Finding Fidelity

 After five years of religiously working a well-worn thrift store circuit during my lunch hour, I had unearthed and polished thousands of black vinyl gems. But the crown jewel continued to allude me. Don McLean’s magnum opus American Pie was not among the thousands of LPs on my shelves. And while I’d snagged plenty of choice picks from the malaise of substandard standards that comprised the predictable thrift store record selection, I’d never flipped to that unforgettable thumb. 

My father had long since bartered his (and Peter’s) records for two months’ rent at the antique mart where he maintained a stall. So, that fateful copy was out of reach. I could easily buy it from an auction site or record shop, but that would be sacrilege. The vast majority of my records were strays rescued from thrift store bins. I washed them, cleaned the dust jackets, removed the price stickers, repaired the split seams, and stored them in archival sleeves to be enjoyed forever. Someday…I would save the record that saved me. Acquiring it any other way would be pointless. 

Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

All The Men Stayed

Advantage XX

Everybody has a dream. Without question, a little girls dream involves a Prince Charming; her knight in shining armor. Fast forward, a moment if you will. There have been years of dating and dreaming and searching and finding. Finally the painstaking meeting occurs in which a young man asks a father for his daughters hand in marriage. A blessing is given and forever is promised…. until death do us part. And although love brought this couple together, family approved and God blessed it, it is real life that tore them apart. 

Advantage XY

So there was once a young man. As most young men do, he dreamed of many young women. Yet over time, the various young women that occupied a place in his heart’s imagination became just one celestial creature. She populated his dreams and provided him everything he desired. 

Those were innocent days. 

All the love he ever needed spawned from daydreams about night things. It always satisfied the bent yearnings of a young man starved for physical love; it had to. As much as he wanted a living breathing heroine to play to his heroic stance, he was terribly introverted and not nearly as consciously bold as he was when unconsciousness embolden him. Like all men, he stumbled when trying to translate fantasy into reality. 

Those were bewildering days. 

Sentient women – real women – would come eventually. But they dealt in only immaculate heartbreak and codependent pageantry; it was nothing like the illusory productions of his youth. The young man found that he was not well equipped to deal in one-way love, regardless of the direction. 

Those were arduous days. 

In the end, building the foundation of a union on friendship seemed preferable to lust or drama. Rather than an endlessly searching for a soul mate, it seemed prudent to settle for a first mate. But sensibility rarely yields fulfillment. Discontent inevitably afflicted a home rife with friends, family and frenzy – how is that possible? And although love brought this couple together, family approved and God blessed it, it is real life that tore them apart. 

Excerpt from All the Men Stayed, the forthcoming novel—a collaboration between Blake Donley & Cyndi Nickey

I’m an Author

I’m an author

On a 104-key QWERTY keyboard I scribe

I’m writing

Gratis or for bribe

Born and Raised – The Redux

Even in the bewildering epoch between childhood and womanhood, she knew her home was not home. Once a month, Sam found herself dragged along to her mother’s hair appointment. Parked in one of the bright green Naugahyde chairs arranged like fence posts bordering the rectangular reception area of the salon, Sam would sit and wait. She couldn’t help but notice issues of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and BAZAAR scattered atop the glass and chrome table in the center of the area. Observing others casually leafing through magazines as they waited, she eventually mustered the courage to snatch one for herself and thumb through it. She became obsessed at what she found within the two-dimensional world of international style and fashion.

Saturated in whispers of small-town gossip from the cackling hens, rays of sun flooding through the picture window, and waves of nicotine haze from the parade of Virginia Slims that assaulted her coming and going, she could escape to Paris for fashion week, the beach for the latest swimwear designs, or Cali for a preview of the latest North Beach Leather line from Michael Hoban. His glassy, colorful, and new age second-skin creations captivated her best. She eagerly awaited the “Fall Fashion Preview” headline that was plastered over the covers of the lobby rags at the tail-end of each summer. She was nearly desperate to see what new lustrous eye candy he’d dreamed up and the models who brought it all to life.

Sam never knew what it was about leather specifically, but the lighting, angles, and action of the photos appeared otherworldly—a world she desperately wanted to see for herself. All of it was so foreign to her current circumstance or future prospects. She could scarcely believe any of it was happening anywhere on the same planet where her mundane life was plodding forth.  

