Black limbs stir the air.
White clouds hurry and creatures scurry.
Full moon lights the way.
Black limbs stir the air.
White clouds hurry and creatures scurry.
Full moon lights the way.
Big Little Hawk, a short story by Randy Evans
On a limestone bluff in the late Copper Age, a woman lived alone in a hole by a crooked basswood tree. She sat in the cleared field looking out at the bay like a limestone figurine. The level of the lake had been rising for six thousand years before, as the ice sheets from the last ice age melted, and her hole home was a stone’s throw from the beach. Wigwams were for future people, not her. She was one of the last of the Underground People, the ancestors of the Algonquin tribes, remnants disappearing into nothingness like the glacial debris on the beach. Near dark, she rubbed two dry sticks together, and along with the fires of the nearby villagers, the sky turned reddish copper against a sky of low clouds. She lived on the bluff in the late Second Millennium BC, a place where ancient peoples conducted commerce.
The rise where she sat was already old. Formed out of a muddy sea floor in the Middle Devonian Era, the land formed from an accumulation of grayish brown crystalline limestone. Corals were abundant, including Hexagonaria percarinata, known by most people as the “Petoskey Stone.” The coral forming the stones existed in massive colonies over 350 million years ago, anchored to the bottom in deep-water mud flats and became petrified over geologic time. Scoured by glaciers during the last ice age, the stones were left as beach rubble along the shore. The woman traded these as well.
Her name was Big Little Hawk (Mi-she-pe-pe-quen), and she lived by trading. She traded seeds, nuts, fish, polished stone axeheads, hammered copper spearpoints, tools, decorated objects, and human skulls. She protected her hoard with a long, double-edged dagger. People also feared her, because she was said to have dark magical powers. In trade, she received food and beaver skins from hunters, fishermen, and growers of corn and other vegetables. The most brave of the young boys played near her—amusing themselves with footraces, wrestling, and shooting birds, chipmunks, and squirrels with their bow and arrows.
Az taught her trading. He was an Egyptian sailor who came ashore one day alone paddling a bark canoe. When they met, she was bathing at the water’s edge. She was fourteen, and unmated. Because of her large size, her mother and father could not find a partner for her. “Az” was the second half of his name. He never told her the first half. He stayed with her until she became pregnant, then paddled away one morning never to be seen again.
Az had been among the Egyptian sailors seeking the pure copper deposited in veins and nuggets of the area’s gravel beds, another product of glaciation. The sailors brought copper home to be hammered into axes, points, helmets, shields, breastplates, and to build temples, and statues. Az and his fellow Egyptian sailors were part of a vast trading network including Phoenicians, Trojans, Carthaginians, Greeks, Babylonians, Cretans, Cypriots, Aegean, Hebrews, Libyans, Arabs, Kelts, and Britons who shipped ore and ingots from over 5,000 copper mines in northern Michigan.
Big Little Hawk could not think about thinking, but her limbic brain stem operated in harmony with other parts of her brain and body. She could move her muscles and limbs in perfect balance and coordination, and her hormonal system could release adrenaline in times of stress, fear, excitement, or anger. She could also experience feelings of anger, sadness, joy, and exhilaration, and she could remember these feelings when memory aided her survival. The lobes for her senses were highly developed—smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing.
Az came from a less primitive civilization in the Mediterranean, and could write the common language of the miners and sailors, a reformed Egyptian hieroglyphs system (Roots of this ancient language have been found in both the substance and inflections of the Algonquin languages, including both Odawa and Objibwe). Az left behind a copper tablet in this language, buried for the ages in Big Little Hawk’s hole in the ground, deep in the bluff overlooking Little Traverse Bay.
