Title: “The Dirty Hoe (M/M), Cedar Falls 12″
Author: Shea Balik
Release Date: May 4, 2016
When Vail Sommerlin inherited a house from an estranged uncle in Cedar Falls, he jumped at the chance to move away from his nosy mother, who he loved too much to tell her to butt out of his life. He just never dreamed that new life would include finding the man of his dreams.
When Lakota White first laid eyes on Vail Sommerlin, he knew he’d found his soulmate. He was pretty sure his grandmother was laughing her ass off if she was looking down at him right then. Probably even shouting, “I told you so,” over and over again.
Warning: an attempted suicide and a corrupt mayor who is bent on destroying the town once more instigates the zany characters of Cedar Falls to band around the two and help in their own unique way.
Shea Balik visits Cedar Falls to interview Vail Sommerlin
The last time I interviewed some characters at Cedar Falls, they had agreed to meet me in a neutral location. This time, I really wanted to see the town for myself so I asked Vail Sommerlin to meet me at Sweet Buns Bakery. As it started the Cedar Falls series, Sweet Buns will always have a special place in my heart. Plus, I’m intrigued with Zane’s plans to expand the place I built for him. I am hoping, even though I’m not officially interviewing him, Zane might agree to take me on a tour.
As I drive from Atlanta, where I flew into, I can’t help but get excited to finally see the town I created with my words. There is little about this town that I hadn’t planned out on white boards, poster boards and cork boards. Everything from pencils, to markers have been used, crossed out and painstakingly put together to make this town come alive in the room I use to create this series.
An entire wall is dedicated to the characters, the town maps and the unique qualities that have been used to create Cedar Falls. In just a short time, I will get to see this town, live it, breathe it in as I stroll down Main Street and peak in the various businesses. For me, it is like a dream come true.
A sign up ahead announces Peachtree Street. I get into the left lane and make the turn when the light turns green. The church where the men were married is to the right. I’m tempted to stop in and have a chat with Pastor Powell but I don’t want to keep Vail waiting.
Up ahead is the light where Peachtree and Main cross. The heart of downtown. My pulse is racing as I glance around and see so many familiar landmarks. But my eye is drawn to an empty lot on Peachtree, just beyond Main. I can’t help but drive past my turn to take a closer look.
Where once stood a building, is now barren. A tornado had destroyed the place where Nathan’s bookstore, Bound For Your Pleasure, once stood. Betty Sue’s, The Coffee House had also been there, a beacon to all those who wanted to kick their caffeine habit once and for all.
I was sad that it had never been rebuilt. Like a forgotten relic that no one could bother to care for. With a heavy sigh, I made a U-turn and headed back to the main intersection.
At the light, I turned right. Just a few stores down, Sweet Buns came into view, lifting the melancholy mood that had descended at seeing the reminder of the devastation Mother Nature created.
I pulled into one of the few remaining parking spaces along Main Street as the parking lot behind the bakery was now closed for the renovations. Getting out of my rental, I stepped onto the sidewalk and took a look around. I was breathless to see everything I had imagined. Cedar Falls was real.
The bakery had that rustic homey feel and even though I was still on the sidewalk, I could already smell the yeast of baking bread, combined with the sugary goodness of pastries and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee just waiting for me inside. Across the street was Doggie Style, Nice ‘N Rosy, High and Tight, Thick and Creamy and of course, The Collared Pup.
I couldn’t help but smile at the names. Every one had been carefully selected to convey the character’s sense of whimsy. I had also wanted to portray that even in a small North Carolina town, there were many people who accepted others without bigotry, without hate and without condemnation for their differences.
I turned to find Flynn walking down the sidewalk toward me. Smiling, I gave him a big hug when he approached. “It’s good to see you again, Flynn. How have you been doing since our interview?” I had interviewed Flynn and Jesse right after Tying the Knot had come out about a month ago.
“Great. I’m so glad you decided to see the town for yourself this time.” Flynn opened the door to the bakery for me.
“I couldn’t resist.” The aromas that had tickled my senses when I had stood on the sidewalk were thick as soon as I stepped inside. My stomach started rumbling and my mouth watered wanting a taste of the decadent scents that seemed to be all around me. “Oh wow. It smells amazing in here.”
Flynn grinned. “I know, right? I’m surprised I haven’t gained at least a hundred pounds with how often I come in here. And now there’s Thick and Creamy right across the street. I swear it’s like you want all of us to gain weight or something.”
I chuckled. “Sorry about that, but I have this love affair with food, so it tends to make an appearance in my writing.”
“Oh my God. Is that really you Shea Balik?” None other than Zane came walking out of the back of the bakery, wiping his flour covered hands on a towel. “Vail just called to say he was running about ten minutes late. I just about fell over when he told me who he was meeting here.”
Zane didn’t even hesitate, he just came over and gave me a hug, even picking me up off my feet before setting me back down. “Zane...” I teared up. I couldn’t help it. He was my first character for Cedar Falls. As much as I love each character I create, he has a special place in my heart. “You have no idea what it means to me to meet you.”
Zane gave an indelicate snort. “Not nearly as much as it means to me, Shea.” He left one arm around my shoulders and started leading me toward the back. “Now, how about a tour so you can see the improvements I’m making to your creation?”
I pulled out my camera and notepad, intending to take lots of pictures and notes on every aspect of the changes. “I’m afraid I can’t let you take any pictures Shea. Brent has been yammering away about how he is incorporating this place into his story and I would never want to take that from him.”
