Archive for March, 2014

To Write or Not to Write (Every Day)

ink-well-and-quill-pen-558332-mThere is much to be said for writing every day.

And much has been said about it.

Whether it’s journaling, practice writing (Natalie Goldberg), morning pages (Julia Cameron), or work on a novel, short story, play, or non-fiction piece, many authors espouse the importance of writing every day.

According to this position, there are many benefits to be had: 1) you make steady progress on your project; 2) you free yourself up, so writing comes more naturally and smoothly; 3) you remain on your game; 4) writing is just like a job, and you must do it every day; 5) you’ll feel better, because there is nothing worse than a writer who is not writing, etc.

But what about the other side of the coin?

Is there anything positive to be said for not writing every day?

I can think of a few: 1) your mind is given a rest and a chance to recuperate; 2) writing is less of a drag if you don’t do it every day; 3) you need time off to feed your creative muse; 4) writing every day is just not realistic given other obligations; 5) writing every day sets yourself up for failure since no one can write EVERY day.

My own routine is to write five days a week, and to shoot for 500 words a day on my WIP. I find this to be a good pace, equal to a novel or so a year.

Do you write every day? If so, why and how much? If you don’t write every day, why not? And what about weekends, do they count?

Here I’m interested in your daily routine, not when deadlines are looming.

Thanks so much. I look forward to your response.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 27, 2014 at 6:59 am

Categories: Writing   Tags:

My Interview with Seraphina Nova

Please welcome SERAPHINA NOVA, author of ANOTHER STONE TO CARRY

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Tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on or promoting.

I’m a literary theory professor and playwright/novelist. April will be a very crazy month for me as my book was just released, and my latest play, Dogwood, opens in Minneapolis April 4th. I’m currently working on a new novel while promoting the one that just came out. I’m running a promotion on my new release, Another Stone to Carry. If you buy/rate it on Amazon before April 7th, you are entered to win a Kindle Fire. Just trying to make the book launch as big and bold as possible.

What genre(s) do you write in?

I write literary fiction/contemporary fiction

Do you have an agent and/or publisher, or are you self-published?

I’m published through ATTM press. I do have an agent waiting for me to send her my next manuscript. The problem is finding the time to work on it in the midst of all that’s going on!

 

How many revisions do you make to something before it sees the light of day?

It’s hard to pinpoint a number because I read back a chapter before I continue writing on any given day. I’m constantly tweaking and re-writing, so those small revisions seem countless.  Perhaps three or four major revisions after it’s complete, and double that when you add combing through it for editing.

 

Who or what inspires you to write?

Everyday observations. I’ve never been into epic stories, fantasy, horror, or vampires. I like to write about the human condition. I’m interested in exploring character-driven stories and creating flawed, everyday characters to tell my stories.

 

Do you have a set of writing goals that you try to accomplish each day?

No. I should, but I don’t. I’ve always been given the sage advice to write a little every day. I think it’s great advice, but I sometimes go weeks, in the middle of a story, without even visiting my characters to see how they are. Then I pick the story back up and plow through a couple chapters at once. It’s fits and starts for me.

 

Do you outline your stories or are you a non-outline person?

I do outline roughly. I feel it’s really important for me to know what end I’m writing toward and to know what the arc is going to be. The outline is crude and flexible, but it exists.

 

What is one thing about you that you’d like your readers to know?

It’s silly to force finish a book just because you started to read it and feel obligated or because it’s a classic or it’s popular. There are millions of books out there. Find what moves you. Don’t waste your time on stories you don’t like. You know the difference after a chapter or two.

 

What are your three favorite books?

This is an impossible question, so I’ll have to toss out a few that are among my favorites: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, and recently I picked up The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and really fell in love with her writing style.

 

Who is your favorite author and why?

Again there are many, but I’ve always been really obsessed with James Baldwin. He wrote honest, socially relevant fiction and taboo themes. His characters are complex and flawed, and I still think about them like people I knew.

 

What are you currently working on

A new novel called The Sycamores. It follows the story of Harper Carrington, who lived a privileged life and was used to the finer things until a life changing drunken argument turns into her murdering her husband. After a stint in prison, she ends up in a section 8 housing unit during parole. The people she connects with are the very same who used to clean her house when she was married. Now she’s the one cleaning the grounds and taking orders. She develops unexpected friendships with people she used to mistreat, and when her secrets about the night of the murder are uncovered by a nosy neighbor, everything she knows is turned on its head again.

 

If you could have a conversation with one person living or dead who would it be?

The Dalai Lama. I would hope that I wouldn’t be doing much of the talking.

 

What are you currently reading?

Several new manuscripts that were submitted for my review mostly. In my free time (what’s that?) I’m half way through a book of plays by Dario Fo.

 

What makes good writing?

It’s such a subjective question, of course, but honesty, characters I think about when I close a book, provocative, gritty stories. That’s what I look for at least, without getting into craftsmanship and such.

 

Is there a theme/message underlying your book(s) that you hope comes across?

Hope, I guess. I’ve always been drawn toward dark stories, downtrodden characters, and betrayal, people treating each other horribly, only because I think these stories are the most true to life. I like to read and to write these types of stories, but I want to be left with hope. It’s important for me to feel like I’m leaving the reader with something to hold onto.

How do you keep sane as a writer?

Yoga. Lots of it.

 

If you could be any character in literature, who would you choose to be?

Hell, maybe Dean Moriarty in On the Road by Kerouac…just to be that cool for a day.

 

Has reading a book ever changed your life? If yes, which one and how?

I think it changes my life in small ways with every book. Not a particular book exactly, but it’s about those times you come across a phrase that makes you feel completely understood.

 

Have you had to make sacrifices for your writing, and if so, what are they?

Writing is fairly isolating. I feel like I’ve become increasingly less social. Maybe that’s just age, but I think other writers would agree that it’s a very solitary life, to live in a room alone with your characters rather than live people. I feel like I get to live two lives though, so maybe not a sacrifice. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

 

What obstacles, if any, have you encountered in being a writer?

My negative self- talk is an ongoing obstacle. It’s not a unique problem, and the answer is not unique either: you need to believe in your abilities before you ask others to. Easy to say, but probably many writers or artists probably encounter that self-doubt and that they don’t really know what product they’ll end up with in the end. That’s scary, and it’s easy to listen to the voices in your head telling you to give up and do something more realistic. Don’t listen.

 

What do you like best/least about writing?

Best, constantly being challenged and forced outside my comfort zone. Worst, constantly being challenged and forced outside my comfort zone.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

It’s possible to get published. I remember quitting a creative writing class in college and bawling for a few days because of the negative feedback. I let that stop me from writing for a few years! That’s crazy. Never a let a couple opinions deter you. Persist.

 

What is one question you wish I asked, but didn’t?

Did you know you’d need an internet marketing degree to successfully get your work out there? No, I did not. It’s a full time job.

 

Please share your social media links with us:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/seraphina.nova.9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/seraphina_nova

Website: http://seraphinanova.com/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Another-Stone-Carry-Seraphina-Nova-ebook/dp/B00J1N2WC6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395524203&sr=8-1&keywords=another+stone+to+carry

 

Thank you SERAPHINA NOVA for sharing your time with us. I wish you all the best with your writing. Please keep us posted on the latest developments.

 

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Excerpt from ANOTHER STONE TO CARRY

I’ll be drunk soon, and this bar will be the same as it is every other night, minus a few patrons with an ailing mother to visit, or a sibling who will hesitantly invite them over in hopes they won’t tremble so very much at the dinner table; in hopes they can manage the forkfuls of green bean casserole from the plate to their mouth without making a mess, or worse yet, drink too many mugs of mulled Christmas wine and make a scene. Others will sit alone over a television tray in their rented room with the sound of George Bailey in the background, cursing the Savings and Loan. This year I will spare myself the illusion that this day is different than any other, and will not get caught in the snare of hopelessness the way I have in years past. I will find a man who is more pitiable than I am to take upstairs to my apartment, a man who will be drunk enough not to go through the effort of pretending we are like normal people on a date that spontaneously ended at my place. He’ll just fuck me, or even better, try to and fail, so I can watch him feel even worse that I do.

Looking around, it seems a lost cause. The bar is mostly empty. Bing Crosby’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” hums from the juke box, and a lonely string of Christmas lights burning above the front door blinks sluggishly, weary from the task of boosting spirits. Tacky plaques with obscene quotes decorate the wall behind the long, ancient, oak bar. Every surface of wood is scratched and weathered; mirrored rows of glass bottles are disordered and dressed with sugary overspill. The smell of stale cigarettes and urine are only circulated, not ventilated, by the dusty ceiling fans.

A portly man at the bar, Joe Price, wants me. He’s always wanted me. He carries with him none of the southern charm promised by the sing-song way he shapes his words. I hate the way his lips form around my name, “Kay-sawn-dra.” “Good evening, Miss Kay-sawn-dra.” The forced gentleman act is exasperating. Once, after consuming seven Brandy Alexanders, he wouldn’t give up trying to get me to dance with him. He picked me up over his shoulder and danced around while I punched him in the back of the head until he put me down. He twisted my wrist and called me “girly”, telling me to watch it, but I have already resolved to let him fuck me tonight after the last of my tips are spent, and the final last-call has been called. It will show Christmas spirit, an act of good will.

 

 

 

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 25, 2014 at 7:44 am

Categories: Author Interviews   Tags: , , ,

Earliest Memories

childhood-memories_19-102844Where does it all begin, the feeling and realization of being different from other people? Maybe our earliest recollections tell us something.

The first recollection I have is dream-like. I don’t know how old I am, but I am very young. I am lying on the floor listening to the droning hum of a washing machine. The sound vibrates through my being, comforting me. I derive a tremendous amount of security from being so close to the cool linoleum floor. Later in my life the songs of the humpback whales will transport me back to this place of peace and comfort. While lying on the floor, the song “Leaving on a Jet Plane” runs through my mind. I picture my sister, Grace, six years older than I, boarding a plane with my mom and leaving me forever. Sad thoughts for someone not old enough to understand the true nature of melancholy.

Next, I am climbing a very tall white metal cabinet, until it comes crashing down on me and I find myself pinned underneath pounds of metal, unable to move or breathe. I hear a muffled voice—probably my mom’s—asking if I am hurt. I distinctly remember that the suffocation of the cabinet was nothing next to the pain of the screaming match between my parents the night before.

The house—one of many in which I grew up—was located in an unidyllic neighborhood in an unpicturesque town in unrural, unmiddle-class America. I vaguely remember the tiny house, green with white trim. It had a screened-in porch and stood two stories high. There was a huge hill in back with a dilapidated utility shed resting on top. There was also a dog, nothing special–no Rin-Tin-Tin or Lassie, just a mutt whose name I can’t recall.

Oh well. So much for my earliest memories: vibrating washing machines, falling cabinets, morose thoughts about departing family members, raucous arguments between my parents, dark sheds, and nameless mongrels.

What are your earliest memories?

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 20, 2014 at 7:00 am

Categories: General Thoughts   Tags: ,

My Interview with Maggie Tideswell

Please welcome MAGGIE TIDESWELL, author of DARK MOON and MORAGH, HOLLY’S GHOST

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What genre(s) do you write in?

I write paranormal romance. Love is everywhere you care to look, but nothing is as it seems. I love ghosts and things that go bump in the night. A reviewer classed my writing as neo-Gothic a while ago, and he was quite correct. I love atmospherics, you know, thunder rumbling in the distance, rain pattering against the window, the candle dancing in the draught, shadows cast against the wall. Don’t just you get goose bumps? And love is the perfect antidote. You know Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’

And the last line ‘I shall but love thee better after death’

sums up my thoughts perfectly.

 

What sets you apart from other authors in your genre?

Well, I’m South African and proud of it. All my work is set in South Africa, specifically Cape Town and the surrounding areas. I use the settings well without being descriptive. I want the reader to be part of it, to see the beauty of my country. Because of the unusual setting, my ‘voice’ is quite unique. My stories are also not quite what one would expect, even for paranormal romance. I want the readers to be involved, second guessing me all the time from the edge of their seat.