The magazines stoked a smoldering desire to see anything beyond the 5 state Midwest region consisting of WI, MN, ND, SD, IA (and sometimes IL) that had so far confined her. It bewildered Sam that her parents would venture as far as the Black Hills on a summer road trip, when it would’ve been quicker to drive to Thunder Bay—it wasn’t another planet, but at least it was another country. As it was, Eau Claire seemed like a bucolic gulag. 

 In nearly every sense, Sam was more backpack-Europe than college material. In sixth grade, standing in her choir robe in front of the congregation at Concordia Lutheran Chruch, she looked up toward the heavens and dreamed of the bustling hostels, breathtaking vistas, and historic beauty. Under her bed, she kept a secret wish book—in actuality, a three-ring-binder nabbed from her father’s office—chocked full of clippings from the magazines at the hair salon. Before her mother announced they were going to the salon, she would slide a pair of scissors she’d lifted from school into her jeans or coat pocket. Leafing through the pages, if she saw an image she coveted, she’d surreptitiously slice along the spine, tear it out, fold it ever-so-gently, and pocket it. Even when she was old enough to stay home alone, she eagerly accompanied her mother to the salon to see what new magazines adorned the glass table.

Back at home, she’d sneak into her father’s office and use the three-hole punch to make the requisite puncture and add it to her wish book. On any given evening after lights-out, with flashlight in hand, she’d flip through photos of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the bridges and canals of Amsterdam. Leather-clad models strutting the catwalks of Paris, Rome, and London broke up the monotony of European landmarks.  To Sam, it all seemed as wonderful as it was impossible. 

For years, she lusted after her own private European adventure to commence the minute she received her high school diploma. She even squirreled away every penny she earned in a shabby cigar box that she hid under her bed next to her bursting Euro fantasy binder. But the drudgery of a diabolical Scandinavian-Lutheran upbringing slowly wrung the wont for adventure right out of her.

In one way or another, Sam was destined for Eau Claire and Eau Claire was destined for her. An insistent mother and overbearing father pleaded with her to accept Tony’s proposal of marriage. Brow-beaten by her folks and convinced, due to a lack of collective imagination, that Tony was the best she could do, she let go the last vestiges of her vagabond soul. Sam would settle for the arrogant undersized brute who, like a used car salesman, fast-talked her into a cheap and broken-down marriage. Apparently, she was fated to become Mrs. Anthony Wolf of Eau Claire, WI.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Lipstick Sunset – The Redux

If I lay here forever, this can’t end, she thought, in vain. 

If I never give up this room, it will be mine, forever

She pulled the covers over her face. 

If I stay here, who will miss me? 

But he’d have to stay with me… 

The thought scored her heart. She felt like she was bleeding internally. She’d never lost anyone who didn’t want her gone. She felt the desperation of young lovers torn apart at the end of a perfect summer tryst. 

Sam slammed her fists into the mattress and resented the tears that streamed from her eyes. The sheet covering her face snatched each droplet before it could tumble down her temple. She resented that as well. She wanted to savor this exquisite misery. 

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

The Dance

It’s weird. It’s surprising. It’s nearly paradoxical. But there is a whole heap of fear and loathing among writers about the act of writing. As creative writing instructor Larry Donner says in the epic Throw Mama From the Train,

Remember, a writer writes, always.

This seems so evident as to be absurd, and yet it ain’t. As my favorite author David Foster Wallace (R.I.P.) said about his days teaching college-level creative writing courses (I’m sorta paraphrasing),

A lot of my advanced creative writing students like the idea of being a writer much more than actually writing anything.

Full disclosure, unlike Wallace’s advanced creative writing co-eds, I went in THE entirely opposite direction: I majored in Management Information Systems (a.k.a. IT). I was a geek for 20 years. Then, about exactly a decade ago—love does funny things to a man—I once again fell in love with writing as an escape, a lark, a lifeline to the past. It was easy, as it was not the foundation of my identity. I didn’t have to write to pay the light bill, and therefore, I wrote fearlessly with vigor and abandon.

But I mostly wrote essays.

