Chapter two of Flowers on Concrete earned me a postage stamp. Five months after submitting it to a print literary journal as a story called “Blue and White Gum,” I was mailed a letter that said the story was still under consideration for their upcoming issue (So the stamp was used, but still). About three months after that I got a form rejection slip. Not a lot to go on but that did boost my writing confidence. Prior to that I got a lot of positive feedback when I brought chapters 1 and 2 to the restaurant where I worked in Seattle. People seemed to find it funny! Trey doesn’t ever attempt to be funny in the book, so it’s tough to know that type of humor is working. You really can’t know, for sure, unless someone laughs. As it was getting passed around, someone asked what it was about and someone who’d already read it laughed and said (I wish I could remember word for word) something like, “it’s this guy who really likes a girl but then it turns out he’s one of those creepy guys who doesn’t talk to anybody.” That wouldn’t have been a bad start for a pitch.
I also got a laugh from a guy after reading chapter two at Last Wednesday at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle. (A good amount of twittering but only that one guy truly laughed, as I recall.) But it was feedback from my critique group that resulted in the passage I’d like to share here ending up as part of the novel. In the chapter, Trey is desperate to end up in Angela’s line at the bank. He craves the most base social exchange imaginable, small talk and her slight touch as she hands him his bank slip. He manages neither due to his nervousness, and he watches from the breezeway marveling at the customer who followed him, an elderly lady who “made Angela laugh somehow.”
At that point I had him leave, but when I sent that portion in to my Monday critique group, I recall Jesse saying that the segment needed something else at the end. That was an excellent suggestion because it didn’t suggest much of anything except that Jesse, as a reader, felt the chapter was incomplete. I didn’t necessarily agree, but I let that ending portion of chapter two open back up and later that night I remember writing in bed what remains a favorite passage:
I had to walk around the building. In my hurry to escape, I had gone out the closer doors, opposite where I’d parked. I ran my hand along the rough back wall of the bank. Angela was in there, so far away. It could have been me making her laugh after the suit guy upset her.
I faced the bank and leaned in. My forehead was held away from the wall by painful spikes of plaster. By then, the old lady had probably left. The soft twigs of a wild growth of bush spread my legs apart. Looking through the wall: Angela stood, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet, peering anxiously into an empty lobby. The pads of her fingers streaked the counter in lines of cloud. She was waiting for the next customer to save her from a stretch of boredom. She was waiting for me. I could have gone back in and made sure my last check cleared. I could have remembered I needed quarters for laundry. It would have been perfectly normal to have forgotten a thing like that. Her eyes might have even lit up like she knew me. But it was too late. I failed. I didn’t deserve another chance.