 

Do you have an agent and/or publisher, or are you self-published?

No, no agent and not self-published. My first two books were published by All Things That Matter Press in Maine, USA, Dark Moon in 2011 and Moragh, Holly’s Ghost in 2013.

 

How many revisions do you make to something before it sees the light of day?

Many, many, many. It takes me a number of years to write a book. The main reason for this is because I get bored and when I am bored, I get bogged down. I normally have two of three stories going at the same time. It I get fed-up with one, I switch to the other. The benefit of this is that every so often you get to look at what you already have with fresh eyes. I don’t write to be a commercial success (although that would be nice). My purpose is to tell my story in the best way I am able. That is why, when I hear somebody say, ‘I wrote my book in a month and published it in a day,’ I develop a serious case of the bends. A story cannot possible develop in a month so that it is worth anybody’s time reading. Sure, you could write the first draft in a month, but any published book is month more than the sum of a first draft.

As I said, I revise and rewrite and do it all again many, many times before I am satisfied that my story is told.

 

Do you have a set of writing goals that you try to accomplish each day?

Oh no, I cannot write on command. It is a 24/7 thing with me. Part of me is always busy with the story I am telling. But I cannot schedule myself writing time between ten and twelve, and again between two and four, and so on. What I need to write comes to me when it is ready, and it just won’t fit in with a schedule. I have been known to hop out of bed in the middle of the night and suffering the next day at work with a writer’s hang-over, or telling the boss that I have to leave a meeting immediately as I have something of the utmost urgency to take care of. Can you put a harness on creativity? So how can you write to a schedule? A writing schedule seems like painting by numbers to me.

Do you outline your stories or are you a non-outline person?

No, again, painting by numbers. I normally start from the back end. I know how the story will end, although that might change in time. But I have the final scene in my mind and then I will start with who the characters are and how they impact the ending. I never sit down to plot all of this before I start writing. It happens automatically as each character elbows themselves into the story. But that’s just me. I think we have already established that I am odd.

 

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the sequel to my second published novel, Moragh, Holly’s Ghost. I don’t normally do sequels, because when I finish a book, the characters in it are finished, their story told. In this case, Joshua and Holly’s story might be done, but Nicole was sort of left hanging. I have to give her a moment in the sun with a book all to herself. Make no mistake, Joshua and Holly have a whole set of new obstacles to face and master, but this is Nicole’s story.

 

If you could have a conversation with one person living or dead who would it be?

My grandfather. He died unexpectedly in 1977, when I was in high school. I loved him dearly. He was a simple man, he worked in road construction all his life, not earning a fortune, but provided well for his family. There was a storyteller compared to none. I remember the ghost stories he told after dinner at night, so vivid in description that I was too scared to sleep when the kids were sent to bed. Of course in those days we didn’t have TV in South Africa and the radio was usually only turned on for the news. But who needed that distraction when a story unfolded right in front of your eyes? Technology might have dragged the human race forward in knowledge and accessibility and communication, but an art has been lost in the process, the art of storytelling.

 

Is there a theme/message underlying your book(s) that you hope comes across?

Yes, two actually. Love conquers all and nothing is as it seems, the paranormal romance in a nutshell. And South Africa, of course. It is a beautiful country with a diverse, if at times an unstable, population with a rich culture. The wackier the better, as long as it is in Africa, that is what I always say.

How do you keep sane as a writer?

Sane, who said writers are sane?

But seriously, writers have to deal with a lot of frustration. Fortunately for me, one of those frustrations has never been the story drying up, the dreaded writer’s block. My biggest frustration is time. There is always a dinner to be made first, having to go to work when I actually rather want to do some writing, shopping to be done, somebody to be fetched from somewhere. In short, life gets in the way too often. How I deal with that is to play the scene I want to get down on paper over and over in my head, while I get on with what has to be done. That way it is improved and edited too, before I finally get to my keyboard.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Persevere and grow a thick skin. You are going to encounter people who do not understand your work, you are going to be reviewed by people who should not be reading your genre. Do not take critique to heart, but try to use it to improve your writing.

 

Please share your social media links with us:

Facebook: 1) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maggie-Tideswell/161954970541011

                 2) https://www.facebook.com/MoraghHollysGhost

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LunaMags

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5187717.Maggie_Tideswell

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=76972182&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103692286921017030358/posts

Blog: http://maggietiedeswell.blogspot.com/

Website: http://maggietideswell.weebly.com/index.html

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/author/maggietideswell

 

Thank you MAGGIE TIDESWELL for sharing your time with us. I wish you all the best with your writing. Please keep us posted on the latest developments.

 

Dark Moon

 

Excerpt from DARK MOON

Part I

Overwhelmed

Tell me where is fancy bred,

Or in the heart or in the head?

William Shakespeare

 

The sand had been swept smooth by wind and weather; it was unmarred by a single footprint, the sound of the ocean a distant memory. Coastal fauna grew in a natural circle around it, punctuated by taller trees, gnarled and twisted from a difficult life. At midnight, when the moon was at its zenith, their shadows didn’t touch the ring of flickering candles that sometimes lit the clearing.

Now ten wispy, white figures crouched inside the circle, palms buried in the sand. Smoke of jasmine—for love and prosperity, and lemon verbena−−to attract a mate−rose from the cauldron on the altar, straight up into the ebony dome. Not a breath of wind would dare to carry it away. The two white candles were engraved simply with the words man and woman. A low musical hum accompanied the ritual.

This spell is cast within the heart,

that love will come and not depart.

 Evil, driven beyond the circle, watched from the shadows.

It was a handfasting—a wedding to come—like scrying to foretell the future. Knowing changed behavior and altered expectation. That was why this handfasting was being performed in secret, the parties not physically present, as they did not even know about each other yet. The two green wax dolls on the altar represented the pair. Nobody knew who they were. The fates would bring them together when the time was right. Knowledge might keep them away. And it was imperative that they come.

 

Friday Night, November 7

Moon in Aquarius

Rebellion and stubbornness

Elle’s boot squelched when she declutched, throwing her weight into the effort of turning the wheel. The rear swayed back and forth, trying to find grip as she brought the Landrover around and floored the accelerator. Muddy clots flew up behind the heavy vehicle. Slipping on the vinyl seat, her head bumped painfully against the roof of the cabin as she bounced over the rough terrain, but she didn’t slow down. She had to get away, as fast as possible, just in case …

Her teeth chattered, her dripping hair leaving runnels on her skin, but she kept going. No time now to scratch in the gym bag that was still on the passenger seat beside her. Her forlorn little tent had long since disappeared from the rear-view mirror. It’d been a wonderful place, so peaceful and secluded, and that had been her biggest mistake. She shouldn’t have come alone. But how else could she make him notice her again, if not by making herself conspicuous by her very absence?

Lightning snaked across the ebon sky. She made it to the road just as the rain clattered on the roof of the car. Only then did she reach for the bag and pulled the first thing her fingers found over her head. It took a bit longer to locate a pair of shorts and get them on while driving at high speed. The heater was pumping hot air into the cab, making her feel drowsy, so she turned it down and opened the window a crack. Rain splattered her face.

It was just as well that the roads were deserted, for she was in a daze from a combination of shock and the warmth inside the Rover. Once she pressed her fingers against the throbbing bite on her thigh. When they came away wet and sticky, she giggled, on the verge of hysteria, tears pouring down her face. The wind buffeted the big car, but she stubbornly drove with one hand. At the first set of traffic lights, she wiped her face on the bottom of her T-shirt.

In her driveway, reaction set in. Her limbs shook violently, and it was an effort to stumble out of the car, leaving the door wide open behind her. She double-bolted the front door, and only then dragged herself to the bathroom.

Steam condensed on the tiles and the mirror when she eased her aching body into the hot water. Every scratch and bruise objected, but the water couldn’t be hot enough to cleanse her sufficiently. Thunder rumbled in the sky.

He’d pay for what he’d done to her.

 

Storm started when the door banged. The TV was blaring and her hands were numb under her, but she managed to roll into a sitting position, rubbing her wrists. Donna watched her for a moment, colors from the screen playing across her sallow features before she turned the TV off and the corner light on.

“For shame, girl,” she scolded. “Why are you sleeping on the couch? It’s barely ten and it a Friday night. This is unhealthy, Storm, I’m telling you. Friday nights were made for fun, to celebrate the end of the week.”

“Give over, Donna.” Storm rubbed her eyes and stretched. “Every girl to her own. If you enjoy nursing your head every weekend, who am I to try and stop you? But don’t expect me to join you.” She started for the bathroom. “What went wrong?” she asked over her shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Donna yelled after her, but the door had already closed.

Storm picked up the conversation moments later from the kitchen. “Why are you home so early? It’s unheard of for you to be in before one, two o’clock Saturday morning. Is Cape Town losing its appeal?” Cups rattled. “Coffee?”

“No, thanks, I’d rather have a glass of wine.” Donna lifted a brow as she took a glass out of the cupboard. “You?”

“If it would make you feel better, go on.” The wind rattled the windows. Donna pulled the curtains in the kitchen closed.

Back in the front room, Donna toed her shoes off and curled her feet under her in the deep recliner, balancing her glass on her thigh. “I’m serious, Storm,” she said after a healthy swallow. “Why is it that you only see Trevor on Wednesdays and Saturdays, without variation? It’s too structured. A relationship should be flexible and spontaneous. What does Trevor do on the other nights of the week? I bet he doesn’t hibernate like you do.”

“How should I know? I haven’t asked. It’s none of my business.”

“And this is the man you want to marry? What’ll you do when he’s under foot all the time?” Donna sipped and put her glass down. “You might just find that you don’t really like him all that much.”

“Donna, please leave it alone. He hasn’t asked me, and maybe he never will. We don’t have that kind of relationship.”

“You’ve fallen for him, based on Wednesdays and Saturdays.” Donna leaned to turn the radio up. Music filled the gap left by Storm’s contemplation of the liquid in her glass. “And the rest of the week you behave like an old maid. Your life is passing you by, love.”

“Don’t exaggerate. I like Trevor, very much, and I’d like to see more of him, but he doesn’t seem to feel the same way.”

“Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”

Storm pulled a face. “You haven’t told me why you’re home so early on a precious Friday night.”

“I suppose I was just tired of Barry behaving like a prat. I must be getting old.”

“Oooh,” Storm mocked. “Maybe it’s time to settle down and have a couple of kids.”

Donna ignored her. “And I decided to cut the evening short in favor of that new book I bought the other day.”

“You and a book. If Barry only knew,” Storm teased. “Seriously, girl, he’s too weak for you. You walk all over him. Maybe I should whisper a few ideas in his ear.”

“Yes, Ms. Psychologist, you do that. Meanwhile, I think I’m going to cool it with dear old Barry, do a bit of field research, if you get my drift. You should whisper a few home truths in your Trevor’s ear. He’s wasting your best years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of Trevor and he is rather easy on the eye, but you’ve been seeing him for, what, a year now? He should’ve indicated by now where he’s going with this relationship, don’t you think? Maybe he just needs a kick up the kazoo.”

“Great minds think alike, sister. I intend to give him that kick. Today, exactly one year ago, we had our first date.” Storm jiggled her brows. “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.”

Donna sat forward, rubbing her palms together. “Oh, yes? What are you going to do? Tell me, tell me, tell me.”

Storm grinned. “I’m not going to jinx my plans. You’ll have to wait until Sunday. Now I’m going to bed. Sleep well, my friend.” Storm walked to her bedroom, her coppery hair swinging in an arc as she smiled over her shoulder.

Donna laughed, slapping her thigh. “You’re up to no good, girl, and it’s high time.” Her honey-brown eyes shone with approval. “Do you realize how long it is ’til Sunday? You’re cruel, Storm.”

Storm’s door had already closed, but her airy laughter floated through the apartment. Donna went into the kitchen to refill her glass, unfolding the newspaper as she made herself comfortable at the table. “Why that girl wastes her money on the news is beyond me. She never reads it,” she muttered. Then she forgot all about Storm’s financial profligacy when the drawing on the front page caught her eye.