Big Little Hawk birthed a baby from Az. One day she went down to the beach to wash clothes. Her little son was strapped to a board, and she sat him down near the water while she worked. The water was very deep next to the shore. As she scrubbed in the water, she turned away from the baby for an instant, and when she turned back, the baby was gone. She ran up to the basswood tree and shouted for help. The Underground People looked far and wide, but the baby could not be found. The same day the baby was lost, an earthquake rocked the land. People in the village said they could hear a baby crying under the ground. They said it was Big Little Hawk’s baby. The magicians of the village met around a fire where they lit their pipes and rattled tambourines. They called upon spirits, and the spirits told them Big Little Hawk hid her baby in the ground and made the earth tremble. From then on, the villagers feared her as a monstrous baby killer with magical powers. They also feared going near what the villagers called “the hole.”
One day, Big Little Hawk plunged into Little Traverse Bay and disappeared. She entered the water to look for life. She grasped at the rocks on the lake bottom to hold herself down while looking for her son. For days afterwards, her wolf-bred dog searched for her with its nose close to the ground, running back and forth on the beach. Big Little Hawk could not liberate herself from the deep loss of her baby son. Only the copper tablet of Az remained, buried for thousands of years, now lying beneath a construction site in downtown Petoskey.
An excerpt from Out of the Inferno: A Husband’s Passage through Cancerland
Stopped mid-motion in the middle
Of what we call our life . . .
Dante’s Inferno, Canto I
On a rainy November day in central Texas, Neil Schmitt, my father-in-law, trudged wearily down a country road along Pecan Bayou. A tall, lean man, he bent his head against the rain. He wore a floppy hunting cap, thread-bare coveralls, and worn-out boots that he knew he couldn’t afford to replace. After walking out to the road from the old tool shed that he used as a blind, he decided that he was done with hunting for good, just like that. Once Neil made up his mind to do something or not to do something, that was it. He quit smoking that way. He quit playing poker that way. And this cold, drizzly day, he decided to stop hunting.
In his seventies, I guess he had become tired of getting up before dawn to sit on a folding chair for hours waiting for a deer to show up, and also his reasons might have had something to do with unpleasant memories of the land. The days alone in the blind may have given him too much time to think about what had happened there during his boyhood—abandonment by his father, the long illness and death of his mother, and the struggles of subsistence living in a tin-and-tar-papered shack with a dirt floor. He carried his rifle close to his body, cradled in his arms. The strap of an Army-green canvas bag hung over his wide sloping shoulders like a sack of memories.
As Neil made his way down the wet tar road towards Irene Brown’s house, he stopped mid-stride, and walked to the gate at Jordan Springs Cemetery where Laura, his mother, lay buried. She had died of breast cancer in the 1940s. As the sole caregiver for his mother, her long illness and death had flattened Neil’s teenaged life like a bulldozer. He rested his gun on the cyclone fence, and stepped inside the grounds. He passed by the gravestones of long-dead, half-forgotten people that he had known during his life in Brown County, Texas. On the far side of a hundred-year-old oak tree, he removed his shapeless cap, and stood over his mother’s grave. The face of the gravestone never changed. For him, it must have been like looking at a memory that couldn’t be weathered away by rain or bleached out by the hot Texas sun.
Cold rain dripped on his thin gray hair, and ran down his forehead and neck. He fastened his top button, and pulled his bare hands into his coat sleeves. The air smelled of woodsmoke. After about five minutes, he tapped the toe of his boot gently on his mother’s flat gravestone, and returned to the road. Dogs barked from the ranches. Windmills groaned. Jack rabbits stood by the side of the road like marbled statues. Stella, his wife, and Irene Brown, the widow of Dennis, his best friend, waited down the road at Irene’s house with hot coffee, ham and eggs, biscuits and gravy. Irene had stoked the kitchen fireplace with bone-dry mesquite. Struggling down a rainy country road towards people you love, warm food, hot coffee, and a bright fire made what Neil called a life. A cure for gray thoughts on a gray day.
Randy’s Note: The following query letter about my memoir resulted in two manuscript requests from NY literary agents. If you intend to follow the traditional publishing route, check the specific query guidelines listed on an agent’s website.
