“Bring me back,” he cried in his sleep. “Bring me back.”
“Floyd, wake up,” said his groggy wife. “You’re talking in your sleep.”
“Oh. What? Yeah,” Floyd said, as he responded to her entreaty and woke up. “Wow, that was so real.”
“No, it wasn’t,” she said. “I saw. You were right here all along.”
“You know what I mean, Jen. I was walking down the street in some city —”
“No, it was a bright sunny day. And this guy comes up, grabs my arm, and says, ‘Come with me,’ and I says, ‘I don’t want to come with you, I got things to do,’ and he just hangs on and says, ‘Come with me.’”
Wildflowers by Tom Petty is my go-to album when I don’t know what I want to listen to. It’s like comfort food for the ears and heart.
You belong among the wildflowers You belong in a boat out at sea Sail away, kill off the hours You belong somewhere you feel free
The album has sentimental meaning for me, who never stopped wanting to buy an album in vinyl. The late 1980s and early ’90s were horrifying for me as a music lover, because more and more music was only available on cassette or CD. One day in early 1995, I walked into a music store and was shocked and delighted to discover a small area devoted to new vinyl. Among the records for which I spent $100 that day was Wildflowers.
I had several moments of delight while listening to that album for the first time. One is simply the title song of Wildflowers, which opens the album. It’s just a sweet and perfectly delivered little folk song that I have listened to, over and over, for more than 20 years now. Then there was the moment I was listening to “To Find A Friend” when I had the thought, “If the Beatles were still together, I bet they would be doing songs like this one,” only to glance at the credits and discover that Ringo Starr was playing drums on the track. Then there was the brilliant moment of wisdom tucked into “Crawling Back to You,” when he sings, “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.”
Two years later I had a specific desire to find a Tom Petty album, perhaps a wish that I could re-experience the fun of listening to Wildflowers. I went into my now-familiar record store but, alas, Petty had no new material. I did see that Johnny Cash had issued a followup to his now-legendary American Recordings album, called Unchained, and I thought what the heck, let’s check it out. I was really liking what I heard and checked the credits, where to my surprise and delight I found out I had purchased a Tom Petty album after all, as he and the Heartbreakers were essentially Johnny Cash’s backing band on the project.
To me these 15 songs represent Tom Petty’s finest hour. I still love listening to this album.
Watching a news story about the kerfuffle at the U.S. border, someone was quoted as saying, “This isn’t a Democrat issue or a Republican issue; this is an American issue.”
I thought about all the times I’ve heard that sentiment raised, and all the times I heard Democrats and Republicans rail about how the other party’s approach to immigration is absurd and inhuman.
I thought about the fundraising messages I’ve seen from both parties about how “we” need to stop the Democrats from doing what they intend to do about immigration and how “we” need to stop the Republicans from doing what they intend to do about immigration.
I thought about how you could substitute for “immigration” words like the deficit, the budget, abortion, health care, war, corruption, censorship, the environment, and all the other issues that fuel the fires of hatred between Democrats and Republicans.
I thought about what would happen if any of these issues ever got solved, and how Democrats and Republicans could raise money if they didn’t have perceived chasms between them to inspire donations.
And it came to me that Democrats and Republicans don’t want to resolve their differences, because that would stop or at least reduce the money flow.
And I realized, to paraphrase an old nugget of wisdom, in this present crisis, Democrats and Republicans do not have a solution to the problem; Democrats and Republicans are the problem.
That is the most pressing American issue: There will be no peace, there will be no solutions, there will be no kindness, as long as we listen to Democrats and Republicans instead of to each other.
There is a less self-promotional reason why, for the last week, I shared the first five chapters of Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus and then gave away the first third of the book.
I’ve mentioned that Red, my partner of more than 25 years and wife for six, was fighting for her life in a hospital 120 miles from our home.
The fight has been intense and aggressive — and last week she decided to move into hospice care.
Words failed. My brain shut down. I posted the chapters because no other words would come, and I had these words finished, so why not? I posted them without fanfare and with no plan about what to do next.
After a hellacious ride from Milwaukee in the back of an ambulance — a vehicle not really designed for long distances — she got some rest and started to regain some of her personality, but she tires easily. And one night, out of things to say and not wanting to turn the TV on, I read the first four chapters out loud to Red.
She closed her eyes after Chapter 2, but I kept reading through the fourth chapter figuring she had fallen asleep, but after I finished reading she opened her eyes and said, “That’s really good, Warren.”
That is the only review I needed to stop hiding this light under a bushel basket. I went back to the house and designed a package for the 15 chapters that comprise the first third of the book.
So there’s the rest of the story. By the time the book is finished, I’ll have some sort of marketing plan in place, but this release began as a defensive gesture because I was too overwhelmed to say anything and I had nothing else to post. Life is funny that way.
As you might have guessed by the last five days, it’s time to start telling the story of Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus. I am giving away the first third of the novel, Episode 1: Journey to the Second Planet, to people who have subscribed to my author’s newsletter, the Astor City Beacon. (It’s named after the online newspaper in Myke Phoenix’s hometown.)
Fair warning, it ends with a cliffhanger. What else do you expect from something I just described as “the first third of the novel”? But Episode 2 is coming in a few weeks, and Episode 3 a few weeks after that — my newsletter subscribers will be the first to know exactly when.
After that the completed novel will be available as an ebook, paperback, hardcover and audiobook. This is my first completely new fiction project in almost a decade, so I may as well go all-out.
Jeep Thompson is the daughter of two astrophysicists who led a team that developed The Traveler, a vehicle loosely based on a 1965 Buick Riviera that travels through time, space, and dimensions. Can she figure out how it works in time to save the worlds?
You may have read the first five chapters here, and now pick up the tale as Jeep and Blaine make a narrow escape in the Traveler and run to Venus — no Venus they ever knew — where they meet, well, you’ll see who they meet.
Jeep and Blaine took the dusty old tarp off, which was more of a task than it sounds. The tarp was tied in the corners — more like lashed — and they needed to find a pair of scissors, then a sharp knife, before they could cut through the ropes that held the plastic covering to the vehicle.
Once they cleared that off, the gleaming black vehicle did resemble something off the highway from a long time ago.
“It really does kind of look like a 1965 Buick Riviera,” Blaine said.
“I didn’t know you knew anything about old cars,” Jeep said.
Jeep’s eyes widened, and even Blaine looked a little taken aback, and Jeep leaned forward and said in a loud whisper, “Oh my gosh, did you help build The Traveler?!”
Now it was the older woman’s turn to widen her eyes, but she quickly narrowed them back to normal, looked both ways and over her shoulder, and said in a low voice, “Your mother should never have told you about that.”
“Well,” Blaine said drolly, because everything Blaine said came out droll, “the thing is sitting under a tarp in Jeep’s garage, so it’s not like some big classified secret.”
“It’s in your garage? Under a tarp? I was told top people were still working on it at an undisclosed location,” Ms. Jacobus said, and then let out a little laugh. “Well, Bev is ‘top people’ if anyone is.”
“But she hasn’t touched it in years,” Jeep said.
“No,” the woman said, and seemed to be looking at something 1,000 miles away, “she wouldn’t, not after losing Tom like that.”
“Like what? I think she was going to tell me when she had the stroke,” the younger woman said urgently. “What happened to my father?”