 

Ω

Jarred closed the door quietly, yet the sound echoed through the apartment. It sounded like his life: empty. Dumping his duffle bag at the foot of the stairs, he flicked lights on as he went, darkness still lingering in the corners. Again, like his life. For the past year, he’d dreaded the nights. That was when the pain, pushed to the edges of his being, flared until he had to grind his teeth against it.

Mrs. B. had left the usual casserole in the oven. He turned the stove on low to reheat the food for later, after the numbness set in, and opened a bottle of red wine to breathe while he showered. When he returned to the kitchen fifteen minutes later in a pair of shorts and wet hair, he reached for a glass. Enough breathing, he thought as he poured.

In the living room, he turned the music center on and surveyed his life from the middle of the room. Between his mother and Mrs. B., they’d equipped his apartment with every convenience and the most luxurious furnishings money could buy, but it wasn’t home. Home was Marian, and she was dead.

On board ship he managed by filling every waking moment with frantic activity, but the moment his boots hit the dock, loneliness crowded in. She wouldn’t have wanted him to mourn her forever; she’d loved life too much herself. He owed it to her to get up out of the ashes and start living again – if only he knew how.

Staring unseeing at the lightning dancing over the city in the distance, he saw only the laughing, sun-kissed face of the woman he loved. She shouldn’t have died. And along with her image came the question to which he would never know the answer.

Why had she not told him?

Ω

Sybil wandered around her house. She was very disturbed and it was rubbing off on Dirk, who flicked through the channels without pause. The air was charged with energy and the rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning didn’t help. She’d prepared as best she could, but not knowing warped her nerves.

She was wearing her long-sleeved white dress, her bare feet kicking the hem as she walked; the ring on the third toe of her left foot sparkled. Her hair, lately more salt than pepper, flowed to her waist. It was hot, even with the storm raging outside, and she’d left the top buttons undone.

In the spotless kitchen, she flicked the lights on and off, on and off until Dirk appeared in the door. “What’s with you tonight?” His voice was irritatingly gentle. Sybil continued wandering into the dining room. Dirk had gone back to the front room; she could hear him skipping through the TV channels again.

Eventually her circuit brought her back to the front room. The news was on and she paused behind Dirk, her hand resting on his shoulder. A woman, surrounded by a TV crew and a crowd in the city center, was commenting on murders and the police’s inability to find the killer. Sybil barely heard the words as she stared at the woman. The woman being interviewed was attractive with shining black hair cut into a bob that brushed her shoulders, but it was her blue eyes that held Sybil’s attention. When the image flickered, Sybil’s fingers clenched in Dirk’s shirt, catching the hairs on his chest, but the signal wasn’t completely lost.

He took her hand and pulled her around and down on the couch beside him, her eyes never leaving the TV screen. She knew that woman. Elle Brunswick, she’d called herself, but she was Girla. Girla’s hair was blond. Why did she color it black? Was she in hiding?

Up in her attic moments later, the storm was much more intrusive. Rain drummed on the roof above her head and lightning flashed through the uncurtained window. Sybil blessed the athame before she cast the circle and raised her arms above her head to call in the Guardians. Trevor was Dark; Girla was Light. Together, balance. And they were connected by more than blood.

Ω

Trevor paced. The flames of twenty candles danced wildly as he passed. He threw the contents of his glass down his throat and poured again. Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning flashing sporadically through the room.

When the clock announced midnight, he picked up the tarot deck that waited on the mantle. He turned the cards over, one by one laying them out in the nine card astrological spread. She was a powerful distraction, but the wait was over. Tonight’s work hadn’t been necessary – he was prepared – but the opportunity had been too good to pass up and, black hair aside, he’d been irresistibly drawn to the woman, something that had never happened to him before.

The leather chair creaked when he sat down to study the cards. They told him clearly that the time was ripe. The astrological chart covered most of the table. Then he pulled the almanac closer, his finger running down the numbers and sigils, before turning to the dark window. His calculations were quite correct; it was time. It would all come together the next day, when the moon moved into Pisces.

The moon in Pisces scrambled the thinking, making everything seem unreal. People were more impressionable than usual. Storm would be like putty in his hands. She would believe in him and obey him. With the aid of the stars, she wouldn’t know what was happening until it was too late. Trevor’s lips curled away from his teeth.

He should never have agreed to her making the arrangements for such an important date.

 

 

 

Saturday, November 8

Moon in Pisces

Veil of Illusion & fuzzy thinking

I don’t want to go, Donna,” Storm muttered. She looked good; she could see that for herself in the mirror. That wasn’t the issue. She didn’t want to go out with him. The man she loved would be arriving at any moment, yet the prospect of an evening in his company left a hollow feeling in her stomach.

“Don’t be silly, of course you want to go.” Donna shook two cigarettes out of the pack. “Here, this will soothe your nerves.” She passed one to Storm.

“I doubt it,” Storm mumbled at her image, taking a deep drag anyway. It tasted awful.

“What’s the matter with you, Storm?” Donna studied her in the mirror.

“I don’t know, Donna. I just feel out of sorts.” Dirty and cheap and second-hand was more like it, but she couldn’t say that. Donna knew her too well. There wasn’t time now for an explanation. “Can’t a girl just want a quiet evening in now and then?”

Donna sprawled on the bed and rested her chin on her linked hands, her ankles crossed in the air. “You have more quiet evenings in than you have a right to. What about the plan you were hatching only last night? I had such high hopes for you. Don’t disappoint me now, sweetie,” she said, blowing smoke rings at the carpet.

Storm glanced at her sharply, but Donna only shrugged. “Life’s too short, Storm. You’ve made up your mind that Trevor’s the one for you. The only way to know what he’s thinking is to ask him.” She dragged deeply on her cigarette, formulating her thoughts. “You know I’m not a racist, but only this once will I point out a difference between you and me that could only be lodged in our roots. White girls think too much and they expect the man to do all the work in a relationship. In the Malay culture, we believe in giving him a bit of a hand.”

“Oh, Donna, you don’t understand,” Storm complained, nearly losing the cigarette dangling from her mouth while she hooked earrings through her lobes.

Donna pushed herself upright and crossed her legs. “What’s there to understand? You could be an old woman before Trevor plucks up the courage, left to his own devices. Men follow the path of least resistance.”

Selecting an atomizer, Storm puffed a cloud of perfume into the air around her. “I’m postponing my plan.”

“Don’t you dare. Your time is now, girl. Grab what you want, with both hands. Trevor’s a hunk.”

Storm nearly dropped the perfume when the doorbell shrilled through the apartment. Donna hopped off the bed, stubbing her cigarette out. “There’s Trevor now. I’ll let him in, shall I?” She paused behind Storm and their eyes met in the mirror. “You look wonderful, love. Just relax and enjoy the evening. It’ll all work out as it’s meant to.” She kissed Storm’s cheek lightly. “Don’t make him wait too long.”

Storm was left staring at the closed door, wondering how she was going to get through the evening? It was too soon. What if she lost her nerve and blurted everything out all wrong? Trevor would never understand. Hell, she didn’t half understand it herself.

She took a deep breath and a last look in the mirror, patting the swept-up hair that left her neck bare and vulnerable.

Assaulted by an onslaught of shame, Storm shuddered. She had nobody to blame but herself. If she hadn’t been planning to trick Trevor into some sort of a declaration, she wouldn’t have put herself in a compromising position, and none of the rest would’ve happened.

Voices reached her from the next room. Storm bit her lip. She’d better show herself, she supposed. Deliberately schooling her features around a soft smile, she opened the bedroom door.

Trevor looked just as she’d thought he would: open-necked yellowish shirt, matching sports jacket, crisply pressed black pants, boyish grin. Habit guided her into his arms. “You look good enough to eat,” he murmured in her ear. Storm gritted her teeth. That was the root of their problem. She wasn’t his damn kid sister. Donna was wrong. She wanted to help Trevor in the right direction. She needed to know where she stood with him, if they had a future together or not. This light embrace told her absolutely nothing.

“Hello, Trevor.”

“You kids have fun tonight,” Donna sang, squeezing Storm’s arm with a wink. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m running late. Take something warm, honey; they’re predicting the weather to come in later.”

“What’s the matter, my angel?” Trevor asked as they headed for the door.

Angel? That’s a new one. Storm breathed deep and slow, telling herself that Donna was right, she had to live the moment and forget about everything else. She had to banish him from her mind, for tonight at least. She’d think about him another day. And she would never compare Trevor to him, ever. Trevor deserved better.

She finally lifted her eyes to Trevor’s face and found him studying her closely. Her mouth opened and closed, the tip of her tongue darted over her lips. “What makes you think anything’s wrong, Trevor?” she managed with a quick smile.

“Donna mentioned that you were a bit grumpy, and I must say you seem a little nervous.”

Storm reached for her wrap on the hook behind the door, missing the strange little smile on Trevor’s mouth. Lord, a bit grumpy. Was that Donna’s or Trevor’s understatement? But Donna couldn’t have elaborated.

“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?”

Storm felt tears pricking. “There’s nothing to tell, Trevor,” Storm said, turning for the door. “Don’t mind me. I’m just a bit off. Shall we go?”

Trevor took her elbow and steered her out of the apartment. “Don’t worry, sweetie, a glass of good wine, a nice meal, and my wonderful company,” he grinned down at her, “will soon have you feeling yourself again. You work too hard, that’s your problem.”

Storm bit her lip. Oh, Trevor, if you only knew how wrong you were. Food and wine will definitely not make this go away. You might make it better, though, if you knew how.

How was she going to get through the night? The conversation in her head was going to drive her dotty.

Trevor was suitably impressed with her choice of venue. “How very romantic,” he exclaimed when they were seated in the open-air restaurant. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to tell me something, sweetness,” he said, glancing about. Soft tunes were drifting across the lawn, and when Trevor eventually turned back to her, his eyes were unreadable. “What a clever girl you are. I didn’t know this place even existed.” He wrapped her hand in both of his. “Maybe I should let you make arrangements for us more often. It’s refreshingly unique.”

Storm flushed. This had been her idea of a perfect setting from the moment she’d seen a picture of it in a brochure. Aptly called the Band Stand, the restaurant was set right on the beach, a lovers’ paradise. But having Trevor actually here, smiling his funny little smile, her choice suddenly seemed too extravagant. She bit the lip that was threatening to start trembling.

“I wanted us to have a good time,” she mumbled.

Trevor squeezed her hand. “It’s lovely, Storm. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we’re on the same page.”

There was something in his eyes, in his voice, that grated on Storm’s nerves. This was what she’d schemed for, wasn’t it? Then why did it feel so wrong?

Trevor didn’t notice her silence throughout the meal. She ate mechanically, barely tasting the food. When the table had been cleared, Trevor took her hand and led her to the dance floor. They were the only couple dancing. Storm felt every pair of eyes in the restaurant like a separate brand on her bare back. With his arms draped loosely about her waist, Trevor shuffled her slowly around. She felt like kicking his shins.

The tangy sea breeze blew a loose strand of hair into her face and she tucked it behind her ear. The comparison popped into her head as if it had a will of its own: another pair of arms holding her tight, muscles bulging around her body, leaving her with no doubt that he wanted her and that he meant to get as close to her as nature would let him. By contrast, here was the love of her life, holding her as if she might come apart in his hands.

Dammit, I’m not a porcelain doll.

With an effort, Storm pushed her thoughts away. She’d promised herself never to compare Trevor with the barbarian on the beach. She rested her cheek against Trevor’s chest, wriggling closer, and closed her eyes, allowing the music, the gentle breeze, and the lapping of the waves on the sand to soothe her quivering insides.

Trevor’s heart beat steadily against her cheek. She felt his eyes on the top of her head, and she lifted her chin to meet them. He wore that smile again, his lips moments from hers. Storm’s breath caught somewhere south of her mouth. A proper kiss would validate the night.

