Category Archives: fiction

The One-Way Mirror, by Carole Howard

Violinists sometimes claim they play the most difficult instrument. After all, there are no keys to press that automatically produce “C#.” Nor are there frets, as on a guitar neck, for guidance. You need to just know where to put your finger. For every single note – and there are so many of them. (Have you guessed I’m a violinist?)

I have to admit, though, that pianists have it rough, too, with two different lines of music, one for the left hand and one for the right. As if that weren’t enough, the two lines are written in different clefs. (Non-musicians: let’s just say that black dot on one of the five lines of a musical staff can mean different things depending on which clef it’s in.)

Each group has a point. Or, as my friend’s mother used to say, “There are pros and cons on both sides, and they’re all bad.”

Having been a fiction writer who dove, somewhat naively, into memoir-writing, I see that there are pros and cons in both genres. In this case, of course, they’re not all bad. But they sure are different.

My first novel was character-driven. I could use incidents from my own life, but got to pick and choose, and had the freedom to make up whatever I wanted. Having come from the corporate-writing world, it seemed heavenly to give free rein to my imagination, my creativity. Readers didn’t know which parts were fact-based and which were fictional. When people asked if the protagonist was really me, the short answer was no.

And yet, there was that intimidating blank-canvas thing.

The second novel was a murder mystery. Only a little was drawn from my life, and the canvas wasn’t so blank because mysteries have to be constructed in a certain way so they wind up being….. mysterious. Red herrings, false clues, buried truth. So the “rules” were comforting. But they were difficult, very difficult, to follow.

Like I said, pros and cons.

My most recent book is a travel memoir about five volunteer trips, each two months long, to the developing world. It’s not a travelogue: no recommendations for hotels or restaurants. Yes, it recounts experiences I had while traveling – some funny, some inspiring, some surprising, some sad. There was the time I was twenty feet from a silverback mountain gorilla with nothing between us except trees. Or the time I coached sex workers on their presentations to colleagues about the correct use of condoms. We used wooden props – use your imagination!

But the point of telling about these moments in the memoir is not necessarily, “This is great – you should do it too.” There’s a lot more. Character. Reflections. Truth. Certainly, the tools for writing fiction were also crucial for memoir: setting the scene with physical description, creating tension, using punchy dialogue. But making it all into a story was quite a hill to climb.

The strangest thing about having written a memoir, though, is realizing there are a whole lot of people out there who know some pretty intimate stuff about me. Not only do I not know intimate details about them, I don’t even know who they are!

When I’m speaking at a book store or library, this asymmetry is particularly disorienting. And there’s irony, too: People in the audience, if they’ve read the book, know how uncomfortable I feel about public speaking, and yet here I am, speaking publicly. Through the looking glass, or should I say the one-way mirror?

I guess it’s like being naked when everyone else is clothed, aka EVERYONE’S WORST NIGHTMARE!!

  •     *     *     *

Carole Howard wrote Deadly Adagio, a mystery with a musical undertone set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.

2 Comments

Filed under Carole Howard, fiction, music, musings, Travel, writing

The Woods 4 – The House by L.V. Gaudet

the-woods-4-the-houseThe key jams in the lock, not wanting to go in.

The realtor looks at him nervously and smiles.

“It’ll go in.  The key works.”  His grimace gives face to the lie.  He isn’t so sure it will work.

He fiddles and struggles with the key for too long before the rusting lock mechanism finally unwillingly gives and allows them access.

His smile is almost sickly with relief.

He turns to the prospective buyer, hoping yet again that this is not a big waste of his time.  His commission is going to depend on how much the house actually sells for.  It’s not the usual commission deal.  He is getting more than the average commission percentage, an unusual agreement made with the municipal office that wants only to unload the property and get it off their books, doubtful anyone will bother to bid on it.

This guy is the only person who has shown an interest.  He could bid a dollar, the lowest bid allowed, and walk away with the property for nothing, less than the price of a cup of coffee.

He tries the door, hoping it opens easily.  A warped door can turn off a buyer before they see anything else.

The door sticks in the frame and, after he puts some weight into it, gives with the dull sound of two pieces of swollen wood pressed against each other giving up the fight to hold together.

They enter the house and step back thirty years in time.

.

Follow The Woods installments

L.V. Gaudet is the author of Where the Bodies Are and The McAllister Farm
where the bodies are

What kind of dark secret pushes a man to commit the unimaginable, even as he is sickened by his own actions? Find out in Where the Bodies Are.

The McAllister Farm-cover 1

Take a step back in time to learn the secret behind the bodies in Where the Bodies Are:  The McAllister Farm reveals the secrets behind the man who created the killer.

Link to purchase these books by L.V. Gaudet

Link to reviews of Where the Bodies Are on Angie’s Diary

Follow L. V. Gaudet:

Facebook author page

Google+

Instagram

Pinterest

Twitter

WordPress

LV Gaudet, author

3 Comments

Filed under fiction, L.V. Gaudet, writing

Secret Lives by John E. Stack

Children always seem excited when they see their teachers in a different environment outside of school.  They often wonder if teachers do anything other than teach and grade papers.  They always ask teachers what they do in their off-time, because in the student’s mind the teacher lives at the school.  Even though it really seems that some do, most of us lead exciting lives, married, raise kids, and work other jobs (is writing another job?). 

What if teachers did do more than teach?  What if the middle schoolers we worked with were actually alien rather than just acting as if they were from another planet? What if….?

The above is the proposed forward to my latest submission, Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).  Secret Lives is my first attempt at something like a novel or rather a story other than a picture book.  We are always told to write about something you know or you are interested in.  So I did.

Let’s see, I have spent ten months a year for the last eighteen years teaching in the same middle school.  With that, I have worked around a lot of the same teachers and many new teachers that rotate through our school.  Some of the personalities are unique.  Sometimes the faces change, but the personalities stay the same.