Your representation of nonfiction writers in the areas of health, wellness, and spirituality sounds like a match for Out of the Inferno: A Husband’s Journey with Breast Cancer (77,000 words). The memoir tells the story of my fifteen years as a caregiver for Laurene, my deceased wife, and about my new life beyond her death.
To insure the accuracy of Laurene’s medical history, I worked extensively with Linda Yarger, the top medical librarian at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She has written the following blurb, and looks forward to recommending the book to cancer patients at the clinic (15,000 outpatients per day).
“Can a husband find meaning in life’s journey when his wife’s breast cancer takes center stage ? Randy Evans bares his soul and shares his and Laurene’s story and the aftermath of that story in this very engaging book. He combines down home Texas culture with a running commentary on lessons learned, all within the context of a trip through hell (Dante’s Inferno). But he continues on, out of hell, and into a new life. A powerful story.”
The book will appeal to men and women who deal with people who have chronic illnesses, or care for these people. This includes 8 million Americans who are disabled, and another 34 million with serious illness, not to mention their caregivers (National Center for Health Statistics, 2014). The book contains a mix of love stories, local Texas color, and in depth looks at the inside of cancer support groups. The thousands of cancer support groups in the US and Canada will be another target audience—1.7 million new cases of cancer a year, and 233,000 of this total are women diagnosed with breast cancer (American Cancer Society, 2014).
Health care professionals and the cancer research community will also be interested in my descriptions of the different orientations of African American, Latina, and white women who live with breast cancer. The book should also have appeal beyond North America, especially for its multicultural perspective.
There are very few grief memoirs written from a man’s point of view, and women will be especially interested in this perspective. Also, men who have spouses or partners with cancer will want to read this book. Comparable titles by male authors would include Grace and Grit by Ken Wilbur, a compelling love story of a couple dealing with cancer, but a bit academic and dry, and Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, a coldly analytical book about faith in the wake of a spouse’s death. Both books are difficult to read, because of style, depth, and content. Joan Didion’s two bestselling memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking, and Blue Nights, are closest to my manuscript in mood, tone, and feeling.
The book’s thirty-four chapters each begin with a relevant quote from a contemporary translation of Dante’s Inferno, and each chapter ends with a practical lesson learned that should be of immediate use to readers. More than anything, the memoir is filled with the stories and actions of lived experience—our the emotional ups and downs, successes and setbacks, hopes and disappointments.
I hold a Ph.D in psychology from Saybrook University in San Francisco. The Zig-Zag Road: A Multiethnic Study of Breast Cancer Survivor Quality of Life, was published by ProQuest Information and Learning Compant in 2007. I have also earned an MBA in Finance from Columbia University, and a BA in English Literature, Phi Beta Kappa, from Ohio University. My business career has included corporate officer positions at Compaq Computer and Intuit, Inc.
In addition to the dissertation, my short stories and poems have been published in several literary magazines, including Bear River Review, Walloon Writers Review, and Whiskey Island Magazine. NPR’s “This I Believe Project” published one of my essays. I have also written and published journal articles for business publications, including Compensation, Quality Magazine, and Grid Organization Development. I have presented to audiences with over a thousand people in attendance, and have recently read excerpts from my work in smaller settings up to eighty people. I also give readings on the first Monday of each month at Red Sky Stage, a local venue for musicians and writers.
I live in northern Michigan with Denise, my wife, and Lizzie, our English Setter. We have five daughters, and eight grandchildren. In addition to writing, I teach developmental psychology to nursing students at a nearby community college. I also mentor at-risk high school students and volunteer at our regional food pantry.
I will be happy to send you more material. In addition to the manuscript, I have a synopsis, chapter outline, and marketing plan.
Please represent me.
An excerpt from The Lawnmower Club: How Leo Zitzelberger Lost and Found Paradise on Earth, a novel by Randy Evans (copyright 2015, Little Traverse Press)
The Cart Shed
Leo Zitzelberger opens his eyes on an ordinary summer day. He thinks that he might be the luckiest man on earth.