Instead, Trevor glanced at his watch behind her back and released her in the middle of the band’s soulful rendition of Extreme’s More that Words. “What do you know,” he declared, dislodging Storm from his chest. “Just look at the time. We’d better be moving.”

Storm stood in the middle of the dance floor, struggling to get Trevor into focus. What in hell had just happened? Were they going to turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight? It was barely ten o’clock. This place was magical. It was Saturday night. He could sleep in tomorrow if he needed to. Was this how it was going to end? Not even one passionate kiss? Not even a token grope?

Had Trevor ever listened to the words of that song? What he was doing wasn’t telling her that he felt anything for her; on the contrary, it was saying that he didn’t.

Storm made a big show of collecting her things and defiantly poured the last drop of wine down her throat before she got up. Tears were very close. All she could do now was to face facts: there was no future here. She wanted her bed, where she could give in to her overwhelming sadness, with nobody there to witness it.

They were both quiet in the car. Storm stared listlessly out the window. The predicted storm was building far out to sea. Lightning danced on the horizon. The breeze had also strengthened and was gently rocking the vehicle. It was very dark.

Storm stirred herself out of her depression and glanced about. There were no street lights; in fact, they weren’t in the city anymore. Her heart twisted. “Where are you taking me, Trevor?” she asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.

Trevor flashed a wide smile. The only light came from the dashboard, staining his teeth green. Storm’s hand leapt to her throat. Trevor looked frightening.

He touched her arm. “I thought we could take the scenic road home. As you said, it’s still early.” His eyes reflected the green light.

Storm shivered. Lightning flashed much closer, followed almost immediately by crashing thunder. In the moment of brilliance, Storm saw where they were. Cliffs soared on one side of the road and dropped sharply on the other.

Panic rose in her throat, threatening to choke her. Her fingers closed compulsively on the door handle. “Trevor, it’s too dark to see anything, and there’s a storm coming. Please, I want to go home.”

“You’re safe with me, Storm. Or don’t you trust me?”

“Trevor, you’re scaring me.”

He stared at her for several seconds, the twisting road unattended. The tires squealed as he pulled the car around a particularly tight curve. Storm screamed. They seemed to be going faster and faster.

Storm’s heart hammered against her ribs. “Trevor, I’m really scared. Please take me home.”

She felt his eyes on her, but she was too frantic to turn and look back at him. To her relief, she felt their speed diminishing.

“Not much of a romantic, are you Storm?” Trevor drawled.

“That wasn’t romantic, Trevor. It was petrifying.” It was an effort to get the words past her numb lips.

“You can relax now. You’ll see the city lights as soon as we round the next bend.” He sounded sulky, but his prediction was accurate enough; as they cornered, lights twinkled in the distance. The sheer drop on the side of the road was more visible.

“Better?” He squeezed her hand.

Storm felt like slapping the silly little smile off his face, and didn’t trust herself to respond. He’d scared her on purpose. Not the ending she’d envisioned for their special date.

Her head throbbed. All she wanted was to be home, in bed—alone.

Ω

Trevor took her hand to help her out the car. “You’re shaking,” he said. “Come, let’s get you inside before this storm gets worse.”

As soon as they were inside, Trevor slammed the door against the howling wind. Storm stared at him, as if she was seeing him for the first time.

“That was not fun, Trevor. You ruined the evening.” Her voice was high, her breath shallow. She wanted nothing more than for him to leave.

Trevor came towards her, arms outstretched. “Storm, I’m so sorry. It was a bad idea. I should at least have told you what I intended to do.” He pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips to her forehead. Storm wished he wouldn’t. “I know this cute little beach along that road. I thought it would be romantic.”

“With a storm coming?”

“Storm, I wanted to, um, I wanted to ask you something.” He did not meet her eyes.

“What?”

He met her eyes. “Storm, I wanted to ask you to marry me. Will you?”

Right after scaring her to death, finally the words she’d most wanted to hear. Why didn’t he ask on Wednesday? On Wednesday she wouldn’t have hesitated for a second. She’d have married him and her life would have been complete: little house in the suburbs, white picket fence, two-point-two children, the family dog…

Lightning flashed, followed instantly by crashing thunder. Everything in the apartment rattled.

Storm’s world crumpled around her. This day had been a disaster, from beginning to end. How could she accept Trevor now?

Ω

Trevor stood in the middle of the girlish front room, staring at the pink carpet—for fuck sake, the carpet was actually pink—between his shoes. He didn’t have time for this. He consulted his watch. Ten forty-five. If she hadn’t gone to pieces on the way, he wouldn’t have bothered to come back to her apartment first. Asking her to marry him, had been a stroke of genius. How long was she going to keep up the waterworks? Midnight was upon him, and he still had to get her ready.

What was her problem, anyway? He’d asked her to marry him, not to jump off Table Mountain. Interesting idea, but not what he had in mind for tonight. She should’ve thrown herself into his arms. She should’ve been grateful. It had been a rhetorical question, anyway.

Maybe he’d misread her, or maybe the moon phases were stronger with her than he’d anticipated. Not only her thinking was fuzzy, her behavior was, too. Did this mean that she wasn’t sweet on him? He’d counted on that, not that it was necessary, but he would’ve handled things differently if he’d known. She couldn’t escape her destiny.

He was going to have to rescue the plan with drastic measures. He touched the little vial in his pocket. He should have done it at the restaurant, but there had been no opportunity. In the kitchen, he poured two glasses of wine. He had just emptied the contents of the little bottle into one of the glasses when Donna burst into the apartment on a gust of wind and bumped the door closed with her hip. Trevor quickly slipped the vial into his pocket. Donna’s yellow skin glowed in the dim light, stretched tight over her high cheekbones.

Why was she looking at him like that? Storm’s crying cast an accusation around the apartment. He shrugged. “I’m as blind as you, Donna.”

Donna took a few steps towards the closed bedroom door. “What have you done to her, Trevor? She sounds completely hysterical.”

Trevor flung his arms wide. “Nothing.” Stupid cow. Time was wasting; he had to get Storm out of here, and Donna was asking him irrelevant questions. He raked his fingers through his blond hair, making it stand up in all directions. “Please, could you go and find out what’s going on? She hasn’t been herself all night.”

Donna looked at him closely before she said, “Sit down, Trevor. How long has this been going on? Did you argue?”

Trevor sank into the nearest chair, elbows on his knees, face in his hands to hide his gritting teeth. “No, we didn’t have an argument. We just got here and now this.” Something was happening that he couldn’t control and it made him uneasy. “I poured us wine in the hope that it would calm her, but she locked herself in her room.”

Their eyes met. She had nice eyes, though they saw too much. He’d do well to watch his step around Donna. She was an old soul.

“Don’t worry, Trevor, we’ll get to the bottom of this. I’ll go and see if I can find out what’s wrong, okay?”

Trevor turned to watch Donna tap on Storm’s door. Though he craned his neck when she slipped inside, all he got was a glimpse of Storm in the middle of her crumpled bed before the door closed.

Rain pattered against the windows as the storm moved directly overhead. Trevor glanced at his watch again. Eleven ten. There was still time. He picked up his glass. All he could do was wait.

Ω

Storm was lying on her bed, her face buried in the pillows, her hair spread in glorious disarray. Donna sat on the edge of the bed, lightly stroking Storm’s arm. Eventually Storm lifted herself to sit cross legged, her face swollen and blotchy.

“What’s the matter with you today, hon? What’s with all this crying? I don’t know you like this.”

Reaching for a Kleenex, Storm croaked, “He proposed,” then blew her nose. “Right after scaring me out of my wits, Donna,” she said, an edge of hysteria in her voice.

Donna waited for the rumbling of thunder to die down before she said, “Scaring you?”

“I was being silly. I wasn’t paying attention and then found us on the Cape Point road. It was dark and the storm was coming in and … I got a bit spooked.”

“And that’s why you’re crying so hard? It’s wonderful, Storm.” Donna threw her arms around her friend. “Poor Trevor. He’s beside himself. He thinks he’s done something wrong. What did you say?”

Storm swung her feet to the floor, combing her fingers through her tangled hair as she got unsteadily to her feet. She blew her nose again and threw the crumpled tissue at the basket. It missed. “I didn’t say anything. I can’t give him an answer now. You see, I’ve done something terrible.” She sighed.

“What are you talking about? What have you done? When? Was Trevor involved?”

“No, Donna,” Storm said, heading for the bathroom. “Is he still here?”

A frown creased Donna’s yellow brow, but she said, “Yes, nursing a glass of wine. Tell me—” The sound of running water cut her off.

Moments later, Storm came out, drying her face on a fluffy white towel. “Not now. I have to see Trevor off first. Please, tell him I’ll be right there.”

Ω

Storm broke the silence just as Trevor started to feel the need to squirm under Donna’s stare. If he had time, he’d love to teach the bitch some manners.

“I’m sorry I went to pieces like that, Trev,” Storm said softly.

Trevor took her hand. “I never meant to upset you.” She needed to drink the wine. There was still time, just. Eleven twenty-five.

Storm wrapped her other hand around his. “Trevor, believe me, this has nothing to do with anything you’ve done. It was silly to get such a fright because we were where I didn’t expect us to be. I’m sorry.”

“Are you sure that’s all it was?” At Storm’s nod, he squeezed her hand and pulled her down next to him. From the corner of his eye he saw Donna’s door closing quietly.

Storm pressed her fingers to her brow. “Trevor, I didn’t have a good day, that’s all. I’m honored that you want to marry me. Please, just give me a bit of time. I can’t think clearly right now. You see, something happened this afternoon. I have to sort it out for myself before I can tell you. Please, be patient with me.”

He’d underestimated Storm; she was fighting the planetary influence. He lifted both wine glasses and pushed one into her hand. “Drink.” he commanded. He could still make it, if they left immediately. He glanced at his watch again.

Storm took a tiny sip and put her glass down. “I don’t feel like drinking now.”

Trevor’s lips pulled away from his teeth as he consulted his watch again. “It’s too late now anyway.” A muscle jumped in his cheek. He got to his feet. “I’m leaving.”

“It’s not that late, Trev. It’s not even quarter to twelve.”

“Precisely,” he replied before slamming the door behind him as he left.

Ω

“Shall I water you?” Donna asked around her bedroom door.

“What?” Storm looked up, frowning.

Donna grinned. “You look as if you’ve been planted there and I was just wondering if you needed watering.”

“Cut the crap, Donna.” Storm said, brushing both hands down her face.

Donna laughed. “That’s better. You looked so pensive. You know what they say, too much thinking makes your feet go flat.” Her eyes twinkled.

“You know, Donna, of all the people I know, you are by far the best at rolling shit.” Try as she might, Storm couldn’t keep the corner of her mouth from twitching. She picked up her cell phone and turned it on. When it rang immediately, she cut the call off.

“I’ve been told that before, love, by other grumps,” Donna laughed. “It must be my Malay heritage, but it always works to lighten the mood.”

Storm managed a chuckle before her phone rang again.

“You know, if you have no intention of taking a call, you should turn the thing off. That way, people could at least leave a message.”

Sighing heavily, Storm pressed a few buttons and dropped the phone onto the table.

“You’re right. I’m in no fit state. Oh, what am I going to do?” she wailed.

“Okay, we have some serious talking to do. Come on, ducky, you get the kettle on and I’ll organize the ciggies and the ashtray.”

“I don’t smoke.” Storm picked up Trevor’s half empty glass and her own barely tasted one and dumped the contents down the drain. It hissed and frothed, but Storm had already turned away.

Minutes later, they were settled on Storm’s bed, armed with coffee, smokes, biscuits, and a box of Kleenex, anything that might come in handy.

“Right, hon, I’m ready when you are. Fire at will,” Donna said, passing a lit cigarette to Storm.

Both of them studied the glowing tips of their cigarettes. “Trevor was really weird tonight. I can’t put my finger on it, but he gave me the creeps. Could it be because he was planning to ask me to marry him? From the moment we left the restaurant, he was different. And he was obsessed with the time.”

