Archive for September, 2016

Having a Hard Time Writing? Try This

So you clicked here, did you? Well, good…sort of.

Let me start by getting some things out in the open. First, this post is a little long. Second, you may not agree with or like everything I’m about to say. Third, I’m writing this because I actually care about writers like you, or at least that’s my honest-to-goodness reason for hammering out this post. Fourth, I probably need to hear it as much, if not more than, you. So hopefully what I’m about to say will help hammer it into my brain (and yours, should you benefit as well).worker-with-a-hammer_1048-1733Okay, enough of the preliminaries. I thought I might grab your attention with my catchy title (you often have to pat yourself on the back, because your publisher, editor, agent, and readers aren’t always up for the task). Then I figured I’d offer my insights into what you should really do when you’re having a hard time writing, whether it be from writer’s block, fatigue, lack of inspiration, or the itty bitty shitty committee that lives inside your head and tells you that your writing sucks 🙁

But wait! you might protest. Why take advice from a guy who’s only had two books published? If I told you I was almost finished with the third, would that help? No, probably not. Okay, well, let me say a few things in my defense. First, there are thousands of writers out there (a rather conservative estimate) who give advice and/or publish how-to books on what to do when you’re stuck in your writing who haven’t many published books to their credit. So let’s just say I’m in ___________company (I’ll let you fill in the blank).

In fact, I’ve read so much of this advice and so many of these books (in case you’re keeping track, this is the second point in my defense), that I feel warranted—no, I’d go with darn near compelled—to say something on the topic. Yes, friends, from Aristotle’s Poetics, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (rewind if you missed the quantum leap) and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, to more modern folks like Dwight Swain (Techniques of the Selling Writer), Larry Brooks (Story Engineering), James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure), Nancy Peacock (A Broom of One’s Own), Ann Lamott (Bird by Bird), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and a slew of others, I’ve read the gamut of writing books. So maybe that puts me in a place where what I have to say on the topic at least qualifies me to…well, at least not to say anything too stupid.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “Well hell, Matthew, you’ve already done that,” to which I’d heartily concur and slap my head in Homer Simpson fashion (“Doh”!). Nonetheless, I remain undaunted in my effort to (eventually) get to the point. Now I hear your chorus of, “Oh, please, God, soon!” so I’ll make this a little shorter than I’d intended.

 

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The third part of my defense (that I have something useful to say on writing despite having only two novels published) consists of the very fact that, after many years of hard work, I’ve only had two novels published. Now, how can I use such a point as a justification for the very same point? That, my wordsmith friend, is an excellent point. I’m going to try my hardest not to use the word “point” for the remainder of this paragraph.

There, I’ve succeeded. My point is this: If you’re having a hard time writing, the best solution I can offer (after years of reading about writing much more than I’ve actually written) is to write. I’ve discovered via that long and winding road (and strawberry fields forever, man) that when you’re a writer, the answer to most questions/issues concerning writing can be found by doing one thing: writing. Now, if you’re completely burned out (and only you can tell if you are), or forcibly restrained, this does not hold, I repeat: this does not hold. But short of these exceptions, the general rule seems to be that, when in doubt, write. In fact, when you’re not in doubt, write. Actually, I think there are only two times when you should write: when you feel like it, and when you don’t. Even if you don’t actually use what you write in your work in progress (WIP), having something on paper, to me at least, sure beats having nothing on paper.

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So what am I saying? Am I telling you not to read books on writing? No. I would never tell you to do or not to do anything. There are certain books out there I have found absolutely essential to keep me sane as a writer and a human being, and to prime the pump when my creative juices freeze into a popsicle. If you’re wondering what those books are, please see all the books I mentioned earlier—with the exception of E.M. Forster’s book (I just couldn’t get that one to work). Are there other good books out there on writing? Certainly. I just mentioned the ones that I can’t do without—your choices may well be different. But I also know that writing books on writing is to some people a lucrative business, one that preys on our insecurities. So I think we need to be selective in the books we choose to help develop our craft, and to realize that, once we’ve got the fundamentals of writing down, often the solution to our writing problems is to keep on writing.

There are a million excuses not to write, but the creativity we use in coming up with such justifications and rationalizations would be better served furthering our WIPs. So the stark naked realization I’ve come to is that 99 out of 100 times, writing is the best solution to my writing problems. The boldness, starkness, and simplicity of this statement may catch some unaware or cause others to say, “Well, of course”! It’s kind of like saying the answer to your smoking addiction is to stop smoking, and the solution to your drinking problem is to quit drinking. But ultimately, these ARE the answers, and, however simple and painful they are, they exist whether we want to acknowledge them or not. It’s taken me a long time to realize this, and a longer time to implement it, so I needed to put it out there. I hope it helps someone.

I’ll sign off with the words of Brenda Ueland. They’ve often provided me with inspiration to keep on writing and to help me remember that writing can be joyous. “[Y]ou should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.”

Peace and love, my friends.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - September 30, 2016 at 11:09 am

Categories: Writing   Tags: , ,

Hot off the Press! Cozy Mystery Writer Extraordinaire Susan Bernhardt’s Latest Release

It is my privilege and pleasure to announce the release of A Manhattan Murder Mystery: An Irina Curtius Mystery by my favorite cozy mystery writer, and one of the finest people on the planet, Susan Bernhardt!

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I’ve greatly enjoyed Ms. Bernhardt’s highly acclaimed Kay Driscoll mysteries and look forward to reading her latest work. In addition to well-drawn characters, immediately likable in their realness, Bernhardt’s stories captivate the reader in the manner in which they’re told. Her style is fresh and crystal clear in its conveyance of the people, events, and places that make up her story world. At times the strong writing achieves lyrical heights, and the reader is never wanting for brilliant descriptions of the characters and their surroundings. Her mysteries are richly and cleverly layered, enticing the reader to tear through the pages in a mad-dash effort to find out whodunit.

So what is A Manhattan Murder Mystery about? Here’s the blurb:

Irina Curtius, a retired ballet dancer living on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, runs a ballet studio for young children. Recently, she has been watching her younger and otherwise healthy neighbor, Stephen Kramer, become ill over time. When Stephen travels for business, his health always seems to improve dramatically after he has been away, but only temporarily. Within days of returning home, his health begins to deteriorate again. On top of that, Stephen has added stress due to problems he is having with his wife and his irate live-in sister-in-law. Sadly, Stephen’s last bout with his mysterious illness has proven to be fatal. Unsatisfied with the official explanation and in order to deliver justice for her friend and neighbor, Irina sets out to uncover the truth and prove that Stephen was indeed murdered.

It won’t be easy, though. A former lover from Irina’s college days at NYU has suddenly reinserted himself into her life, wanting to pick up where they left off. Additionally, a mysterious newcomer arrives in Irina’s neighborhood and he now seems to be shadowing Irina, appearing everywhere she goes. The story that unfolds, interwoven in the everyday lives of Irina and her social circle, highlights the unpredictability of life, the best and worst of humanity, and the powerful bonds that drive people together (and apart).

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To find out more about Susan Bernhardt and/or to purchase one of her fabulous mysteries:

Website: www.susanbernhardt.com

A Manhattan Murder Mystery: An Irina Curtius Mysteryhttp://amzn.to/2cPlxqq

The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1) – http://amzn.to/1oPTsiw

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) – http://amzn.to/1tC5krR

Murder by Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 3) – http://amzn.to/1MBKRd4

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Posted by Matthew Peters - September 29, 2016 at 5:20 am

Categories: Author Interviews   Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

An Interview with the Amazing Maria Hall

Today I have the privilege of interviewing one of the most amazing people I’ve ever come across. Her name is Maria Hall.

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Ms. Hall was born into an Irish Catholic family in Auckland, New Zealand. After leaving school, she completed a Bachelor of Music at Auckland University and a Diploma of Teaching at Auckland College of Education, before studying Theology and Scripture at Chanel Institute (Auckland) and Yarra Theological College (Melbourne, Australia). Her decision to enter the convent took her around the world. She now lives on Auckland’s North Shore with her partner, Nicholas.

As many of you know, I’m very interested in religion, especially the Catholic Church, as evidenced by The Brothers’ Keepers and upcoming novels in the Nicholas Branson series. What I find particularly fascinating about Maria is her experience with the Palmarian Catholic Church. She entered the convent at a young age, and her experiences, prior to and after entering the convent, make up the bulk of her riveting memoir, Reparation: A Spiritual Journey (please click here for my review). I was deeply moved by her book and so I asked her if she’d be willing to do an interview, to which she graciously assented.

 

Can you talk a little bit about your early experiences regarding the Catholic Church, while you were growing up in New Zealand?

My family was caught in a dilemma in the 1970s, post Vatican Council II, when the Catholic Church was undergoing big changes. Although change was necessary, and long overdue, many Catholics were confused with the shift in thinking. Suddenly, mortal sin and the threat of eternal damnation were replaced by no sin and no place called hell. Was it possible God was a nice guy after all?

 As a teenager I was happy to see the end of the Latin Mass and fasting on Fridays and during Lent. But my Irish grandmother never stopped reciting her prayers in Latin, and she was a strong influence on my mother and, hence, the whole family.

 

What was the nature of the calling you believed you received from God?

One day when I was in confession, the priest asked me if I’d ever thought of becoming a nun. I should have said ‘no’ but, in a moment of peaceful selflessness, I responded ‘yes’, and so began my journey of discovery of what it meant for a young girl, just 20, to try to empty herself of all human desires in order for Jesus to fill that space.

 

When you were quite young, what you describe as “a callous act” resulted in “an impossible choice” that shaped the rest of your life. Can you share with us what happened?

I could – but then you wouldn’t need to read my memoir Reparation: A Spiritual Journey. So, I recommend you take the time to turn the pages of the book and live the experience I went through.

 

Afterwards you sought absolution in a convent as a Carmelite nun in the Palmarian Catholic Church. Please tell us a little about the Palmarians.

The Palmarian Catholic Church was founded in 1978 in Seville, Spain. It sees itself as the true Catholic Church, although Rome would see it as a breakaway sect or cult, clinging to tradition (not unlike Archbishop Lefebvre in France). The Palmarian Church was founded on the site of the alleged miraculous apparitions of Our Lady to four young children at Palmar de Troya – similar to what occurred at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 and Medgujorje in Bosnia in the 1990s.

 

What was a typical day like in the convent?

The convent bell rang at 6:40 AM each morning, followed by Mass, then breakfast. During the day we worked in silence, our thoughts focused on God while cleaning, cooking, and washing. There was half an hour for spiritual reading before lunch at 2:00 PM, followed by half an hour of siesta, then a journey out of Seville to the Basilica of Palmar de Troya. We prayed there until after midnight every night, except Saturday. On Saturday night we stayed awake all night praying. There was no free time, no contact with the outside world, no newspaper, no radio, no television, and no phone.

 

What caused you to leave the Palmarian Church?

It was almost 10 years before I had a change of heart, a loss of faith, a spiritual awakening, a realization. And when I left I was broken, confused, exhausted, and silenced.

 

What has your life been like since you left the Church, more specifically, what role, if any, does faith in God currently play in your life?

I had no idea what to believe when I left the Palmarian Church. For so many years my thinking had been rigid, my thoughts focused, immovable. Rejecting one Church didn’t necessarily lead to believing in another. After all, every Church sees itself as the true church. For a long time my head was in a vacuum and no questions surfaced. However, as I recovered from the silence of the Carmelite world, my mind and body energized, my curiosity ignited, I began to read outside of what had once been my usual religious framework. And, although much of what I read didn’t make sense to me, I persevered because I was desperate for insight and change. Now, I’m content to say I don’t have the answers to most of life’s big questions. I’m happy with the mystery, the not- knowing. I don’t have to coat everything or anything with a faith blanket.

What message do you hope readers take away from your amazing story?

Healing happens if we let it – no matter how broken we might be. Don’t be ashamed of who you are, what you have done. It’s your story, own it, and love yourself through it. You will feel wonderful… and strong.

 

I was incredibly moved by your story and am eager to read more of your work. What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a small collection of true stories taken from 3 generations of women in my Irish family – plus their men. The stories start in Belfast, Ireland, with my grandmother escaping her father’s influence by boarding a steamship, called Rangatira, bound for New Zealand. It’s 1914 and Nora Lavery is running away from an arranged marriage. The rest of the collection deals with young men in the family going to war, with love and loss, and commitment.

 

Thank you so much for joining us, Maria. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of Reparation: A Spiritual Journey. It moved me very much and I’m sure it will you, too. If you’re interested in learning more about Maria and her book, please see the following:

Purchase link: http://amzn.to/2bxTGgw 

Website: www.mariahallwriter.com

Facebook: http://bit.ly/2d2uVYz

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MariaHallWriter

 

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Blurb

This is the true story of one woman’s journey from the sweeping coastlines of New Zealand to the barren plains of Southern Spain, from youthful hope to deep despair, and from sin to reparation.

As a free-spirited university student, Maria’s life stretched before her like a wonderful adventure. It was New Zealand in the mid-seventies and Maria wanted to make music, serve the Lord and spread her wings far beyond the safe familiarity of her homeland.

Then, the unthinkable happened: a callous act resulting in an impossible choice that shaped the rest of her life. Heartbroken and in need of a miracle, Maria sought absolution as a Carmelite nun in the dark, silent cloisters of the Palmarian Catholic Church, one of the world’s most secretive and controversial religious orders.

 

Excerpt from Chapter 1:
In Confession

 

Mother screamed with horror – as I expected she would – before grabbing her inhaler. She was having an asthma attack. I felt dreadful.

“I’m suffering just like the Sorrowful Mother,” she sobbed. “All my children are going to hell and you’re no different from the rest of them. Sometimes I wish I’d never married.”

I remained quiet. I had heard it all so many times before but the difference, this time, was that I was the cause of her grief.

“You watch! I’ll be dead soon and then you’ll all be sorry you didn’t listen to your mother.”

She glanced at Dad who was drying the lunch dishes, a look of disgust on her face. She always blamed Dad for any weaknesses and shortcomings in her children.

I went to my room and closed the door. I needed to be alone. Four short years had slipped by and now, at twenty-four, I was changed beyond recognition – physically, emotionally.

 

It all began one Saturday morning. Having confessed my sins, none of which were serious, I was waiting for Father McSweeney to give me absolution.

“Have ya ever t’ought of becomin’ a nun, Maria?” he whispered.

His words resounded in my head as I stared at the black curtain in the confessional box. I’d just received Jesus in Holy Communion and I was feeling happy. I liked Jesus. He was a good man.

“Yes,” I whispered.

I was being polite. Actually, I only started thinking about it right then.

“Jesus needs generous souls, Maria. He asks us to trust him. Do ya trust Jesus?”

“Yes, I do, Father.”

I leant into the curtain, not wanting to miss a word, while noting Father McSweeney’s Irish accent was different from my grandmother’s – an accent that couldn’t possibly be from Belfast. So was Father McSweeney from Dublin? Or from…

“Do you love Jesus with all ya heart and soul?”

He was interrupting my thoughts.

“Yes, I do, Father.”

“That’s greet. And ya want to please Jesus, don’t ya?”

“Yes, Father, of course I do.”

“A religious vocation is a very special t’ing, Maria; a gift from God. A nun takes t’ree vows, ya know: vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Those vows will lead her on the path to sanctity. Do you understand?”

Mother was coughing at the back of the church, probably wondering why I was taking so long and, therefore, what I might be confessing. However, Father McSweeney was doing the talking and I thought he should hurry up and finish.

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Posted by Matthew Peters - September 19, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Categories: Author Interviews   Tags: , ,

An Interview with Journalist and Author Christina Hoag

I’m very honored to have as my guest today acclaimed journalist and author Christina Hoag. Christina is a former staff writer for The Miami Herald and the Associated Press. Her career as a journalist took her to Latin America, where she reported from fourteen countries on issues such as the rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Colombian guerrillas, Guatemalan human rights, Salvadoran gangs, Nicaraguan landmine victims, and Mexican protests for Time, Business Week, The Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle, The New York Times, and other publications. In addition, she writes stellar fiction. I’ve had the opportunity to read and review her wonderfully crafted novels, Skin of Tattoos (please click here for my review) and Girl on the Brink (please click here for my review).

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Your fiction is fact-based. Tell us how you got interested in gangs in the case of Skin of Tattoos and domestic violence in the case of Girl on the Brink.

Skin of Tattoos was inspired by interviews I did for a magazine story in El Salvador on gang members deported from Los Angeles to San Salvador, which most of them really didn’t know because their families had emigrated when they were infants. It was a classic “fish out of water” story. They neither belonged in El Salvador nor in the United States. Their story stayed with me because I moved around the world as a child so I know the feeling of not really belonging anywhere. However, the novel ended up not being about deported homies!

In the case of Girl on the Brink, the book was inspired by something that happened to me years ago, although again the book took on a life of its own as stories tend to do! I felt strongly that I wanted to make teen girls aware about the red flags of abusive behavior because they can be easily mistaken. Teenagers aren’t overly wont to listen to adults so my aim was to present a dangerous relationship as a novel so it will seem less like a lesson or advice. Instead, a girl can read this on her own and absorb the story in her own way.

 

You write very beautifully. How did you develop such a lyrical style?

Thank you! I think it maybe comes from being a voracious reader from a very early age. I believe writers should be catholic in their literary tastes. Poetry, I’ve found, really helps to develop lyricism and an ear for language; plays for dialogue; mysteries/thrillers for plot and literary works for character development.  But I’ve always loved literary writing that jumps off the page so I suppose I try to emulate that.

 

Have you written any other books of which we should be aware?

I co-authored a nonfiction book about gang intervention, Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014). Gang intervention is the concept of taking former gang members and training them to be street peacekeepers, to interrupt the cycle of retaliation that drives gang violence. My co-author is a former Black Panther who’s been working with gangs in South L.A. since the seventies. I’m proud to say the book is being used as a textbook for various courses at the University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

 

Is there a theme/message underlying your work that you hope comes across?

I create stories wherein characters have to make hard choices when confronted with extraordinary events, in short – drama. My aim is to create well written stories that have intricate plots but also intricate characters. For instance, my problem with most of detective/mystery fiction, which I like in general, is that it tends to be so formulaic, whereas a lot of literary fiction is too slow-paced to sustain interest. I’m striving to hit the balance between the two. I also gravitate toward foreign settings, probably because I’ve lived in several countries and traveled around the world and love setting stories amid current events.

 

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Probably my favorite all time author is Graham Greene. Many of his books are about the concept of being a foreigner, an outsider/observer, which I relate to on a personal level since I’ve lived in many countries. That influence comes through in my novel Skin of Tattoos, where the protagonist, Mags, was born in El Salvador but left with his family fleeing the civil war when he was a child. So he doesn’t really feel Salvadoran, doesn’t remember anything about the place, yet that is his identity. He’s an outsider to El Salvador, yet as an immigrant an outsider to mainstream American society, as well. He finds his home in a gang with others from similar backgrounds. Greene’s books are set in numerous countries, which I also relate to since travel is another passion of mine. As a reader, I love immersing myself in foreign cultures and settings because you always learn something new. As a writer, Greene’s work made me see how key setting can be. It can almost become almost like another character with a personality all its own.

 

Tell us something about yourself that few people know.

I came to the United States when I was 13 years old. I lived in six other countries growing up: New Zealand, where I was born, Fiji, England, Sweden, Nigeria and Australia. As an adult, I have lived in Spain, Guatemala and Venezuela.

 

Give us one piece of sage advice on writing, relationships, or life in general.

I think the best gift you can give yourself in any area of life, but especially perhaps in creative endeavors, is to believe in yourself, believe that you have something worthwhile to say, believe that only you can say it. Don’t let anyone steer you from your path. Use adversity to develop strength. And just don’t give up!

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve got two novels I absolutely, positively must finish! One is called The Revolutionaries, and it’s a literary political thriller based on the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela, where I was living at the time and which I covered as a journalist. The protagonists are an expat married couple who find themselves on opposite sides of Venezuela’s very divided politics. The other is called Angels Lust. It’s a detective mystery set in Los Angeles with a Latin American twist. I also have a sequel to Skin of Tattoos. A chunk of it is written, but it’s still got a long way to go. Mags’s journey is far from over. He’s got some deep, dark places to go before he resurfaces.

 

What question didn’t I ask that you wish I had?

How did you write so convincingly about the world of gangs?

Research. Much of it was done in the context of my job as a journalist. I was able to interview gang members, their girlfriends and parents, prison inmates, as well as numerous sociologists and other experts who study gangs, and police officers who work in gang units. I also read a heap of books about gangs, including memoirs by gang members, who tend to write their stories whilst they’re incarcerated, and others who work with gangs, ranging from priests to anthropologists. I also had the benefit of co-authoring a book on gang intervention.

 

Thank you so much for joining us today, Christina. I encourage everyone to check out your work. I’m sure they’ll be very glad they did.