I’ve taught close to two thousand students.  I would try to describe the normal student, but who is to say what is normal.  I have had parents ask “What happened to the sweet, little girl I used to have?  It’s like some alien sucked her brains out and didn’t give them all back.”  Or, they wonder why their sons stopped taking showers and why hygiene now means nothing.

So, I took a handful of experience (eight four-day trips to Washington, DC with four bus loads of eighth graders gives some experience), several teacher personalities, and a fascination with astronomy mixed them all together with a little humor and came out with something like a story.

God gave me a little leeway and allowed me to create a planet system around a known star.  In that system is a planet named after an Englishman named Nigel that I go to church with.  I got to determine what the people looked like and the environment in which they lived.  I also got to develop worm-hole technology.

My aliens are called Nigelians (Nigel) and they are very humanoid.  The only differences are their lack of noses and ears.  While on Earth they wear assimilation suits to disguise their differences.  They also have tufts of hair rather than a full covering.  There are other differences, but maybe you can read about them later this summer.

If you have ever been to Washington, DC, you may have passed by the Old Post Office.  I have been to the building once and even took a group of students up into the clock tower.  Most of the story takes place in DC, but the Old Post Office became the home for our school and was the center for a lot of the action in the book.

I also tried something that I haven’t really attempted since I was a boy (and that was a long time ago) — free-hand drawing.  In the military, I was trained as a architectural draftsman.  I learned straight lines and right angles.  This was something different.  I did sketches, perspectives and some doodling.  Eventually, I completed all the drawings except for one, which was submitted by a student.  I did make some changes, but gave her the credit.

I have to admit that completing this book was a lot more fun than the picture books I’ve been doing.  There was more freedom in writing, in the ideas, and my thought process felt more alive.  I also got to learn a lot about DC.

When we continue to try something new we continue to grow in our art.  And, as long as we enjoy what we do it is not a job. Keep an eye out for my new adventure.  Read, write and enjoy.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  He is also the author of the upcoming books Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and  Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).

 

7 Comments

Filed under Art, books, fiction, fun, John Stack, writing

Mr. Hyde

You know him. I know you do. That evil, twisted voice in your head. He may not tell you to perform evil, twisted acts, but he tells you how awful you are, how you are wasting your time. No one will read this crap. No one will enjoy it. Pencils down, loser. Don’t quit your day job.

Mr._Edward_Hyde

He’s like a virus, taking over every neuron in the brain until you become a quaking puddle of self doubt.

I’d like to think I’m immune to him. For the most part I am, when I’m writing. It’s afterward, when I have to submit, or when I need a beta reader (stupid term, that), that I start to lose my marbles.

I took vacation last week. Where did you go? Somewhere exciting, I hope! Lots of sun! Lots of rest? You look exhausted.

Piss off. I stayed home and finished writing a novel. And then, at the suggestion of my brother, whom I love dearly, I asked another writer to read it. My brother and I went to high school with this writer. They are three years older than me. And even though I’m in my forties, this guy is still an upperclassman, and when I asked him to read it, I felt like a freshman all over again with Mr. Hyde screaming loud and clear in my ear.

 

geeky-woman-overlay_mvropl

I paced around after I sent the request. OmygodOmygodOmygod. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE? Because really, it is like showing someone your boobs, if you really think about it. Please look at this most personal part of me and let me know how it looks to you. Actually, it’s even worse than showing someone my boobs. . . it’s more personal than being seen completely naked. It’s awful. I’m still recovering.

There’s no one who understands this better than another writer. So if you are not a writer and you are reading this, you probably don’t get it. If you are a writer and you are reading this, you will recognize the oddity that defines me, but you will also recognize, at least a little of, this fear and vulnerability in yourself too.

At any rate, he’s reading it. Of course he is. Because he’s not an upperclassman anymore. And I’m not a freshman.

My nephew was up visiting a few weeks ago. He is twenty-two now, and our talks have tipped over to the other side of the mountain. Life. Goals. Career. Dreams. Things like that.

“I have a book idea,” he said sheepishly. I recognized the I’m-showing-you-my-boobs-here-please-don’t-ridicule-me tone in his voice.

So I leaned forward slowly, like I was approaching a deer on the side of the road. I didn’t want to scare him away. For some reason, I was terribly afraid someone would walk in and ruin this moment . . . like what he was telling me was this flickering flame in a tiny pile of kindling he was trying to blow oxygen into. If someone, anyone, came into the room right then, it would be snuffed out.

We were in luck. The house was quiet. Everyone was outside, talking, laughing, running around. We had some moments to talk.

He shared his idea. A good one. A fantastic one. A brilliant one. The thoughts sparked off him and made his eyes glow.

Fire

And then he faltered. It was like a horror movie, when everything is going good and then the bad guy sticks his hand through the hero’s chest and tears him apart.

Hyde.

The bastard.

I recognized him in my nephew’s eyes. The flush of embarrassment in the cheeks. The downward cast of the eyes. The (dare I say it?) SHAME. His speech halted. He stammered, like he realized he’d said too much, was sitting there, naked and was waiting for me to laugh. Well, that’s horrible. Don’t quit your day job. I wish I could UNHEAR everything you just said.

I smiled. “I love it. I hope you write it. I would buy that book.”

I wished there was something profound I could say to him . . . something that would erase that uncertainty and niggling self doubt. I told him that the worst enemy of creativity was one’s self. And that to listen to the negative voice in one’s head was a bad idea. “Work through that,” I said. “Work in spite of it. Your idea is brilliant.”

We went about our day after that. A cookout. Family laughter. A movie late at night. And I wonder if anyone else knows he harbors this secret, this kernel of an idea, white hot in his mind.

Today I am sad as I think about that conversation. I don’t know if he will ever write his story. I don’t know if he will ever let himself write his story.

Hyde is everywhere.

That bastard.

