a million miles away from home. “Come on. We’ve still got to find the place where Cindy is staying. Shouldn’t be too hard.”
Shouldn’t be too hard… Two hours later I sat numb from whiskey and confusion on the worn sofa of someone I had never known. Too many unfamiliar faces seemed to know my name and each one that spoke seemed to be asking a question. None of these questions could be answered, I decided through my drunkenness. The worst ones were coming from Julie’s friend Cindy who babbled endlessly about why the world couldn’t just get along. Give me a fucking break, I wanted to say. Live in peace? There were children starving in ghettos just a couple of miles from her bedroom window and she wanted world peace? What a fool! Sleep was the only peace a human life could hope for. Sleep…
My first conscious thought was that someone close by had to be on fire. Smoke stung my eyes as I opened them only to find that in fact no one had caught fire. Everyone was smoking. By the smell of it I could easily tell that cigarettes were not the drug of choice for this group. Sitting up, I fished around in the pocket of my worn blue jeans for my Lucky Strikes. Looking around, I lit one up but I was hardly aware of hitting it. To my surprise Julie was actually smoking grass with Cindy, who giggled excitedly when she saw that I was awake. “Want a hit?” She asked, sounding oddly like a child.
“No, I’ll pass on that, thanks.” I replied reaching for a half empty bottle of wine to nurse my hang over with.
“Why not? Just try it, Liz. I’m telling you it’s great!” Julie proclaimed.
“It makes people act spaced out and stupid. I don’t want it. I’ll stick with my wine.” Being a fearless rule breaker in my own right back home I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that the thought of getting stoned scared me.
“Suit yourself.” Julie shrugged.
And so began our summer on Venice Beach. It was a perfect precursor of the days that followed. That day sort of outlined the routine that we all stuck to. We woke up at three in the afternoon and I sipped what booze was left over from the previous night while everyone else fired up their joints and bongs. Then, at just the right time it seemed, someone would come in and turn on music. Old music, the blues, mostly. Almost always it was the blues. Big Mama Thornton, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson…occasionally The Beatles or Elvis would be played. This was of course before bands like Big Brother and The Airplane or The Doors. Dylan was around but I had never heard of him and apparently he was too Beat for the Venice crowd. Early stoners had to make due. Anyway, we would all sit around drinking and they would smoke and we would talk of brilliant concepts unfulfilled and unfinished ideas until dawn would come and whisper to us of dreams and sleep. Then we would wake up again and do it all over.
Nothing spectacular or even all that interesting happened that summer. I liked the beach well enough but it hardly broke my heart to leave. To me, at that time, Venice Beach was just a layover on the way to where I really wanted to be. At that time it wasn’t my scene. I was as out of place there that summer as a pine tree in the desert.
Finally the last week of August came and it was time for Julie and I to pack up and go north. Almost everyone else in the house was enrolled at U.C.L.A. so we were the only ones leaving. That didn’t bother me either. In fact, I was almost relieved to be free of Cindy. Julie, however, acted as though it hurt her to leave and before we drove away she promised to write them all as soon as we got to Berkeley. She even seemed angry with me because I was able to go and not look back. At that moment I simply didn’t care. I only wanted to drive like hell to where I thought I belonged.
Hardly two days passed before we were parked outside of the university that the entire town of Berkeley seemed to revolve around. Staring up at the massive structure was almost like looking up at a prison. I couldn’t tell you how long we sat like idiots in Julie’s beat up car. Thoughts of turning right around and going home to Ohio played heavily in both of our minds at that moment but in the end we relented and got out. By the time we got inside and found the registration office I was numb. This was real! Our days in Venice had been a dream compared with this reality! Having already applied for our classes and our dorm room months in advance, there wasn’t much to discuss with the sour faced secretary. I’m sure that she thought us to be a couple of morons, or, worse yet, burnouts as she handed us our schedules and gave us our dorm number. Both of us breathed a sigh of relief when we discovered that we were to share a room but because Julie was an art major and I was majoring in psychology we had no classes together. Finally the secretary dismissed us by saying dryly, “Welcome to the University of California. I’m sure you girls will do just fine here.” Another omen?
That night we settled in uneasily. The next morning was the start of fall classes. We still were unsure of what we were doing or if we could even hack it in this new world. And now we were about to be thrown into strange new classes with strange new people and strange instructors leading the herd like shepherds. “That secretary seemed like a real bitch, didn’t she? Why wasn’t it the admissions counselor we’ve talked to for months that gave us all of that information?” Julie asked as we both fought for sleep in the dark.