Nodding, I put both camera and notebook away. I wasn’t surprised that Brent wanted to talk about his work with Sweet Buns. The man has been in my head for weeks complaining that he was tired of waiting for me to get to his story. Brent had even tried to entice me to drop Eddie’s story with hints into his own. “Okay, Zane. Lead the way.”
“So what did you think?” Zane asked, fifteen minutes later as he led me back to the front.
“It’s perfect,” I told him. “I have to admit to being a little nervous when I heard you were going to change things, but I should have known you would keep the integrity of what I had created.”
Zane grinned at me.
The bell above the door rang out. “Sorry, sorry.” Vail came racing into the bakery looking a bit flushed. “I had an issue with a Lhasa Apso with vicious teeth and an owner who thought her “precious baby,” wouldn’t hurt a fly even though I have the bite marks to prove otherwise.” Vail held up a finger to show the marks, which broke the skin’s surface but not much more than that.
Blue eyes were suddenly fixed on me as Vail turned his attention my way. “You must be Shea.” Vail rushed over and dragged me into a bear hug. Thankfully, he wasn’t exactly strong or I would have had broken ribs with how tightly he hugged me.
Returning his exuberant hug, I said, “It is so good to meet you Vail.”
Ten minutes later, after some idle chit chat while we went to the counter to get some pastries and drinks, we sat down at a table near that window so I could watch the various residents walking by. “So Vail, are you ready to start this interview?”
“Of course,” Vail said before taking a sip of his coffee. “Fire away.”
Shea: Let’s start off with an easy question. As you came over here from your job, why don’t you tell how that’s going?
Vail: Vail’s eyes lit up. I love it at Doggie Style. I was really concerned I wouldn’t be able to support myself, but the residents of Cedar Falls have really rallied around me to get me more clients. I actually have four clients who come from neighboring towns since they don’t have groomers. And then there’s the fact that I get to bring Loki into work with me most days. He reached down and opened the fanny pack that was always around his waist. Pulling out his phone, he called up a photo gallery and handed it to me. This is my Loki. I wish I could have brought him today, but I’m working with a mean Chihuahua later, with a God complex.
Shea: I was flipping through the pictures...damn there might actually be hundreds of pictures of Loki on this phone. Are you worried the Chihuahua would hurt Loki?
Vail: Snorted. No, the Chihuahua might try but Loki wouldn’t put up with that shit. That’s why I had to leave him behind. Loki would have no problem taking the dog down a peg or two to teach him who was the Alpha dog.
Shea: I couldn’t help but laugh at the image of sweet little Loki claiming he was Alpha. I’m glad things have been working out at Doggie Style. Now for a little more serious topic. How is Macon now that he’s back home?
Vail: Right before my eyes Vail wilted. His shoulders drooped, the smile turned downward and the laughter in his eyes died. Honestly? I don’t know. I mean, he’s home and he hasn’t tried to kill himself again. After everything that happened, I take both of those things as positive. But there’s a sadness in his eyes that is always there, no matter how much I try to make him laugh. His therapist said it was going to take time, but after finding him...Vail shuddered...I just don’t want anything to happen to him.
Shea: Is he still designing clothes?
Vail: That’s about the only thing he does anymore. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to leave the house, although I occasionally manage it. But most days he just sits and draws, or sews, or arranges for packages to be picked up for delivery. Vail gave a shrug. At least his business is doing well.
Shea: I’m sorry he’s still struggling. I have to admit; I’ve been concerned that he isn’t clamoring at me to tell his story. I can feel one just underneath the surface but he hadn’t been trying to get my attention either. Wanting to get off the depressing topic, I decided it was time to put that light back in Vail’s eye. What about Lakota. How is your relationship with him going?
Vail: Just as I thought Vail’s eyes lit up at the mention of the love of his life. Lakota is amazing. No matter what, he is there. Whether my day is good, bad, frustrating, funny or any combination, he is always there, ready to celebrate, listen or just hold me. That special smile I tend to see when someone talks about the person he loves appeared. Lakota is my everything.
Shea: That is so good to hear. I always worry about my characters after I’ve told their story. There is a piece of me that hopes they make it, but since I’m no longer writing their words, I can’t be sure things are going well. What about that garden you built? Is it producing anything yet?
Vail: Nods enthusiastically. With Lakota around all the time, he makes sure Macon and I don’t kill anything. The garden has really started to produce quite a bit of food.
Shea: The alarm on my phone went off, telling me I had to get going if I was going to get back to Atlanta for my flight home. As much as I’d like to continue this, I’m going to have to get going so I don’t miss my flight back to Florida.
We both stood up and Zane came over to say goodbye. As I got in my car and drove out of Cedar Falls, I noticed my vision getting a little blurry as tears came to my eyes as I passed all the landmarks I had written about. I was sad to not have been able to see more, talk to more of the characters and have more time to take it all in. Hopefully, one day soon, I’d be able to return and explore to my heart’s content. Until then, I will go back home and write about this amazing place and the people that make it home.
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For out of the country traveling, Shea has been to every Caribbean country that cruise ships visit, several times. Being a Floridian means easy access to ports and cheaper rates. Although, now that she’s cruised so often, Shea gets discounts for being a frequent cruiser. In a perfect world, Shea would cruise around the world, but she don’t see that happening anytime soon, unless she wins the lottery.
You never know, one day you may spark her imagination for her next book.
Whether at home or traveling she is usually in front of her computer writing or curled up with a good book.
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