Tag Archives: desert

A Rainbow in Winter by Sherrie Hansen

In real life, it’s called a bad case of the blues, losing hope, or hitting rock bottom.   In a book, it’s called the black moment – that devastating culmination of circumstances when all momentum comes screeching to a halt, when you think things are so bad that they can’t possibly get any worse, and then, they do – that time when all hope is lost.

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The thing that saddens me is that, whereas the characters in the books we write and read almost always come around to a happy ending, in real life, when we come to a dead end, we sometimes (often?) really do give up and walk away from the things that could bring us true happiness.

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We all know that summer comes for only a season, and eventually, must ease into fall – which leads to the desolate cold of winter.

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In some cases, it’s even given a name – SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. I’ve been prone to it for years. It can be depressing and debilitating. It can mean death to your dreams and the end to your goals.

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In my book, Sweet William, Lyndsie and William seem to have finally overcome the issues that are keeping them apart when tragedy rips their dreams to shreds. The scenes that follow are some of the blackest I’ve ever written, but because of the pain they have to work through, their joy is deeper, and the ending, more sweet than any before.

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When we hit a wall, we have two choices… we can crawl into a cave, cry ourselves to sleep, and settle in to hibernate for the winter, and maybe beyond.

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Or, we can spend our winters looking for bright spots.

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Because there are rainbows in winter, and rainbows in deserts, and flowers and dashes of color where you might least expect them, and inspiration in odd places.

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And the sun keeps shining even on the coldest days.

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It may be blotted out, or obscured for a time, but it is there, giving warmth and melting the snow away from your heart, and making you ready for spring.

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The next time you feel hopeless and blue, read a book, maybe even THE Book.

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Horrible things will happen, maybe even things that are worse than whatever is making you sad.

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And then, wonder of wonder, there will be a resurrection, and out of the ashes will come new life, and somehow, you will find a happy ending.

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Have faith. There are rainbows even in the desert.

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Life Lessons from Death Valley by Sherrie Hansen

More than one person thought we were nuts to head to Death Valley this January when we could have stayed a few more days at the beach.

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You may agree. Or you see why we love the desert after you’ve read a few of the life lessons I learned in Death Valley.

  1. Your greatest flaw may be the thing that makes you beautiful.

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These photos are from the Artist’s Palate, one of the most scenic areas of Death Valley. If Death Valley had enough moisture to support vegetation like the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas and the Appalachians do, these mountains would be covered with trees and underbrush and grasses just like they are, and we would never see the splendor of the colors underneath.

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  1. If not for the darkness, you can’t see the stars.

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If Death Valley was bordered by a beach, people would flock there, and the absolute darkness, the brilliant starlight that we experienced there would be gone. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bright lights of nearby Las Vegas, or even great cities like Paris, the City of Lights, but I’m glad there’s a place where we can experience complete darkness and see the Milky Way. Starlight has a way of settling the soul.

  1. It’s good to be able to hear yourself think.

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If Death Valley was a place where people wanted to settle and live, its airspace would soon be cluttered with the same intrusive sounds we hear in our day to day lives. It’s amazing what being alone, and enjoying a little peace and quiet can do. Stripping things down to the basics help you focus in a way that we rarely have the opportunity to do.

  1. Things don’t equal happiness.

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Having no services, no fast-food places, no internet access, and no cell phone reception makes you realize very quickly that you can survive quite well with very little. The important things come into focus without the distractions that so often occupy our time. Suddenly, you start seeing beauty all around and noticing things that likely would have gone by unappreciated… like a picnic under the stars,  We’ve all heard stories of pioneer families who had only what their covered wagons would hold, if that much, who were happy. We have so much, and are so often unhappy and dissatisfied. It was great to be reminded that without our toys, there is all kinds of old-fashioned fun to be had.

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  1. You won’t believe what a few little sprinkles will do.

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All it takes is a little shower and the desert bursts into a flowery oasis of color. Give someone the slightest encouragement and they will bloom. Those of us who live in places where there are dozens of inches of rainfall every year think it takes a deluge to make things grow, but when you’re in the desert, you learn that just a little bit of rain or kindness or love goes a very long way and can make all kinds of surprising things happen.

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  1. Trust your instincts and wander where you will.