 

6 Comments

Filed under fiction, life, musings, writing

On Writing, Editing and Forgery… by Sheila Deeth

Once upon a time I wrote computer programs.

Did you know, a good program should always be designed to be read by human beings as well as machines? Why, you might ask, and the answer is: so that when you, the programmer, have left the company, the human being who replaces you might know what you thought you were doing.

Good programs are also designed to be read by machines, of course – think two-year-olds. The instructions are written in code – think “Yes” and “No.” And instruction lists are broken into short and clean subroutines – like chapters in a book.

Finally, good programs are supposed to be impossible to misread, which brings me to my next job – breaking computer programs. Technically I was a Quality Assurance engineer at the time. I ensured the quality of programs (or at least tried to) by searching for every possible case the programmer might have missed, then breaking things in every way my limited brain could imagine – failing to test for Divide by Zero was, of course, a classic example (and became the title of my first novel). Since I was married to one of the programmers, we’d often joke – “No dinner tonight unless you fix this bug!”

But now I write and edit books.

There are similarities. Mostly I don’t write for two-year-olds (human or mechanical) anymore; but I still hope to write clearly enough so when I, the author, have left the page the human replacement, or reader, can easily work out what I was saying. I still use code, or symbols, to evoke feelings and memory. I still try to simplify – never use two words where one will do? And I still break my tales into chapters and scenes. Then I edit.

I’ve learned that editing uses those same “break things” muscles as being a QA engineer, looking for ways a reader might misunderstand, misread, or wrongly imagine the interpretation of words. “Time flies like an arrow,” is a classic example here – was time flying, or was little Freddy following the flight of bugs? The editor irons out bugs from the program, or book (sounds rather messy) and then…

But editing for someone else has another aspect too – one that came into play for me, somewhere between writing and breaking programs. I spent quite a number of years at home with small children then, in preschool with small children, in elementary school, in chess club, and more. And during those years I learned to be a forger of children’s art.

You see, these were the days before scanners and Photoshop, and we wanted all the kids’ self-portraits on a tea-towel to be sold in a fundraiser. But how would we get the artwork from scraps of torn paper onto one two-foot by three-foot paper template? The answer is, yours truly took the pictures home; studied the way the lines were drawn – where did the pencil hit the page… did this kid use smooth curves or sharp angles, press hard, press lightly, make holes in the paper… and did the eyes fit in the face? Then I copied the pictures, one by one, redrawing and resizing into equal spaces on the template. Neither moms nor kids could see the difference – except in size – and that was the idea.

That’s the idea with editing for someone else as well – no one should see the difference between the editor’s suggestions and the author’s original ideas. And perhaps it’s the idea with writing too – no one should see the difference between the author’s words and the character’s thoughts. But forgery might pay better.

Sheila Deeth is the author of Infinite Sum, soon to be released by Indigo Sea Press. And Sylvia Steepleton, the protagonist of Infinite Sum, was a character in Divide by Zero who demanded to tell her own story. Read Divide by Zero, meet Sylvia, and ask why she let it happen. Then  find the answers, as told by Sylvia and written down by Sheila, in Infinite Sum.

2 Comments

Filed under fiction, musings, Sheila Deeth

Excerpt From PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT by Lazarus Barnhill

Reverend Martin Luther Larsen—highly regarded, completely ethical, genuine and sincere—has dedicated his life to the pastorate. Now, in the face of the drudgery, church politics and frustration that are the usual professional hazards of the ministry, a dangerous and intriguing complication has slipped into his life: Ange. No one in Larsen’s close knit congregations knew of the existence of this woman, the daughter of a parishioner who appeared just in time for her mother’s funeral. For Larsen, Ange is more than mysterious. She is alluring, wise and astonishingly intuitive. . . . And then there is the issue of the large rat that seems to be taunting the members of his church.

Excerpt:

She had answered the door shoeless, wearing a close-fitting black dress and no makeup. Her black hair was just long enough to bounce when she let him in the front door and immediately turned toward the kitchen table, where packets of documents and possessions were stacked. He assumed she was going to hand him the items she had promised him at the funeral and bid him farewell, until he saw the magnum of red wine and the two glasses beside it. First he thought he would have to turn down the offered drink, and then he wondered if perhaps he should not have assumed. Perhaps she was expecting other company. She sat down in one of the two chairs at the table and crossed her bare legs.

“Can you sit down for a minute? It was nice of you to come all the way out here to pick these things up, Pastor Larsen,” she said.

He pulled out the chair and sat down. The daughter sat in the one he had always used in past visits. It was strange to him to sit in the chair Joan Celeste sat in when he visited her, where she graciously offered him crumb cake and lemonade.

“I came out here to Alton a lot, actually. Your mother was very dear to me. That is, she was just as nice and hospitable as she could be. And I always really appreciated that. I enjoyed coming to visit her.” He smiled. “Of course you mother very faithfully showed up every Sunday. It’s a long way from Alton to Manchester. But she never missed. When someone comes that far every week, you want to show your appreciation.”

Ange Celeste stared at him. It was a bit disconcerting to Larsen. Did she not believe that he visited often, or did she doubt his sentiments? Did she—perhaps cynical about church life or even an outright disbeliever—look down on the sort of pastoral relationship he described? The unexpected or incomprehensible reactions of extremely attractive women had always troubled him, made him feel like an unappealing buffoon.

“She liked you.”

Her words and the way she spoke them surprised him. It was almost like a pronouncement or a verdict Joan had handed down for her daughter to share with Larsen in her absence. And there was something about the tone she used. It was wiser and perhaps more intimate than he expected.

“Well. I liked her.”

“She told me about conning you into going to the fall festival here in Alton. And on a Saturday, no less. And she told me about your favorite wine.”

Without asking, she turned and grasped the magnum in two hands. Larsen’s mouth dropped. He stammered, started to protest that he was working, had other appointments to keep that Friday afternoon and could not drink. The daughter paid no attention to him, though, as she poured the glasses full.

