Tag Archives: excerpt

How Soon Is Soon? by Sheila Deeth

I was going to write a blogpost soon, but that was hours ago. I was going to get serious about advertizing soon, but that was days ago. My husband was going to choose paint colors soon, but that was months ago. And my next novel, Subtraction, was going to come out soon, but how soon is soon?

subtraction copy

Then yesterday I got good news. Subtraction has a tentative release date of August 1st. Hurray! So now I shall have to advertize soon, beg for reviews, try to get the book into stores… and dream. And definitely dream. Because Subtraction completes a trilogy begun with Divide by Zero and continued in Infinite Sum. Sure, I’m working on Imaginary Numbers now, but that will follows lives on different paths. Subtraction completes the arc of lives wounded by Amelia’s death. Subtraction follows the absent father, and places him very present on center stage. And I can’t wait to see how it will be received. Meanwhile here’s section one of part 1, just in case you have time to read…

 

Part 1

1

“Now children, today I will teach you to subtract.” Andrew marched to the front of the classroom, ready to start his second year with these kids. He frowned as he pondered whether addressing a middle-grade, special-needs audience as children might be insulting, but his mind seemed devoid of alternative words as it sank into more familiar mathematical terms. “Subtract,” he repeated.  To take away, abuse, discard, destroy…

Youthful faces, ranging from blandly accusing to sleepily bland, stared back at him, and clearly couldn’t care less if he frowned or cried. Faint groans arose, inspiring that familiar tightness in his chest. But these students, subtracted from their regular classes, weren’t rejects; not really; not yet; Andrew wasn’t going to fail them if he could help it.

“Sub-traction.” He spoke the syllables carefully and wrote the word with a purple flourish on the whiteboard. The pen squeaked louder than the nervous quiver of his throat while he half-turned to check the children were seated, and to see who was laughing.

A class clown bounced on his chair in the middle of the room.  “Is that like action that’s not acting right?” Beetled eyebrows wiggled, mimicking the bouncing of the tall boy’s limbs.

“Nah,” groaned the one known as Jonah the Whale, squashed like a deflated football in his seat near the door. The force of Jonah’s voice blew strands of sandy hair up like a helmet, and he clawed his armpits with stubby fists. “ Sub-track; it’s like acting subhuman, like what you do.” He pointed to the clown.

Andrew rapped a ruler on the desk. “No teasing in class,” he insisted. Then he repeated, slowly, solemnly—fiercely driving down the whimper of his new-year apprehension— “We’re studying subtraction.”

For a moment, the deep, cultured tone of his own voice distracted him. Who am I? he wondered, and who am I to teach them? But he couldn’t pause to evaluate the answer. “Subtraction is sometimes called taking away.” And what has been taken from me?

Andrew’s eyes wandered, taking in shapes, positions, posture, provocation and more. Meanwhile he pondered what these middle-school rejects might make of the phrase, taken away, they who’d never been given enough in the first place? Inhaling an unhealthy burst of dry-erase solvent, he dragged himself back to the present and began a slow walk around the room.

Fair-haired Amy sat near clownish Zeke. She wrapped thin, freckled arms around the treasures on her desk. Her lips were parted as she muttered under her breath, “Not take away. Not take away.” The delicate voice reminded Andrew of the tick from an antique clock, from an antique home, from a life long lost. He leaned forward to offer comfort to the child. Doll-eyes blinked, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was fixed on some curious infinity. Her face, pink-cheeked and porcelain smooth, bore only the tiniest hint of unlikely concern, as if she were looking through a window at someone else’s lesson.

“Ah, Amy.” Andrew sighed. “Nobody’s going to take your treasures away.”

Three safety pins from a diaper set were arrayed in the middle of her desk. Buttons in multiple colors formed jagged hills beside them. A pencil with rainbow-colored point, and a pad of rainbow notelets were neatly positioned between musically drumming fingers.