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When we first realized we were totally off the grid and that our GPS didn’t work, I’ll admit I was a little worried. I really don’t like the feeling of being lost and I guess I’ve gotten used to the magic voice pointing me in the direction of my destination and telling me where to turn. What I rediscovered was the joy of wandering down this road and that to see what we would find. It’s something my Dad used to do when we were on family vacations. I had forgotten how freeing it is to flex your wings, trust your instincts, and fly.

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  1. Be patient – some things are worth the wait.

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A canyon lit by sunlight looks completely different than a canyon shrouded in shadows. In His Time. God makes all things beautiful in His time. This is a lesson I’ve had to be reminded of over and over again in my lifetime. If you try to manipulate things to fit your timeline, you’re bound to be disappointed. Being patient and waiting for the right time, when the lighting is perfect and everything lines up the way it’s meant to brings dazzling results. A little sunshine makes a big difference.

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  1. When you’re at the lowest spot on earth, there’s no place to go but up.

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Being two hundred plus feet below sea level gave me an eerie feeling. And when we left the lowlands to climb up the canyons, my muscles were painfully stretched. It’s hard to transition from low to high. I’ve been thinking about high points and low points a lot as I’ve worked on my novel, Sweet William, this winter. One of the characters is dealing with the death of someone very dear, and trying to work their way back from deep despair to some sense of normalcy. Another character is living a perfectly grand life at a time when she’s at the pinnacle of her dreams. The only catch is, if she wants to be with the man she loves, she will have to give it all up.

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Is he dragging her down? Can she lift him up? From the heather- colored highlands of Scotland to the flat, black fields of Minnesota’s farm country – which way will she go?

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And the moral of the story? I said I learned some life lessons in Death Valley – I didn’t say I had all the answers. Never fear. I hope to have them soon. In the meantime, be patient with me. Oh, and please be quiet so I can think. I can’t seem to connect to Google Search right now so I’m looking for a star to guide me.

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Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces — The Story Continues

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime serial set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. Seven authors are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.

Residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Although some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces is a stand-alone novel. A new chapter is posted every Monday.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Chapter 21: Leia Menendez
by Claire Collins

Leia’s heart pounded in her ears. She slid down the kitchen door to the cool tile floor. The sweat soaking her tanktop chilled against her skin in the air conditioning. Maisey’s dark eyes watched from under the safety of the table.

She vacillated between excitement at finally getting what she came for and hyperventilation at finally getting what she came for. She’d slipped into the Sinclair house through the same door the creepy Morris spinoff had exited. She’d found Morris’s stash, and  left a present in exchange for taking what belonged to her.

She took deep breaths, trying to calm herself and cease the uncontrollable shaking of her hands. It didn’t work. She launched herself off the floor to vomit in the trashcan under the sink, the pictures in her hand dropping to the floor as she went.

Her hands started to shake again and she gripped the countertop for support. With a deep breath, she turned from the counter to gather the photos from the floor. Many of them fell face up. Leia found herself looking at the images that she never wanted to see to begin with. Two girls, a younger version of an innocent Leia and the beautiful blonde, her best friend, Jasmine. Jaz. Tears slipped down Leia’s cheeks but she didn’t bother to wipe them off. She found herself on her hands and knees, sliding the pictures into a pile. There was an elbow here, a knee there. A breast. Jaz’s face, her eyes glassy, her face rubbery and unresponsive. Leia’s face the way it was before she began the series of plastic surgeries.

Some of the photos were blessedly face down. The writing on the back of the photos showed their names and ages. Both were lies they told to get the job. She became Ashley Smith, age 19 and Jaz became Brandy Miller, age 20. In reality, they both had all of the worldy charm and thoughts of the 16 year-olds they were. They thought they could break into the world of modeling and acting by responding to an ad. At the audition, they signed papers saying they were over 18 and the agent sent them for a photo shoot for a book cover.

They drove Jaz’s car for an hour to get to the address the agent gave them. The house was little more than a shack but Leia and Jaz didn’t know enough to turn around when they felt nervous about the neighborhood. They were willing to make sacrifices to follow their dreams. Then they met Morris Sinclair and his photographer.

Leia’s skin crawled as she remembered the first time she saw Morris and the way he eyed the girls. She scooped more photos into the pile as her stomach threatened to unload again.

They were each offered a soda and the photographer talked to them. Morris only leered. Within a short time of arriving, the girls relaxed. Leia thought she was becoming comfortable with the men but later, she realized the sodas were drugged.

They started posing for the photos. They were laughing and excited about the photo shoot. More sodas came from somewhere but the taste changed, becoming more bitter than sweet. They forgot all about the sparse furnishings and unease. They forgot almost everything. Leia wishes she could forget everything now.

Before the photo session was over, she and Jaz went from posing for the pictures to being posed. Leia remembered enough to know that she didn’t want to do a lot of it but her body wasn’t under her control. The sex began with her and the photographer. She didn’t know how it started but she recalled being mortified that he was suddenly on her and they were all naked except Morris. She wasn’t sure how it happened. She tried to stop but everything proceeded despite her protests. She wasn’t even sure if her pleas were out loud or only in her head. Another flash of reality involved her and Jaz while the photographer watched. Morris took the pictures most of the time. Leia wasn’t sure who was taking the pictures when Morris forced Jaz to perform a sex act on him. The next real thing Leia remembered was waking up in the house on the stained mattress, a small pile of cash on the floor. Everyone was gone except her and Jaz. She was afraid Jaz was dead because her breathing was so shallow that it was barely perceptible. She just wanted to get out of there. She managed to get Jaz up and out of the house. Leia drove the car back to her house even though she didn’t have a driver’s license. She couldn’t take Jaz home. Her parents would collapse to the floor and call in as many expensive psychiatrists and therapists as they could find. They’d never let Jaz see Leia again.

No one would bat an eye at two stoned girls at Leia’s house. Her mom succumbed to cancer when she was seven and after that, her dad only worked and drank. There was no one else.

She scooped up more pictures. Thank God she got them out of that house before the police began their search. She had scooted out the back door as Moody answered the front door.

A picture of a smiling Jaz. So young and full of life. Leia ran her fingertip over the photo. Jaz couldn’t handle what happened to them. Six months after they were drugged and raped, Jaz committed suicide using the gun Leia’s dad kept under the couch cushion.

Leia ran. She had her mother’s beauty and she used it to support herself. She knew what she had that would make money… and make money she did. She was an excellent actress. The years of plastic surgeries transformed her look enough to make her Tara Windsor’s twin and once she completed cleaning up the Morris mess, she would dispose of Tara Windsor and step right into her shoes.

She slid the last picture over to put it in the pile. It was the head shot she submitted to the agent to get the book cover job. Angry at her young smiling self, she flipped the photo over, the words on the back grabbing her attention. She read them, then dropped the photo and curled into the fetal position on the kitchen floor.

Ashley Smith- 19
Leia Menendez – 16
AKA – Tara Windsor look alike
AKA – Brandy Jasmine – Porn star

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Introduction to “Grief: The Great Yearning” by Pat Bertram

Grief: The Great Yearning, the book about my first year of grief has finally been published. I wrote this article during the summer following my life mate/soul mate’s death, long before I ever knew my writings about grief would be published, but with the addition of the last paragraph, it made the perfect introduction to the book. Grief: The Great Yearning is available from Amazon, Second Wind Publishing, and in various ebook formats from Smashwords.

Death came in the spring.

At the beginning of March, the doctors said that Jeff, my life mate—my soul mate—had inoperable kidney cancer and that he had six months to live. He had only three weeks. We’d spent thirty-four years together, and suddenly I was alone, unprepared, and totally devastated. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the wreckage of my life. It wasn’t just he who died but “we.” There was no more “us,” no more shared plans and dreams and private jokes. There was only me.

Other losses compounded the misery. I had to sort through the accumulation of decades, dismantle what was left of our life, move from our home. We bereft are counseled not to make major changes during the first year after a significant loss—one’s thinking processes become muddled, leaving one prey to faulty logic and rash decisions—but I needed to go stay with my father for a while. Although he was doing well by himself, he was 93 years old, and it wasn’t wise for him to continue living alone.

I relocated from cool mountain climes to the heat of a southwestern community. Lost, heartbroken, awash in tears, I walked for hours every day beneath the cloudless sky, finding what comfort I could in the simple activity. During one such walk, I turned down an unfamiliar city street, and followed it . . . into the desert.