“He’s just shy, Storm, and it might have been the anticipation. He managed to ask, though. It’s a start.” Donna puffed her cigarette and stubbed it out. “Now, can we get down to this awful thing you’ve done?”

Storm finished her cigarette and immediately lit another one before she said, “How much do you think … ah, let me rephrase that. What I meant to ask was do you think there could be secrets in a relationship?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it depends on the secret. Storm, don’t you think you could just tell me what’s going on before we analyze the philosophical implications?”

“I planned on getting an answer out of Trevor tonight, one way or another.” Storm sighed, waiting for a lull in the noise from outside, before she said, “I’m more confused than ever.”

“Let’s leave Trevor for the moment. I want to know what happened this afternoon.”

“I made a terrible mistake, Donna. You see, I needed a suntan to offset this dress.” The corners of her mouth turned down.

“Gee, you really did think of everything,” Donna said. “And the problem was?”

Storm dragged deeply. “I, uh, went to the beach for one. I know of a secluded clearing near Bloubergstrand.”

“The beach. You went to the beach for a suntan.” Donna crossed her arms and leaned towards Storm. “Haven’t you heard of sun-beds?”

“I know, I know. I shouldn’t have done that. I just wanted everything to be perfect.” Storm’s eyes dropped to her hands clasped in her lap.

“Don’t tell me you did a nudie one! Storm, what were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t, obviously.” Storm took a deep breath. “I thought I was alone, but I wasn’t. There was a man. He … I … uh, I don’t know how long he watched me. He was very persuasive.”

Donna bolted upright. “What are you talking about? He didn’t talk you into buying a pair of

socks. You were naked and there was a man who persuaded you to… oh, my God, no. Please, tell me I misunderstand you.”

“No, Donna, it is what you’re thinking.” Storm’s head went down. “I was so sleepy and relaxed. I thought he was part of my dream, that he was Trevor.”

Donna wrapped her arms around the shaking girl. “Oh, Storm, I’m so sorry. Did you go to the police?”

Storm shook her head, fighting for control. Finally she said, “Of course not. What would I tell them? ‘Oh officer, it was terrible,’” she flung an arm across her forehead. “‘There I was, innocently naked on the beach, when this beast of a man came along and made wild, passionate love to me.’”

“Made love? Storm, have you lost your mind? Have you ever heard the word ‘rape’? Don’t talk crazy, girl. You should’ve reported that man to the police. For all you know, he’s the one who’s been killing all those girls around here. You’re lucky to be alive. Oh, this doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Storm wiped her face on a Kleenex and squared her shoulders. “No, Donna, he didn’t look anything like that picture in the paper. And I could never accuse him of rape. I brought this on myself, remember? And there was no violence. He was so gentle; he never hurt me.”

“Storm, are you listening to yourself? You’re trying to convince both of us that this man didn’t do anything wrong.” Donna’s red curls bobbed indignantly. “Listen to me, Storm. A man can’t just help himself because he surprises a girl in an interesting situation.”

Storm groaned, both hands over her ears. Her hands dropped and she met Donna’s eyes. “Dare I keep this to myself?”

“The way you’ve been defending that guy?”

“I haven’t defended him, Donna. I’ve only been trying to explain why I couldn’t go to the police.” Storm sighed deeply. “I love Trevor and I don’t want to hurt him if I can help it.”

“I think this is a secret you should keep to yourself. It happened before Trevor’s proposal. The way I see it, until he proposed, Trevor and you were no more than good friends. As such, he doesn’t need to know. Put it behind you, forget it ever happened.” Donna hesitated. “I take it you won’t be seeing that man again?”

“Hell, no.” Storm shook her head. “But I don’t like to lie and withholding information is the same as a blatant lie.”

“You know, Storm, sometimes you’re just too damn honorable for your own good. What Trevor doesn’t know can’t hurt him. The decision is yours. All I ask is that you don’t do anything in haste. Now, my dearest friend, I’m going to take these old and weary bones to bed. Get some sleep. In the morning, it will all look a lot different, I promise.”

“I doubt it.”

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 19, 2014 at 7:54 am

Categories: Author Interviews   Tags: , ,

Confession and Commitment

the-last-drop_21083566I started this blog for people with a dual diagnosis—that is, those with a mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) and chemical dependency. But as my significant other pointed out recently, most of my posts deal with writing. So what gives?

My response was that I’ve felt unable to write authentically about dual diagnosis because my depression is in check and I have not had an urge to drink/drug in a long time. “All the better,” she said. “Why don’t you share that with your readers?”

Of course she’s right. But I have hesitated to share because the last thing I want to do is discourage people who are struggling by focusing on how well I’m doing. “That’s not right,” my significant other said. “People would like to read about how and why you are doing so well, so that they can see there is hope.”

Again, she’s right.

While it may not seem like it to people who know me today, mine is a very serious case. I have struggled with depression and chemical dependency all my life. The places I have been and the things I have seen are truly frightening.

I am not someone who occasionally had two or three drinks over his limit and went to bed early only to suffer the effects of a slight hangover the following day. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the time I was thirteen, at which time I was closet-drinking whiskey and gin.

My depression and anxiety started as far back as I can remember. I have been on anti-depressants since I was fifteen. I dropped out of high school when I was sixteen. I began making the rounds of psychiatric wards, detoxes, homeless shelters, and rehabs when I was seventeen. Over the years I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen the insides of such institutions.

But you might ask, “How can that be? After all, you have advanced degrees, have taught college, and have written two novels that will soon see the light of day. You seem to be functioning these days and even seem reasonably content. How in the world did you ever go from where you were to where you are today?”

I will try to answer this question in as many blog posts as it takes. This effort will be interspersed with posts on writing, which, in combination with good literature, has been a crucial part of the change in my life. This is one of the reasons I post about writing and literature so much: they have helped me to save my life.

So this post is a commitment to write more about dual diagnosis. I look forward to sharing and I look forward to your sharing.corridor-sky--hallway_19-104567

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 18, 2014 at 8:05 am

Categories: Dual Diagnosis   Tags: , ,

All Books Aren’t Created Equal

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Most writers I know don’t want to deal with marketing their books. After all, writing is hard enough and the energy it takes enormous. How can we be expected to market a book we have spent a year or more writing? After all, isn’t that what publishers are for? And then just how are we supposed to market our books? Should we do readings in bookstores? Arrange for blog tours? Provide a lot of free giveaways? Hire a marketing company? After we’ve worked so hard on a book, we are entitled to good sales, right?

 

Wrong.

 

I think variables of the marketing equation often overlooked are the considerations and choices we make prior to writing a book.

 

Some books, by their very nature, have much wider audiences than others. I don’t think it is a level playing field once a book is published. I believe that some have an advantage given their subject matter and of course the quality of writing that goes into them.

 

If we want our book to sell we need to put a great deal of thought into how it fits into the existing market. We need to make sure it stands out from similar books, and that there is a demand for such a book in the first place. In short, we need to do research prior to writing if we want to come up with a book that sells well.

 

I also think that in this Internet-based world, the emphasis is all too often on the number of books one can publish than on the quality of any one of them. Quality suffers because of quantity, no matter the product. It seems to me we have an obligation as authors to provide the consumer with the highest quality product we can, and that often takes time developing a concept for a book and actually writing it.

 

So here’s to fewer, better books.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: ,

My Interview with Susan Bernhardt

Please welcome SUSAN BERNHARDT, author of THE GINSENG CONSPIRACY

 

Susan Book

 

Matthew, thank you for inviting me to be your guest.

 

My pleasure, Susan. Thank you for being here.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on or promoting. 

I’m an author living in Wisconsin. An avid reader of mysteries, I am a member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. When not writing, I love to travel, go to art museums, the theatre, bicycle, kayak, and create culinary magic in my kitchen. I work in stained-glass, I daydream in my organic garden, stay up late reading mysteries, and eat lots of chocolate.

 

What genre(s) do you write in?

I presently write mysteries and have hopes of someday writing fantasy and sci-fi.

 

What sets you apart from other authors in your genre?

In cozy mysteries, the murders are usually off scene. In The Ginseng Conspiracy, murders in the fictionalized community of Sudbury Falls multiply at an alarming rate, and some are quite psychological. Kay Driscoll as the sleuth is immensely appealing because, like every character in my book, she’s multi-dimensional. She’s sweet, tough, vulnerable, and reckless in her sense of justice. Also besides having plenty of red herrings and plot twists in my cozy, I incorporate things that I love, art and music in the story.

 

Do you have an agent and/or publisher, or are you self-published?

I’m a mystery author at MuseItUp Publishing.

 

How many revisions do you make to something before it sees the light of day?

As many as it takes. I did about five revisions of The Ginseng Conspiracy before my co-editors even looked at my manuscript, and after that there were several more.

 

Who or what inspires you to write?

Real life experiences inspire me. The protagonist’s family in The Ginseng Conspiracy is based on my family. The setting was inspired by the small, insular town in northern Wisconsin where I live.

 

Do you outline your stories or are you a non-outline person?

I do more of a time-line. Each chapter is a day and I plan out using a sentence or two to describe what will happen in that chapter.

 

What are your three favorite books?

The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the author of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. He’s a lyrical, passionate storyteller. His books are intriguing mysteries  that have great settings and fascinating characters. I’m totally immersed in his world when I am reading his novels.

 

What are you currently working on?

My first cozy novel The Ginseng Conspiracy was published in January 2014. I submitted the second in the Kay Driscoll series which is a murder mystery that takes place during the Christmas holidays, and I’m presently working on the third murder mystery which takes place around the Fourth of July.

 

If you could have a conversation with one person living or dead who would it be?

I love Impressionist Art. Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are incredible. I’d like to try and figure out his mind. He painted masterpieces, yet was thought of as being insane.

 

How do you keep sane as a writer?

I love to write, no problem keeping sane there. Like everyone else I have a lot of other responsibilities: (which I wrote about in a time management blog on my website) the upkeep of a home and finances, my family, my friends, volunteer work, classes that I take. I don’t have enough hours in the day for everything that needs to get done.

 

If you could be any character in literature, who would you choose to be?

I am a character in literature already, Kay Driscoll in The Ginseng Conspiracy…lol.  But it would be exciting to be Claire Roth in the mystery, The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.  Claire is part of and achieves notoriety in the art world, and is consumed with painting/forging one of Degas’ bath paintings (I love his bath paintings) and has her work (illegally…lol) displayed in an art gallery, all the while a mystery is going on which must be solved. What a thrilling life!

 

Has reading a book ever changed your life? If yes, which one and how?

The Shadow of the Wind took me into an entire new world of literature. It changed my life and led me to read better literature than what I had. Since, I have read many great authors recommended by friends.

 

If someone wrote a book about your life, what would it be called?

The Adventurer…lol. I love to experience new things and new places.

 

Have you had to make sacrifices for your writing, and if so, what are they?

My “normal” life has changed since I’ve been writing. I spend much less time socializing with friends. I do enjoy being home now, more than I ever have. (Unless of course I am travelling or going someplace exciting.) I’ve always lived in bigger cities and there were more places to go to. That might play a part in it. There used to be a time when I couldn’t wait to go out with friends.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

This first piece of advice is for any genre. Once you have an idea for your book, don’t just talk about writing, sit down and write out a first draft. Write anything that comes into your mind, no matter how far out it may be. You will do multiple edits, anyway, so free write. As far as mysteries, tension, tension, tension. There must be some level of crisis that causes conflict in each chapter.

 

Where may readers purchase your book?

Amazon, B&N, MuseItUp Publishing.

 

Please share your social media links with us:

Website: www.susanbernhardt.com

Twitter: @SusanBernhardt1

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/TheGinsengConspiracyBySusanKBernhardt

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/skbernha/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7255617.Susan_Bernhardt

 

Thank you SUSAN BERNHARDT for sharing your time with us. I wish you all the best with your writing. Please keep us posted on the latest developments.

 

the Ginseng Conspiracy-small

 

Synopsis of THE GINSENG CONSPIRACY

On her way to attend a Halloween Ball, Kay Driscoll, a newcomer to town, witnesses the murder of a local professor. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental and the community accepts the judgement, Kay decides to uncover the truth for herself. Through her personal investigations, Kay exposes a complex conspiracy, woven deep within the thriving local ginseng industry, that involves some of the more prominent figures and families of Sudbury Falls.

With her new friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed modern woman Elizabeth, Kay discusses new clues over tea and pastries at Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie, their crime-fighting headquarters. As Kay gets closer to the heart of the conspiracy, additional murders happen in quick succession. Before long, Kay learns that the villains are gunning for her, too. Phil, her musically talented but preoccupied husband, determined to keep her safe, withholds from her the one thing she needs most: the truth.

 

Excerpt from THE GINSENG CONSPIRACY

I supposed I should have kept going and minded my own business, but when had I ever done that? My curiosity kept calling me. I had told Elizabeth and Deirdre that Phil and I would meet them at seven-thirty. It was seven-fifteen, and I was just two blocks away. I had plenty of time to find out what was going on. It was a bit creepy, but I could just take a peek. Not knowing was killing me, so I made the decision to check it out.

I ducked into the dark alley and went around to the double back door of the store. The entire area looked shabby and desolate. I’d never been in the alley behind the stores before. This presented new territory for me. A smell of wilting trash prevailed. Trashcans on their sides spilled their ancient contents into the rutted pavement. Piles of old wood and broken pallets leaned against the side of the building. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to be here after all, but I continued on to satisfy my curiosity.

I pulled open one of the unlocked doors, entered, and heard faint voices coming from behind an inner door down a hallway. Slowly, careful to not make a sound, I opened the inside door and just as silently closed it behind me. A curtain blocked my view into the room, so I moved forward to peer around its edge.

Six people stood in a storage room in a circle, all of them wearing the same silk gossamer hooded robes. It was a bizarre scene. No party atmosphere here. Fresh footprints from the mystery people scattered around the thick dust on the floor. Cobwebs covered the walls. This was becoming much more like The Da Vinci Code than I would have liked. All that was missing was a body. I was beginning to think I had been right in the first place. I shouldn’t be here. Way past having a bad feeling about this, the hair on my body stood on end. But I didn’t move for the door. I was determined to stay and find out what was happening. The robed people all gazed down at the floor. Stepping onto a low box in front of me, I strained my neck to see what they were looking at. Lying on the floor was a person. Had someone passed out? I could see a man. He was someone I knew, the professor we saw on our morning walks, who passed our home on his way to the college, whom Elizabeth hadn’t introduced me to yet. I couldn’t believe it. The professor was lying there, looked lifeless. My skin tingled. I held my breath as my heart raced.

I stumbled as I stepped down from the box that I stood on. Backing away from the curtain, I swung the door open wide and ran toward the alley door. Footsteps sounded in the hallway as I slammed the back door shut. I grabbed a thick piece of wood lying beside the door, shoved it though the door handles, and raced through the dark alley behind the stores. I got about a block away before I heard the sound of splintering wood. It was only a short distance to get to the Vermilion Pathway where Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I walked each morning. I hoped to lose myself in the wooded area.

I reached the pathway, removed my slippers to make it easier to run, and sprinted down a short distance before I made a sharp left turn up an embankment. I heard hurried voices coming in my direction on the path. Halfway up the embankment, I hid behind an old gargantuan oak tree I had often admired on our walks I pulled the skirt of my cloak tight around my legs and held my breath. My heart pounded so loudly in my chest, I thought for sure they would be able to hear it. The pursuing group passed without slowing, within twenty feet from where I hid. The moonless night concealed me. Why the chase? What had I interrupted? Everything spun out of control. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me…in Sudbury Falls!

I waited until I no longer heard their voices and then continued up the embankment and ran through backyards that were parallel to Main Street. I put my slippers back on. I needed to head for the safety of home where I could process the adrenaline-fueled events of the last several minutes. In the middle of the block, with no direct streetlights overhead, I dashed across Main Street and through two backyards. I kept in the shadows, running between the houses.

This was a night of shadows. I could see a woman through her back picture window standing over at the stove as I ran through her yard. Her dog, tied up in the backyard, started barking as he saw me. But I was already gone before I heard her backdoor slam shut. I crossed Elm Street, hoping not to be seen in the streetlights. Eerie Jack-O’Lanterns leered out at me from the corner house. Phil and I had just laughed about them last night when walking home from Jo’s, but now they were unwanted eyes watching me as I tried to move undetected through town. Their sneers looked fixedly at me as I passed. Stretches between the yards seemed longer. Running under brooding trees on Maple Street, I reached the entrance to the alley behind our house.

I stopped in the shadows, searching the night for any signs of movement, making sure I wasn’t followed. It was creepier back here than I expected. A cat screamed. I jumped and bolted down the alley, through our squeaky gate, and let myself in the back door, locking it behind me.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and laid my head on them. What was going on? What had I just witnessed in the vacant store?

 
 

 

 

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

Categories: Author Interviews   Tags: , ,

Writing Insecurities

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Most of us feel insecure at some point in our writing lives. Whether it’s taking a class/workshop for the first time, comparing our work to others, or submitting materials for publication, insecurity can creep up and become an insidious, paralyzing force.

 

Here are some thoughts I use to combat writing insecurity:

 

–I try to remember that all the writers I compare myself with started some place. True, some of them started much younger than I, but they started. The best thing I can do each day is start to write. Once I start, it’s hard to stop, and once I start, I’ve been writing as long as anyone has for today…and that’s all that matters.

 

–Published work is vastly different from works in progress. Publishing is a community experience. By the time you read something in print it has passed through the hands of countless individuals, all of whom contributed their skills and efforts to produce the best work possible. Publication is not a solo adventure; it is a communal effort.

 

–Even the best writers write crappy first drafts. I am a big Dostoevsky fan. I think he is truly one of the greatest novelists of all time. But word has it that his early drafts of novels such as Crime and Punishment left something to be desired. Most first drafts are lousy. That’s why they are called first drafts.

 

–Even the best writers get rejected. The stories are endless. One of my favorites is the case of Jack London. He allegedly sent out 600 queries before he landed his first published piece. Talk about determination. And that was in the days before e-queries. Rejection is part of the writing business.  If you can’t take it, you are in the wrong field.

 

–When it comes to sharing your writing with others, remember that most everyone (or at least those sensitive enough to matter) feels as insecure as you do. It is like being in school all over again. But remember, any writer worth his or her salt should approach critique with empathy, because writing is hard. Let me repeat that: Any writer worth his or her salt should approach critique with empathy, because writing is hard.

 

–Remember why you write. It is when I start to lose track of why I write that I start to feel insecure. Then I remember: I don’t write for money or fame. I write because I love to write (even though sometimes I hate it), because I would write regardless of the circumstances, and because I’m a writer and that is what writers do.

 

–Perfectionism is a bogeyman. I know of few things as paralyzing to the creative process than perfectionism. I need to remember that first I must create—a messy, imperfect process if ever there was one. Later I can spend time getting the manuscript in the best possible shape (and here is where to channel any perfectionist tendencies).

 

I’d love to hear about your writing insecurities and the strategies you use to combat them. Please drop by and share you experiences.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: ,

My Interview with Kory Shrum

Please welcome KORY SHRUM, author of DYING FOR A LIVING

Kory

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently promoting.

I’m currently promoting my debut urban fantasy novel Dying for a Living. It’s about a girl whose neurological disorder allows her to die for a living, so that others don’t have to. When I’m not promoting the book, you can find me teaching writing at my local community college and online. I also write poetry, study martial arts, and travel.

 

Do you have an agent and/or publisher, or are you self-published?

Both. I’m represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, LTD. but my forthcoming book Dying for a Living will be independently published. Thanks to pioneers like Hugh Howey, it’s no longer “uncool” to build a hybrid career.

 

How many revisions do you make to something before it sees the light of day?

A bagillion. After the ROUGH draft is finished, I will read it through, tightening as I go. Then I shelve it for a while (1-2 weeks for short pieces; as much as a year for novels), so that I can revisit it with fresh eyes. Then I’ll fix everything I can see in 1-2 more rounds before sending it to beta readers, who will inevitably always see things that I miss. Until I gain the beta readers’ approval (1-3 rounds), then I’ll begin the final polishing.

 

Who or what inspires you to write?

I get a lot of great ideas from other books, movies, and art. Some magical things
have also happened in my shower. Just saying.

 

Do you have a set of writing goals that you try to accomplish each day?

2000 words a day is a good day

 

Do you outline your stories or are you a non-outline person?

I need the opening scene and my final line. Also, an idea of where I’m going
is good—but not required. Everything else is fair game.

 

What are you currently working on?

I just got back from two months in Europe (Paris and Florence). I’ve got a lot of
raw poems that need shaping and a few shorts to clean up. I’m also polishing the
sequel to Dying for a Living, due to be released late summer/early fall.

 

Do you have a favorite author and why?

I must say I love me some Steven King. He gets some crap about being terrible
at endings, but he a master of character. And I really admire that. But I’m
also in love with Ruth Ozeki right now. I just finished reading A Tale for the Time
Being
and was blown away.

 

What are you currently reading?

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey is a hilarious look into the eccentricities of
the creative mind. Love it. I’m loving everything by Wislawa Szymborska.

 

How do you keep sane as a writer?

I keep writing. It is the only way.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Don’t give up. If someone says no, ask the next person, and the next and so on.
Find another way. Blaze a trail if you must, but don’t give up. Remember, this
business is not for the faint-hearted.

Please share your social media links with us:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/koryshrum
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/korymshrum
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20645968-dying-for-a-living

 

Thank you KORY SHRUM for sharing your time with us. I wish you all the best with your writing. Please keep us posted on the latest developments.

 

Kory Cover

 

Summary of Dying for a Living

On the morning before her 67th death, it is business as usual for Jesse Sullivan: meet with the mortician, counsel soon-to-be-dead clients, and have coffee while reading the latest regeneration theory. Jesse dies for a living, literally. As a Necronite, she is one of the population’s rare 2% who can serve as a death replacement agent, dying so others don’t have to. Although each death is different, the result is the same: a life is saved, and Jesse resurrects days later with sore muscles, new scars, and another hole in her memory.

But when Jesse is murdered and becomes the sole suspect in a federal investigation, more than her freedom and sanity are at stake. She must catch the killer herself—or die trying.

 

Excerpt from Dying for a Living

“Good morning, Mr. Reynolds.” I used my best sing-song voice. “Are you ready to die today?”

“I don’t think we should stand so close to him,” Ally said and pulled me away from the bed. “And don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Mr. Reynolds still didn’t respond when I turned on the bedside lamp and illuminated his bedroom in a butter-yellow glow. I nudged him, impatient. “Good morning.”

His eyes fluttered open as he sat up quickly and pressed his back against the wooden headboard. Crushing the comforter to his chest, he removed an earplug from each of his ears with a fumbling urgency. His darting eyes searched our faces.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked. His graying brown hair was disheveled and thinning in front. His blue eyes, set in a wrinkling face, squinted against the onslaught of light. Though he was an enormous man, six feet tall and nearly 300 pounds according to our profile, he looked dwarfed in this California King bed.

I flashed a look at Ally, my personal assistant.  Beside me, she was talle­­r by a few inches, making her 5’8” or so. Reynolds’s apartment was warm and we’d taken the stairs. So she’d unbuttoned her red A-line coat to reveal an off-white ruffled blouse and dress pants underneath. Her straightened blond hair, chocolate-eyes and tiny diamond nose stud, caught and held the soft light of Reynolds’s lamp as she adjusted herself.

She looked at the photo attached to the front of the file folder she held and then she nodded twice, which meant yes we were in the right house, on the right day.

Of course, I could still have fun with this.

“Burglars,” I said with my mouth full, chewing. “If you could just strip those pillowcases off and fill them with your valuables, we’ll be on our way.”