Essays are nice. You can laser-focus on an argument, an idea, or a swift vignette and knock it out in an evening (or so). Over the course of a decade, I probably wrote a few hundred of them. Some of them were actually pretty great (if I do say so myself). But many of them were just mental masturbation for my own amusement.

Then, one day, I started a book.

Then, a year later, half done with my book, I accidentally started another one.

Then, a year later, I finished the “another one”.

Now, I’m editing it.

As compared to writing essays, writing a book is a differently colored horse to be sure. Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, who was an American novelist, editor, and professor, and best known internationally for his works of historical fiction (thanks Wikipedia) once said,

Writing is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Yep, that’s pretty much the most succinct analogy for writing a novel ever.

And, so, you pretty much need to get into your car each night and drive somewhere with only your headlights to illuminate the journey. But for me, and most writers, it’s not as easy as just hopping into the car, turning the key, and carefully backing out of the garage. Sometimes, just finding the door to the garage is a struggle. Sometimes, you just stare at the car keys on the kitchen table as you drink bourbon all night.

I have thought a lot lately about the notion of “What is writing a book like?” For me, the car analogy is great, but it’s not apropos (enough). My version is more like this,

Writing is like asking a girl to dance. There is an alluring girl across the room. You want to ask her to dance. You are all nerves and diffidence. She is intimidating, she is captivating, and she is surely out of your league. So you ruminate, you shuffle from side to side, and you curse your two left feet. But at some point, you marshal the courage to look in her direction—to really see her. She is looking back at you. You immediately refocus on your feet, your face shades crimson, and your palms heat. A thousand butterflies take flight somewhere deep in your gut. When you dare to steal another glance, her beauty stirs your desire over your inadequacy. Eventually, your resolve boils over and you casually walk in her direction. She spots you and quickly averts her eyes. But she rejoins your gaze as you close the once impossible gap. You introduce yourself, you politely ask her to dance, and she graciously accepts. The first steps are awkward. But you quickly fall into a lusty rhythm. And as you dance the night away, you can’t fathom why you waited so long to ask her.

Writing is like that.

Copyright © 2020 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley

Another One Bites the Dust – The Tridux

The thought of starting her own business with Kendra was as exciting as the thought of going back to Eau Claire and never again seeing these impossible people was excruciating. The whole thing made her ache at some foundational level that encompassed the heart, mind, and soul, especially.

She desperately wanted another drink, but she was already plastered, and the clock on her nightstand was creeping toward 5:00 AM. She flung her blankets toward the opposite corner of the bed and wobbled out. Shedding her hoodie, she marched a zigzag path to Sid’s room. He was sleeping on his side facing toward the window. The moonlight was playing on the strands of his disheveled hair. She slid under his blankets and pressed her naked body against his. He was as warm as she’d hoped.

Sid never so much as flinched, but Sam’s heartache, apprehension, and tension dissolved. There was a strange synergy between two people sleeping in the same bed. Even if neither was conscious, the connection of the sleeping souls, as a result of subconscious proximity, was undeniable. Nuzzled against Sid’s neck, her breasts pressed against his broad shoulders, Sam began to experience hypnagogic hallucinations before a complete loss of consciousness silenced the electrical storm in her head. At that blip in the slipstream, she was exactly where she needed to be.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

The Eponymous Hippopotamus


Africa is a continent in the southern hemisphere.
Kenya is a country in Africa.
The Masai Mara Reserve is a wildlife reserve in Kenya.
Lake Nakuru is a soda lake in the Masai Mara Reserve.
Wendell and Steve were in Lake Nakaru.
Well, Wendell was.



Wendell was a hippopotamus.
Steve was an oxpecker.
Wendell was big and gray with a pinkish hue.
Steve was small and brown with a brilliant red-tipped yellow beak.
Wendell spent most of his days cooling his chubby frame in the lake.
Steve spent most of his days perched on Wendell.



Everyone called Wendell “Big Daddy”, except Steve.
Wendell had a wife named Beula, but he called her “Boo”.
Wendell had a son named James, but he called him “Jay”.
Wendell had a daughter named Margot, but he called her “Mags”.
Wendell had an oxpecker named Steve, and he called him “Steve”.
Steve had Wendy and Boo and Jay and Mags.



Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Wendell’s back.
Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Boo’s back.
Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Jay’s back.
Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Mags’ back.
Steve was busy and happy and very well-fed.
Wendell and Boo and Jay and Mags were happy and very healthy.



Wendell and his family lived with other hippopotamuses.
A group of hippopotamuses is called a pod.
There were 10 other hippopotamus families in their pod.
The pod attracted many oxpeckers like Steve.
But Steve was loyal to Wendell and his family.
And they were loyal to him.



Wendell had his family.
The other hippopotamuses in the pod had families.
The other oxpeckers who hung around the pod had families.
The other animals—lions and tigers and giraffes—had families.
It seemed like everyone on the savanna had families.
Steve had no family.



Steve once had a family.
Her name was Harriet.
She flew away one day and never returned.
Steve was sad when he thought of her.
Steve missed her.
But she obviously didn’t miss him.



One hot day, Wendell was in the lake.
Steve was perched on his head.
Steve was not eating ticks or flies or anything nasty.
Steve was just staring at shore of the lake.
Steve was not the same old busy happy Steve.
Wendell knew something was wrong.



“What’s wrong buddy?” Wendell asked.
“Nothing,” Steve sighed.
Wendell knew this was not true.
Wendell knew it was a “nothing” that really meant “something”.
“You can tell me, I’m your friend,” Wendell said.
“I don’t have a family,” Steve said.



Wendell scrunched up his big nose, then said, “What do you mean?”
Steve pinched shut his small beak, then said, “You have Boo and Jay and Mags.”
Wendell thought about this, then said, “Yes, I do.”
Steve sighed again, then said, “I have no one.”
Wendell thought about this, then said, “Yes, you do.”
Steve pinched shut his small beak, then said, “Who?”



Wendell said, “Us!”
Steve said, “Well…I’m not a hippopotamus.”
Wendell said, “So…I’m not an oxpecker.”
Steve said, “So…we can’t be family.”
Wendell said, “Well…you are.”
Steve said, “How?”



Steve hopped to the tip of Wendell’s big nose and looked into his big dark eyes.
Wendell explained to Steve that a family was more than just relatives.
Yes, family was grandpas and grandmas and dads and moms and sons and daughters.
Yes, family was uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces and cousins and cousins.
But, family was also those whom we love the most even if they weren’t grandmas or grandpas or moms or dads or daughters or sons or aunts or uncles or nieces or nephews or cousins and cousins.
Steve looked off at the shore of the lake and thought about this, a lot.



Boo and Jay and Mags swam up alongside Wendell.
Steve’s small eyes darted between Wendell’s and Boo’s and Jay’s and Mags’ big eyes.
Wendell wiggled his big nose.
Steve’s small eyes focused on Wendell’s big eyes.
Wendell said, “We are your family!”
Boo and Jay and Mags nodded their big heads in agreement.



Steve was smiling.
Steve was happy.
Steve was home.
Steve felt like a family.
Steve felt like a hippopotamus.
Steve felt like a superstar!



Steve had a big smile on his beak.
Wendell said, “If you’re in our family, you need a nickname?”
Steve said, “OK! What is it?”
Wendell thought for a minute, then said, “Hippopotamus Steve.”
Steve did a little dance in the tip of Wendell’s big nose.
They had an oxpecker named Hippopotamus Steve, but they called him “Hippo Steve”.

Another One Bites the Dust – The Redux

As they all approached the bend leading toward the conclusion of her harrowing and magical evening, the repetition of the chorus swaddled Sam in sense of reckless comfort. She had fleeting seconds to soak it all in, but it was just enough. She’d never fronted a band of any configuration or clique. The closest she’d gotten was singing with Sid in Minneapolis, and that seemed like a 50/50 proposition at best.

This felt different.

Entirely different.

To sing solo was to be the engine of a train with nothing attached—just a transient vessel going from point A to point B, carrying the entire load of her instrument and her songs and her versions of other people’s songs.

Singing with Sid was different. Adding just one car imbued Sam with the confidence of a fallback plan. Or at a minimum, a useful distraction if her wheels slipped a bit.

But fronting a band—she was coupled to an entire train. She was the lodestar of the convoy, but there was glorious momentum behind her. As she chanted the chorus and strutted before the crowd, Sam felt the thrust of the various instruments. It was an energy that afforded her unimaginable longitude and latitude. She was doing things as a lead singer that she could’ve never imagined as a coffee-house singer songwriter.