“First we add things,” Andrew said, raising his voice as he marched toward the front of the room again. “Then we have a collection”—a collection of buttons perhaps, and did Amy know how many were lying there?—“and then we…”

“Takeaway! Like burgers!” brayed Julie’s rusty voice of triumph behind him.

Andrew turned. “Well, not quite, Julie,” he admitted, feeling the focus splinter.

“I want my takeaway. I want.” Loud thumps of threatening persistence on the desk accompanied Tom’s voice. Angry Tom, he was in his fourth special school for misbehavior and might soon be dropped out entirely unless teachers like Andrew could win him over. But chaos rumbled over other desks as well.

Andrew tensed, needing a clearer answer, before things fell apart. Then he felt a bubble of inspiration turn his frown to a smile. This was why he did this job. This was why he loved it.

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Andrew announced, facing the class from behind his desk and pumping his arm with the words like a teenager. His tones turned increasingly valiant as his gaze slid across the sea of puzzled faces. “You’re right.” He pointed to Julie. “Tom’s right… And you… and you… Let’s order some takeaway, just as soon as we’ve got this done.” Then he started to count, pointing to the students each in turn. “Let’s order… seven, eight, nine burgers.”

“I want nuggets!”

“Nine orders of food.” Andrew corrected himself. “And I’ll be in charge of passing them around.”

He had their attention now, or food did anyway.

“I’ll set the box down on my desk, right here. And when I’ve handed one meal to Jonah… you tell me… how many more will be in the box?”

“Me first,” shouted Tom, ignoring the question. But others students waved fingers to count and tried to work it out.

Shy Amy’s head hung down as she continued to play with the buttons on her desk. Her fingers wove in hypnotically distracting patterns. Don’t look at her. Don’t watch. You’ll make her mad. But blue eyes focused suddenly on Andrew, cold as winter, distant as spring. Red-button lips pursed into words, spoked out in a quietly determined, uninflected voice. “Eight.”

“Very good, Amy. So then I give one meal to Amy.” Andrew waved a hand with the imaginary parcel. “Just wait a minute, Tom. And how many are left?”

Middle-grade mind needed a pause before answering, “Seven?”

“Then to Tom… “

“Hurray!”

“Six… five… four…”

The students completed the sequence at last, and Andrew announced in triumph, “That’s subtraction, class. When we take something out of the box, we’ve subtracted it.”

Faces shone back at him in that pause within the triangle of trouble, food and learning. Then Jonah the Whale bounced his chair, legs creaking scarily. “So, when can we eat?”

Whispers rustled, then Tom’s throaty voice rang out, combining threat and doubt. “Order it! I’m hungry.”

Andrew took out his phone. “What’s the number? Anyone know?”

Then food’s calm promise brought peace, giving Andrew a chance to spend more time in quiet discussion with Tom. He said all the right words, warning of all the right consequences, taking into account the rightness of Tom’s desire for burgers, and adding a reminder that the whole class needed to learn. Subtract a little bad behavior here and there, don’t shout too loud, look like you’re taking notice, and all will be well.

Meanwhile Shy Amy drew with her rainbow pencil, plus and minus signs entwined with whispering shades and colors on the rainbow page. Take away her autism, and who might Amy be then?

Take away Amelia’s autism…?

Voices from the past ushered a host of memories in Andrew’s mind. Amelia was the girl long gone, long lost under green of trees and waving branches in a place called Paradise—Amelia, her mother, Andrew’s parents, Carl… all subtracted like numbers from his page. He let his gaze drift to the window, hoping the sky’s bright tones would wash his palette clean again. But who-am-I doubts combined with the whispering of leaves and chatter of children. He couldn’t forget. That long slow walk between Tom’s desk and the classroom door could take a lifetime, waiting for delivery’s knock.

Sheila Deeth is the author of the Mathemafiction series of novels from Indigo Sea Press. Find Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum on Amazon and at other bookstores, and watch out for Subtraction, coming “soon” on August 1st!