“A nice Nebbiolo from Verità Wino, your favorite Italian winery.”

“. . . I really shouldn’t.”

She had anticipated his reluctance and brushed it aside. “One glass, Pastor Larsen. Only 12% alcohol. Undetectable.” She picked up the glasses and handed one to him. “A toast to my mother, the divine Joan Celeste.”

He laughed, somewhat anxiously, as they touched their glasses. “To Joan.”

The wine was as he remembered it: rosy and slightly tart with a lingering mellow aftertaste. And with the first taste he felt himself begin to relax. The second and third sips did not disappoint.

“I did not know Verità Wino produced a magnum size of their Nebbiolo.”

She looked at the bottle, as if seeing it for the first time. “Well I guess they do.” She smiled at him. “Mother said it was ironic that you liked this wine.”

He gazed at her. “Seriously? Why did she say that?”

“Because you are so much like it.”

“What?”

“The Nebbiolo grape takes an exceptionally long time from the moment it blooms until it’s ready to pluck.” She smiled. “And once you do skin it and start the fermentation process, it takes a very long time before . . . it’s ready for the bottle.”

He stared at her oval face, cream-colored complexion, dark almond eyes, pert nose and small mouth. She bore only the faintest resemblance to her mother, whom he had only known in her 70’s. How old was this daughter? Forty perhaps, at most? Was she a late-life child?

“What does that have to do with me?”

She had finished her glass and poured another. “I guess Mother thought you were a work-in-progress.” She grabbed his glass in his hand and steadied it as she brought the neck of the magnum onto the lip and filled it again.

“No thanks. . . . Uh. What did your mother mean, that I’m a ‘work-in-progress?’ Was I not the pastor she needed me to be?”

“I seriously doubt that, Pastor Larsen. . . . Sounds like you worry about that kind of thing though.” She took another drink.

He thought about it. “Every pastor worth his salt wants to be the shepherd his—or her—congregation needs.”

“How politically correct of you.”

He laughed. “Heaven knows I try, Ms. Celeste.”

“Ange”

“Ang?”

“No. Say it right. It’s pronounced ‘auhnjj.’ It’s French.”

“Ange.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Ange, I take it you don’t have a great deal of use for church life and customs.”

Her head tipped to one side. “I don’t do religion the way my mother did. That doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual.”

***

Bio:

Lazarus Barnhill’s titles appear in several Indigo Sea Press genres. Among his first novels to be published was the police procedural The Medicine People. Later, co-authored with Sally Jones, he released Come Home to Me Child. His work is characterized by the unexpected twist and turn, by crisp dialogue and unpredictable endings.

Only $.99 on Kindle today! https://www.amazon.com/Pastor-Larsen-Rat-Lazarus-Barnhill-ebook/dp/B01GGIKF4A

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Excerpts, fiction, Lazarus Barnhill, writing

Gratitude

Gratitude.

A simple word that carries so much power. As the launch date for Root draws closer, as I tick down my to-do list to get ready, I can’t help but think about how grateful I am to all the folks who made releasing Dormant memorable. Of course, there are the folks I expected to be grateful to – my parents, my sister, my husband, my critique group – but it’s the surprises that come to mind today. From the woman at work who sent out an email blast on the day my book was published to the high school classmate who invited me to speak to her middle school students. The support I gotten from my old school mates almost makes me miss high school (almost…OK, not really).

I remember the sweet ladies in my mother’s book club who read Dormant and discussed it with me via Skype. I’m grateful to my mother for buying a lot of copies and giving them to her friends. I appreciate all of the people who invited me to speak at their book clubs. It’s humbling to have serious conversations about ideas and characters I created. I’ve been awed and amused at some of the reader theories.

I think of the people who griped at me for killing off Hugh. As one reader pointed out, “he’s the only one with any sense.” Any author will understand the feeling of glee when a reader is upset over a character’s death. Means we made an impact.
And to the people who kindly listen to me natter on about my writing process, my latest book, and my experiences, I’m grateful to you for listening!

And there are the people who live far away from me but still wanted signed copies and were willing to pay a little more one. The bookstores who host readings and are so kind to nervous authors. And I will never forget those of you who come to my readings!

Self-promotion is very difficult for me. I constantly doubt the worthiness of my stories, I hesitate to add my voice to the clamor of promotion requests, even though I know it’s an important part of the process. So when I do, I’m very grateful for the support I receive from the likes, retweets, shares, and comments.

I don’t write my stories so you’ll like me but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a rush when someone tells me they enjoyed Dormant. Writing is a combination of transcendent and nonsensical moments. Sometimes I love what I wrote enough so I don’t think I need feedback from readers. Then someone tells me how much they loved Dormant or how much their daughter or son loved it and I realize that, yes, I do need to hear what you think.

Gratitude is humbling. Gratitude reminds me that people are generally good. Gratitude reminds me to say thank you. To my now and future readers.

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan twitter photoLeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, book 1 in the Dormant Trilogy (www.indigoseapress.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble). Root, Book 2 in the trilogy will be released soon so you should pick up a copy of Dormant today to get to know Olivia Woodson Brighthall and her family.

 

Follow LeeAnn on Twitter and Instagram @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

5 Comments

Filed under fiction, LeeAnn McLennan, life, musings, writing

Middle Children (or Books, really)

Root, book two of my Dormant trilogy, is completed and at my publishers! It’s bittersweet letting go of a story I’ve been absorbed in for so many months. However, it’s time to release Root into the wild and see how it fares.

Recently a friend commented that the middle book was usually her least favorite of a trilogy. It got me thinking about trilogies in general and middle books specifically. As I ticked through some of my favorite trilogies I realized that frequently my favorite book is the middle book. (The same holds true for movie trilogies in many cases.)

In the first book, the author has done the work of introducing the reader to world and the characters who inhabit that world. There’s often a lot of world building and character-building. Always interesting and necessary but sometimes the action can get a little lost. In book two of a trilogy, the assumption is the audience read the first book, so the author can spend a few lines on the events from book one, and then dive right into the action. The action is usually leading up to the climatic events in book three without having to resolve everything.

In no particular order here are some trilogies where the middle book is my favorite (no spoilers – though it was hard!):

The Tony Foster Trilogy by Tanya Huff. The middle book is Smoke and Mirrors, which takes place almost entirely in a haunted house. I relish Tony’s view of the world and he’s so accepting of the events that unfold around him that it makes scary scenes more enjoyable. This is my favorite in the series for it’s humor, tension, and deep character development.

The Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix. The middle book is Lirael. The focus shifts from the characters in book one and ups the stakes for the Old Kingdom’s’ survival. Lirael and her companion, the Disreputable Dog, are delightful together and I cheer for Lirael’s hopeful success in achieving her desires. I love this book because we get to know more about the folks in the Old Kingdom, Lirael is an appealing character and her problems feel familiar, even though I’ll never have the opportunity to be a seer.

Daughter of Smoke and Bones trilogy by Laini Taylor. The middle book is Days of Blood and Starlight. We know Karou’s secret and now all hell is about to break loose between two worlds. Taylor finds a good balance between our world and the alternate fantasy world.

One notable exception is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – The Two Towers is my least favorite. Though, I do love the Ents and it establishes Pippin as my favorite hobbit.

Does this hold true for some of your favorite trilogies? Let me know in the comments!

Now, about the third book…

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan twitter photo

 

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

2 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, LeeAnn McLennan, musings, writing

Sometimes you have to let go

I had to give up a child this week. Not literally, of course. But, I had invested a certain amount of time and effort into a project and I had loved it in my own way.

It began months ago when I was struck with a wonderful (I thought) idea for another novel. I was already working on a manuscript when I had this epiphany. The new idea took up residence in my mind and stayed there until I finally set aside one novel and started working on another one. I was excited about it. I was convinced it was ‘the one”.

Months passed (because, after all, I have a full-time job) and I started stumbling. I still thought it was a good idea, I still believed in the premise, but I was having trouble getting my thoughts organized and onto paper. I knew the beginning and I knew the end, but everything in between kept jumping around. The first week of January, I decided the story was falling flat and I had to find a way to jazz it up, so I outlined it again with some major changes.

As soon as I started to go with the new outline I developed a bad taste in my mouth. It didn’t feel right. It went against the idea which had excited me in the first place. I dropped Plan B and returned to Plan A.

Several weeks later, I had to sit myself down and have a good stern talk with myself.

Me: Ugh! What am I going to do? I’m getting nowhere with this.

The more logical me:  Sucks, doesn’t it?

Me:  But, it was such a good idea! How come I can’t make it work anymore?

The more logical me: Do you think if you keep hammering away at it the story will get better?

Me: I thought so – at first – but now even I’m bored writing it. And if I’m bored, what about the people who have to read it?

The more logical me: Exactly. I think you’re starting to get it.

Me (in a whiny voice): But, I’ve spent so much time on it already. I really liked the premise. Do I have to just throw it aside? Do you know how hard it is to do that?

The more logical me:  Sure. But, sometimes you just have to know when to let go. Do you really want to keep working on something that’s become tedious and boring?  Think back to when you started writing. Think about what you liked about it. Wasn’t it fun?  Wasn’t it something you enjoyed doing? Are you getting any pleasure out of this exercise now?

Me (hanging my head in shame): You’re right. I wrote myself into a rut.

The more logical me: So what are you going to do about it?

Me (straightening my shoulders): I’m going to set it aside and come up with a better idea.

As soon as the decision was made, I felt better. In short order, I worked up another idea and started a new novel.  And, guess what? I wrote more in one day than I have in the past six weeks. Even better, I loved every minute of it!

***  A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, a suspense thriller published by Indigo Sea Press.

 

6 Comments

Filed under A.J. McCarthy, fiction, writing

January’s Paradigm Launch—J. Conrad Guest

Launch for January’s Paradigm is tentatively Monday, February 15.

What started in 1990 as therapy for a bruised and bloodied heart soon turned into a passion to see it published. It took eight years to achieve that desire, well worth the wait.

Like most of my novels, January’s Paradigm is a very non-traditional romance. Or as Current Entertainment Monthly, Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote: “J. Conrad Guest has taken the heartbreak of sexual betrayal and turned it into a romance-fantasy.” Current Entertainment Monthly also wrote, “Readers will not be able to put it down.”

Below appears another excerpt.


 

Seven

I arrived at The Oasis at eight-forty. Two of the three members of The Tri-Stars—Shauna was not one of them—were onstage doing a sound check. I’d hoped to arrange a chance meeting with the dark-eyed beauty before the first set. A quick reconnaissance of the establishment, already near-capacity, merely served to disappoint; she was nowhere to be found.

I paid the doorman the cover charge.

Porter’s bankcard had come in handy. From whence my knowledge of ATMs came, like my inherent ability to operate the computer, I ignored. The access code to the bank machine was something I attributed to a lucky guess. Porter and I shared the same date of birth forty-six years apart, so stated the driver’s license tucked away in the wallet in my back pocket. I simply punched in the number “10” and, adding forty-six to my own birth year, “56”, and walked away from the ATM a hundred dollars richer, taking comfort in the fact that Porter was going to finance this little vacation in 1992.

I pushed my way through the crowd toward the bar.

My fruitless attempts at locating Porter had increased my thirst. I needed to unwind with a good, stiff shot of bourbon chased by a beer.

