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

Soda Pop Girl

When the Uber driver plunged his finger into the doorbell at the street-level door, Sam and Kendra were sitting in the window seat. Sam wanted to soak up the magic of that space one last time, linger in that atmosphere just a moment longer. She’d yearn for its calming aura for months.

Sam kissed Kendra on the cheek as the driver wrestled her unwieldy suitcase down the hilariously narrow stairway. Kendra handed Sam her carry-on, “Show them, show them all what a kid from Eau Claire can do—make us all proud!”

“I’ll do my best,” Sam said with an air of uncertainly that was not lost on Kendra.
“You’ll do fine, just fine” Kendra assured her.

They hugged, and Kendra watched as Sam clomped down the stairs in her black leather Frye boots.

Sam started fumbling with her portable CD player and the CDs. Her plan was to listen and practice during the 110-minute drive to MSP International. But as Nissan Juke pulled out onto the uncongested main drag, she knew that would be impossible.

“I’m Ken, so you’re headed to the airport?”
Jesus, Sam thought, a master of the obvious. And what’s with all the Maud’s and Ken’s.
“Yep,” Sam answered from the back seat.
“Where ya goin’?”
“Why Rome?”
“Gray Davidson.”
“Gray Davidson?”
“Know him?”
“The singer?”
“He’s interesting.”
“He’s awesome!”
“He’s pretentious.”
“Who isn’t.”
“I’m not.”
“Ya sure?”
“Not really.”
“You’ve met him?”
“I’ve met him.”
“He’s totally amazing!”
“He’s totally gay.”

Sam was dumbstruck that she said that out loud. She punched herself in the shoulder.

“I thought so.”
“I couldn’t tell—”
“He’s very private.”
“When we met.”
“He’s a fantastic singer.”
“I’m his backup singer.”
“What? Seriously? On tour?”
“Meeting him in Rome.”
“That’s some crazy shit!”
“Believe me; It is!”
“How’d you meet him?”
“During shows, in Amsterdam.”
“You’re from Eau Claire?”
“Hard to believe, right?”

The driver shook his head, fiddled with something in the front seat, and popped a Gray Davidson CD into the dashboard CD player just below the navigation screen that was barking out directions. Sam heard a nauseatingly familiar melody emanating from the speakers.

“My kids won’t believe it.”
“They listen to Gray Davidson?”
“I do, so they do.”
“Ha, I know the feeling.”
“Ha, I’ll bet you do.”

Sam held up one of the CDs she’d received in the mail. It caught the sun and bounced it back at the rear-view mirror temporarily blinding the driver. He glanced up at the rear-view mirror

“He sent me this CD.”
“Cool, what’s all on it?”
“The tour setlist, I guess.”
“Holy crap, that’s pretty awesome!”
“Not if you’ve heard it endlessly.”
“That wouldn’t bother me at all.”
“Want it? I don’t need it.”
“You serious? I’d love to have it!”

Sam passed the CD to Ken, who reached over his shoulder to eagerly accept the one-of-a-kind Gray Davidson collectible. He briefly examined the CD cover which was white with bold black printing that read: “Fall/Winter European Tour Setlist”. Ken deftly opened the CD with his free hand to reveal a gold disc with the set list printed on it.

“Jesus, this is totally friggin’ awesome!”
“Glad to be rid of it.”
“Will you sign it for me?”
“You got a Sharpie on ya?”
“I think in the glove compartment.”
“Mine are packed in my bag.”

Sam’s memory flashed to the scene in Amsterdam when Sid lectured her on always carrying a Sharpie. A small ache emanated from some deep recess of her heart and pulsed outward through every vein in her body.

Ken rummaged in the glove compartment with his free hand. He produced a blue sharpie marker, which he passed to Sam.

“Personalize it, or just my signature?”
“To Ken, would be great.”
“To Ken it is then.”

Sam paused to contemplate the comic significance of her second fan signature. For a beat, she thought about starting a signature diary. She quickly determined that, depending on the trajectory of her singing career, maintaining such a ledger would either be depressing or impossible. She eschewed the thought and signed Ken’s CD. She handed it back to him.

“Mind if I play it?”
“I need the practice, sure.”
“That’s so cool, seriously!”
“It’s really not cool, seriously.”
“It’s cool for me, seriously!”
“I’m happy for you, seriously.”

They both chuckled like old friends. With his free hand, Ken ejected his Gray Davidson CD, carefully replaced it in the jewel case, and inserted the freshly autographed setlist CD bearing Sam’s cerulean signature.

“You gonna sing along?”
“You OK with that?”
“Please do! Please do!”
“Practice makes perfect, apparently…”
“That’s what they say.”