“I don’t know. Maybe they were just swamped with fools like us who waited until the last damned minute to come.” I replied, not truly caring.
“And what did she mean by what she said? ‘I’m sure you girls will do fine here’.” Julie mocked the woman in a way that made me laugh. “What? Does she think we’re not hip enough to be here or something?”
“Hip? Hardly! Julie, admit it. We were scared shitless. Maybe she was being nice. You know, reassuring us.” I tried to reason with her though I hadn’t liked the sound of it either.
“Maybe. Or maybe she thinks that we are two little kids from Ohio who can’t possibly make it in the big leagues. Well, fuck her!” Julie replied, sounding less self-assured than usual.
“Yeah, fuck her. Goodnight, Jules.”
The next morning came much too soon. While I got ready for my first class, which began at the ungodly hour of seven thirty a.m., I nearly got sick twice. I couldn’t remember my nerves having ever been worse. Making sure my hair, clothes, and make up were all perfect was quite a feat considering the fact that my hands were shaking unmercifully. I dropped my Lucky on my leg twice and by the time I got out of the room my superstitious side knew the rest of the day would be total shit.
For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed in my prediction. Although I adored British lit, it was hard to concentrate on Keats and, worse yet, the Tales of Camelot at such an early hour. It made it no easier that the professor was nearly as old as Shakespeare himself and had a voice as flat as Pepsi left in the sun for three days. Then there was the class on journalism I took just because I thought creative writing would do me no good in the real world. Only the math professor seemed to hold my interest at all which was ironic considering my deep hatred for the subject. Never had I been as thrilled at lunch time as I was that day.
“So how’s it going so far?” Julie asked as we smoked on the lawn outside.
“So far? It’s horrible. Professor Wright has managed to kill all interest I once had in classic literature. I will never be a journalist, even if I’m starving to death, and algebra is a joke invented to take up time after we learn all that we really need to know from math. How’s it going with you?” Julie only laughed and stuck her finger in her mouth as if just talking about her day would make her sick. “I’ve got one class left. Something tells me psychology will be the worst of them all. I think I would rather go to the gallows than go back in there and find out.”
Once again Julie chuckled. “You might be surprised. Maybe the psych professor looks like a Greek God and he’s got the mind of Poe. You never know.”
“Yeah, right.” I replied sarcastically.
At two in the afternoon I sat in a class full of budding Freud’s waiting for our instructor to appear, which he did, ten minutes late. But it wasn’t his tardiness that I cared about. From the moment he came in the door with a pen in his mouth, a brief case in one hand and a cup in the other, all I could think of was Julie’s description of a Greek god. Perhaps he wasn’t quite Hercules but he sure looked better, younger, and more interesting than any of the other stiffs I had been subjected to so far.
His wavy dark brown hair came down to his shirt color, his blue green eyes had a twinkle in them that old Mr. Wright’s had lacked since the Civil War, and his work uniform consisted of a pair of faded blue jeans and an untucked white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. All of us sat in silence as he tossed his things around and sat on his desk finally facing us like he just noticed we were there.
“My name is Brian McVie. You will not call me Professor McVie, Mr. McVie, or anything of the sort. You will simply call me Brian. For the next four semesters, or until you become frustrated enough to drop my class, I promise all of you one thing only. I may not always be on time. Some days I may not show up at all. I will never act like my colleagues but every time you leave this room you will have some new insight, some new clue, concerning human nature and the human mind. Everyone got that?”
All of us nodded in unison. Each of us was awed by this man. From the very second he walked in he had us hooked and he knew it! “Now, I want to start this class off with an observation I made years ago when I was struggling in high school to understand those around me. I am not a religious man, mind you, so don’t mistake my reference for anything more than an observation. Just consider this. We all started out innocent, the whole human race. Then Eve decided she wanted to think for herself, she wanted a mind of her own that was not controlled by God or Adam, so she ate an apple that was labeled forbidden. And for that she was eternally damned, persecuted, and condemned. That is the way the world works. Stay within the lines drawn up by others and you are accepted. Try to make your own boundaries and your own rules and you are shunned, cast out of society. That is the true secret of human nature.”
The rest of the class was one big discussion about who we all were and where we came from. When it came to me, I could barely think, much less articulate a sentence. After he called my name and only silence followed, he said with a smile, “Elizabeth Sanders, are you without a past? Or are you simply one for mystery? A lot can be said for a person who observes everything and shares nothing.”
“My life until today has been too boring to share, honestly.” I answered, shocked that I had said something so true to a whole classroom full of strangers. But at that moment it felt like there was only this brilliant being and myself and at that moment I felt as if I could not lie to him.