Suddenly the populace surrounding me parted, and I came face-to-face with Shauna. She was shorter than I imagined she would be. What last night I’d taken to be stage makeup turned out to be natural; her complexion was dark and flawless. Her jaw was square; her high cheekbones were tinged with rouge. Beneath the finely-arched twin prosceniums of her eyebrows, her eyelids were shaded green; and they highlighted to perfection the fathomless brown eyes now studying me as intently as I was studying her.

The moment seemed long; it was long, I dimly noted, and threatening to go on even longer. If I didn’t find something to say, the moment would be lost.

Fortunately she came to my rescue.

“Don’t let me get in your way.” Her tone was husky, the measure playful.

My heart beat rapidly, but I managed to blurt, “Aren’t you the lead singer?”

Smooth, real smooth—like a kid meeting his idol for the first time.

“Shauna.” Her smile was as white as it was wide. And genuine, I was pleased to note.

“Joe January.” I offered my hand and was delighted when she took it. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.” And then, perhaps in response to the hurt look I was certain she couldn’t help but notice, she added, “How about a cola?”

I smiled and led the way through the crowd to the bar, where I ordered and paid for the soft drink. Shauna, accepting the glass I proffered, smiled her dazzling smile and I reflected, for the mere price of a cola. I’d gladly pay a thousand times that amount to bask in the warmth of that smile in a more secluded place.

“You going to be here awhile?”

The question at once both surprised and pleased me. “Actually I just got here.”

“Wait here. I’ve got to finish the sound check. It shouldn’t take but a minute or two, and I’ll be back to visit a while before our first set.”

As if to prove her probity, she left her glass on the bar in front of me.

I watched her departure, fascinated by the gentle motion of her hips, snug inside the leather pants that perfectly accentuated her perfect figure. I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the way she’d so completely managed to disarm me in so brief a time.

I watched her on stage, her manner supremely confident, her voice clear and resonant in its purity. Her interpretation of the lyrics, even though it was just a sound check, was genuine. She sang from the heart.

I suspected that her contentment stemmed from being on stage and that getting paid was simply the icing on the cake.

What served to perplex me was my sudden intrinsic capacity to decipher this. Never before had I cared or taken the time to perceive anything beyond the superficial. Yet now I was mystified by the warm and comfortable feeling, the security that accompanied the very pleasant discovery that something beyond exterior could entice me.

Typically a woman of such depth would only intimidate me. Now, however, something inside of me thrilled at the expectation that she could somehow appease the malaise I’d recognized last night while in the embrace of another; and that instead of providing the comfort I so desperately sought, last night’s encounter had afforded the catalyst that had resulted in my encore appearance here tonight.

Shauna finished her sound check and, true to her word, was making her way back through the crowd to where I waited at the bar, nervously turning my shot glass around and around in my hand. My heart rate picked up as she approached.

“You sound terrific.” I’d never been any good at making small talk, but I spoke the truth.

“Thanks.” Her tone was sincere.

But then she probably accepted the same compliment dozens of times nightly in the same affable way. Talented as she was, it hadn’t gone to her head.

“I’m surprised to see you back tonight.” No accusation, just an observation. “You left after our second number last night. I was afraid my singing had been an affront to your musical palate.”

She was teasing me now, and that was something I wasn’t used to. I had no idea how to respond to her jest. When I failed to reply, she pushed her advantage further.

“I’m surprised at the company you keep. She didn’t look to be your type.”

Feeling totally outclassed and outmaneuvered, I stammered something about my friend having taken ill and requested that I take her home early. If Shauna saw through my smoke screen, she gave no indication.

“Well, you’re back tonight,” she said. “And my confidence in my singing has been restored.”

In the span of a heartbeat, she’d managed to break and then restore my self-assurance. She looked at her watch.

“You going to be here after the first set?” She sounded accusatory.

I smiled and nodded my acquiescence, ecstatic at the prospect of her return.

“Oooh,” she purred, setting down her empty glass. When had she time to finish it? So lost in the depths of a gaze that was at once innocuous yet mischievous, I hadn’t even noticed her drinking it. “He can smile,” she playfully provoked. “Now if I can just get you to loosen up and talk, you might be able to help me pass an otherwise long and boring night on stage. And as long as you’re buying, I’ll need another of these.” She indicated the empty glass. Her smile positively beamed, and I felt my heart leap into my throat. She winked and was gone.

The first set ran nearly an hour. Near the end I found myself squirming in anticipation. Several times I’d refused the advances that a man alone in a singles bar in 1992 seemed to invite. Finally they stopped, my propensity toward the barstool duly noted by the female patrons who’d hoped to lure me into tending to their lonely needs.

I watched as Shauna manipulated the crowd. Instinctively she sensed their mood and knew what they wanted to hear, providing respite, usually in the form of something she and the band wanted to play, at just the right moment. Her movements were sensual, yet not vulgar. And her voice was magnificent in its range and flexibility. She rocked, finding somewhere within the raw power to rattle the chandeliers. Her interpretation of the two blues tunes that provided a reprieve from the intensity of the rock-and-roll intonated the pain of the lyrics, while the sole ballad of the set was sung with the pure innocence of an altar boy during Sunday morning service. She had a natural affinity for people.

I didn’t think for a minute that she was bored with performing.

The breaks between sets, I suspected, were from her point of view a chance for the band to catch their breath and slake their thirst, but more for the sake of the dance floor patrons who discovered the ten or fifteen minutes between sets enabled them to recharge their batteries.

Feeling that I’d simply serve as a diversion until the next set got underway, I felt the ego that Shauna had managed to build up nearly an hour ago deflate.

Shauna was just now telling everyone to sit tight. The band would be back in a few minutes to rock down the rafters. Those on the dance floor shouted their approval.

I signaled the bartender for a refill for me and a fresh cola. I’d just finished paying for the refreshments when Shauna slid up onto the stool beside me. I was startled; the thought that she might seek company elsewhere had briefly crossed my mind.