Waking at nine from his morning nap, he yawns and stretches his long arms and legs. He rises slowly from the slider on the clubhouse deck to watch the morning riders on the golf course he now calls home. He pours a large cup of lukewarm coffee. He yawns again—his yellow teeth jutting out from shrunken gums, a dental hygienist’s nightmare. He opens a cookie tin and removes the last bit of a blueberry muffin from its paper doily, his favorite morning snack when he wants a little something. He tears away a piece of muffin from its stretchy, donut-like top and pops it into his mouth. The taste is not nearly as good as the muffins that Mona, his deceased wife, had baked from scratch on Sunday mornings.
Remembrances of Mona come less frequently these days. The change of locations has helped. For a long time after she died, his consciousness had been split between “before Mona” and “after Mona,” but his lawn mowing club has offered him a new life, not as good as the old one, but acceptable, tolerable, and digestible like a store-bought blueberry muffin.
As he finishes the last crumb, he remembers an important task. Oh, yes, a new lawnmowerian has applied for membership today. He must interview him before the first shift—one of his duties as owner and founder of club.
Zitzelberger carries his large body over to the old cart shed to inspect the new member’s lawn tractor. He walks east into the morning sun, dragging his shadow like a black cape—like a character created for a novel. A tall healthy 65-year-old except for bulk, his feet leave large footprints in the sandy soil. He passes a boxlike, glassed-in sign, the kind you find displaying a sermon topic in front of a country church. The sign reads, “NO CHILDREN, NO PETS!” He pauses and bends reverently before entering the dim light of the cart shed, as if he’s stepping into the tabernacle of a sanctified sect. He smells the sweet incense of grease, gas, and mildew.
In some ways, he’s like a priest. He leads a celibate and solitary life, dedicated to cutting grass and maintaining his independence. He stands over six feet tall with a hatchet face and large steel-colored eyes. His sharp chin looks like the toe of a Western dress boot. When he walks, his arms swing like the blades of a chain saw. To people in town he looks fearsome—mothers pick up their children when he lumbers down the sidewalk. Dog owners heel their dogs. Boys laugh or throw stones at him. In Zitzelberger’s mind, the perfect town would be one with a few shops along brick-red streets, a large grassy village green with a flag pole, and no people.
Most of the town people hold grudges against Zitzelberger for relieving them of the burdens of car ownership. Before he retired, Zitzelberger owned a car repo agency, and hauled away cars when people couldn’t make their car payments. Popular only with bank collectors and finance companies, people who hate him dot his life like dandelions on an otherwise perfect lawn.
Zitzelberger wants to make sure the new member is a good fit——that he possesses true lawnmowerian values—a love of grass, respect for machines, and a do-it-yourself mentality. He only wants people as members who never get bored making straight-cut rows and running their machines. And people who don’t want to turn the club into anything else. If a prospective member asks, “What else can we do with our membership besides cut grass? Could we have picnics with our family, play horseshoes, or camp?” All knockout factors. He only wants members who want to mow grass—who are obsessed by grass cutting; who don’t even daydream while cutting, because there is nothing more engaging or satisfying or exciting than cutting grass.
Now he walks catlike by rows of lawnmowers, and wrecks of other machinery that members could not part with when they lost their homes: weed eaters, hedge trimmers, power edgers, leaf blowers, uprooted sprinkler systems, log splitters, air compressors, de-thatchers, front-end loaders, and spreader attachments. Zitzelberger has no rules about storing extra equipment as long as there’s room in the cart barn. He’s unusually liberal in this regard. Men need their machines, he thinks.
