I used to know how to blog, I swear, LOL. Now I barely have time to even read blogs, much less maintain my own. So I think rather than stress myself out over coming up with topics, I’m just going to post an excerpt once or twice a month.
Good Time Bad Boy is finished and I love it. Really love it. When I decided to try writing contemporary, I outlined a few books all set in the same small town. The last one was about Wade Sheppard, a washed-up country singer who comes home in disgrace, finds a new lease on his creative life and falls in love. As I worked on the outlines to make them more detailed, it became obvious that was the book I really wanted to write. Since I wasn’t sure I could write a contemporary, I thought a music-centric story might help me find my way “in” so to speak. And it did. Wade took over the book. I loved writing his music-related scenes. Those passages are some of my favorite things I’ve written. Here’s the one that let me know this was Wade’s book. It takes place the night of this encounter in the first excerpt I shared from this book. It’s a little long, but hey, if I’m only going to post once or twice a month, might as well go big, right? 🙂
A smattering of applause broke out as he stepped onto the stage. Time folded in on itself as memories of the very first time he stepped on this stage shimmered in his mind. Eighteen years old and scared to death, he’d used his guitar and hat to hide behind. That was a long time ago, hundreds of shows, probably thousands.
He picked up his guitar, awed as always by its beauty. He ran his fingers over the painted hummingbirds before touching the strings.
“Wade!” Whistles and claps followed. Randy had wanted to introduce him but Wade asked him not to. He could no longer remember why, but he’d had to introduce himself that first night, too.
He took a deep breath and stepped up to the mic. “Good evening.”
The crowd answered him with applause. His heart thudded in his chest, so hard he could feel it all over. Find that one person and focus on them, that’s what he needed to do. He wiped his clammy hands quickly on his jeans and scanned the audience.
“My name’s Wade Sheppard, some of y’all might know me.”
More applause, and it hit his nerves like nails on a blackboard. It had been a damn long time since he’d been this nervous about performing. He sought friendly faces in the audience, pleasantly surprised to find more than a few. His mother beamed, proud as always to see him on stage. Focus on your mother, Daisy had advised. Start with some of her favorite songs.
There was no question what was his mother’s favorite song. The fact that it wasn’t one of his songs made him smile. “I got my start right here in Rocky Top years ago, singing other people’s songs and sometimes helping to bus the tables. I’d like to start tonight with one of those songs that always went over well when I sang it.” His smile melted into a self-deprecating grimace and back. “I hope it still will. This is my momma’s favorite song.”
A chorus of awws rippled through the bar. Wade nodded at his mother, who smiled and waved. With a shake of his head, he launched into the opening notes of George Strait’s Amarillo By Morning. From there he went right into I Can Still Make Cheyenne and then a few others he remembered playing a lot in those early days. No patter between numbers, no band behind him, very little distance between him and the front tables. Nothing to rely on but his guitar and the nearly endless catalog of songs he knew how to play.
Music bubbled up from the recesses of his memory. Songs he hadn’t played or even heard in years sent their first notes to fingers that danced over the strings. Turning on the radio first thing in the morning, listening to the country countdown on the weekends with his fingers poised to record his favorite songs on a blank cassette tape. His first guitar, a Christmas gift from his grandparents. Oh God, how his fingers had ached as he struggled to learn the chords. He’d bled on the strings until he finally formed callouses. That guitar went everywhere with him for years, just like his beloved Gibson Hummingbird did now. The instrument was a part of him, an extension not just of his body but of his very soul.
Somewhere in the middle of an Eddie Rabbitt song he remembered his parents dancing to in the kitchen, Wade forgot to be nervous. Something opened up inside and he threw himself into the music wholeheartedly, trusting the words and the chords to come back to him. And they did, song after song. For better or worse, this was the music that made him. The first music that spoke to him, that made him fall in love first with the radio and then with his guitar. The music that allowed him to express himself, even when it was through someone else’s song. Wade didn’t consider himself a very nostalgic person but tonight he let himself bask in his musical history, the songs that helped raise him and teach him and gave him a foundation for the future he created for himself with his guitar. Both the good and the bad, because though he’d be damned if he sang Empty Rooms tonight, he looked out over the sea of familiar faces and saw people who knew the meaning of pain and grief as well as they did the sway and the sweetness of a love song. So he sang Garth Brooks’ The Dance for them and didn’t once stumble over the chords or the words.
A head full of long blond waves passing between tables caught his eye. Daisy looked up and smiled, and his heart stuttered. Damn, that girl was beautiful. He liked her sharp tongue, too, and the way she stood up for herself. The songwriter in him wanted to know her story, but the man in him knew getting close enough to get it would be dangerous.
He didn’t know how long he’d been on stage. He could have kept going for hours, but a performer always leaves his audience wanting more. And he knew in his bones that this audience would walk away wanting more. He’d put on a damn good show tonight despite his nerves. Pride glowed hot inside, an inner spotlight shining bright on places that had been dark for too long.
Another look at Daisy – the way her smile curved into a slight smirk, her long legs under that short black uniform skirt, and her eyes so full of life and mischief – and he knew exactly how to end the set. He’d started the night with George Strait so it felt right to come full circle, with the song She’ll Leave You With A Smile.
The crowd fell away and Wade sang directly to Daisy, only to Daisy. It pleased him to see that it stopped her in her tracks, empty beer bottles balanced precariously on her tray. She brought a hand to her throat and bit her lip. He smiled to her as he sang and he told himself that the heat he knew must have shone in his eyes was just part of the performance. If it affected her, well, that was just an unfair advantage singers sometimes had.
The spell broke as the song ended and the bar erupted in applause. Randy Tucker hauled himself up and made his way to the tiny stage, laying claim to the microphone. “Brittain’s own Wade Sheppard, back home in Rocky Top!”
Whistles and hoots and hollers continued. How could such a small place hold enough people to make that much noise? Wade took a bow and waved.
He was home. To his great surprise, it felt good to be there, too.