It was pure verve. With a microphone in her hand and the band at her back, she was the embodiment of it all, and the throng of Amsterdammers saw only her.

She knew it.

It was decadent, intoxicating, and most assuredly all that.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Dancing Queen

Like the rest of the servers, a crisply uniformed automaton bartender presented their drinks in a manner so efficient, Kenny wondered if their motions were being choreographed by a central consciousness. He mainlined half his G&T on the first lift. He dropped the remaining half of his drink on the bar and turned his attention back to Sam, who was gingerly placing her beer on the bar.

“Have you ever had an experience that was so amazing, eye-opening, transforming, that you couldn’t seem to recover?” she asked.

Kenny dove to the bottom of his G&T, as he slipped into a state of deep contemplation. He quickly swallowed his way back to the surface, as he motioned for another. He knew exactly what Sam meant. He knew it, because of a chance encounter at a record store that found him living in Amsterdam with a woman who felt like his. In the split-second remaining before his eagerly anticipated response, he back-flashed to the night he met Maud—the night she rode back to the flat with them in the van. He recalled crossing the bedroom threshold with her in tow. With all its ecstatic nerves and base desire, that first moment standing in the filtered moonlight was still fresh enough to relish. He reimagined Maud sliding her index finger under his chin and coaxing his mouth onto hers. Her erotic chutzpah still reached out and yanked him back into the past. It was as delightfully shocking to him in reverie as it was in person. He still couldn’t believe a girl like her was with a big lug like him.

Why me? He thought as he thought.

His mind was then tickled by the memory of her nearly obscene striptease. On that fateful evening, at his impressive blood-alcohol level, he had a hard time believing his eyes were not playing tricks. He flushed as he recollected her skillful disrobing of him. In less than a minute, that evening’s dry but sweat-stained rock star clothes were in a pile near his feet. He could still feel his embarrassment at his condition and his yearning to shower before she touched him. But she ignored it, brushed it aside even, as she dropped to her knees and fellated him at the foot of the bed—his condition be dammed. He recalled the way she took charge of his awkward body and directed it do precisely what she needed. He had never been so expertly manipulated emotionally, physically, and intellectually. It was all he’d never dreamed of, because he didn’t know any of it was possible for guys like him. But once he knew, he couldn’t unknow it, he couldn’t breathe without it. He needed the zeitgeist of the evening to extend beyond the remainder of his days. And for that to happen, he had to claim this woman who’d so deftly manipulated him.

Luckily, she wanted to be his.

And so, she was.

And so, he knew all about amazing, eye-opening, transforming experiences that left you unable to recover.

Sam took Kenny’s pause to mean he presumed her question rhetorical. It was not, so she pressed on, “I feel like I’m battling this perpetual hangover. I’m hung over Amsterdam. I miss the city, I miss the people, I miss our flat. Fuck do I miss smoking joints and drinking wine our little rooftop patio! I’m hung over being a rock star—the rock star standing out front and kicking ass. Being a backup singer is not nearly the same thing. It’s something like slinking back into the shadows after you’ve bathed the center stage spotlight. It’s totally lackluster. And I’m hung over him—that leather-coated, sexy, smirking, fucker,” Sam reached out and grabbed Kenny’s arm, she looked stricken, “I can’t shake his ghost. It lives with me, it sleeps beside me, it haunts me!” Sam tapped her chest with her free hand to emphasize each point, “I need a fucking exorcism or something to move on. This tour’s been hell dragging it around with me from city to city. I get a break for an hour or two every now and then, but then boo! There it is again,” Sam pulled both of her hands in front of her shoulders and flared them outward to punctuate the “boo!

Kenny flinched slightly, then nodded, “Yea, I know, probably better than anyone. Why—”

Sam interrupted, “Some nights I wake up drowning in equal parts sweat and Heineken after dreaming that ghostly fucker is on top of me with his hands around my neck choking the life out of me. Some mornings, over coffee and Advil, I plot a reunion where I choke the life out of him in some sleazy motel on the outskirts of Eau Claire. After I screw his brains out, of course.”

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley