Tuesday, October 18, 2016

An Excerpt from A Little White Christmas Lie

I just finished going through my edits for A Little White Christmas Lie. I'd forgotten how much I love this story. The first fifty pages were published last year in the Authors of Main Street boxed set. I had planned on finishing it before Christmas...of 2015. And poof, just like that, we're edging in on the holidays of 2016. This story, a novella, is finally finished. I'll publish it in a few days.
The following scene is one of my favorites. My amazing editor, Susan Hughes, liked it as well. So, I thought I'd share. 

An Excerpt from Chapter Three, A Little White Christmas Lie

Millie woke to find a small face peering at her. Again.
“Oh good, you’re awake. Now we can play.” This child was obviously one of the pigtail team. She had dirty blond hair, blue eyes, a mishmash of teeth crying out for braces, and a scattering of freckles across her nose. She sat just inches away from Millie and held a pair of plastic horses in her hands.
“You can have Lancelot.” She put the darker horse down beside Millie’s hand. “I get Guinevere. I don’t like him as much as I like Guinevere, because he’s a boy, but he is bigger, so there’s that. Besides, you might like boys, seeing as how you like Uncle Car and all. Not that I don’t like Uncle Car. I do. I really do. Did you know that we’re both named after Grandpa Carter?” She leaned closer, as if to whisper. “But he’s still a boy, and boys are gross.”
Millie tried to process this onslaught of conversation despite her aching head. She pushed herself onto her elbows and looked around, reminding herself of where she was and why she was here with this child.
“What’s your name?” Millie asked.
“Char. It’s really Charlotte, but no one calls me that. Last week I tried to get everyone to call me Lottie but no one ever did, even though I reminded them like a million times. But then Zach, he goes to my school, started calling me the Lottery, and then I decided Char was better after all. It’s just Lottie sounds more fun, don’t you think?” She didn’t wait for Millie to answer. “Boys are so gross, right?” She stopped herself. “Except for Uncle Car. But we already stabilized that.”
Millie wished a few other things could be stabilized.
Char bounced her horse across the blanket. “When are you and Uncle Car getting married? Do you think I could be a flower girl?”
Millie opened her mouth, but couldn’t find the right words. But her words weren’t necessary.
“Mom says it’s about time Uncle Car settled himself down with someone. She said that all he cares about is money and cars.” The horse bounded across the bed and up the pillow. “Makes sense, though. He is named Uncle Car. If Granny wanted him to be interested in babies, he would’ve had to be called Uncle Baby, and you’d get beat up with a name like that in third grade.”
“Are you in third grade?” Millie asked, her head swimming.
Char nodded. “No one ever picks on me, though, on account of Lester.”
“The monster that lives with me.”
“You have a monster?”
“I think everyone should have a monster, don’t you?”
“I have a cat,” Millie told her. “He’s not very monstrous.”
Footsteps sounded up the stairs. A woman with blond hair and blue eyes that matched her daughter’s paused in the open doorway. Millie recognized her from the hospital.
“You must be Emily, Carson’s sister,” Millie said.
The woman nodded and motioned for Char to join her. “Is she bothering you? I don’t know how she found you.”
“We’re staying in the basement.” Char emphasized the last word, making it sound comparable to a dungeon.  She picked up both horses and scrambled off the bed. “Cuz Great-Granny let out all the other rooms to guests.” She tugged on the hem of her mom’s sweater. “I liked it better when Great-Granny thought we were the guests. Why does she think all these other people are more important than us?”
“Hush,” Emily said, smoothing down her daughter’s hair. “Millie doesn’t want to hear about the basement.”
“Well, no one does, do they?” Char said. “And no one wants to stay down there, either, ‘specially not me. It’s dark and smelly and the furnace roars.”
“Is that the dragon?” Millie asked, sitting up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed.
Char gave her a don’t-be-stupid look. “The dragon is the woodstove here in the carriage house. We are staying in the basement.”
“Maybe Lester prefers the basement,” Millie said.
“No.” Char shook her head. “No one, not even monsters, like the basement.”
“How do you know?” Millie asked. “Did you ask him?”
Char rolled her eyes. “Great-Granny says we’re only staying until Daddy gets his fits together, and I don’t even know what that means. Sometimes Daddy does have fits, but why does he need to get them together? I think it would be better if he didn’t have them at all, don’t you, Mommy?”
Emily flushed a pretty pink and put her hand on top of her daughter’s head and tried to steer her out of the room.
Char dug the heels of her cowboy boots into the carpet.
“Sometime when it’s quieter we should talk,” Emily said to Millie as she pushed her daughter out the door. “I really want to hear how you and Car got together.”
Millie started to say that she and Car weren’t together, but Char stuck her head back into the room and rushed in to fill in the blank space. “It’s quiet now,” Char declared, and for a few seconds it actually was. “I want to hear how you met Uncle Car, too.”
More footsteps clattered up the stairs and moments later Carson swooped in. He plucked Char up and threw her over his shoulder. Her cowboy boots kicked in the air while she screamed and used her two toy horses to pelt his back.
“Is this creature bothering you?” Carson asked Millie.
“No, she’s…” Millie paused. “Her face is turning purple!” Millie eased off the bed, as if she needed a closer look at Char. “And I do believe she’s growing polka dots!”
Char froze. “Uncle Car?” she squeaked.
He swung her over so that she could see herself in the mirror. “Why yes, Millie, I think you’re right. Green polka dots.”
“Nu-huh!” Char said. “Mom?”
Emily blinked a few times and studied Char’s face. “I don’t know, Carson, I’d say they’re pink.”
“No way!” Char said, resuming her kicking.
“I think we need to take her to the kitchen,” Emily said. “Great-Granny’s making some gingerbread cookies and they’re the best thing in the whole world for curing purple and green polka dots.”
Char stopped kicking and sniffed. “That sounds okay.”
“I don’t think you should let Granny hear you calling her cookies ‘just okay,’” Carson said as he headed out the door with Char draped over his shoulder. He set the child down at the top of the stairs and looked over his shoulder at Millie. “You coming, Millie?”
She nodded and raised a hand to her forehead. “I think I could use a gingerbread cookie myself.”
The need for a cookie became increasingly dire as soon as she stepped outside and spotted a familiar BMW in the driveway.
The cold air swirled around Millie, but instead of waking her, it made everything more surreal. She swayed on her feet, brushing Carson.
Grabbing her arm, he steadied her. “All right?” he whispered, his breath fanning her cheek. “When everyone’s together, I’ll tell them what happened.”
“It’s not that,” she replied.
“Then what’s the matter? Are you sure you’re feeling all right? You’re suddenly pale. Scary pale.”

The door of the inn opened and two figures emerged. Carson went still, his whispers fading into the cold air. Millie knew that he probably didn’t recognize the dark-haired man on the porch, but that every man on the planet, including Carson, would know Scarlet McFaye.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Menagerie's Sequel

It’s been two week since Menagerie was released. It’s been on Amazon’s top 100 list in paranormal and urban fantasy every day until today. I’d like to say I know what put it on there and what made it slide off. (I wish I could understand Amazon’s finicky ways.) But I can only assume it was a collection of things. Which is interesting because Menagerie means a strange or diverse collection of people or things.
Melange, the tentative name of Menagerie’s sequel, means a mixture or a blend. I know that some people are hesitant to read an unfinished series, because, after all, some series are abandoned. So I thought I’d post a few teaser chapters of the book that may be called Melange, just so you would know it is happening. Maybe the plot isn’t exactly what I had thought it would be, but that just makes it that much more fun.
I plan on publishing it around the first of the year.


On the sort of spring evening that lasts forever, when the sun’s fading into blackness stretches for hours, Declan tried to convince himself that time really could be harnessed, and the simple pleasure he found walking beside Lizbet, listening to her laugh, would last as long as they both lived. And yet his errand reminded him that bits and pieces of life could be fleeting, that nothing lasts forever, and things could change as quickly as the weather. But fortunately, at that moment, the finicky Pacific Northwest sported a few wispy clouds, a smattering of dim stars dotting the darkening sky, and the promise of a cool, clear night.
“Are you sure you want to wait?” Declan asked.
“What else am I going to do?” Lizbet asked. “Besides, hanging in a bookstore is one of my favorite things to do.”
“I feel weird having you walk me to my grandfather’s house.” He skated a glance at her, wondering what his grandfather would think of Lizbet’s curly hair, elfin features, tiny build, and bright green eyes. His mom called Lizbet a wild child, which was, given her strange upbringing, an apt description. “It’s supposed to go the other way, right?”
“What do you mean?” Lizbet turned to him.
He wanted to kiss her, but after a quick glance at his grandfather’s imposing brick mansion on the other side of the long stretch of lawn, he tucked his hands in his pockets to stop himself from reaching out to her. “I’m the guy,” he said. “I’m supposed to walk you home.”
“But neither of us are going home. I’m going to the bookstore, and you’re stalling.”
“I’m not stalling.”
She placed her hands on his chest to keep him away. “Yes, you are. We’ve been walking down this street at turtle speed…”
He wrapped his hands around her wrists, holding her close. “He’s going to think I’m hitting him up for money.”
“Why do you say that?”
Declan sucked in a breath. “He’s going to ask about college. So, I’ll have to tell him about Duke, and that will lead to a conversation about money.”
“I’d rather talk about money than your stepfather.”
“True that.” Declan didn’t like to think of, let alone speak about, his stepfather. Fortunately for him, although unfortunately for his stepfather’s business, Gaylord Godwin had been missing for weeks.
“But you’re not your stepfather, and you don’t have to talk about money. You can steer the conversation in any direction you wish.”
A rustling in the bushes caught and held Declan’s attention. The giant rhododendrons bordering the lawn shivered before falling still.
Lizbet followed his gaze, her expression curious and baffled.
“Probably a cat,” Declan said.
Lizbet shook herself and tucked her hands into her sweater pockets. “I don’t think so…it would have been a really big cat.”
“A dog then,” Declan said, dismissing it. “Are you going to be okay walking to the bookstore?”
Lizbet smirked. “I don’t know…this is a pretty sketchy neighborhood.” She waved at the turn of the last century mansions, the tree-lined street, and manicured lawns before taking his hand in hers and squeezing it. “This is the kind thing to do. Remember, this is for him, not you. I’ll be fine and so will you. And more importantly, so will your grandfather.”
But Declan knew that wasn’t true. The whole reason he stood on the street outside his grandfather’s house was because the old man wasn’t fine. His days were numbered. According to his nurse, Frank Forsythe only continued to live because he was too ornery to die.
“He scares me,” Declan admitted.
“I think you could take him on,” Lizbet said with a grin.
“Physically, but probably not intellectually.”
“If he tries to play chess, just run.” Lizbet put her hands on Declan’s shoulders and turned him so he faced the front gate.
“That would be cowardly…” Declan shuffled his feet.
Lizbet gave his back a gentle push.
The bushes shook again and this time Declan caught sight of an enormous gray tail beating the bright red flowers before disappearing into the shrubs. “That’s a huge dog.”
I’m not scared of a dog,” Lizbet assured him.
“What if my grandfather gets talking and I can’t get away before the bookstore closes? I can’t leave you here in the dark by yourself while a giant dog runs loose, terrorizing the neighborhood.” Declan balked at the black wrought iron gate that separated his grandfather’s house from the rest of the world.
“For one thing, no one is terrorized. And another, this is the Pacific Northwest. It’s June, the longest day of the year is only a few weeks away. We have another two hours, at least, of daylight. And if your grandfather gets extra chatty, I’ll take a bus home.” She reached around him and pushed open the gate. “Now, march up to that door and act chummy. He’s old, he’s sick, and he wants to meet you.”
Declan nodded and after a quick backward glance at Lizbet, the girl who had become the center of his world and his personal voice of reason, he headed up the walkway.
As much as the bookstore tempted Lizbet, curiosity made her pause at the edge of Frank Forsythe’s property near the now-still rhododendrons. Cocking her head, she listened for the dog who belonged to the great furry tail she’d spotted earlier. She shot Declan a quick glance. He stood on the porch with his hands shoved into his pockets, his back to her.
“Hello?” Lizbet whispered into the bushes. Silence. She gazed up at the trees lining the property expecting to catch the attention of a squirrel or even a bird, but couldn’t find a creature in sight. A chill crawled down her back. “Hello?” she called a smidge louder.
The bushes rustled again and Lizbet searched for the cause. A rabbit, a chipmunk, even a skunk—there had to be an animal around. Why wasn’t anyone responding? She gave the house another glance, but Declan had disappeared from the porch.
She hadn’t heard the front door open, but that must have been what had happened. The nurse, Teddy, had been expecting him. Lizbet let out a little sigh of relief, pulled her sweater a bit tighter, and headed for the Blarney Bookstore.
The University District was an eclectic mix of shops catering to the UW’s students and the historic homes of the professors and Seattle’s business professionals. Lizbet’s sandals made a flopping sound as she walked and she told herself that the eerie echo wasn’t in any way sinister. But goosebumps rose on her skin as she scanned the yards, trees, and shrubbery for signs of animal life.
Where was everyone? The only reason she knew of for the animals to desert an area was a forest fire, and the warm humidity held only a spark of the imagination. Unfortunately, Lizbet’s imagination was running wild. She tried to rein it in as she headed for the bookstore.
When only silence answered the door, Declan stepped off the porch to peek in the window. He’d never been inside his grandfather’s house so he didn’t know what to expect. The tapestry rugs, wingback chairs, and pastoral paintings didn’t surprise him. The overturned table, shattered vase, and strewn flowers across the wood floor did. He rapped on the window. Just like when he’d knocked on the door, no one answered.
He cast another glance at Lizbet. She stood at the intersection at the end of the street. Should he call out to her? What if someone had broken into his grandfather’s home? What if that someone was still in the house? The further away Lizbet was, the safer she was. Squaring his shoulders and refusing to jump to conclusions, Declan jogged toward the back of the house. A shoulder-high brick wall enclosed backyard. When he couldn’t find a gate, he scrambled over it and landed hard on his feet. His breath accelerated as he picked up his pace. A quick glance in the windows told him the living and dining room were both empty. A motion censored light flicked on when he reached the patio. Everything in the backyard screamed quiet and peaceful elegance. It was hard to imagine his grandfather had met any violence. The windows were intact, but the back door hung ajar.
Declan reached in his pocket and fingered his phone, debating on whether or not he should call the police. He poked his head through the door. The kitchen with its tall white cabinetry, scrubbed oak table, and gleaming stainless steel appliance looked like it belonged in a magazine. But a large butcher knife lay on the floor surrounded by a smattering of…what was that?
Declan pushed inside for a better look, then, with trembling fingers he called his mom.
Lizbet finally spotted an owl perched on the branches of a giant maple tree. It was early for an owl, but that was only one of things out of place on this strange night.
Lizbet glanced up and down the street, making sure that she and the owl were alone. “Where is everyone?” she asked.
The owl swiveled his head in her direction and blinked at her. “The wolves are back,” he said with a hoot as if this should answer all her questions.
“The wolves? In the University District?” Her mind tripped back to the large gray tail she’d spotted in Frank Forsythe’s rhododendrons. Why would there be wolves close the city center? Wolves belonged in the woods or near pastures where the slow and easy prey lived.
The owl blinked again and nodded.
“All the animals have disappeared because of the wolves?” Lizbet pressed.
“I suggest you do the same.”
Why are you here?”
“I am a sentinel. We owls have always been so.”
“Admirable,” Lizbet murmured. She pressed her mouth closed when an elderly couple walking a standard poodle appeared at the end of the street. She watched as the poodle sat down and refused to budge. The woman tugged on the leash and reprimanded the stubborn dog. After a moment, the man took possession of the leash, but the dog remained obstinate. The man pulled on the leash, but the poodle sat on his haunches while his collar threatened to pop off his furry head.
She turned back to the owl. “Do you know where the wolves are now?”
The owl lifted one wing and pointed at the Forsythe house.
Lizbet ran and her sandals slapped the sidewalk.
She stopped short when a giant gray wolf appeared on the sidewalk. “What…who are you?” She confronted the wolf.
He didn’t answer but stared at her with blazing yellow eyes.
It occurred to Lizbet that he was trying to scare her. She balled her fists and planted them on her hips. “Answer me!” She raised her voice and tried to infuse it with authority. “Who are you and what do you want?”
The creature flicked his tail before turning and sauntering into the dark night.
Lizbet opened the wrought iron gate, tripped down the walk way, climbed the steps to the front porch and rapped on the door.
Declan answered, his face pale. Silently, he widened the door to let her in. “I thought you were the police.” His voice wavered.
“Why? What happened?”
Declan nodded over his shoulder. A newscaster’s voice floated through the open door and the light flickered from a TV screen.
Lizbet started for the room, but Declan put a warning hand on her arm stopping her. “Don’t,” he said.
“Well, for one thing, I vomited in there. And another…”
“Your grandfather?”
“And Teddy, his nurse.”
“Are they dead?” Lizbet whispered, although she didn’t know why.
Lizbet put her fingers to her lips, because she knew it wasn’t grizzly—not like a bear—but wolfish, like a giant gray wolf.

When Lizbet arrived back at her grandmother’s ranch, she tested the locks on all the gates and fences, and checked in with the animals. She didn’t mention the wolves, because she knew how skittish the horses could be, and how it was really easy to send the chickens into a panic. She tried to sound casually conversational as she chatted to the goats and a passing rabbit.
Gazing up at the sky, she thought about calling to a circling owl. The birds were always the first in the know, but since it was a warm evening without a promise of rain she knew her mom and grandmother would have their windows open, and she didn’t want to alarm them anymore than the chickens.
Her mother’s window shone with a soft warm light, letting her know that her mom was still awake and probably waiting for her. Lizbet’s heart lifted. It had only been a few weeks since her mother had woken from her coma, and Lizbet had yet to get over profound gratitude for her mother, even though sometimes she felt that her mother was a different person here at the ranch than she’d been on the island where Lizbet had grown up. Still, her mom was her rock—the only permanent thing in Lizbet’s young life. She hurried inside to tell her mom about Declan’s grandfather.
Daugherty sat on the edge of her bed, a shell-shocked expression on her face. She held out her arms in a greeting when she caught sight of Lizbet.
“Did you see him?” Daugherty asked after Lizbet dropped into her mom’s arms.
Lizbet inhaled her mom’s familiar scent of vanilla and honey and shook her head. “Declan did.”
“Oh, that poor guy.” Daugherty stroked Lizbet’s curls.
“He was pretty shaken. He vomited.” Lizbet pulled away and sat beside her mom. The mattress shifted, sliding them together so their shoulders and thighs met.
Daugherty patted Lizbet’s leg. “John told me.”
Lizbet met her mom’s gaze and smiled. “He’s not still mad then?”
“Oh, he’s still mad.”
“But not too mad to talk?”
Daugherty studied the floor and shook her head.
“He’ll come around. He loves you.”
“He loved me when he thought I was a fantasy, but now that he knows I’m real…”
Lizbet softly laughed. “This is the downside of ginger root tea.”
“We can’t blame the tea.”
But Lizbet had some hard feelings of her own about the tea her mom had used to cause a forgetfulness almost has deep as Daugherty’s own amnesia. She knew that she and Daugherty were lucky to be able to live with Elizabeth, Lizbet’s grandmother, while her mom tried to recreate their lives after a nearly twenty-year solitary hiatus on Blackstone Island. John, Declan’s dad, had been the only person to visit them who actually knew Daugherty, but thanks to the tea, John had thought Daugherty was nothing more than a hallucination. And he hadn’t ever even seen Lizbet until they had met on the mainland.
“What do you think will happen now?” Lizbet asked.
“You mean for Declan?” Daugherty asked. “Well, according to John, he’s not a suspect even though often the person to discover a body is.”
“Why not?”
“The vomit—for one thing, but also the nature of the wounds.”
Lizbet sucked in a deep breath. “So weird, right? Who ever heard of wolves in the center of Queen Anne?”
Daugherty nodded and slid a glance at Lizbet. “Do you know anything about wolves?”
“Only what I read in My Antonia.” For a reason she couldn’t define, she’d kept her ability to talk with animals a carefully guarded secret. She’d learned long ago that her mother couldn’t hear or understand the animals the way she did. At first, this had bothered her. For years, she had believed her mother to be all-knowing and all-powerful, but in time, Lizbet had grown to love that she had an ability her mother not only didn’t share but also discounted as a childish whim akin to make-believe friends and monsters beneath the bed.
The phone on the night stand buzzed. Lizbet and her mom just stared at it. Josie, Daugherty’s sister and Lizbet’s aunt, had given Daugherty the phone so that she could keep a constant line of communication open between her and Lizbet’s aging grandmother.
Lizbet peeked at the screen. “It’s John.”
“I know.”
Lizbet bumped her mom’s arm. “You should answer it.”
Daugherty sighed. “Everything was so much easier on the island.”
“No, it wasn’t. Don’t glamourize it.” She rested her hand on her mom’s thigh. “It was also a lot of hard work.”
“I know, but with John…”
“The best is yet to be.” Lizbet finished her mom’s sentence.
“Do you really think so? Do you think he’s ever going to forgive me?”
“Don’t you think he might be a tiny-bit mad at himself? I mean, he’s the one who let himself get snookered with ginger root tea.”
“But I’m the one who gave it to him!”
“So what? That’s like blaming the arms dealer for a shooter’s rampage.” Lizbet paused then added softly, “Besides, you can’t be held responsible. You had amnesia. You didn’t know who John was. You didn’t even know who you were!” Lizbet thought about bringing up Rose, Lizbet’s biological mother, but decided to wait for a better time. She bottled up her curiosity and put a cork in it. “Did John say how Declan is doing? Or his mom?”
“He said Gloria is frantic. She’s afraid the police are going to try and pin the murder on her missing husband.” Only a few weeks ago, Declan’s stepfather—and possibly Lizbet’s real father—had left Daugherty for dead and then, later, had taken a few potshots at Lizbet as well. Since then, he had disappeared.
“I don’t know how Gloria can still care about him.”
Daugherty shrugged. “Love is complicated.”
Lizbet thought about her relationships with her mom, Declan, Maria, Elizabeth, even Matias. Complicated wasn’t a word she’d use to describe them.
“Besides,” her mother continued, “Frank Forsythe wasn’t killed by a man. He died of a heart attack.”
“Probably after the dog attacked.”
“True,” her mom conceded.
“And what about the nurse?”
“He died from the wounds and blood loss. There’s no way of knowing if a person was or wasn’t responsible for the animal attack. No sign of forced entry.”
“Then we might not ever know,” Lizbet said, but what she thought was, I’m going to find the wolf, human or beast, responsible for this.
Declan tried not to be embarrassed for his mom as she fluttered around the gravesite, acting more like she was hosting an open house for a swanky townhome than grieving for her father in a cemetery. She had told him that the service would be limited to family and a few close friends, but Declan felt small and lost in the sea of people surrounding his grandfather’s grave. It bugged him that most of these people probably knew his grandfather better than he did.
He blamed his mom. She and her dad hadn’t spoken in years. Declan had never been able to cross the wedge between them.
He glanced over his shoulder at the catering van parked next to the small chapel adjacent to the graveyard. Even from a distance he recognized Mr. Croft and Missy, the caterers his mom always used for open houses and other events. He had suggested that his mom use Lizbet’s mom. Daugherty was trying to get a blackberry wine business off the ground and had thrown a few luncheons and business events for family and friends using her unique blends of food and wine, but Gloria had been adamant about using Mr. Croft.
Which was fine…he supposed. He liked Mr. Croft. He just liked Lizbet and her mom more. His dad, John, hovered in the back. His big shoulders filled out his suit, and the tie looked like a noose around his neck. Declan knew his dad hadn’t liked Frank Forsythe any more than Gloria, and Declan guessed that his dad was here for him. Declan met his dad’s gaze and he started toward him. Gloria, who was whispering in the ear of a city councilman, wouldn’t miss him.
Feeling like a fish trying to swim upstream, Declan weaved through the crowd, headed for his dad. A hand on his arm stopped him. Seconds later, he was engulfed in a tight hug.
“OMG, I’m so sad for you!” Nicole breathed into his ear.
He pulled away and straightened his tie. “I didn’t know him. We never met.”
“And that makes it so much more tragical.”
Tragical? He never knew Nicole to make up words before. With her pale skin and hair, light blue eyes, and plain black dress she was the opposite of Lizbet in almost every single way. The sun’s ray glinted off the silver cross around her neck making him blink.
“If you need to talk, I lost my grandma a few months ago, so I know what it’s like.”
Since Nicole’s grandma had probably died peacefully in a hospital bed rather than being ripped to pieces by a wolf, Declan knew that Nicole did not know what he was feeling. He couldn’t tell her that the sight his grandfather’s bloody and torn body haunted him. He couldn’t tell her that the rusty smell of blood and putrid stink of death clung to him like a mold he couldn’t wash away. He couldn’t admit to her, or anyone, that a gray wolf with crimson eyes lived in his nightmares.
“Who’s that?” Nicole asked.
Declan followed her gaze to the gravesite where a tall man with honey blond hair stood beside his mom. “I’m not sure.” It could have been any one of his grandfather’s ‘family and close friends,’ but something about the man’s posture leaning toward his mom told him that this wasn’t just anyone. Declan tightened his lips and threw his dad another glance. Fortunately, John was involved in a hushed conversation with East End’s tennis coach. Declan thought he caught the word football.
Nicole elbowed him. “Your mom wants you,” she whispered.
His mom used her white handkerchief to wave him over. The crowd parted as he headed her way.
“Darling,” Gloria reached out and placed her hand on his arm. “This is Leo Cabriolet.”
“Godwin’s tennis partner,” Declan said, taking the man’s extended hand in a firm grip.
“Former partner,” Cabriolet said.
“Also your grandfather’s attorney,” Gloria said.
Declan slid his mom a studied glance and read her excitement. He felt ill and off balance. He blamed the sun, his own lack of sleep, and the nightmares.
“We need to talk,” Cabriolet said.
“Of course,” Gloria said.
Declan glanced around at the crowd and shook his head. “This isn’t the best time.”
Cabriolet nodded. “Tomorrow then?”
For some reason, Declan wanted to say he had school, basketball practice, or work, but since the next day was Sunday, he said none of those things.
“Ten?” Gloria suggested.
Cabriolet smiled. “I look forward to it.” He cuffed Declan’s arm in a friendly goodbye, as if they were meeting for a date instead of a reading of a will.
Lizbet watched her mom and grandmother move to the front of the crowd while she hung back in the shade of a giant maple tree. Above her, a squirrel chattered, but she paid him little attention.
Large groups of people made her nervous. It still took her by surprise that this was exactly where her mother belonged—this was the world where her mother had been raised. These well-dressed, diamond-flashing peers of Declan’s grandfather had been the parents of her mother’s playmates.
Lizbet smiled watching her grandmother. Elizabeth didn’t ooze with money as the others did, but even in her last century dress, heels, and hose, she belonged. Her husband’s wealth and land-holdings had secured his wife and daughter’s position on East End’s slippery social ladder.
Lizbet sought out Declan. She spotted him near the grave site, hovering near his mom. Nicole whispered something in his ear, and he turned and gave her a brief smile. Lizbet’s heart tightened as if someone had tied a string around it. She knew that Declan planned on leaving in a few months. He and Nicole both planned on attending Duke University. Lizbet wondered who had made their plans first.
She knew she didn’t hold Declan’s leash. She wanted him to go to the best school that could best prepare him for the best med-school. But she also knew that what was necessarily best for him might not be what was best for her. The thought of him leaving while she stayed behind made her ache.
Her own plans were nebulous. She wanted to go to school, but she also wanted to stay and help her grandmother on the ranch, and her mom was attempting to start a business, so that was also interesting. She had decided to attend a local community college that would allow her to keep her job at the nursery, live on the ranch with her grandmother and mom, and lend her mom the occasional hand with the fledging business. She tried to be content with this plan, but adventures in foreign lands tempted. Duke University, even though she knew she’d never be accepted, also tempted her.
John pulled away from a group of middle-aged men. With his football player build, thick brown hair, and strong jaw, he looked too young to be Declan’s father. He took Elizabeth’s arm and helped her find a seat beneath the white hospitality tent. Lizbet strained to hear what he said to her mom.
She understood why he was mad. She just hoped that he would get over it soon. What her mom had done was wrong—no one deserved to be doped up on ginger root tea—but Lizbet couldn’t blame her mother for what she’d done while suffering from memory loss. Lizbet had read that amnesiacs, as well as those under a hypnotic spell, would never do anything that goes against their personal code of morals and ethics. Which made her wonder where ginger root tea fell into her mother’s moral compass.
She guessed that John had the same concerns as she watched her mom and John exchange a few brief words. Even from a distance, Lizbet could see their mutual attraction buzzing between them like a force field.
She hugged herself, feeling, as she often did, misplaced. Someone nudged her. Turning, she smiled up at Declan’s enormous best friend, Baxter. His suit pants looked a little short and his jacket was too tight, but she was glad to see him.
“Hey,” he said. “Does Declan know you’re here?”
Lizbet shook her head. “It’s okay. He should be with his family, especially his mom.”
She watched Declan’s face as he talked with Nicole.
“You should at least let him know you’re here.” Something in Baxter’s tone made her wonder how he felt about Nicole.
Lizbet shrugged.
“Finding the right someone is like finding a pair of shoes,” Baxter said.
“What does that mean?” Lizbet asked, smiling up at him. Declan had told her that both of Baxter’s parents were therapists, and he frequently quoted them.
“It means that people look for good looking, smart shoes, but they always end up with the ones they feel the most comfortable with.”
Lizbet didn’t know if Baxter was comparing her to a pair of broken-in loafers, but when he waved Declan over, she decided not to take offense when she was pretty sure none was intended.

Relief washed over Declan’s face when he caught sight of Lizbet. Immediately, he broke off his conversation with Nicole and headed for Lizbet. She decided she’d be loafers, stilettos, or gumboots—any footwear Declan desired—as long as he always looked at her this way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ink it When You Think It. Bullet Points from Central Coast Writer's Conference 2016 Opening Address

First off, I have to say this conference blew away all of my expectations and shifted my career goals in truly unexpected ways. I felt like I was a little house in Kansas and the conference was the tornado that picked me up and dropped me in Oz. I'm a little hesitant to talk about my own new goals because I don't want to jinx them, so here are the bullet points of just a few of the things I learned.

Most of the workshops I attended were on marketing. They had lots of classes on craft, screenwriting, how to get an agent, etc, but those aren't the classes I took. I can assume that they were just as earth-shattering as the classes I took, but I wasn't there so I don't know for sure.

Sam Horn was the opening Keynote speaker. Here's some soundbites:
Ink it when you think it. Draft then craft.
We're all in a race to be relevant.
Stories in our heads help no one.
Ditch infobesity and strive for intrigue.
Use the 5 Ws when talking of your book:
What: novel, YA novel
Who: who are my readers? (I actually have an idea of this because I look up the profiles of my Amazon readers who leave reviews. I can say with some certainty that most of my readers--even for my YA books are middle-aged. I have stay at moms and dads, retired veterans, disabled folk, senior citizens. These are the people who are picking up my freebies and staying on to read the others.)
Where and When: Do I want this book to come out?
Why: will it be a good use of my reader's time? Think of three reasons:

Competitive Edge: Show how you are one of kind.
Market Promotional Plan:
         Always take entrepreneurial responsibility
         Be prepared to generate sales for years
         Consider speaking engagements

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Central Coast Writers Conference

In a few hours, I'll be heading north for the Central Coast Writer's Conference. This has been one of those days, or maybe even episodes, where I've felt as if the world is conspiring against me.

This won't be my first time at the Central Coast Writer's Conference. I went fifteen years ago, two days after the 9/11 attack. I had wondered if maybe the conference would be cancelled, but it carried on. I remember as I drove the busy Southern California freeways people lined the overpasses, waving signs and flags. There was a tremendous surge of patriotism felt everywhere.

President Gerald Ford's son, Stephan, was the keynote speaker. He gave a powerful address and he closed it by asking everyone to stand while he led us in prayer for our country. Just thinking of it now, after all these years, still makes me weepy.

I was working on my first novel, which I've since published as A Light in the Christmas Cafe. At the time it was called, Attic Lights. In a workshop on dialog, the instructor asked if anyone had a section of dialog they could share with the class. No one raised their hand, so after some hesitation, I did. It was the first time I ever made a group of people laugh (in a good way) at something I'd written. When I was done, everyone clapped. The instructor only said positive things, and the head of the conference, who I didn't see in the room until that moment, stood, pointed at me and asked for my name. After the workshop, several people walked with me to my next class, making me feel like a rock star.

Nothing much came from my time at the conference except for a much needed boost to my ego. It's been fifteen years. I no longer pay for my writing habit by teaching piano lessons--my writing now pays me. I no longer submit to traditional publishing houses. I rarely go to conferences. I've published twenty novels. They sell in countries all over the world.

I'm only going to this conference because I gave my writerly-daughter-in-law a Christmas gift of a writer's retreat. We were to go to one in Arizona in June, but a wildfire near our resort kept us home. So, remembering my positive experience years ago, I signed us up for this one.

And then this morning, my car wouldn't start. I thought it was the battery, so my husband and I spent hours trying to charge the battery and jump start it. I called the dealer and roadside assistance. The tow truck guy assured me the problem is not the battery. He didn't know what the problem was.

Without a car, I'm not sure how I'm going to get to my conference. It's 90 minutes from when I had planned to leave. Of course, a non-responsive car is nothing like the bombing of the World Trade Center, but still, I'm feeling like the Central Coast Writer's Conference is a hard place to get to.

(I'll let you know how it goes. I'll take notes.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Where I Got the Idea For My Latest Novel

Yesterday, I published my book, Menagerie. Often when people ask me where I get my ideas, I usually don't have a clue. That's not true for this story. This one wasn't my idea.

My sister is a reading specialist at a school for high risk students in Alpine, Utah. She asked if I would come and speak to an English class. This made me nervous, but I did it, and I'm so glad! Not only was it fun, but it also gave me the germ of an idea that grew to be my novel Menagerie.

This is what I did. As the student came in, I handed out a few pieces of paper with these words on them:
Side kick/ Ally

One student chose the setting: Jamaica
Our hero: I can't remember what we named her, but we decided her special ability would be she could talk to animals.
Villain: Godwin, because it's the antithesis of Satan loser
Mentor: an old woman
Ally: a slow talking sloth

Then using a four act plot, the class helped me create the inciting incident, the pinch points, etc. And I loved it. But not all of it, obviously. I decided that even though I've been to the Caribbean, I didn't know enough about Jamaica to set a story there. (Even though most of my book, The Pirate Episode, takes place in the Caribbean.) The mentor old lady became Elizabeth, Lizbet's grandmother. The ally, or allies, became all the talking animals. But most of the plot twists came from the kids in the class. I owe them this story, and I'm soooo grateful.
You can read more about my school visit here.

You can buy Menagerie here. It's .99 cents for a limited time.

Everyone talks to animals. Some do it every day, although very few stop to listen for a reply. Lizbet Wood does, and this is just one of the things that set her apart. She really doesn’t understand how different she is until violence shatters her solitary existence. 
While Lizbet seeks to understand why mother sought refuge on a deserted island in the Pacific Northwest, she comes face to face with the dangers her mother tried, but failed to escape. When her mother is gravely injured, Lizbet is forced from the island and thrust into a world even more complex and threatening than she could have ever imagined. A world where the animals have no say…or do they?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

One Night in the Netherlands

We flew from London to Amsterdam via the Stansted airport. This airport seemed like it was more about shopping than traveling. The hall twisted through shops and merchants making it impossible to walk a straight line between gates--and there were almost no places to sit. We ended up bunched together on the floor waiting for our train.

Our flight to Amsterdam was uneventful, as all good flights should be. We arrived early evening, picked up our rental car, and headed for Alkmaar, a city where Larry had served as a missionary nearly forty years ago. I was so grateful we had daylight for most of our trip because I loved the wide open fields, the charming farmland, and the occasional windmill.

The light was fading by the time we found the street where Larry had lived in a charming brick house across from a shady canal--at the end of the street a magnificent windmill.

We spent the next day at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and walking to Anne Frank's house. (We weren't able to get tickets, so we just walked by it.) For lunch, we picked up food at a grocery store and Larry bought some of his favorite missionary food--a waffle sort of cookie filled with a maple syrup and a drinkable sort of yogurt that tasted--to me--like liquid bubble gum, although it did have a picture of strawberries on it.

We were running late for our train to Paris so Larry dropped us off at the station while he returned the rental car. The rental car attendant took mercy on him and offered to drive him back to the station. But then he--the attendant-- got lost and ended up driving the wrong way on a one way street. Realizing his mistake, he put the car in reverse and tried to back down a ramp. When the police arrived, the attendant reached over to the passenger side door, pushed it open, and told Larry to run.

He did make the train, and we were soon on our way to Paris. Pictures to follow

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Loitering in London

After a long flight from Los Angeles to a lay-over in Iceland, we arrived in London around noon, groggy, but excited. We went straight to the chapel where I used to attend the Hyde Park Ward thirty-five years ago. Natalie and Miranda were thrilled we made it to the young adult ward, and Natalie was especially happy to find a Chinese Sunday School.
After church, we dropped off our bags at the hotel (a charming place serving a full breakfast near Piccadilly Circus) and after a short nap, we headed out for a walking tour. We visited Big Ben, Leicester Square, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey and promised ourselves longer stops on the days ahead.
Buckingham Palace had an exhibit of the queen’s dresses. The girls loved this, Larry not so much. My favorite was the queen’s dollhouse, complete with working lights and plumbing.
You can buy a tour of Westminster Abbey, but we chose to attend an evening service. It was long, some of it was in Latin, but the music was gorgeous.
We ended the evening at the musical, Funny Girl. I loved this sooo very much. Larry commented that the lead seemed made for the part. She cried when the audience gave her a standing ovation. Imagine our surprise when we realized she was the understudy. It still makes me weepy to think about it.
We rented a car and drove to Windsor Castle. (I wouldn’t recommend this, but I know it was the right thing for us to do—I’ll explain why in a moment.) It took us hours to weave our way out of London’s traffic, and we arrived in Windsor much later than we had hoped. Still, I love Windsor—the castle and the small town. The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror and it’s been in use continually since the 13th century. It gave me shivers to learn that there has been a worship service in St. George’s Chapel since the 15th century.
We accidentally drove past Runnymede (yeah!) Don’t know what that is? The water-meadow at Runnymede is the most likely location at which, in 1215, King John sealed Magna Carta which affected was the embryo of the development of parliament. Now, it’s a big empty field, but it’s cool to think of those early Anglo-Saxon kings powwowing there.
After that, we made our way to the London Temple where the girls had a miraculous and serendipitous meet-up with a high school friend currently serving a mission at the visitor’s center. (There was much hugging and crying.) While the girls attended a temple session, Larry and I went to dinner and held our own powwow on ways we could improve our trip.

While Larry returned the rental car, the girls and I walked past my old BYU center where I had studied during the eighties. Later, the girls toured London Tower while Larry and I toured the Bridge. We had intended to hit Portobello Road, but we ran out of time. After three days in London, we weren’t quite ready to leave. But we did. Next stop—Amsterdam. Pictures to follow.