JJ saw them in reflection before he heard the words. About to say "Howdy" he caught the drift of a conversation that would change his life.
"Ruby Barlow sure ain't no Sunday School teacher. Sam Lester had her working as an upstairs girl over at The Fat Chance ten years back, even after she had that kid 'a hers. Passed him off as Leo's boy, but he came a mite too early for that."
JJ recognized the Sullivans as the rumor-mongers. "Pa, they're talkin' about Ma. Aren't you going to say something—set 'em straight?" Leo didn't look away from the store window, staring in at the glossy black boots with their two-inch heels, digging his own into the soft dirt. He couldn't meet the dare in his son's eyes. "Pa, didn't you hear . . ."
"Quit dawdling, Jage!" His father could bark harsher than Turk ever did. "Get the buckboard, and load that sack of grain."
It was typical of Pa to ignore gossip. He stepped around contention as nimbly as he did cow-pies. But why wouldn't he defend his own wife's honor? It reminded JJ of a time he trailed a fox to a nest of Texas bobwhites. The hen let out a shrill whistle and spread her feathers to protect her young, while the male scuttled soundlessly into the brush. Disgusted, JJ let the fox go and took "daddy quail" home for dinner. Ma had agreed the coward deserved roasting.
As usual, the ride back to the ranch was silent. If Josey were here, he and Pa would be talking about books. Pa was obsessed with anything to do with letters—why else would he insist his two sons both be called by their initials? It was humiliating. Miss Milner announced to the whole school that the Barlow boys were there mainly to teach them their alphabet. His older brother was named after Uncle Josey, as well as Grandpa Manchester Josiah Barlow, and called MJ to avoid confusion, although it hardly seemed necessary since both his namesakes were dead. JJ had taken to calling him Josey just to spite Pa.
"What does JJ stand for?" This question never failed to rile his father. "I hate not having a real name."
Leo gave his stock answer. "Son, you have to make your name for yourself."
—Son of a Gun, by Marty Halverson
If you've read this far, you're an honorary member of The Write Group. You are my connection to the outside world. I've become a hermit, making up imaginary friends because I'm neglecting all my real ones—writing a book is solitary work. I read somewhere that the most important writer's tool is "bum glue." (It keeps you stuck to your seat.) Another crucial tool is feedback.
Without referring to the excerpt above, can you answer these questions?
- Who is this book about?
- Where and when is it taking place?
- What is the problem this character is trying to solve?