Tuesday, January 10, 2012

And For Your Reading Pleasure....

Tentative new cover design for Neo-Confederate.  That's Randy Stevenson all grown up, whom we first met at age seven, in Southern ManNeo-Confederate chronicles Randy's campaign for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from (fictional) Florida District Four (Jacksonville, Duval County and environs).  Read about the public announcement of his candidacy in the first-draft excerpt below.  I'm writing Neo-Confederate and its two prequels, Little Sister and Sweet Southern Boys, simultaneously to make sure there are no continuity issues.


The Terrace Shopping Center had been built in the early 1960s to house busy retail shops, five of them in an L-shaped structure wrapped around a concrete parking lot.  Almost fifty years later, the complex of flat-roofed, glass fronted units, renamed Terrace Plaza, served as offices for low-traffic tenants.

That would be a boon for the newest tenant, who would need more parking spaces than the other four combined.

Ramona Dorst, a freelance political dirt-digger, noticed things like that and her powers of observation were on high alert when she turned into the parking lot at Terrace Plaza. There were more vehicles parked here today than there had been in months, possibly years.

She purposely parked as far distant from the building as possible. The press pass on her dashboard, like the badge hanging from a lanyard around her neck, was as phony as a three dollar bill. Fortunately, nobody ever noticed that because she always parked far away from the action she was to observe, and her personal badge had been legitimate once.

A wide concrete sidewalk ran in front of the plate glass storefronts, separated from the curb by a strip of struggling grass. The metal canopy above it was a fortuitous element for the twenty five or thirty people gathered on the walkway, as the sky was overcast and intermittent drizzle had occurred throughout the day. Sporting jackets and sweaters against the 40-degree chill, they stood in front of the middle office on the long ell, between a transcription service and a mortgage broker. Along with purses and umbrellas, they carried candidate yard signs and American flags.

At the edge of the sidewalk, facing the parking lot, stood a boxy wooden podium draped with political bunting. Red and white mums in pots wrapped with blue foil sat at the base of the podium. Above, fastened to the edge of the sidewalk canopy, a ten-foot banner proclaimed the candidate's name and the the office he pursued.

The choice of a location for campaign headquarters could tell things about a candidate -- how much money he or she had and how well he gauged public perception. Randy Stevenson was a political newcomer and thus a totally unknown entity. What this very short, preliminary observation of his campaign headquarters told Ramona was that the had more style than money, perhaps even a touch of chichi. But in the end, style didn't win elections.

Stevenson had blanketed the 4th district with notices of his announcement. Every media outlet -- online, cable, broadcast and print -- as well as government officials at all levels and the Republican party machine had received them. Ramona learned this little tidbit of information from an acquaintance who worked at Republican party headquarters.

Apparently, the notices had generated little interest in the event. Representatives of the fourth estate were gathering under a canvas shelter set up in the parking lot, but they amounted to no more than a six, maybe eight, people.

The Fox affiliate, WAWS-TV, had sent a minimal crew. A couple of dudes from a low-power Christian radio station were on hand and several local print publications were represented by reporters with digital cameras and sound recorders. Surprisingly, Jacksonville's newspaper of record, the Post Herald, had sent a reporter, an ambitious female newbie Ramona had met briefly several weeks before.

There had been no rain since Ramona arrived, but she looped the strap of an umbrella around her wrist, hitched her purse over her shoulder, and took her video camera, already wrapped in its rain protector, in hand. She stepped between vehicles slick with mist to join the meager press corps setting up beneath the canvas shelter. She didn't have to set up. Her expensive digital camera with a highly sensitive directional microphone, required only that she look through the viewfinder and press the record button.

A young woman with a candidate pin on her lapel stood in a corner of the shelter and distributed pocket folders to media reps as they arrived.  Press kits, no doubt. Ramona slid the one she was given into her oversized purse for later perusal. Right now, while she waited with an eye on the office door flanked with U.S. and Florida flags, she wanted to get some footage of the people gathered on the sidewalk. She raised the camera to her eye and pressed record.

There were several preschool children, bored and twitchy but reasonably well behaved. Perhaps half a dozen or so of the adults were of retirement age, the rest in their thirties and forties. They seemed evenly divided between men and women.

Ramona couldn't help but notice that it was a very white gathering. She spotted a couple of women who could possibly be Hispanic, and a lone black man in suit and tie who apparently knew these people personally and was comfortable with them, but that was it for diversity and inclusion among Stevenson supporters.