Each member has a dedicated work space where they can place their workbenches like altars. On peg board above the benches t squares hang like crosses, and socket wrenches lay on top like communion candlesticks; everything necessary for maintenance on their mowers. Zitzelberger doesn’t allow family photographs or trophies or service club plaques. No pinup calendars or other ephemera clutter the sacred space. But yellowed diagrams and posters of lawnmower engines and mowers are fine, or clipboards of maintenance records and instruction manuals. If someone has a non-mower-related hobby of any kind, from woodworking to building model ships, Zitzelberger says, “You can play with those things at the senior center!” He allows no drinking or smoking in the cart shed. “NO CHILDREN, NO PETS!” I want a fixed focus on lawn mowing in my club. No distractions. Purity. Simplicity. Dedication.
He walks quietly up behind the new member, as if preparing to scare the bejeezus out of him, which is exactly what he is doing. He wants to catch him off guard, a test for healthy reflexes. “LOOKS LIKE A SCAG!” he speaks in a low rolling rumble like the sound of distant thunder.
He develops a good first impression, not of the man, but of his machine. It looks clean and oiled, a V-Ride with a Stripe Roller. Zitzelberger had read about this bright new orange model—a Cheetah 61-inch zero-turn rider with a fast, air-cooled 36-horse-power engine.
The new member turns to Zitzelberger, and tries not to act startled. “Yep, I’ve always had Scags, every model they ever made: Turf Tigers, Tiger Cubs, Saber Tooth Tigers, and the Wildcat—now that was a great cutter. But this new Cheetah is the best! Runs up to 16 miles per hour!” As he moves his hands with love over his lawn tractor’s steering wheel, the new member grins a gold tooth at Zitzelberger. Zitzelberger raises his eyebrow, but decides to smile back, even though he regards smiling as a sign of weakness. He parts his lips as if he’s opening a wound.
The purpose of this site is to share samples of my writing, and what I have learned about the creative writing process. I will share mixed genres, including memoir and novel excerpts, poetry, essays, short stories, drama, and fables. I hope what you read here will bring you joy.
Ordering options for When Strangers Meet at Devil’s Elbow, Red Sky Anthology: Reading Aloud in Northern Michigan, and Out of the Inferno: A Husband’s Passage Through Cancerland: The books are available on Amazon, or in northern Michigan, from Between the Covers, 106 E. Main Street, Harbor Springs, Michigan (call 231-526-6658 for out-of-town orders with same-day shipment), or McLean & Eakin, 307 E. Lake Sreet, Petoskey, Michigan 49770. Author-signed copies are available from both book stores.
Fresh, funny, and compassionate, Randy Evans’s border-crossing collection (poetry, short story, fable, play, memoir and novel excerpts) never loses his voice or identity as he shifts from one genre to another. The death, grief, and bereavement of the loss of his wife to breast cancer serve as a central theme, along with hilarious forays into magical realism. “I laughed and wept, openly and honesty, dozens of times-beautiful storytelling!” – Wade Rouse, bestselling memoirist.
Please visit my Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/randyevans to link to reviews and upcoming events.
Photograph by Al Sevener
An excerpt from When Strangers Meet at Devil’s Elbow, a novel by Randy Evans (copyright 2017, Little Traverse Press)
“. . . have to stop your pay on Friday.”
The personnel manager had said more, but the unexpected news shocked Rebecca Randall so much that she only registered part of his last sentence. She sat still and silent on the other side of his large desk with her hands folded in her lap. He peeked up from his paperwork, like a voyeur, to see her facial expression, thinking, nothing more than a widening of the eyes. Most people had nothing to say, but you could tell a lot from their faces.
You bastard, you fired me! Better keep quiet. He’s an idiot. She lowered her head. He lowered his.
As the grandson of the company founder, Harrison Kindig had sifted down to the paperboard mill’s lowest management position. Most of the time, he felt like an actor faking the playing of a musical instrument. People rarely asked him for advice. Most of the time, he sat alone in one of the few closed offices. He filled the time mumbling or thinking random thoughts. He hated to lay off office people, because he knew he might be next.
“Oh, I knew our days were numbered when the Clean Water Act passed . . . we had to stop making colored paperboard . . . so the dye spilled the Kalamazoo River with bright colors for a few days. Muskegon Orange was our best-selling shoebox board!”