 

BUY LINKS

Skin of Tattoos available in ebook and paperback on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2bSRjqP

Girl on the Brink available in ebook and paperback on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2aRFsVZ

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/657690

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2bFrCGQ

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

http://www.ChristinaHoag.com

https://facebook.com/ChristinaHoagAuthor

https://twitter.com/ChristinaHoag

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7341116.Christina_Hoag

 

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Skin of Tattoos

Blurb:

Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice of everything – and everyone – he loves.

 

Excerpt:

Ay yo, homes!” A familiar voice sliced through the bustle. “Mags!”

I twirled faster than a ballet dancer, my stomach clenching. Fuck. It was him. Rico. Slashing across the street aiming the shopping bag in his hand at me. His baggy shorts slung so low the waistband of his boxers showed. Socks, white as fluorescent light, pulled neatly to his knees. Ink flowing out of the arms and neck of his plaid shirt. Exactly how he looked the last time I saw him.

The memory of that day bore down on me. We were kicking it at a street corner, and Rico was bragging about how he shot a trey-eight into the ceiling of a liquor store he was jacking, and the storeowner pissed his pants. As he was talking, he took the .38 out of his waistband in a live re-enactment, and I just had to take the piece, feeling its cold weight in my hand for just a second or two before handing it back to Rico. That second or two cost me twenty-six months of my freedom.

Rico threw his arm around me. A thick gold chain shone around his neck. I had a cord with an orange arrow slung around mine.

Ese.” My voice had as much life as a three-day-old soda.

I never knew if he dropped that thirty-eight by accident, as he said, or if he saw his chance to set me up. I kinda figured the latter. Someday, somehow, I’d get him to admit the truth to me.

“I thought that was you. But I said to myself, ‘Mags, in that fuckin pendejada? Couldn’t be.’ But I looked again and simón, it was. Whatup with this shit?” He flicked the red nose ball. I caught his wrist in midair and stared him down in his swamp eyes. “Easy, fool,” he said.

I dropped his wrist. “Just making a few bones.”

“I heard you was back. We been waiting for you at the garaje, but you ain’t showed up.” Rico drilled my eyes. “You avoiding your homies or what?”

The ball was itching my nose like an oversized mosquito bite. “I got parole and all that. I just wanted to get set up first.”

“I figured you needed a couple days to get readjusted, get some pussy.” He shook his head. “But damn, this shit?” He shook his head. “You ready to get crazy again?”

“Keeping it lo pro, Rico.”

Rico studied me. I suddenly glimpsed myself in his eyes—I had become a small brown man.

He brightened up. “Hey, I just had a kid. A boy. I’m buying some bottles and blankets and shit right now.”

“Felicidades.”

“With Maribel. But I got my side action, feel me?”

“You were always real slick with the jainas.” I knew a little flattery would soften the rough edges of the meet. He smiled big.

“Tell you what, loco, I’ll give you some lessons, make you real smooth.”

“Yeah, I’m out of practice now.” I tried to laugh.

“A lot of changes gone down in the barrio. We need to catch you up.” His arm hooked my neck in a chokehold. “You our firme homeboy, man, you’ll always be part of la familia. We need you, fool.” He squeezed a little too hard. “You come by the garaje. We got a jump in day after tomorrow. We’ll be waiting. We’ll hook you up again, then you can dump this shit.” He pointed his forefinger at me with a barbed wire smile. “Missed you, Mags.”

I watched him vanish into the crowd of shoppers, and spat on the ground to get rid of the bad taste that had flooded my mouth.

 

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Girl on the Brink

Blurb:

The summer before senior year, Chloe starts an internship as a reporter at a local newspaper. While on assignment, she meets Kieran, a quirky aspiring actor. Chloe becomes smitten with Kieran’s charisma and his ability to soothe her soul, torn over her parents’ impending divorce. But as their bond deepens, Kieran becomes smothering and flies into terrifying rages. He confides in Chloe that he suffered a traumatic childhood, and Chloe is moved to help him. If only he could be healed, she thinks, their relationship would be perfect. But her efforts backfire, and Kieran turns violent. Chloe breaks up with him, but Kieran pursues her relentlessly to make up. Chloe must make the heartrending choice between saving herself or saving Kieran, until Kieran’s mission of remorse turns into a quest for revenge.

 

Excerpt:

The carnival sets up for two weeks every summer in a field outside town. Everyone goes. It’s something to vary Indian Valley’s monotonous diet of bowling, the single-screen movie theatre, miniature golf, and hanging out at the Dairy Cream.

