A Stop in the Park by Peggy Strack
Peggy Strack writes popular fiction about challenges people face in the fast-paced and daunting contemporary world. She is excited to launch her debut novel, A Stop in the Park, the story of Michael and Jaime Stolis, a disillusioned married couple who yearn to escape the trap of the modern American dream. Peggy hosts the award winning blog, “Kick Back Moments,” for the Saratogian Newspaper. She studied fiction at Skidmore College, The New York State Writers Institute and East Line Books and Literary Center. She is a speech-language pathologist living in Saratoga Springs, NY with her husband, Keith. Peggy has two adults sons enjoys an active lifestyle that includes hiking, kayaking, and skiing.
Touching, romantic, and deeply provocative, A Stop in the Park, follows the story of a man and a woman who yearn to escape the trap of the modern American dream.
Michael Stolis, a DC attorney, is frustrated by twelve hour work days, tightly scheduled weekends and his family’s chaotic habits. He explodes over minor irritations like being stuck in traffic, and his tantrums need to stop. His disillusioned wife, Jamie, is sick of his anger outbursts, and wants him out of her life. Michael longs to reignite the passionate love they once felt for each other. Jamie prefers to spend her time fostering illicit Internet relationships. Michael had simply followed his Greek father’s instructions for a successful life, but something went terribly wrong. A lucrative career, a Georgetown brownstone and a BMW coupe didn’t deliver happiness as promised.
When his family is about to implode, Michael finds hope through Rufus, an astute retired bus driver he meets over a game of blitz chess in Dupont Circle. Michael is intrigued by Rufus’s prescription for fulfillment, but is it too late to change a life, chase a dream, revive a marriage? Michael must decide how much he is prepared to lose if he embarks on a quest so very different from the world he created. Touching, romantic, and deeply provocative, A Stop in the Park, follows the story of a man and a woman who yearn to escape the trap of the modern American dream.
In this scene a confused Jamie Stolis contemplates whether she should flee from her volatile yet secure marriage:
Jamie traipsed into the kitchen and poured coffee into a blue stoneware mug that she bought at a pottery shop when she and Michael went hiking in Wyoming. She circled the rim with her finger. They took that trip eight years ago. She couldn’t help but smile as she recalled how Michael imitated an agitated bison they had seen in Yellowstone Park. Thank God they were in the car, because the open mockery could have provoked the beast to charge if they were with it on the prairie. She furrowed her eyebrows. What had happened to her husband’s silly side?
Jamie sipped her coffee and swayed. The air felt light. She picked up the salt shaker and sprinkled tiny white crystals onto the counter. No one screamed, “Why’d you do that?”She could leave the salt there for three days, and no one would care. Jamie smiled and spun around. This must be how a duck feels when a snapping turtle leaves the pond. She sat on a stool at the island and clasped the oversized mug. The warmth from the coffee seeped into her palms, and she focused on the calm.
When her mini-meditation was over, she glanced at the kitchen doorway. A madman wouldn’t be bursting in blaming her for some felony, like the girls leaving their yogurt containers on the coffee table. She sat a while longer trying to figure out what she could do. Stumped, she roamed to the refrigerator and perused her list.
“First things first: that hornets’ nest has to go.” She peered out the kitchen window. At least twenty hornets buzzed around the nest attached to the outside casing. How should she handle this dangerous project? She glanced at the can of insect killer sitting on the counter. The safest thing to do was to open the window and screen, spray, and then close them quickly before the disturbed insects attacked.
“Okay, my little pests, I hate to ruin your morning, but you are about to be history.” She held the can in one hand, raised the window then the screen, and blasted the poison at her target. There was a flurry of insect activity, and Jamie swiftly sealed her house back up for safety. When she looked up, she saw dozens of hornets emerging from the nest to join those already outside. She couldn’t figure out how they could all fit in their dwelling, which was the size of an apple. Some of the hornets sensed the venom and fled. Others circled around the nest as if considering their next move. They sensed the toxic substance but weren’t quite ready to leave home. Then there were those that darted back and forth in a straight line, knowing they should depart but unsure of where to go. A few of the circlers and darters flew away, determining that uncertainty was better than death. The hornets that remained were lifers, and that life was about to be terminated.
“Go on, little hornets,” Jamie said. “You’ll find a new and better home. Just go.”
But they stayed.
“The poison will kill you. Go on.”
The hornets did not respond to her warning. Jamie watched them fall to their death into the alley that separated her home from her neighbor’s.
“What a show,” she whispered.
She contemplated the creature feature she just witnessed. Why did some hornets flee the instant they suspected danger? Why did some cling until it was almost too late? Why did some hang on until annihilation was inevitable?