His eyes fixed on the half-devoured sugar bomb in my hand. “Is that my muffin?”

I slowed my chewing, thinking of how best to answer this inquiry. “Could be. It was on your kitchen counter.”

“So you just took it?” He pushed the comforter off his chest. The disorientation of sleep wore off as he realized what was happening.

“Mr. Reynolds.”  Ally leaned toward him gently then pushed her hair behind her ear as it fell forward. Her tone was professional and kind. She was good at being professional. Me? Not so much. “We’re here about the death-replacement you scheduled in April.”

His face remained pinched with confusion. One of the problems with letting hospitals orchestrate death-replacements is that clients don’t meet their agents until the actual death-day.

“At the hospital, remember? You scheduled this replacement with your physician.” Ally continued, patient. “This is Ms. Jesse Sullivan. She will be your agent today.”

He turned his narrowing eyes from her to me. “She’s the zombie?”

Was it my job to remind him “zombie” is a derogatory term? Yes. “Necronite,” I corrected. I threw the muffin wrapper in the bedside trashcan. “I’m the Necronite here to die so you can keep on a-livin’.”

I said that last part in the twangy, country music tone our fair city of Nashville was known for. He looked me over, head to toe. What did he expect a Necronite to look like? Probably not this young or wearing nothing more than jeans and a T-shirt beneath my hoodie.

“How did you get in?”

“Doorman,” I answered. “Look—”

Ally intercepted my irritation. “It’s important Jesse stays close to you until the incident occurs. As the doctor probably explained during your consultation, she must shadow you for the entire day.”

Mr. Reynolds turned to the bedside clock. “It’s only midnight.”

“That’s generally when the day starts,” I said, stretching my cramped neck to one side. “Your death-day is September 18th and that’s today, right?”

“Yes.” He didn’t sound so sure.

“Ta-da,” I said, throwing my arms wide. Startled, he leaned out of my reach. “Here I am.”

Ally elbowed me and I jerked my arms in to protect my ribs. She forced another smile at Reynolds. “We tried to call you earlier, but you didn’t answer. When we rang the doorbell and knocked, you still didn’t answer.”

I folded my arms over my chest, tired of standing over him. “We thought you’d already died.”

He uncurled his beefy fist to show the earplugs he still held. “I wear these when I sleep. I guess I didn’t hear you.”

“We were concerned, that’s all. It’s our job to keep you safe,” Ally added. Oh, that smile was really shining now. “We apologize for entering your home without an invitation.”

She nudged me with her elbow again. I grumbled, “Yeah, sorry.”

His shoulders slumped and he seemed to relax the longer Ally smiled at him. It was her gift, I guess, the ability to put people at ease. It certainly wasn’t a trait I possessed.

“Sir, if you can just act normal today, follow your usual routine, we’ll be here and ready for anything,” Ally grinned. Her weight shifted. She was tired of standing too. “Please go back to sleep. We’ll remain close if you need us.”

I gave him credit. He did try to go back to sleep, though he left the earplugs out, probably suspicious of us. I guess I wouldn’t be able to sleep with two strangers leaning against my bedroom wall watching me, especially a stranger as fidgety as myself. Thirty minutes into this babysitting, guard duty from which I derived an income, I was so bored, but waiting for death to show up was a normal part of the replacement process.

At 7:45 A.M., Reynolds was finally dressed and ready for work. He swore he usually walked to work, so walk we did. Franklin Street was busy, the honking horns conveying not everyone was happy to be alive on this fine Monday. The morning air held a characteristically September chill to it, so I zipped my dark hoodie up to my chin and warmed my cooling hands in the back pockets of my jeans.

Ally can look as professional as she’d like but my clothes would be destroyed by the end of the day—one way or another. Sure I have nicer clothes at home, but when I work a replacement job, I can’t wear those. Doctors really like to cut my clothes off. I mean, they see my dying body and it’s like “Nurse! The scissors, please.”

The time I was hit and killed by a bus, they cut my clothes off and I was wearing my favorite Three Stiffs with Picks T-shirt. The local band’s members were Necronites like me—which meant we had the same neurological disorder—but they weren’t death-replacement agents and had no government employment contract like I did.

Man, every time I think about that shirt, I get pissed all over again. They’d signed it, for goodness sake. The hospital ruined it more than the bus did. I could’ve kept it, damn them. Blood on a rock T-shirt is cool.

Anyway, that was the last straw, so now I only wear clothes I don’t care too much about, which means I own a plethora of dark jeans and hoodies which I can pull on or zip over any number of T-shirts. Sometimes Ally is able to intervene and save my clothes, but most body fluids stain, so I still go through an entire wardrobe quickly—shoes too. I don’t know how I lose my shoes when I die. At home, I have a whole basket of shoes I only have one of and I refuse to buy more. They still work. Like today, I was wearing one red Nike sneaker and one blue Reebok sneaker, each one tied with floppy laces. Maybe that’s why Reynolds kept staring at my feet as we walked.

We’d only made it two blocks down the road, pushing through the swarming crowds, past opening shops and businesses, when the conversation took an inevitable turn.

Mr. Reynolds turned to Ally and flashed what I suspected was a well-rehearsed smile. His voice shifted to an even, carefully inflected tone. “Are you a zombie too?”

“Necronite,” I said, correcting him again. If I wanted to playfully call myself a zombie that was one thing. I was trying to reclaim the word after all. But people can’t just go equating my lifestyle to mindless, brain-eating corpses. “The politically correct term is Necronite. You don’t call black people the n-word.”

“Necronite, got it,” he blurted, embarrassed by the fact that I was speaking at full volume. His eyes nervously scanned the passing crowd for any signs that someone had heard us. He tried to speak to Ally again. “Do you reanimate also?”

“Ooo, reanimate. Breaking out the big words,” I said. “No, Ally doesn’t die. She is one hundred percent mortal.”  I’ve seen the ‘Let’s get to know the cute assistant’ bit before. I don’t blame him. Ally is gorgeous. I’ve made a play for her myself because gorgeous is gorgeous. I’m just lucky that Ally likes women or I probably would have looked just as ridiculous as Mr. Reynolds here.

“I’m just the assistant,” Ally said with a polite smile, which had become permanently fixed on her face when mediating between me and my clients. Maybe it was her round cheeks or tiny cute nose that made people like her. She just looked like a nice person—unless you pissed her off, of course. “Jesse’s schedule is hectic, and it’s my job to keep her sane.”

“You must have your work cut out for you,” he said.

Did he just insult me?

I could play. “You’re not her type. You need breasts, bigger ones.”

His jaw set tight. “Is she always this…charming?”

I opened my mouth to show him just how charming I could be when Ally shot me a pleading look behind his back. Brinkley, my government-assigned handler, popped into my head. One more bad review, Jesse, and I’ll kill you. A couple of times. If Mr. Reynolds thought I was a challenge, he should try dealing with Brinkley sometime.

I rolled my eyes at Ally and said my rehearsed speech. I didn’t even bother to deliver it any better than deadpan. “Dear Sir or Madam, I am sorry for your inconvenience. In the light of your impending death, this must be a stressful time for you. Please accept my apologies for this inconvenience and let me offer my reassurance that no matter what happens, you can count on me to save your ass.”

Brinkley made me memorize this verbatim, and to be spiteful, I haven’t changed a word. Not even the Sir or Madam part, as you can see. Okay, maybe I changed “save you” to “save your ass”, but what’s the difference really?

Reynolds blinked twice and stared. Reaching some conclusion, he opened the door to his office and entered without saying another word.

The South Tower where Mr. Reynolds worked was huge, stretching far up into the overcast sky. The building looked like a cat to me, with a pointy radio antenna on each side of its roof. We followed him and his swinging briefcase through the revolving glass doors into the building, which smelled like women’s perfume and floor polish. With our plastic visitor badges attached, we took the elevator up to Reynolds’s office on the fifteenth floor. The office was the coolest, strangest thing I’d ever seen.

It was laid out like a bi-level, encased in glass. The entrance was two glass doors that pushed open. The outer wall was a full window overlooking downtown Nashville. The floor was hardwood, something pale like pine, and quite shiny in the slanted autumn light. A spiraling staircase with see-through steps coiled off to the right, very modern. The lower level held only his secretary’s desk and a clear view over the city. Reynolds’s desk was located on the upper, loft-like part suspended in the air. Good thing he wasn’t into dresses or the poor secretary would’ve had more than a downtown view through the clear floor suspended above her desk.  His desk, bookcase with reference materials, and the window behind him were all transparent too. I gave Ally a weary look. She got it.

“We need your blood type,” she said, almost as soon as Reynolds put his briefcase on his desk.

“O-positive, why?”

“This is a lot of glass.” I leaned over the metal rail encircling the loft area to see the secretary’s desk and floor just below. I know people dig the sleek, modern look, but all I saw was an accident waiting to happen. “We might have a problem if you cut yourself on any of this.”

Reynolds was confused. “The doctor told me any type of death was replaceable.”

I was certain no one told him that because I can only do so much for a body. Most of my clients still require post-replacement medical care. Point-blank gunshot wounds to the head, for example, are unlikely replaceable. What did he expect me to do? Pick up his brain chunks and restuff his skull?

Ally sat her purse in one of the four bright red chairs, the only splash of color in the whole place apart from the light and a hanging fern with its greedy outstretched tendrils.

“Jesse can keep you from dying, but she can’t heal your body. If you get hurt on any of this glass, you’ll need blood.”

I surveyed the titles on his bookcase and found not an ounce of pleasure reading; a real bore, this guy. Ally pulled a survey packet and clipboard from her bag, before fishing for a pen. Then she extended the ballpoint with a click, and settled into the chair.

“While you set up, I wonder if I can ask you a few questions about your replacement experience?” Ally asked.

Unraveling his laptop cord, Reynolds paused in his unpacking. “She hasn’t done anything.”

“No, not yet,” Ally replied, flashing her work with me grin. “You’ll receive your post-replacement survey in the mail in a week or two. Hopefully, you’ll fill it out and return it in the postage-paid envelope. These questions don’t pertain to the death-replacement itself, but rather the enrollment process.”

Reynolds bent down and plugged the cord into the surge protector under his desk. “All right then, Ms. Gallagher, if it makes your job easier.”

She tucked her hair behind her ears and tried to look sweet. “It does, thank you.”

Ally might be a lesbian, but she knew how to charm. I rolled my eyes. These two were making me nauseous. She readied her pen and read the first question aloud. “Did you intentionally plan your death-screening or did your physician recommend it?”

He settled into his seat and turned on the computer. “I went to get my blood-pressure checked and the doctor recommended it. He explained my health insurance rates would lower if I pre-screened.”

“How much time passed between the physician’s referral and your meeting with the A.M.P.?”

“Amp?”

“Analyst of Necro-Magnetic Phenomenon.”

“The psychic,” he said, his eyes lighting with recognition. “I met her two days later.”

“Psychic is another derogatory term, Mr. Reynolds,” I said. Not to mention an inaccurate way to describe these ex-military, medically-altered analysts. My favorite A.M.P. was Gloria. She hated the term psychic and you’ve got to defend your friends when they aren’t around to defend themselves. “We talked about derogatory terms, didn’t we?”

The public wasn’t supposed to think of them as psychics anyway. Somehow that dirty little secret leaked to the public. PR pushed A.M.P.s as nothing more than gifted statisticians, brainiacs who could take all the factors of a person’s life and guess when they’d die within a twenty-four hour window, up to one year in advance. Use the word “psychic”, or “guess” for that matter, and no one would have invested in the replacement industry because the modern mind only believes in science and money. Of course Lane, my sometimes beau, argued that telling people AMPs were guinea pig soldiers tortured into becoming drug-dependent psychics, wouldn’t incite much faith either. He had a point.

The Death-Management Industry, including the whole screening through replacement process, had a 95 percent success rate. That’s almost as good as birth control. No one wanted to be surprised by death and now they didn’t have to be. People liked the security. The federal government liked the fact that every aspect of the process was taxable. Hello, revenue. And the military liked that they were putting a positive spin on their greatest screw-up this decade.