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January’s Paradigm, Second Excerpt—J. Conrad Guest

I thought I would include as part of this excerpt the first poem I ever wrote (I’ve written maybe three more, and there’s a reason for that!). It opens the novel, prior to Part One, so it’s a little out of place in this excerpt.

Love Me Little, Love Me Long

Love is not a forest fire that burns intensely,
hotly and out of control for a brief moment until,
its expendable fuel spent,
it sputters,
seeking in vain for something else to consume,
to sustain itself before, finally,
it dies:
cold, black ash the only evidence of its passing.

Love is, instead, a campfire:
it provides ample heat and comfort
to the twosome who sit before it,
and although its flames may at times wane,
a well-tended campfire’s embers can be nurtured and fanned
until the flames once again dance brightly and cheerfully,
providing comfort to the couple who care
to cherish the gentle warmth it ministers.

Part Three

Heart don’t try so hard this time.
There’s another lover waitin’ around another paradigm.
These tears we cry are just a waste of water don’tcha know?
We got to learn to see when somethin’s finally gone … and just let it go.

Little Feat

Chapter Ten

“Mommy,” came the squeal from around the corner.

A moment later, Sarah Jane – Susan had told me her daughter’s name on our way up to the second floor apartment – flashed into view. She wore a pink jumpsuit overlaid with a colorful floral pattern that I guessed Susan had allowed her to pick out for herself. She leaped into her mother’s outstretched arms. Unable to conceal her excitement, her laughter betraying unconditional love, she threw her arms around Susan’s neck and hugged her with all the might her tiny six-year-old limbs could muster.

I could make out her features, features that undoubtedly had belonged to Susan at one time. The same square jaw and dimpled chin, as well as the identical pouting upper lip and the same high and elegant cheekbones. The brown eyes beneath the finely arched brows hinted at some hidden mischief; and the hair – full, wavy and lustrously black cascading down her back nearly to her waist.

The reunion was complete. Now it was time for introductions.

“Joe, this is Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane, I’d like you to meet Joe January.”

I saw the child got a charge out of the formal introduction. I suspected Susan rarely talked down to her, preferring instead to treat her as an adult, her reasoning that a child treated as such would respond as such.

She offered me her hand.

“Hello, Joe,” she spoke with alacrity. Then, suddenly aware of her inadvertent rhyme, she giggled as she hid her mouth politely behind her hand.

I felt my face flush.

“And I thought I was the only one who could do that to you.” Susan’s smile mocked me affectionately, and I felt the heat rise higher as my discomfort grew.

“Have you had lunch yet, Sarah Jane?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“And what have you and Monica been doing with yourselves all morning?”

“Watching Fantasia.”

“Again?”

“It’s a classic,” Sarah Jane replied with perfected adult inflection; I couldn’t keep from smiling.

“Well, go ahead and finish watching it while I visit with Monica and Joe, okay?”

“Won’t you watch it with me?”

“Just for a few minutes. I don’t want to be rude to our guest. Later this afternoon Joe and I will take you to the park.”

Sarah Jane’s face lit up at the prospect.

“Can I have an ice cream, too?”

“We’ll see,” was Susan’s measured reply.

I detected a glimmer of triumph in the child’s eye, as if the trophy had already been awarded.

“Come on,” Susan said, taking the child by the hand and leading her through the archway to the dining room and beyond.

And then they were gone, leaving me alone with Monica. Susan had briefly introduced us at the door, just before Sarah Jane’s entrance. Since then I’d been only dimly aware of Monica’s scrutiny of me. Although she’d been discreet, her appraisal hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Taller than Susan, her figure was also more boyish – flat-chested and long-waisted with narrow hips. Her facial features were masculine: large pores and leathery skin, as if she’d spent too much time in the sun. Her voice was deep with testosterone. Even her movements betrayed what I presumed when she first opened the door; confirmation came with the attitude she’d been displaying toward me since our arrival – indifference at first, now, jealousy.

Does she view me as a threat? I wondered.