“Hmm, if I behaved like a hornet and was aware that I lived in a house that had been sprayed with malice, cruelty, and arrogance, what would I do?”
Jamie roamed around the kitchen with her arms folded. She stopped at the window and peered down at the cowardly hornets who had chosen death over adventure.
“You are a darter, Jamie,” she murmured. “You were about to be poisoned, but you had the courage to fly away. The question is, will you return?”
She thought about money. She thought about Megan and Emily having to travel between houses. She thought about working full time while trying to take care of a home and children. Then she thought about spending another forty or fifty years with Michael.
“God, life is hell.”
She put her face in her hands and tried to will away the confusion.
Her stomach started to ache. She picked up the phone to call Matilda. They could have lunch and joke around. Matilda would be so jealous of Jamie’s possibly single status. She might even persuade Jamie to go away some Saturday night for a wild girl’s night out to celebrate. Jamie punched in three numbers then stopped. If she told Matilda, all of their friends would know before nightfall. In fact, everyone in DC would know. Kids might ask Meg and Emily about the split, and she couldn’t have that. This was a private matter.
She rubbed her belly, hoping the pain would dissipate. It didn’t work. She traipsed to her computer and signed in to Facebook. There was a message from Steve. “What’s up?”
That was it. She could tell him about her troubles. Steve didn’t know any of her friends. It was safe, and venting would make her feel better. Maybe he’d even offer some good advice. In fact, now that she was separated from Michael, she might just meet Steve for that cup of coffee on Friday. It would be nice to meet a new friend.
Interview with the Author:
1. What motivated you to write “A Stop in the Park”?
While relaxing with my soon to be husband, Keith, on a park bench in Dupont Circle, DC, I witnessed a compelling interaction between an intense upscale white male who was losing a series of blitz chess games to an elderly African American male. The upscale man’s wife and daughters waited impatiently as Dad and husband insisted on more games.
It struck me how this family had all the trimmings of the “good life”—expensive clothes, attractive, healthy—yet the wife looked sad; the dad looked angry; and the daughters looked constrained in their prim outfits. They represented what so many strive for, but in the process had possibly lost something more valuable than the American dream—authentic living.
How were these people spending their time and what did they really want to be doing? At that point, I turned to Keith and said, “Wouldn’t that be a great start for a novel?”
The idea simmered in my head and eventually ignited into a fire. I had to write that story, but when? I was a single parent of two sons transitioning into college, planning a wedding, working full time as a speech-language pathologist for a school district, working part time as clinical supervisor at a college, and maintaining a house. Sure, write a novel in my spare time.
Fortunately, I had taken the audio version of Excuses Be Gone by Wayne Dyer out of the library. After listening to it, I decided I not only could, but would write that novel…500 words a day. I kept that commitment to myself. I even wrote 500 words on my wedding day, Christmas, and the day of my house closing. I must confess. I did not write the week I moved or the day after my wedding.
2. Who is your favorite character in your story, or who to you most relate to?
I truly love all of my characters equally, sort of like children. I probably relate most to Michael—really busy, has a hard time relaxing, tries to fit in bits of time to do the things he really loves. I do not, however, have anger issues and I’m not a perfectionist. In that way, I’m more like Jamie. Rufus is my idol, but when you read the book, you’ll learn that his wisdom was not easily attained.
3. What was the hardest part about writing this story?
Making sure I was very sensitive when writing about issues of race that do not dominate, but are a part of “A Stop in the Park.” I wanted to be respectful and knowledgeable is this regard.
4. What is your favorite part?
I love the scene with Jamie and Kate. Prior to this, I don’t feel the reader truly understands or knows Jamie. This chapter delves deep into her psyche. Jamie also realizes what she wants, but doesn’t know how to get it.
5. Now that the book is complete is there anything you would want to change in the story itself or about the writing process?
I would have Jamie in her garden more often contemplating, as opposed to being in the house. It’s amazing to me that a novel is never really finished. There is a time however, when we authors must type, “The End” and mean it.
6. What is the strangest question or comment you have received from others when discussing your book?
The one that occurs most often that astounds me is, “Have you tried to get in contact with Oprah about your book? She’d really like.” It’s like, “Darn, I lost her phone number.” Myself and a million other authors have Oprah on their list of the phone calls they’d most like to receive, but…
7. What is the best advice you received during the writing of your book?
Don’t rush the process. Make sure you love it and make every word counts. Let it sit and stew while you work on another project. It’s amazing what you find when you go back to it after five or six weeks.
8. Is there anything else you wish potential readers to know about your book before they go out and buy it?
The characters and situations are fictional, but the information about school conditions and urban living is true. So are many of the setting incidentals like, Dupont Circle, blitz chess & Warrenton, Va.
Places to buy the book: Amazon.com and through bookstores (more to come)