I was stunned to find myself in a vast wilderness of rocky knolls, creosote bushes, cacti, rabbits, lizards, and snakes. I’d been to the area several times during my mother’s last few months, but I’d spent little time outside. I hated the heat, the constant glare of the sun, the harsh winds. After Jeff died, however, that bleak weather, that bleak terrain seemed to mirror my inner landscape. Wandering in the desert, crying in the wilderness, I tried to find meaning in all that had happened. I didn’t find it, of course. How can there be meaning in the painful, horrific death of a 63-year-old man? I didn’t find myself, either. It was too soon for me to move on, to abandon my grief. I felt as if I’d be negating him and the life we led.

What I did find was the peace of the moment.

Children, most of whom know little of death and the horrors of life, live in the moment because they can—it’s all they have. The bereft, who know too much about death and the horrors of life, live in the moment because they must—it’s the only way they can survive.

During the first year after Jeff’s death, I lived as a child—moment to moment, embracing my grief, trying not to think about the future because such thoughts brought panic about growing old alone, trying not to think about the past because such thoughts reminded me of all I had lost.

And so went the seasons of my soul. The spring of death gave way to the summer of grief, and grief flowed into the fall and winter of renewal.

Grief: The Great Yearning is not a how-to but a how-done, a compilation of letters, blog posts, and journal entries I wrote while struggling to survive my first year of grief. As you journey through grief, I hope you will find comfort in knowing you are not alone. Whatever you feel, others have felt. Whatever seemingly crazy thing you do to bring yourself comfort, others have done. And, as impossible as it is to imagine now, you will survive.

***

Pat Bertram is also the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel

I am involved in a wonderful project with several other Second Wind authors. Rubicon Ranch is an ongoing collaborative novel that we are writing online. It is the story of people whose lives have been changed when a little girl’s body was found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was her death an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Each of us writers is responsible for the development of our own characters. My character is Melanie Gray. She has traveled the world with her husband, a world-renowned photographer. Together they authored many coffee-table books (she did the writing, he the photographs). One of the books told about mountains of the world, one about rivers, one about oceans, one about forests, and now they have a contract to do deserts. After they rented a house in Rubicon Ranch to begin their in-depth study of the southwestern deserts, he died in a car accident.

Now, not only does Melanie have to deal with the pain of losing her husband and figuring out what she’s going to do for the rest of her life, she needs to fulfill the publishing contract or she’ll have to reimburse the publishers, which she cannot do because the advance is all but spent. Since she is not a photographer, she roams the desert bordering on Rubicon Ranch, taking hundreds of photos, hoping that a few of them will accidentally end up being as brilliant as her husband’s photos always were. She finds the child’s body and takes photos of the scene after calling 911. At first she is a suspect but once the Sheriff has ruled her out, he requests her help in reading the desert and desert-related clues. Still, the sheriff does not trust her completely, thinking she is hiding something.

Chapter 26: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Fury, like wildfire flashed through Melanie. Fury at the sheriff for paying his silly games when people were dead, fury at herself for playing his fool.

She’d been flattered that he thought she could help with his investigation, but apparently the only thing he’d been investigating was her and how to get in her panties. And she’d fallen for it. Cripes, what an idiot! All her resolve not to let him get to her had been for nothing.

And that whole seduction scene—”So maybe, when I need you to help me, I won’t have to bully you. You’ll cooperate with me because you understand that getting my job done honestly is the most important thing to me.” Did he believe his own drivel? And anyway, how could she help when he wasn’t doing anything? It had been two days since Riley died. Didn’t they say that if they didn’t catch a killer within the first forty-eight hours that chances are he or she would never be caught? And the sheriff had wasted those precious hours trying to seduce her.

She’d fallen for Alexander’s crap and apparently she hadn’t learned anything, because here she was again, playing straight-woman for another unprincipled clown. Alexander, at least, had offered her adventure and marriage, and for a while he had even been faithful. But Seth? What did he have to offer? Nothing. He was married, and he was a taker. He’d take everything she had, which wasn’t much, just her integrity, and she’d be damned before she let him tarnish that with a tawdry affair. She’d seen the look in his eyes when he’d said “And I know you’d rather claw out my eyes and slash my throat than let me touch you.” And that look had belied his words. He seemed to think all he had to do was pretend to know her and she’d fall into his oh, so understanding arms.