If her affection for Susan was what I thought it was, then I was certain she had made her feelings known. I was equally certain that Susan had rebuffed Monica’s overtures toward anything but a strictly platonic relationship. She would be gentle yet firm, for she would view Monica’s friendship as a commodity much too valuable to be terminated. Did Monica still harbor hope for a physical relationship with Susan? I guessed yes, but I also knew it would never happen.

The silence between us since Susan’s departure stretched on uncomfortably. Finally, at a loss for anything of much substance to say, I broke the ice.

“That coffee sure does smell good.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, although I doubted she was. “Can I get you a cup?”

“Sure.”

Even though I really didn’t care for any, I felt gratified that I had gained an advantage through this exchange. Not that I felt threatened. While it was obvious Monica was very protective of Susan, I didn’t wish to come between her and Susan any more than I wanted her to come between Susan and me, and so I would have to be careful.

“How do you take it?”

“Black.”

“Please, sit down. I’ll bring it in.” Her courtesy seemed forced.

I sat on the sofa, knowing that Monica would then be forced to opt for the chair in the corner. That would leave the spot on the sofa next to me open for Susan when she returned, leaving Monica further disadvantaged. Certain she would recognize my ploy, I wondered how she might counter.

Just then she came around the corner bearing the coffee, one cup for each of us, on a circular serving tray. The cups chattered noisily on the matching saucers as she strode gracelessly into the room, trying not to spill any of the contents of the too full cups. She set the tray on the coffee table in front of me and I noted happily that she’d failed in her effort to keep from spilling any of the liquid.

“Thanks,” I said politely while making a show of ridding the saucer of the spillage onto the bottom of the serving tray. I smiled my gratitude at her.

Mute, Monica took one of the remaining two cups and proceeded to settle herself into the corner chair. The seating arrangements hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Determined to coerce her into conversation, I ventured a comment on the arras hanging on the wall adjacent to her.

“Beautiful tapestry. What do the symbols represent?”

“It’s a chakra chart,” she replied icily. “The icons symbolize the centers of spiritual energy in the human body.”

“Oh,” I said with feigned interest. “You practice occultism.”

“I’m not a witch.”

I’ve managed to insult her. Good.

“I’m psychic,” she announced proudly.

“You mean there’s a difference?” I wondered if she’d caught my intended barb.

“I don’t cast spells. I’m a receptacle for psychic vibrations. I inter­pret those energies for those not blessed with the gift.”

I indicated the crystal globe, supported by a wooden base and cen­tered on a purple silk scarf adorned with the signs of the zodiac that was, in turn, centered on the coffee table. “You read crystal balls?”

“That one is glass, merely decorative. I keep my crystal wrapped in silk in another room. It is important that it be kept free of unwanted influence.”

“I see.” I tried to sound impressed.

She’d spoken of her crystal with reverence, I noted with amusement. I was enjoying this dialogue immensely, even though I didn’t have the slightest interest in her supposed “gift”. But then that’s what made it so much fun.

I wondered if she suspected what my actual thoughts regarding her psychic abilities were, and nearly laughed aloud at the lunacy of that notion. If indeed she could read my thoughts, then she would know with certainty that I believed it was all hogwash.

“I also read cards.”

“Really? Well perhaps one day you could read mine.”

Just then Susan returned.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Joe.”

I liked the way she said my name, sweetly melodic.

“Sarah Jane and I get so little time together during the weekend, sometimes I just can’t say no.”

“I understand.”

“That coffee’s for you, Hon,” Monica piped in. “Cream and sugar, just the way you like it.”

I was certain her affectation of affection was intended for me.

“Thanks, Monica.” Susan’s tone, I noted happily, was purely pla­tonic.

“So tell me, Susan. How do you and Joe come to know each other?”

She’s fishing: how long have we known each other, how serious are we? Ad infinitum.

“From The Oasis,” Susan said.

“I supply Susan’s demand for Coke,” I said. My joke was ours to share alone, for Monica found nothing amusing about the pun; but then, I had counted on that.