“Let me decide that. If I agree with you than perhaps we’ll see about making you a new past.” Brian replied, still smiling, yet his tone was dead serious.
“How do you abandon what you know you’ve lived and witnessed for something completely false? Wouldn’t that be the same as taking away a piece of who you are?” I asked softly.
“Absolutely. But it’s hardly impossible. You would be surprised at how easy it is and how many people do it. Just remember, Liz, you can do what you want with your story. It belongs to you and you alone. Now, what’s yours?” The way he called me Liz gave me goose bumps. It was like he had always known me, like we were comrades, companions even.
Just like that, I gave him the condensed version of my life with just a few questions from him when I skimmed over the details. I even told him about the summer in Venice Beach. At the end he nodded and asked, “So, would you like to keep your past or shall we make you a new one?” When I said nothing he actually took a vote from the class asking, “How many of you think Liz should keep her past?” A scarce show of hands came up. “Now, how many would like her to have a new one?” Most of the class seemed to agree that my past could be better.
Putting his hands in an arch below his chin, he seemed in deep contemplation for a while before clapping his hands together and jumping down from his desk. “How’s this? Your name is Juliet Mc…” a pause that nearly stopped my heart. He smiled at me and went on. “…McFarland. You were born and raised in The Garden District in New Orleans but after getting caught one too many times on Bourbon Street your parents decided to send you to a convent. Knowing full well that your free spirit would be crushed in such a place you decided to run away to escape that terrible fate. Your deep passion for becoming a poet led you to California where you want to spend your life in Beatnik coffee shops reciting your latest works. What do you think?”
Everyone clapped and I only grinned, shocked at how easy it was for him to create something so delicious for me. Before I could say anything, the end of class cut through my thoughts, which was for the best since they had taken a turn toward the outrageous. You see, as he made up a new identity for me I began to consider the possibility of falling in love with a perfect stranger.
“You’ve been awfully quiet since I came in. Was your psych class gallow-worthy?” Julie asked, wrapping up her letter to her beach friends. My own letter to my parents sat in front of me as all of the lies I told danced in my head.
“Huh? Oh, psychology… no, it was… incredible.” I replied, not wanting to really share much about my bizarre professor.
“Incredible, huh? How? Come on, don’t you dare hold out on me! I had the worst day. I deserve some amusement.” Julie pleaded with me.
“It’s just… it turned out to be… the class is really good. That’s all.” I stammered stupidly.
“That’s all? Like hell it is! Look at you, Elizabeth Louise! You’re blushing! You just stuttered for the first time in your life! I haven’t seen you like this since tenth grade when you told me how you sort of made it to second base! Now spill it!” My beloved Julie, never one to leave well enough alone.
“What? It’s a very insightful class…ok, I think the professor is…interesting. Now, I am going to sleep. Big day tomorrow and all that. Professor Wright is going to tell us about the literature of his youth which included the introduction of The Faery Queen. Oh, and I believe Professor Smith is going to explain to us how journalism traces its roots back to the Last Supper.” Unsatisfied but left without a choice, Julie turned out her light and slept while I stayed awake with nocturnal butterflies doing back flips in my stomach


  1. Very nice beginning. The story really began taking off for me when we (the readers) were introduced to the teachers. Some nice imagery, too. "[A] voice as flat as Pepsi left in the sun for three days" stands out for me. After reading this blog prior to now, with all the links to music from my childhood -- I was born in 1956 -- I await the implied promises of "Music was going to change the world. The whole move to California had been fueled by that."

  2. Yes, I have neglected the "soundtrack" a bit just when we are starting to get to the good stuff. Right now I am in '66 so there are some good songs but nothing like what we'll have in '67 and'68...and of course Woodstock in '69. I think I will post all of the links to the full Director's Cut version that is on youtube for that one. It served as great inspiration while I was writing it along with the many first hand accounts I read. It was also the thing that got me interested in artists like Janis Joplin and in the '60's back when I was about 11 or 12 and I just happened upon it on television. I owe that movie quite a bit. Only fair that I share it with the world. :)

  3. Oh, you needn't apologize to me for neglecting the soundtrack. I'm enjoying the story itself. Besides, I listen to enough "classic rock" and "oldies" stations to get most of it on a regular basis, haha! (Of course, when I first heard most of these songs, they were being played on my older sister's record player, and/or on "Top 40" A.M. stations.)

  4. Well, when I started the blog I had no idea what to do. I mean, you can only talk about the story itself so much before it gets old. There is so much music in this book so that was where I decided to go with it.