“Thanks,” she said, slightly out of breath as she took the soft drink and downed nearly a third of it. “How’d you manage to keep this stool empty?”

“It wasn’t difficult.” I’d never found difficulty in maintaining my distance when I wanted to.

“Not with a scowl like that, I imagine it wasn’t.”

I felt the heat rise in my cheeks. Her eyes sparkled as she laughed and my embarrassment turned to ire. I didn’t like being the butt of someone’s jest.

Shauna placed her hand on my knee in reassurance. I was amazed at the lightness of her touch; and just that quickly, my anger was defused.

“We sound okay?”

I was grateful for the change in direction to another topic. Perhaps now I could maintain control of the conversation for a while. I nodded and queried, “You do any original material?”

“One or two.” Then, in response to my raised eyebrows, she added, “People come to hear what’s popular, and popular is what gets air play; and unfortunately, since we get no air play, we aren’t popular.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Hard to argue with statistics. We play anymore than we do, and the dance floor tends to thin out.”

I decided to take a risk. “Don’t tell me; the ballad was yours.”

It was her turn to look surprised.

Yes. How did you know?”

“It seemed your style.” I was beginning to regain my balance; but before I could pose my next question, Shauna once again changed tack.

“How come you weren’t out on the dance floor?”

And just that quickly, my advantage was lost.

“There’s no one here I care to dance with.”

She bestowed her laugh upon me for the second time, a wonderfully-melodic sound.

“You weren’t so choosy last night.”

My face burned with embarrassment.

She didn’t call my earlier bluff, I thought, helpless. Just my luck she now thinks I’m lying.

I wanted to say, “That was before I met you,” but my discomfiture held me in check. In the end I settled for a shrug that said, What can I say? She laughed again. I felt myself redden further; and then, just in time, she put an arm around my shoulders and apologized.

“I’m sorry, Joe.” It was the first time she’d used my name, and I marveled at the mellifluous way she said it. “It’s just that you’re so easy.”

I waved my empty glass at the bartender. I hadn’t been aware that I’d even been sipping it since she’d joined me, let alone that I’d finished it. Shauna checked her watch.

“Listen, buy me another cola.” She laid her hand on my arm. “I’ve got to go backstage and freshen up. You know, do the things we women have to do to keep guys like you watching us.” I doubted she had to work very hard at it. “Be right back.”

I was struck by the energy level she was able to maintain.

Adrenaline, fueled by caffeine, I guessed as I held up her empty glass. It certainly isn’t alcohol.

During her absence I tried to think of some way I could arrange to meet with her in a more neutral setting without seeming like I was coming on too hard, something with which she was probably quite adept at dealing. My efforts frustrated me.

I can’t hold an intelligent conversation with her. How can I land a date?

Suddenly I feared her motives.

What makes you think she’s even interested in you? More than likely she picks someone out of the crowd nightly just to keep that caffeine high going.

I felt compelled to leave.

Here I was a man out of time twice removed, sitting calmly in a bar without a clue as to how I got here. I sat, a man in doubt of the actual authenticity of his own reality, trying to deal some broad who gets her kicks out of watching me squirm in discomfort. No one had ever been able to do that before, which only added to my feeling of inadequacy.

Without a doubt, I should be back at Porter’s trying to figure a solution to the equation, not how to get this self-styled rock queen between the sheets. I can get sex anytime without having to go through this.

And then I remembered last night, how lonely and unfulfilled I’d felt, despite the level of physical gratification I’d attained.

Well, I rationalized, settling myself back down onto the stool. Maybe there are answers to my questions that can be ascertained through an association with her.

Any chance to argue myself out of staying disappeared with Shauna’s reappearance; her smile immediately convinced me that I’d made the right choice.

“I’m delighted to see you haven’t abandoned me.”

“To be easily replaced, I’m sure.”

She took my sarcasm for humor and leaned over to whisper, “Save a dance for me?”

Then she was gone, leaving me with an uncomfortable sensation of comfort.

My thoughts swam. I was experiencing emotions and input to those emotions never before encountered. I was attracted to this Shauna, but not in the usual sexual sense. Not that I didn’t find her alluring. There was a time, in another century perhaps, when all that I would care to concern myself with would be the exploration of the dark, deep secrets concealed beneath the sexy attire that served to promote the image of a rock star. But that image spoke in terms of a rather warped reality.

Here I am, it said, on stage for the adulation of one and all. Welcome to my fantasy. A fantasy that guarantees stimulus to senses of sight and sound; listen to my voice, watch me move. Now, if you dare, try to emulate my undulations. You are all a part of my fantasy, for without you I am nothing. Yet I remain apart from your fantasy. Here I stand, symbol of your want, your hunger, your desire and your lust—one and all, male and female—but rest assured you can never have me.

But equally disturbing since my arrival in 1992 was my troubled sleep, dreams plagued by a demon and haunting images of another, alternate self. One that was weaker, more emotional than I.

Yet even in my conscious state, I was being tormented by uncertainty, accosted by unfamiliar feelings of denial, distrust and betrayal. And now I’d discovered that a new passion had been awakened—a passion heretofore unknown—a passion for emotional intimacy.

Yes, I had to admit that my attraction to Shauna went far beyond the superficial. It exceeded my rather curt allegation that perhaps it was she who held secret the knowledge that would empower me to see past the barriers that had so surreptitiously been placed before me.

To be sure, she fascinated me. Certainly the package she came in was enough to turn the head and raise the blood pressure of any red-blooded American male, but there was more. Something mysterious—and God knew I loved a good mystery, almost as much as I loved endeavoring to sate the needs of my sexual appetite.

Part of the enigma was the simple fact that I found her to be a puzzle; and that was something I’d never before equated with the fairer sex, preferring instead to imagine them as merely an end to a need.

