Fiction

I started a second blog, Wellpilgrim (www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com), to serve as something of  depository of short stories I hope eventually to turn into a published collection. Lately, lots more have “discovered” this blog, and I hope you will, too.

CRAZY OF NATURAL CAUSES (2015)

Chance Benford's life goes downhill in a hurry, but he's a winner. (Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky.)
Chance Benford’s life goes downhill in a hurry, but he’s a winner.
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky.)

Chance Benford was just a football coach, and an unscrupulous one, at that. He gets over being Crazy of Natural Causes. The world around him doesn’t.

Monte Dutton, author of The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles, is back with a fable on life’s absurdity, set mainly in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Coal Country.

Benford is a wreck. His wife’s left him. All he’s got left is a high school football team in a tiny mountain town, a burning desire to win, and a numbness that obscures all ethical considerations. The team wins at the highest rate in decades, but in so disgraceful a fashion that Benford is fired. Before anyone really knows it, Benford pulls out of the parking lot in his pickup, runs head-on into a meth-addled coal miner, late for work, and almost loses his life. Doctors bring him back from the precipice of death, and while doing so, find a benign brain tumor that was apparently responsible for the coach’s aberrant behavior.

The injuries, and the surgeries required to heal them, leave Benford with no memory of his transgressions and a blank space for Jesus to occupy. He reads the Bible for no reason other than to occupy his time, and it transforms him. Benford finds a Jesus with little in common with the way He is depicted in churches. Miraculously, with the aid of a couple of his former players, Benford’s version of The Word gets out, and people like what the ex-coach has to say.

The same cannot be said for Big Religion, which feels threatened by Benford, who insists he’s no preacher, has no interest in a ministry, and wants no part of separating poor people from their money with a rosy vision of Eternal Life.

Benford finds a woman to love, comes to grips with the woman he lost and why he lost her, helps one former player go off to play football at a nearby college, and encourages another to pursue a career in music. He rolls with the punches because nothing seems normal anymore. An ambitious TV reporter helps make him and then tries to break him. An evangelical empire first woos and then spurns him.

Down the stretch, Benford has a preacher who wants him dead. Wally Ruff, the best player he ever coached, is being stalked by a drug-crazed ex-girlfriend. The charges being leveled against him are difficult to answer because he has no memory of what he did and didn’t do.

Benford is a good man, not a holy one. Crazy of Natural Causes is a novel about religion without being particularly religious. It is a fable of redemption and absurdity, irreverent because there is no other way Benford’s story can be.

 

THE INTANGIBLES (2013)

The Intangibles is set in a small Southern town during the 1960s.
The Intangibles is set in a small Southern town during the 1960s.

The winds of change are descending on Fairmont and engulfing the small South Carolina town in a tornadic frenzy.

The Intangibles is set in the fictitious town, home to Fairmont High School and Oconee College. Mossy Springs High School is closing. It’s 1968, and the public schools are finally being completely integrated.

Reese Knighton arrives on the scene at precisely the right time. The town is rife with racial tension. Several black youths have been arrested for tossing firebombs at a handful of stores. White citizens form a private academy for the purpose of keeping their kids out of the integrated school system. The Ku Klux Klan is growing ever more menacing.

The principal of Fairmont High School, Claude Lowell, becomes superintendent of the school district. In his place, Lowell “promotes” Preston Shipley from football coach to principal and hires Knighton to coach the team. Knighton has to find common ground with Willie Spurgeon, the successful Mossy Springs coach who has been passed over for a job he richly deserves.

At The Intangibles’ center is the Hoskins family, Tommy and Emily, two boys and a girl. Tommy Hoskins is a local businessman and farmer who is a supporter of the team, on which the older son, Frankie, plays. One of Frankie’s close friends is Raymond Simpson, who lives in a shanty on the Hoskins’ farm. Another, Ned Whitesides, is a privileged bigot who considers mingling with blacks beneath him. Clarence “Click” Clowney is the talented quarterback from Mossy Springs whose rebellious streak Knighton and Spurgeon most control. Al Martin is the staunch black tackle who becomes the glue that keeps the integrated team together. Twins James and Joey Leverette are the sons of Oconee professors, as identical in appearance as they are different in style. Curly Mayhew, Knighton’s mentor, coaches rival Lexington Central. Laura Hedison is a white cheerleader with a mean streak. Jorge Heredia is a tennis player at the college who sells drugs on the side. Aubrey Roper is a college girl who uses religion, of all things, to seduce Frankie Hoskins.

The prospects and suspects, contenders and pretenders, include a corrupt county sheriff, a father losing control of an erratic son, a snitch in the team’s ranks, black militants and white firebrands, friends and neighbors, mamas and daddies, all thrust into the impending destruction of their comfortable little worlds.