At three on the dot, the door opened.   A couple of thirty-something men stepped out and she got excellent footage of their arrival on the scene. One of them, dark haired and uncommonly good-looking, was stylishly dressed in a brown tweed suit and a tan raincoat that reached the middle of his calves. The other, whose loosely curled blond hair seemed somewhat frizzled by the humidity, sported more casual attire -- bone-colored chinos and a russet corduroy blazer.  Candidate buttons adorned their lapels.

Their identity was unknown to Ramona and she had little time to study them further because they were followed immediately by a man and woman who had to be Mr and Mrs. Candidate, judging by the cheers and clapping from the crowd.

Randy Stevenson was both courtly and foxy in a charcoal gray suit, maroon tie and white shirt. His black hair was a bit long, a bit touseled -- perhaps that's where the foxy element came from. That and his broad shoulders and taut, slender physique. Ramona resisted the urge to use the hackneyed description, charismatic, after seeing him only a few seconds. Nevertheless, he projected an indefinable magnetism that couldn't be denied.

Beside him, clad in a classic suit of midnight blue, his wife, while not beautiful, nevertheless projected a similar aura of visual appeal. Ramona looked forward to studying the footage she was shooting to deconstruct the Stevensons' powerful attractiveness.

Instead of stepping to the podium, Stevenson gradually made his way down the crowd, pausing to talk or shake hands, accept hugs and peck female cheeks. At one point, he shared a manly embrace with a handsome gentleman, dark haired but graying at the temples, and traded kisses with a woman standing beside him. Their behavior said parents and son, as their appearance did.

He bent slightly to heft into his arms a little girl with long black hair, her forehead covered with a thick fringe of bangs. She laughed as he spoke to her while walking to the podium, where he set her on her feet, and The Wife took her hand. They stood slightly behind the candidate to his right and when Mrs. Stevenson turned to the side, Ramona realized that she was pregnant and just beginning to show.

The two men who had come out with the candidate stood to his left, speaking to each other in tones too low to carry to anyone else. Somehow, they managed to convey both smugness and excitement, but there was a hint of attitude about their expressions and demeanor when they looked over the press corps, such as it was. Protection, Ramona guessed. Even political nobodies insisted on security these days. She wondered if they had firearms stashed beneath their coats. Probably.

At the podium, Stevenson cut his eyes to them and they returned his look. Not a word was spoken, but communication nevertheless took place, no doubt about it. Significant communication. More than security, then. More than hirelings or acquaintances or campaign volunteers. These two would bear looking into.

In the viewfinder, the candidate's eyes swept the press representatives before him but if he was disappointed by the paltry attendance, he didn't show it. Resting his hands on edges of the podium, he said, "Thank you for coming out. My name is Randy Stevenson, and I'm here to announce my candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives, Florida District Four."

Applause rose up from the gathering behind him.

"I have never held or run for office. I'm running now because our federal government is out of control...."

His spoke with a classic Southern accent -- the type Hollywood actors sought to emulate, usually with little success. That marked him as an outsider in Jacksonville, where speech patterns were highly influenced by Navy personnel and retirees from elsewhere, and northern transplants. His was the dialect of the coastal plain.

A low-end sound system comprising a microphone on a stand atop the lectern, a hidden amplifier and small speakers tucked among the mums, was sufficient to carry his voice to the press tent. The volume of his mid-range timbre suggested he was soft-spoken most of the time, but Ramona suspected he'd have no problem projecting without the amplification. He was not a novice at public speaking.

Even as she appreciated the way Stevenson spoke, behind her camera, Ramona rolled her eyes at what he was saying. Standard Republican stuff -- government too big, out of control, jeopardizing the people's liberty, too much taxing, too much spending, mortgaging our children's future...

Nope, there were no surprises in what he said, but Ramona was struck by one thing. The sincerity -- the conviction -- with which he said them. Maybe he was green enough to be a true believer. If so, he'd find out soon enough about the reality of politics.

Copyright © 2012 by Connie Chastain. All rights reserved. Excerpt is unedited and may differ from published version.
More Excerpts

Southern Man   --   At the Scoreboard Tavern    ~    Playmates to Friends
Sweet Southern Boys   --  Incident At a Riverside Party
 Little Sister  --  Ainsley Comes Home
 Neo-Confederate  --  Randy's Decision

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