“What?” he said, sounding as if he didn’t know exactly what was going through her mind. How could he not? He, Sheriff Seth Bryan, the great detective.

“As if you don’t know.” Melanie spit the words from between clenched teeth.

Seth’s brows drew together in an almost believable though comic look of confusion. “That’s such a typical womanish remark. I thought you were different.”

“You thought I was gullible and naïve. You thought since I put up with Alexander’s philandering, I’d put up with yours, too, but that is not going to happen. Only a fool gets involved with a married man, and whatever you think, I am no fool.”

Seth held up his hands, palms toward her. “Whoa.”

“Being a widow does not make me ripe for the plucking. I don’t need to be serviced like a bitch in heat. Believe me, the last thing I need in my life is a man, especially a married man. Calling it separate maintenance does not make you any less married.”

He flashed his teeth. “So you do like me. You’re protesting too much.”

“Not protesting enough, apparently, or else you wouldn’t have that silly grin on your face.”

He lost the grin. “What’s going on here? I thought we were having a nice meal while we went over the case.”

“You should be going over the case with your deputies. They, at least, seem to understand how inappropriate it is for you to include me in your investigation. Unless I’m still a suspect and you’re trying to get me to let down my guard and confess?”

“I told you, you were never a suspect.”

“As if playing with me, gigging me as you called it, is any better. So let’s discuss the case. What were the results of the autopsy? Was Riley murdered or was it an accident? If she was murdered, how was it done and who did it? Were there drugs in her system? Have you interrogated her parents yet to find out what they’re hiding? Have you found out who the dead man is and what, if anything, he has to do with Riley’s murder? You pretty much ignored me when I said he looked liked Riley, but then, that’s understandable. I never got a good look at the girl. All I saw was her jaw line, her nose, and her eyebrows, so whatever I blurted out after seeing the man’s corpse has to be discounted. Did the same person kill both of them? Or were there two different killers? Or . . .” Melanie paused to grab the thought that flitted through her mind. “Did he kill Riley and someone else kill him?”

Seth picked up his sandwich, dipped an end in the au jus, bit off a piece, and chewed slowly.

Melanie nodded. “That’s what I thought. You’re all talk.” She deepened her voice and mimicked him. “‘We have to solve these murders.’ Yeah, like there really is a we. Well, there was a we, but that was Alexander and me. You and I will never be a we.” A cough shuddered through her torso. She took a long drink of water, hoping she wasn’t coming down with a cold but was merely dehydrated from the strong air-conditioning and her rare monologue.

Seth gave her a searching look, opened his mouth and then closed it again with what sounded like a resigned sigh. She wondered what he’d been going to say and why he thought better of it, then she let out a sigh of her own. It didn’t matter. She had enough to do with grieving and fulfilling her book contract. She had nothing left for the sheriff and his investigation. Whatever he might think, she really didn’t know anything. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. She did know one thing.

She threw her napkin on the table and stood, ready to flee.

Seth gaped at her. “What’s going on?”

“I’m going home, Sheriff Seth Bryan. I’m through with your games. You lied about investigating Alexander’s accident. I saw the photos in the newspaper and I visited the scene of the accident. There was nothing there to indicate that the crash had been anything other than an accident. Perhaps someone had tampered with the car, but the only way to find that out was to investigate the vehicle itself. And you didn’t care enough to check it out.”

***

An additional chapter of the book will be posted every Monday. Please join in the adventure — it should be fun! We don’t even know whodunit and won’t know until the end. You can find the earlier chapters here: Rubicon Ranch

Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel

I am involved in a wonderful project with eight other authors from Second Wind Publishing — writing a novel online.  We take turns writing chapters, and each of us writes from the point of view of a character we created. The story begins with a little girl’s body being found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end! Here is an excerpt from one of my chapters to entice you to come join the fun. You can find what we have written so far by clicking here: Rubicon Ranch.

“Look I know you’re dressed for the desert and everything,” Bryan said, “but I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you to sit in the unit here for a minute or two and enjoy the air conditioning while I talk to my deputies.”

He could tell she was thinking over his request carefully, that Melanie didn’t quite trust him. She also didn’t act like someone who had just killed a child and was trying to cover it up, although—he judged—she might be clever enough to do just that.