Kieran grabs my hand as we stroll into the fair. It’s a riot of dazzling lights, whirling rides and thumping music. I scan the crowd, hunting for Morgan and Jade, who I spot waiting for funnel cakes.

“Hey, there are my friends.” I wave frantically at them with my free hand as I tug Kieran with the other. Morgan sees me, points me out to Jade and they both look my way.

Kieran yanks my hand in the opposite direction. “We’ll catch up with them later.”

“I want you to meet them. I told them all about you.”

“I just want to play my favorite game for you first.”

I can’t refuse. I let myself be pulled and make an apologetic face at them. Morgan’s expression hardens. She says something to Jade. The crowd swarms between us, and I lose sight of them.

Kieran steers me to a shooting-at-moving-ducks game and grabs a rifle. He’s a good shot and soon wins a white teddy bear with a red satin heart sewn on its chest. He hands it to me.

“For you.”

“Thank you. It’s adorable.” I proudly tuck it under my arm.

“Just like you. Hungry?”

“Starving.”

“Me, too.”

We make for the food concessions. “Carnival hot dogs are the best,” Kieran says. “The pizza and hamburgers blow.”

“Totally,” I say as we line up.

We buy hot dogs slathered with relish—and root beer, of course—and sit at a picnic table. Kieran straddles the bench, patting the seat in front of him. I sit astride like him. He inches closer so our knees touch.

“Open wide,” he orders, looking at my mouth.

I obey. He feeds one end of the hot dog to me, then leans in and bites the other end. I crack up and almost choke.

“Don’t laugh,” which comes out something like “doan waf” through Kieran’s mouthful of hot dog.

No hands, he chews, swallows and takes another bite. I do the same. We manage to eat the hot dog, and at the end, our lips touch. Kieran presses mine into a kiss.

“So that’s why you like carnival hot dogs,” I say when we break apart. “To steal kisses.”

“Hey, I told you they were the best. Hold on, you have mustard on your face.” He swoops in and licks the side of my mouth.

I wipe off his wetness. “Ew, Kieran!”

“Mmmm, salty.”

I giggle. He swoops in again and licks all around my mouth and lips. His tongue tickles, and I laugh as I shake my head, sucking in my lips, trying to get him off me as I crack up harder, which only encourages him. He slurps my cheeks and chin, and I try to recoil out of his reach, but he pulls me to him. Finally, he backs off and dabs my face with a napkin as I recover my breath.

“You’re worse than a puppy,” I say.

“Ruff, ruff.” He pants and holds up his hands like paws, then jumps to his feet, holding out his palm. “Come on. Time for rides.”

We run like it’s an emergency.

“Cup of tea, Madam?” Kieran points to the tea cups, then pushes open the just-closing gate and leaps in a cup.

We spin madly in the tea cups, chase, block and slam each other in the bumper cars, cling to each other in the haunted house. We finish with a ride on the Ferris wheel.

It’s getting late, and the crowd has swelled with rowdy revelers who obviously made a pitstop at a bar before the carnival.

“Let’s go,” Kieran says, after a guy, drunk or stoned, stumbles in front of us.

“I really wanted you to meet my friends.”

“We’ve got plenty of time for that. It gets nasty this time of night, a lot of fights.”

“Okay.” I give a last three-sixty turn in case Jade and Morgan appear. Kieran’s right. Cliques of older guys and girls hang around the perimeter, smoking and drinking from paper bags.

We swing our clasped hands as we walk to the parking lot. I wish the night would never end. When we get in the truck, he blasts the air conditioning and rolls down the windows. We pull out into the street, and as the AC chills, I close my window. Using his control, Kieran buzzes it down again.

“The AC’s on,” I say.

“I know, but doesn’t it feel great? To feel cold air and warm air at the same time?”

He accelerates. Bathtub-temperature air whooshes along the side of my body, while my chest is cooled by the AC. The combination feels luxurious.

“You’re right. It does feel great!”

He grins. “Told ya.”

“My mom would kill me for doing this.”

“That’s why you’re hanging with me, not with her.”

He snakes an arm over and slides off the elastic holding my ponytail. I shake my hair loose and let the wind whip it.

“That’s it, sweetpea, be free.”

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Posted by Matthew Peters - September 13, 2016 at 4:48 am

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