It’s a story of a high school football team that puts aside its differences, never quite realizing that, outside its bounds, everything is unraveling. It’s also about the cultural changes, good and bad, that take place when two societies, black and white, come together. Suspicion and bigotry beget murder and suicide.

Ultimately, The Intangibles is a story of triumph achieved at considerable cost.

THE AUDACITY OF DOPE (2011)

TheAudacityofDopecoverImage
A plane was apparently going to crash, but Riley Mansfield prevented it.

Riley Mansfield has no desire to be a star. He merely wants to write his songs, live off the royalties, smoke a little weed and perform in bars and coffeehouses.

He certainly has no desire to be a hero.

Fate intervenes. On a routine commuter flight, a man sitting across the aisle plants a bomb on the plane. Riley just happens to notice. Calling on a knack for decisive action cultivated as a college athlete, Riley prevents the plane from being blown up.

Within the span of a few minutes, Riley becomes a national obsession. His instinct is to resist. He gets rid of his cell phone, ignores messages and holes up at his Henry, South Carolina, home. Satellite trucks park in his driveway. A local delegation of politicos visits. Everyone wants a piece of him, and Riley tells them all where to go.

Then things get ugly.

After Riley rebuffs an offer to endorse President Sam Harmon’s reelection campaign, a man masquerading as a deputy sheriff calls on him and beats him in his backyard. Riley gets the message and reluctantly agrees to appear at a celebration scheduled for the National Mall on Independence Weekend.

It isn’t enough.

Riley flees, taking an old high-school acquaintance, Melissa Franklin, along for the ride. They seek the refuge of musician friends, first in Florida, then North Carolina and Kentucky. Riley and Melissa lead a collection of cops, government operatives and political intermediaries on a makeshift chase, with Riley making everything up as he goes along.

Riley’s plan? Placate the Republicans by appearing at their silly rally, but return the favor by allowing the real story to be told afterwards in the pages of Rolling Stone. A rock-and-roll writer joins him in Kentucky and accompanies Riley on a hastily-conceived trip to Oregon. Adam Rhine has a secret of his own.

Hot on Riley’s trial are Jed Langston, a Homeland Security agent and religious nutcase; Priscilla Hay, who wants to use Riley’s story to the Democrats’ advantage in the coming presidential election; and Sue Ellen Spenser, determined to corrupt Riley for the Republicans.

Riley gradually comes to suspect that the government itself played some role in the attempted bombing. Whoever heard of trying to blow up such a small plane? What happened to the alleged terrorist?

As the big celebration approaches, only Langston suspects Riley’s motives. As Riley takes the stage in front of a national-television audience, hovering nearby are Langston, poised to kill him; a pair of sympathetic FBI agents, monitoring Langston; and a military sniper on the roof of a nearby building.

And Riley might just pay for his independence with his life.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES (2016)

Denny Frawley is a beast. He is also the Third Circuit Solicitor. He wants to be governor. He could not rule Latimohr, his South Carolina hometown, more thoroughly if the folks elected him king.

Monte Dutton’s fourth novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a tale of murder and corruption, unruly youths, and the corrosive effect of patronage.

And one good cop with one important ally.

Hal Kinley is a lifelong acquaintance of Frawley. They once played high school football together. Kinley realizes that Frawley must be stopped and that he is the only man willing to do it.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses goes on sale at Amazon.com on March 29.

The sordid tale makes its way along parallel lines.

One is among the adults. Frawley, who likes the nose powder, has a wife who loves the booze, and a conniving mistress, and a cooperative business relationship with a drug dealer, and a band of ruthless operatives wearing badges. Kinley has an estranged wife and a rebellious son.

Ah, the younger generation.

Barry and Carole, the Frawley twins, have much in common with their father. Barry deals drugs. Carole is into sex. Owing to the prominence of their father, they are lawless, as are their friends. One of their friends is Hayden Kinley, son of Hal.

No one around Frawley sees Hal Kinley as a threat. He is a do-gooder. Not particularly smart. Doesn’t have the guts to be a winner.

Kinley knows that Frawley must be stopped. Kinley wants desperately to save his son. The odds do not favor him in either goal.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

LONGER SONGS (2016)

My new collection of short stories, Longer Songs, has a hook. Eleven of them, actually.

I’ve written dozens of short stories. Longer Songs is the first collection, chosen because the 11 stories are based on songs I’ve written.

One story, “Facebook Friends,” is about a musician who picks up a wretched hitchhiker. “Furlough Blues” is about an out-of-work sportswriter drawn into a drug ring. A co-ed runs off with a boyfriend who is up to no good in “Stuck in a Rut.”