“Well if I have to wait,” she said, “I guess I’m better off in here than out in hundred degree weather.”

Bryan opened the driver’s door. “One hundred and three degrees,” he corrected.

Frio and Midget were standing within a few feet of the discarded TV, as if to make sure the child inside did not get out and skip away. Midget paid less attention to the crime scene than the scrub brush and mounds of rock and dirt around him.

“Do we know who this was?” the sheriff asked as he joined them.

“No,” Frio said. “If she’s from this housing development, it won’t be hard to find out. Not too many girls her age up here.”

“They don’t know she’s gone,” Midget offered in his falsetto. “Otherwise they would have reported her missing before Flower Child over there found her.”

“Yeah, unless they killed her.” He glanced back to his Navigator. Melanie was staring at them. “So this Melanie Gray. More to her than meets the eye, you think?”

“Obviously,” Frio replied. “With all those clothes she wears, almost nothing meets the eye.”

“Yeah.” He turned back toward the TV. “I would totally discount her as being involved in any way, except for one thing. From the very first, she talked about this as if it’s a murder.”

Midget looked down at him. “You think it’s not a murder?”

He shrugged. “What is she—eight, nine-years-old? She sneaks out at night after bedtime and loses her way. No one notices she’s gone. She gets lost. She gets dehydrated. She finds the TV console and decides to sit it in for shelter. Maybe she dies of exposure. Or maybe one of those green rattlers around here bit her. Since no one could hear her crying for help, she crawled in the TV and the venom got her.” He looked up at Midget, who was gazing around them. “You don’t like snakes, do you?”

“Do you?”

He chuckled. “So let’s proceed as if this is a wrongful death investigation. What do we need to do, Frio?”

She sighed. “Well, I’ve already called for the coroner and the bus. Midget and I will cordon off this area with tape and protect the scene as much as possible. We need to figure out who the little girl is and notify her parents.”

“What if they’re dead too?” Midget asked.

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People, available from Second Wind Publishing.

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The Second Chapter of Rubicon Ranch Has Been Posted!

You can find the second chapter of Rubicon Ranch, the Second Wind collaborative novel here:  “Chapter Two: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill.” Next week we will be posting a chapter by JB Kohl and Eric Beetner, authors of the wonderful noir novel One Too Many Blows to the Head. We hope you will join us in our adventure!

Here’s a taste of Chapter Two:

“Look I know you’re dressed for the desert and everything,” Bryan said, “but I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you to sit in the unit here for a minute or two and enjoy the air conditioning while I talk to my deputies.”

He could tell she was thinking over his request carefully, that Melanie didn’t quite trust him. She also didn’t act like someone who had just killed a child and was trying to cover it up, although—he judged—she might be clever enough to do just that.

“Well if I have to wait,” she said, “I guess I’m better off in here than out in hundred degree weather.”

Bryan opened the driver’s door. “One hundred and three degrees,” he corrected.

Frio and Midget were standing within a few feet of the discarded TV, as if to make sure the child inside did not get out and skip away. Midget paid less attention to the crime scene than the scrub brush and mounds of rock and dirt around him.

“Do we know who this was?” the sheriff asked as he joined them.

“No,” Frio said. “If she’s from this housing development, it won’t be hard to find out. Not too many girls her age up here.”

“They don’t know she’s gone,” Midget offered in his falsetto. “Otherwise they would have reported her missing before Flower Child over there found her.”

“Yeah, unless they killed her.” He glanced back to his Navigator. Melanie was staring at them. “So this Melanie Gray. More to her than meets the eye, you think?”

“Obviously,” Frio replied. “With all those clothes she wears, almost nothing meets the eye.”

“Yeah.” He turned back toward the TV. “I would totally discount her as being involved in any way, except for one thing. From the very first, she talked about this as if it’s a murder.”

Midget looked down at him. “You think it’s not a murder?”

He shrugged. “What is she—eight, nine-years-old? She sneaks out at night after bedtime and loses her way. No one notices she’s gone. She gets lost. She gets dehydrated. She finds the TV console and decides to sit it in for shelter. Maybe she dies of exposure. Or maybe one of those green rattlers around here bit her. Since no one could hear her crying for help, she crawled in the TV and the venom got her.” He looked up at Midget, who was gazing around them. “You don’t like snakes, do you?”