I couldn’t deny that Shauna had awakened in me two needs: a need to be in her company—for in that company, I presumed to find comfort to ease a loneliness that until last night, in the lazy afterglow of sex, I hadn’t been aware even existed—as well as a need to discover more about the conflicting passions she seemed to have brought to the surface.

I felt unguarded, helplessly open to her scrutiny, and I found that threatening. Something inside me told me that in order to more fully understand these new sensibilities, as well as my attraction to Shauna, I would have to become more open and vulnerable. That insight served to further threaten me; yet my instinct seemed to promise an end result that could prove more gratifying in more ways than any other result I’d previously sought as an end.

But what of her needs? What if I were simply a diversion? Her interest in me, the way she looked at me and the interest I purported to be in that look, seemed to be genuine; yet she was a performer.

I tried to picture her nightly selecting a different paladin to keep her supplied with caffeine while amusing herself with small talk at their expense and couldn’t.

I took note of the dance floor, filled to capacity with dancers, most perspiring profusely as a result of their exertions while the empty stools down the length of the bar confirmed that I was among the scant few who weren’t out on the dance floor.

On stage Shauna was also perspiring heavily, the result of her aerobic efforts as she and her band mates rocked vehemently. I watched, entranced, as she worked the dancers, feeding off them and then, almost as if in grateful acknowledgment, gave it back to them. The energy she emitted was then caught by the dancers, where it was held for a moment as they basked in its warmth, before being sent back magnified a hundred-fold.

No doubt about it, I thought. She’s in her element.

Suddenly I knew. And just as suddenly, I knew that Shauna knew.

This was her fantasy, her escape from whatever trials and tribulations that defined her own personal reality. Her sincere congeniality simply mirrored that reality. She was completely at peace with herself, and her contentedness grew from within. Her self-assurance came not from performing, as I’d originally imagined, but instead from the serenity that comes with being totally quiescent with oneself.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I now knew that whatever doubts I’d had concerning Shauna’s integrity were now unwarranted. While she seemed to enjoy teasing me incessantly, I knew she would never knowingly hurt me. She was honest, a rare commodity even in 1947, as well as trustworthy. Perhaps it was seeing mirrored in another my own strong ethics that had attracted me to Shauna.

Shauna.

Suddenly that name didn’t fit her, and I knew it was assumed. I was now more than ever driven to find out more about her.

I regained my composure and confidence. I could only hope she wouldn’t knock me flat on my ass ten seconds after she seated herself on the stool next to me. She had a way of keeping me off-balance, and I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed her playful ridicule. I couldn’t help but find myself amused by it, as well as challenged.

She evidently felt comfortable in my company, despite the ponderous disposition I’d displayed. Maybe she was just trying to get me to loosen up. The idea of her playful affection warmed me.

Well, I concluded, two can play at that game. I’ll just have to even the score.

On stage Shauna was introducing the next song, a ballad to be sung by her backup singer, a knockout blonde named Melody, in whom I wasn’t the least bit interested.

Shauna locked eyes with me as she put the microphone back into its cradle and, with a slight motion of her head, invited me to join her on the dance floor.

A moment later she slipped into my arms and nestled herself comfortably into my embrace, nothing vulgar, just comfortable. I led, marveling at the soft texture of her hand.

Is it really that small?

My heartbeat quickened as she moved her other hand up around my neck, her head now resting on my chest; my own head was aswirl with myriad sensations, all of them pleasant. I contented myself with the moment, knowing it would be over all too soon, finding solace in the hope that there would be many more such moments. If I never found a way back to my own time, I could think of worse places with less desirable people to spend the rest of my life.

I inhaled the sweet fragrance of her hair; somehow, miraculously, it had managed to escape the fate to which Chrissie’s had succumbed. I sighed and tightened my hand around hers.

In response she gazed up into my pale green eyes with her own brown ones, alive with mischief, and accused, “Boring you to pieces, am I?”

I only smiled my pleasure at her and pushed her head back down to its rightful place.

A moment later the song came to an end and with it the moment.

Her eyes alive with mirth, she promised to join me at the bar in just a few minutes, where she would proceed to “drink you under the table.”

“No mean feat,” I countered. “Considering the alcoholic content of cola.”

She left for the stage, while I, feeling ten feet tall, headed for the barstool I’d been keeping warm all night. The envious glances from the other male patrons in the establishment did nothing save to inflate an already-swelling ego.

While I waited for the set to end, I tried to think of a way to arrange a more intimate meeting with Shauna. I didn’t wish to come on too strong, too desperate; yet playing it too insouciant would risk looking like I was simply coming on.

As a result of this new dilemma, I became aware of the delicate nature of what I was contemplating. Never before had the consequences of rejection weighed so heavily. In the past, rejection simply meant moving on to the next most likely candidate; my needs had always been easy enough to accommodate. Never before had I been faced with the perils associated with the failure to attain that which I so desperately aspired.

Desperately?

I was beginning to sound like a man smitten. And the implication that I affiliated with that malady left me with a feeling of mounting inadequacy.

Needs: I needed to find out who I was and why, for the first time in my life, I was being harassed by moments of anxious apprehension. Furthermore, I needed to explore the uncertainty of the reality of my existence.

I should catch a flight to Michigan, if that’s what it took, and try to locate this Robert Porter character. I was convinced more than ever that he could better provide answers to the list of questions that seemed to lengthen of its own volition than Shauna could. But I seemed paralyzed by fear, a never-before faced debility because until now I’d never encountered it. And it was safe to say that the basis for that fear was the revelation of that which my endeavors might unearth.

Wants: I wanted to explore my uncharacteristic fascination with the mystery girl on stage. I’d initially thought that she might possess answers to questions and I still thought that, but to which questions?

I began to reassess the nature of those questions. I wanted her but for more than just her body.

Through her, I felt certain I could learn something of myself; yet what that lesson might be, I had no clue.

JP Cover Front

Cover Concept Pending Approval

3 Comments

Filed under books, Excerpts, fiction