The first notes of the first song began to flood the interior of the Ken’s curvy compact SUV. The intro to the first song was unexpectedly long. It was a version of the obvious Gray Davidson lid-lifter tune that Ken had never heard. He decided to take a shot at clever.

“Who are they?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yea, me either.”
“I’ll shut up.”
“I’ll sing, backup.”
“Very cool.”
“Let’s hope.”

As the first chorus approached, Sam readied herself to serenade this perfect stranger while the two of them spend down I-94 toward MSP International. And as she melded her voice into the harmonies cascading from Ken’s car stereo speakers, Ken sunk into his seat to enjoy the makeshift private concert.

20 songs and 100 minutes later, Ken was exiting toward Terminal 1. He hadn’t uttered a word since “cool”. He swung his head around briefly as the jam that preceded the departures lanes met them.

“Wow…just wow! That was the thrill of a lifetime!”

Sam was caught off-guard, she blushed, “Oh, thanks, it couldn’t have been that great, a cappella and all.”

“That made it great—a cappella and all.”
“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“You can sing in the back of my car anytime.”

They both laughed.

“But seriously, you are gifted…like really gifted. Some of your accompaniment was touching, beautiful, I was blown away.”

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

All Apologies

Sam exited onto I-94 and headed toward home. She couldn’t help but feel like a star-crossed co-ed returning to college on the heels of a whirlwind summer romance. She was traversing that excruciating expanse between exquisite heartache and ominous responsibility. It was a most agonizing and sickening space to be—mourning a past and future that were incompatible. As she sped into the dusk, she sat in silence and ached. It was all she could manage.

The 90 minutes of arrhythmic hills, occasionally flatlining for infinite stretches, did little to meliorate Sam’s condition. Veering off Hwy 37 onto Hwy 12 and coasting down the hill toward the Chippewa River felt like an inmate’s bus ride to prison. Granted, Sam had a fool-proof escape plan already arranged, but she resented the time-served she was about to endure.

As many times as she’d crossed the bridge over the Chippewa River at twilight, Sam still reveled in the majesty of the college campus that crowded the opposite bank. In a bedroom community like Eau Claire, the collegians were its parasitic life-blood. They provided the life that sucked all the marrow from the parochial riverside outpost.

While Sam searched for a parking spot, the brave and the clueless undergrads from across the river bobbed and weaved down the gutters and alleys like errant bowling balls in search of the truth that could only be found at the bottom of a $3 pint of beer.

Sam pulled into a spot around the block from her apartment. As small and cloistered as Minneapolis felt, Eau Claire felt downright claustrophobic. Pausing for a beat on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Water St., the first whiff of small-town stench leveled her and jolted her back into her grand-scheme irrelevance. She began to drag her luggage and lug her guitar case down the block. In the process, she dodged gaggles of giggling co-eds, mobs of dudes stinking of testosterone and stale beer, and the occasional couple pretending that there was culture to be had in the bowels of the college town. Arriving at the doorway to her tiny refuge above the coffee shop + wine bar felt the cherry on top of her latest descent.

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


Lipstick Sunset

Bending down, and resting his chin on Sam’s shoulder, Sid whispered into her ear, “So are you the newest member of Gray Davidson’s band?” 

Sam reached around his neck and pulled him into her nook even further. She stuck her tongue into his ear, swirled it a bit, and whispered, “Yes, but I’d rather tour with you.” 

“I’d rather tour with you too,” Sid agreed. 

The very notion sent a wave of warmth cascading from just above her eyelids to just beyond her thighs. It nearly caused her to jolt in her seat. 

“I may take you up on that offer,” Sam said with her lips askew in a mischievous smile. And that was the last moment she’d be able to recall from the evening. 

She’d be rescued by the ever-vigilant Maud after passing out in the restroom stall. 
She’d be loaded into the van by Sid and Kenny.
She’d be carried up to her bedroom by Sid and Kenny.
She’d be stripped, kissed, and put to bed by Sid.
She’d miss the final grandiose conversation on the rooftop patio.
She’d miss Kenny’s big announcement about moving to Amsterdam.
She’d miss the parade of joints making their way around the bistro table. 

She’d endure a disquieting dream of vague impenetrable revelry that she could only covet while some unforeseen urgency demanded her attention. As she tossed and turned, as she wrestled with the daunting amorphousness just below the surface of consciousness, she desperately wished to be rescued and delivered to the revelry. But the unforeseen urgency blocked her ascendancy to the raucous fray—her dream, as her self, was forlorn. 

The dream carried on like that all night long, just as Sid, Kenny, and Maud carried on all night long, just beyond Sam’s grasp. 

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