Click here to read the whole chapter: Chapter Two: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill

If you haven’t yet read the first chapter of this novel experience you can find it here: “Chapter One: Melanie Gray —  by Pat Bertram“.

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The Murder. The Mystery. The Unspeakable Crime.

Video by JJ Dare, author of  False Positive and False World.

Read the first chapter of Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel here: Chapter One: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

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The First Chapter of Rubicon Ranch Has Finally Been Posted!

We’ve been promising you a novel experience, a collaboration by authors of Second Wind, and finally the day has arrived! The first chapter of Rubicon Ranch has been posted. You can find the first chapter here: “Chapter One by Pat Bertram“. Next week we will be posting a chapter by Lazarus Barnhill, author of the wonderful books Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People. We hope you will join us in our adventure!

Here’s how the story begins:

Melanie Gray dressed all in white—loose cotton pants, billowing long-sleeved top, wide-brimmed straw hat, flowing scarf. She checked her pockets to make sure she had her cell phone, camera, and extra memory card, then grabbed a canteen of water, slung the strap over her shoulder like a bandolier, and stepped outside. Heat scorched her lungs and the glare of the desert sun burned her tear-sore eyes.

She hesitated. Maybe she should stay inside today. Seven o’clock in the morning, and the temperature had already climbed into the hundreds. She was more of a mountain girl—though at forty-three she could hardly be called a girl—and preferred the cool of higher elevations. To be fair, Rubicon Ranch lay three thousand feet above sea level, and the harsh weather and bleak desert vistas suited her present mood, but she hadn’t slept well lately, hadn’t slept much at all since Alexander died, and she had little strength to deal with the present heat wave.

Damn Alexander anyway. Why did he have to wreck the car and get himself killed? Didn’t he know better than to text while driving? And how could he have already spent their advance? Had he squandered it on the woman he’d been texting?

Melanie strode down the driveway to Delano Road, wishing their publisher wasn’t holding her to the contract for this final coffee table book. If she still had the advance, she could return the money, find somewhere to burrow, and heal in privacy, but now she had to finish the book of desert scenes by herself, and she knew nothing about photography—Alexander always took the pictures, she wrote the blurbs. Her only option was to shoot as many photos as possible using her small digital camera, and hope that by lucky accident some would be publishable.

When she reached the road, she hesitated again. Right or left? Odd how she couldn’t seem to make up her mind about anything since Alexander’s death. Not that it mattered which way she went. Most roads in Rubicon Ranch eventually wound to the desert.

Turning left on Delano Road was the shorter route—the desert lay a scant one hundred yards from her rented house—but she seldom went that way. Cut off from the vast stretches of wilderness by rocky knolls, the region had become a cross between a town park and a city dump. She’d have to dodge bicyclists, skirt discarded furniture, and climb over the steep knolls to get to the wilds. Turning right, as she usually did, she could amble through pleasant suburban streets before reaching the trails that would take her to the remote wilderness areas.

The heat radiating off the blacktop made up her mind for her. It would be cooler in the desert, if only by a couple of degrees, so the sooner she got there the better. She turned left.

As she neared the house two doors down, she felt the disturbing sensation of being scrutinized. She didn’t need to search for those observant eyes. She knew exactly who was watching. An old man always sat on the porch, like a land-locked amphibian, staring at everyone going by. Another reason she preferred the long way—she hated anyone knowing her business, especially now when her emotions were so raw.

“Damn you, Alexander,” she whispered fiercely. “How could you have done this to me?”

Click here to read the whole chapter: Rubicon Ranch, Chapter One by Pat Bertram

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Echoes

Writers need to watch out for echoes — a duplication of words, phrases, effects, details that reverberate in readers’ minds and dilute the work. (As an example: I just wrote “details that echo in readers’ minds”, but the second “echo” echoed the first and diluted the effect of both, so I changed the second “echo” to “reverberate”.)

Sometimes, however, an echo can be used to good effect in writing as well as photography. A roof can be an interesting subject for an image, but showing it against an analogous background can strengthen the image rather than dilute it.

There is no shortage of peaks around here — roof peaks, mountain peaks, hill peaks — and I was able to find shots of peaks perfectly echoed against peaks to illustrate my point.

 

 

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