Mainstreaming the Death-Management Industry created jobs, fattened pockets and basically pulled all our heads above the waters of a recession. Hell, even China and Japan have launched their own Death-Management Industries in the last few months. Death-screening commercials now outnumbered breast-cancer commercials two to one. However, not everyone accepted the industry.

The Church launched their anti-Death Management campaign not long after the industry was established. But it wasn’t until lately, when the conservative party took office, that their power was really felt. Less people were screening. Those fat pockets were thinning. I was looking at the possibility of unemployment in a year or two. Frankly, I was okay with that—but for other reasons.

“Your A.M.P.’s name and how long it took for her to complete your evaluation?” Ally asked.

“Cooper something. Gildroy, Godfrey, or…,” he said. His eyes glanced down, unfocused. “I only remember the doctor called early the following week and asked me to come back in to discuss my options.”

Cooper Gooding. We only had one death-replacement agent named Cooper in Nashville.

“How did you feel when you first learned the news?”

He leaned back in his chair, running his thick hands through his hair. “You mean, when the doctor informed me some psychic—sorry, A.M.P.—said I was going to die? I didn’t believe it at first. It’s not the conversation one professional has with another.”

Ally kept scrawling on the page, nodding. “When the doctor informed you of the analyst’s results, did he make your options clear?”

He scratched his chin. “Either I took my chances and hoped the day passed without incident or I took precautions. I’d say my choice was pretty clear.”

“Was it a difficult decision?” Ally asked, looking up from the page.

“Not really,” he answered. “I get the money back if nothing happens. If it does, I’d say my life is worth more than a mere $50,000.”

“That’s right,” Ally said. I’d also have to return the $50,000 fee if I screwed up and he died. I could die myself and still wouldn’t even get to keep my 20% cut. Since he’d be dead, I guess that didn’t matter to him.

She reached the last question. “Would you recommend death-replacement to a family member or friend?”

“Ask me that one at the end of the day,” he replied. “Once I see what happens.”

Ally was packing up but I had one more question. “What do you do here?” I swept the grandeur of his office with my eyes.

“I’m a marketing and media consultant,” he said. “We do advertising for local businesses, night clubs, and popular consumer products.”

I bet he was one of our very own PR guys. Otherwise, I wasn’t quite sure why Brinkley put him in my bin. Not that Brinkley would tell me if I asked. Boss Brinkley only showed interest in telling me what to do. Despite how harsh Brinkley could be, I was curious about him.

I didn’t remember my father at all. In fact, I remembered so little about my life before my first death. Immediately after it, I was recruited to become a replacement agent by Brinkley. I know that I have a little brother, a mother, and that she remarried an asshole. I only remember vague bits and pieces—I didn’t even remember Ally though she told me we’ve been friends since childhood.

I do remember the barn fire—my first death. And how it was not an accident.

When the secretary went home at 5:00 P.M., I decided to play in her desk to ward off sleepiness.  I’d been working seventeen hours straight. In addition to an impressive array of writing utensils, the secretary’s desk had several pictures of her kids and a coffee cup that said, “Procrastinate and you tempt fate!” A real go-getter this one. I played with her label maker, placing labels that read “Zombie touched this. Eek!” on everything: her chair, her cup, her computer. I spared the kids’ pictures.

I was about to turn on the internet when the computer popped then fizzled out. Was that smoke? Shit. I put my head on the desk. It was not the first time this week, month even, that I’d had something short out on me. It was like I short-circuited electronics by my touch alone.

It was a brand new problem that I could do without.

I didn’t even have time to come up with an excuse for exploding the secretary’s computer when a familiar sinking sensation washed over me. My grip tightened on the edge of the desk.

“Ally,” I said, calling her name as loud as I could manage with a tightening throat and nausea. I wanted her to know it was almost time. I looked up through the floor to see Mr. Reynolds freeze mid-motion. Ally spoke to him, but too softly for me to hear.

My vision blurred in and out of focus, making it difficult to see exactly what he was doing as the fading light in the room intensified. It’s like being really, really drunk except I’ve got all my wits about me. This disorientation was normal—bizarre but normal—, unlike this new failing electronics problem.

I recognized Reynolds’s movements as hesitation. Clients often freeze up when I start to react. No one wants to die. To the clients, in this moment just before it happens, it seems as if any movement could be the wrong one. He stared at me through the glass floor.

Sensing death was like a panic attack. I tried to breathe against the pressure in my chest. Nothing was actually wrong with me, except that I knew what was coming, or at least some part of me knew, and that part of me panicked. My limbs flooded with adrenaline and were ready for anything. Here in this bright office, it seemed unlikely I was going to get hit by a bus, stabbed, or suffer any bodily harm, right?

Wrong.

I closed my eyes and tried to quell this sick feeling. Before I opened them again, something heavy came crashing right through the desk, knocking me backwards out of the chair. I hit the back of my head on the window-wall with a thump and my ears rang on impact. Splintered glass from the crushed secretary’s desk sprayed like water into my face. I tried to shield myself with my hand and swore like crazy.

“Who designs this shit!” I pulled a large shard out of my left forearm. It had gone straight through the skin. Blood spurted out of the wound and my jeans were ruined. Again.

Ally came down the stairs as fast as she could without falling herself. She only took the steps one at a time, carefully holding onto the rail. Good girl. I wasn’t equipped to deal with two people dying at once. Death-replacement is a one-on-one exchange.

“Mr. Reynolds?” It took me a moment to realize it was his body that had fallen on top of me, lying now in the mess of the secretary’s shattered desk. I kicked a chunk of desk off of me and I pulled myself out from under him, dragging my burning arm through broken glass. “Mr. Reynolds, can you hear me?”

I checked his pulse and it was faint, slowing. I opened his suit jacket and pressed my hands to his chest for a pulse as Ally’s voice echoed through the room. She gave the address and situation to the emergency operators on the phone. The tiny glass shards in my arms and legs burned like hell as they worked their way in deeper into my skin. I saved the freaking out until after she hung up.

“What the hell did you say to him? We don’t do suicides.” I was talking too fast. OK, so having a body drop on me unexpectedly had caught me off guard. At least I couldn’t be blamed for the broken computer now. “And what the hell is it with fat men falling on me? That’s two this week! I’m like one hundred and twenty pounds, assholes.”

It became a race to see who could speak the fastest with the widest eyes.

“I didn’t make him jump, thank you. I told him when you get pale like this it means it’s about to happen. So instead of paying attention to his own two feet, he watched you. He tripped on the laptop cord and rolled right over that damn rail.” She pointed up, looking freaked too.

“You have to stop telling them they’re about to die,” I said. I leaned close to his ear and practically shouted, “And you have to get wooden desks.”

As if reacting to the thunder of my own voice, my vision gave over completely, switching from dizzying spottiness to full-blown waves of color.

“Finally,” I said, relieved. “Do you see it?”

“You ask me this every time,” Ally said. “The answer is still no.”

The room was a shifting aurora borealis of heat and light and a comfort to see. Even weird shit can be comforting, when you expect it.

“Everything is light,” I explained for the millionth time because I really wished she could just see it for herself. “Nothing is solid. It’s kind of like those thermal readings.”

“Jesse, he isn’t looking so good.”

I focused on the man still partially in my lap. He was no longer a warm red-orange tinged with yellow like Ally. He was green now, edging his way into the dormant blue-gray I saw in so many other things like the floor, the desk, and walls. It was my job to keep the blue from overtaking him.

I can’t explain what I do exactly.

Death is the transformation of energy. I admit I’m guessing here. I did know that when someone was about to die, a tiny black hole was created inside them. Like a black hole in space, it looked like an empty swirling vortex. This vortex was what sucked all the warm, living colors out of a person, leaving nothing behind that could survive.

My job as a replacement agent was to convince the fleeting red of Mr. Reynolds, so ready to burn up its little flame and become a dormant blue, that it really didn’t want to go into that swirling vortex drain after all. Somehow I did this by willing it.

My colors have never matched Ally’s, Brinkley’s, or anyone who’d accompanied me in the room during a replacement. Lane too, I imagine, would be a more vibrant hue if I ever got a good look at him. The point was I seemed a welcome home for blue flame since I was always blue flame.  Not the cold blue of furniture or buildings, more like a sparkly blue. Electric blue.

With Reynolds’s flame drawn into my own, it gave his red-warm fire room enough to burn. But there was a special spark I was looking for, something I had to find inside him and keep from being washed down the swirling vortex.

The elevator opening and Ally shouting to the paramedics seemed like sounds underwater, distant and muffled as I focused harder on Reynolds.

“Hurry, Jesse,” she said, so soft she could have been whispering.

A hot-cold chill settled into the muscles in my back and coiled around my navel like an invisible snake as I pushed my own flame further into Reynolds. I slid through him with urgency, aware I was running out of time. There—a spark where our flames danced around each other. Against the line showing the division, I pushed hard.

Reynolds’s chest rose suddenly, jerking as he gasped, like gasoline thrown on the blaze.

But even though I scooped Reynolds’s precious spark out of the vortex, the vortex didn’t just close. Somebody still had to go through that death drain for it to close. Unfortunately, that somebody had to be me.

So I exhaled one last breath and gave myself completely to the waiting darkness.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 5, 2014 at 7:54 am

Categories: Author Interviews   Tags: ,

Chapters into Scenes (Continued)

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Last time we looked at the elements of what Dwight Swain in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985) calls action scenes. These have three primary components: 1) goal, 2) conflict, 3) disaster.

We used the example of two fighters in a ring, Fighter A and Fighter B, with Fighter A as the protagonist. Fighter A’s goal is to knock out Fighter B. But Fighter B’s goal is to knock out Fighter A. So we have conflict, the second component of an action scene. Then, say Fighter A gets knocked down by the other fighter, that is disaster, and not a bad way to end a scene/chapter.

Now, let’s talk about the elements of what Swain calls sequel scenes. Sequel scenes, like action scenes, have three components: 1) reaction; 2) dilemma; 3) decision.

Reaction involves change in the state of affairs and the state of mind of the protagonist. Using the boxer example, Fighter A’s state of affairs has definitely changed once she is knocked down by her opponent—she is now eating canvas.

What of Fighter A’s state of mind? How has it changed and how do we show it? In this case the change in her state of mind is perhaps best revealed through interior monologue. What is going on in her head as she is lying on the mat?

This leads directly to the next component of a sequel scene: dilemma. For our protagonist is in a pickle.

Let’s add some story development so we can see why. Fighter A is supposed to throw the fight. The ring manager has threatened her young son with serious bodily harm if she does not. Yet, to throw the fight, also means giving up the chance to win the purse. The money is needed for her daughter’s operation. Winning the fight is the only way she has of affording the surgery to save him. So if she gets up and fights, she risks her daughter’s safety, but if she stays down she gives up the chance to afford her son’s operation.

So now the only thing left for her to do is to decide whether to get up and fight or stay down on the canvas. This choice is the stuff of fiction and makes everything worthwhile. We don’t know what Fighter A is going to do, and we read on to see what she ultimately chooses. And guess what? Her decision, the third element of a sequel scene, will lead to a new goal, which will in turn set the sequence of another action scene in motion.

So there we have it. The sequel scene has led us into another action scene and the story continues. Do we need a separate sequel scene for every action scene?

Not necessarily, though it is important to show how your protagonist reacts to every major disaster.

Will every chapter in your book be either an action scene or a sequel scene? No. Sometimes you need a chapter that lays the groundwork for something that comes later, other times you need a chapter to develop character, and sometimes you need a chapter to reveal certain information relative to the plot.

The ability to know when and how to use these different chapters is part of the many ingredients that go into the phrase “skilled writer.”

In addition to Dwight Swain’s book, Randy Ingermanson has written an excellent article that summarizes Swain’s analysis of action and sequel scenes. It can be found here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene/.

Keep writing!

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Posted by Matthew Peters - March 2, 2014 at 1:54 pm

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