He peered out of his floor-to-ceiling cubicle window at the long rows of gray desks occupied by accountants and schedulers sitting at odd angles like gravestones in a cemetery. He glanced down at a globule of pancake syrup sticking to a liberty bell on the bicentennial tie he’d worn every Friday for nearly forty years. He wore short-sleeved shirts even in the winter. He had foregone long-sleeved shirts since the day a supervisor caught his long sleeve in the rotating blades of the pulp beater at the wet end of the board machine. By the time the poor man arrived at the dry end, he had become a sheet of paperboard. Only his belt buckle survived the city-block long machine. Harrison used the buckle to make a safety poster, until people complained, and began to call him an idiot.
Rebecca’s dismissal at the mill had come out of the blue, abrupt—like sudden death. She fixed her eyes on Harrison’s orange pocket protector bulging out from his dull-laundered shirt. Then came a scream—high and loud and long. The scream went on and on, until she uncle chef her hands and clamped them over her mouth. She looked at the pear-shaped personnel manager in bewilderment. Where had the scream come from? How far had the sound traveled? Had the sound penetrated walls to the outer office? Had people heard the scream in the break room or the parking lot?
Harrison looked shivery white. He kept opening and closing his mouth, at a loss for words.
Finally, he said, “Okey Doke.” He spilled coffee on his paperwork as he reached for the phone to call security.
When her mother died Rebecca hadn’t screamed or even cried. When her brother died, she hadn’t either. Not when her father had picked up and left town for good. But today she had screamed, as if losing her job had been a fate worse than an overload of death or fear of abandonment. Hours later after returning to her apartment, she still couldn’t speak or move. Her routine had been altered. Her orderly and quiet life disrupted. She had worked at the paperboard mill since graduation from high school. What would she do next? She wondered.
Rebecca sat upright on a red vinyl kitchen chair, a remnant of her dead mother’s kitchen. In the dull morning light, she faced the sooty factory window of her loft apartment. Her coffee pot gurgled on the counter. If anyone had been present, and had asked what seemed to be troubling her, she would have pulled at her long and straight brown hair, and said, “Oh, nothing.”
For a decade, Rebecca had come home every morning from the night shift to eat breakfast at the diner across the street from her apartment, and then drop into a nest of pillows on her small bed, pet her cat and cuddle her stuffed bear. After four hours, she would rise and shower to work her day job at a nearby nursing home.
But this morning, Rebecca couldn’t sleep. She edged her chair closer to the window. Her breath made small circles on the cold window panes. She felt stiff from sitting. When she had arrived from the mill into the cave-cold apartment an hour earlier, she had turned up the thermostat and sat down. Now she felt a bit dizzy. She needed air and light. Soot from the mill smokestack had silted her windowpanes like a gauzy veil. For the first time, she counted the panes in the old industrial window—sixteen grimy panes obscured by a hundred years of sloppy paint jobs on the grids.
Rebecca used both hands to raise the latch, and pushed open the hinged casement. The reluctant latch groaned. Pale morning light and a cold breeze filled the kitchen. She opened her eyes wider and took a deep breath. Spring would soon be here. A whirr of pigeons wings flapped above her. She ran a restless finger across the dust on the window sill, and watched dustballs fly away. She tried again to fathom the devastating news of the day. She knew others would take what happened as entirely common—who hasn’t lost a job? Maybe she would have handled herself better if she had been given more notice, she didn’t know.
Rebecca could only think in tiny thought fragments. Bits of nursery rhymes and pieces of her dead mother’s admonitions drifted in and out of her mind as she sat back down on her kitchen chair. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall . . . think positive . . . all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together . . . had a great fall . . . take a deep breath . . . think positive . . . the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. She swallowed the bird to catch the spider that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her. . . . honey, life isn’t fair . . . nothing’s for certain . . . down came the rain and washed the spider out. When you’re older you’ll be glad you have long legs. Most women dream of having long legs. Makes you look statuesque.