Turning songs into stories may be as old as songs and stories. I haven’t heard of any short-story collections based on this premise, but I’m sure there’s one, or two, or five, out there somewhere.

Maybe nothing is truly original, but this is original to me.

(Steven Novak cover design)
(Steven Novak cover design)

COWBOYS COMES HOME (2016)

Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly are warriors, and the time for fighting is past. They’re cowboys, and when they get back home to Texas, the time for cowboys is passing, too.

Monte Dutton’s fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, begins on the island of Peleliu, where the two privates somehow manage to save themselves when cut off from their fellow Marines by the Japanese. Ennis and Harry come home to a hero’s welcome, but life gets complicated after that.

The Middlebrooks ranch, east of Janus, near the Oklahoma border, is rundown, and Ennis’s father is dying. Harry moves in, Mama Middlebrooks moves out, and Ennis takes a job as a deputy sheriff under a wise but aging lawman, Judson Lawson. His little sister, Becky, is wild beyond her years and takes an immediate shine to Harry, who is haunted by the war and prone to violence.

The closing of an Army base, Camp Ammons, is causing the town to die. The county loses nearly forty thousand infantry trainees and gains nearly sixty thousand acres. The ranchers it displaced are either long gone or too poor to purchase their land back. Men with political clout and money move in like vultures. Money buys influence and, with it, elections. Ennis Middlebrooks goes from sheriff in waiting to disgraced lawman.

He and his old Marine pal, Harry Byerly, decide to do something about it.

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (2017)

Many readers requested it. It matches the author’s generally acknowledged field of expertise. His sixth novel, Lightning in a Bottle, is about stock car racing.

Barrie Jarman is the hope of racing’s future because he is a link to its past.

The teen-aged native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is talented, articulate, intelligent, brash, and mischievous. To the image-conscious braintrust that runs the sport, Barrie is a wild Mustang – and, yes, he drives one – who must be broken.

Ain’t no way.

The yarn is told mostly through the narration of Uncle Charlie, a racing veteran who took in Barrie at age 16 and helped him get a shot at the big time. Only Charlie, it seems, can nudge Barrie in the right direction, and only Charlie knows when it’s time to get out of his way.

This novel, Dutton says, began as a shot in the dark. “I have another novel that is almost complete. One night in January, I was down in the dumps for a variety of reasons and had a sleepless night. Most of it was just brainstorming. Some of it I probably dreamed. I finally got up, gave up on sleeping, put some coffee on, and sat down to write the Prologue because I didn’t want to lose it.”

Writing the entire novel took less than three months. He finished it in two drafts. In the past, it took three. An editor agreed that it was ready.

LIFE GETS COMPLICATED (2017)

At the age of nineteen, Barrie Jarman has grown up in a hurry. He is poised on the edge of stock car racing stardom. He’s making ten times as much money as a year ago. He has a top-flight ride with a top-flight team in the top flight of the sport. He is exactly where he wants to be.

Life Gets Complicated. It’s veteran motorsports writer Monte Dutton’s sequel to Lightning in a Bottle, the acclaimed novel about the kid with the character of his generation but the spirit of stock car racing’s rowdy past.

At the end of Barrie’s frantic first year, he parties with his girlfriend, Angela Hughston; his best friend, her brother Errol; his new pilot, Rafe Trujillo; his teammate, veteran Jay Higbe; his estranged father, Big Jim; and a boozing old relic from the sport’s past. He befriends a pro football player at a Las Vegas awards ceremony. Life is good, and Barrie is often stoned.

Uncle Charlie, his friend, companion, confidante and source of perspective, quietly tries to keep Barrie headed in the right direction.

Barrie confronts the distinct possibility that he is a corruptive influence on those around him. He has little doubt about his own capacity to straighten up. He’s worried about Errol, though, who’s getting more bad influence on the side. Errol doesn’t know that Barrie is in a position to help him. Barrie doesn’t know if Errol is ready for a chance to join the Jerry McCarley Enterprises driver lineup.

When Barrie gets down to business, when he puts on his firesuit and climbs into Number 59, all seems well again. He puts his new Ford Fusion on the front row for the sport’s biggest race. After his new sponsor throws a party to celebrate, a pair of thugs beat Barrie senseless in a remote parking lot.

Barrie has more riding on the upcoming races than those outside his circle of friends know. He has to race. He can’t call the cops. He can’t let FASCAR, the ruling body, know how badly he’s injured. He drops out of sight. While he receives treatment in a condo on the beach, a fake excuse for his absence is circulated. Other excuses show up in a gossip sheet that has targeted him for some reason.

Obviously, Barrie has enemies.

Pain steels his resolve. Like the icons he grew up idolizing, Barrie does what it takes.

 

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