“Joe was just telling me of his interest in the esoteric.”

“Interest born of ignorance. I’ve always been fascinated by that about which I know very little.” With a wink at Susan, I finished, “The detective in me, I guess.”

Susan smiled. She understood my allusion.

“Perhaps you would like a little firsthand education?”

I caught the look of rascality in Monica’s eyes. This was her chance to tip the scales in her favor.

“I don’t think –”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Susan gushed.

Roguishness turned to triumph. “I’ll just be but a minute,” Monica said, crossing the living room to exit down the hall.

When she was gone I turned to Susan to protest.

“You don’t really believe she can read the future, do you? I mean, isn’t this against your religion or something?”

“She’s really very good, Joe. She uses her gift to help people, and there’s nothing in the Bible that prohibits that.”

Laughing, she put her hand on my knee.

“Besides, it’ll save me a lot of time and trouble getting to know you.”

“But –”

“Unless you’ve got something to hide,” she said ominously.

“No.” My denial sounded uncertain.

Initially, I’d fretted that Monica might use this opportunity to tell lies, to fabricate untruths to undermine my status in Susan’s eyes. But now I was forced to acknowledge the possibility that the truth – the truth I’d been hiding from Susan as well as myself – if indeed Monica held in her power the ability to decipher it, could be more damning than anything she could make up. Either way, I’d be at her mercy.

“In here,” Monica called from the dining room.

Resigned, I went to confront whatever fate awaited me.

In the dining room, Monica was arranging a midnight blue silk scarf, similar to the one in the living room that served as a doily for her imitation crystal ball, on top of a piece of wood that looked like oak, although it was stained a dark brown. The wood, about an inch thick, was approximately twenty-four inches square. From a small, ornately carved hinged box she procured a deck of Tarot cards.

“These have been in my family for three generations,” she announced.

What a pity, I reflected sardonically. With your sexual preference there will be no fourth generation to pass them down to.

I wondered if she’d contemplated that, and if she had, how she was planning to overcome that little obstacle.

Monica removed a card from the pack and set it down on the cen­ter of the silk scarf.

“This card, the King of Swords, represents you.”

“Why that one?”

“Of all the cards of the Minor Arcana, he looks most like you – fair, with blond hair.”

“I think he’s very handsome,” Susan said.

I’d never been able to take a compliment. Blushing, I glanced over at Susan and found her smiling warmly at me. The affection behind her smile warmed me further.

“Too bad the card can’t blush,” she added.

Embarrassed further, I took recompense from the daggers of jealousy that came at me from across the table, where Monica had been silently appraising our exchange. She caught my look, and in that moment, she knew that I knew. Embarrassed by her own transparency, she quickly averted her eyes.

“What’s the Minor Arcana?” I asked, trying to forestall the reading.

“Fifty-six cards make up the Minor Arcana,” she explained. “Like the four suits of a deck of playing cards, only with Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages. These cards deal with love, pain, gain or loss. Any­thing that has to do with earthly affairs. The remainder of the deck contains the cards of the Major Arcana. They represent primal cosmic beings. Unlike the cards of the Minor Arcana, they cannot portray a person.”

She handed me the pack of cards.

“Shuffle the cards well. Then cut them twice, using your left hand.”

My mind swam as I tried to think of some way to delay the inevitable. It was impossible. If I backed out now I would appear suspicious, and so I could only hope that Monica’s “gift” was a sham and that this would amount to nothing more than a parlor game.

After shuffling the cards, I cut them into three piles.

“Past,” Monica said, indicating the pile on my right. “Present and future,” she assigned to the remaining two piles. “Select one.”

I already knew what my future held, in 2047. And my past I could read about anytime in the biography on the coffee table in Porter’s apartment.

I pointed to the cards that would depict my present.

Monica looked askance at me, as if my choice surprised or puzzled her. She took the cards I’d indicated and squared them.

I watched Susan as she peered intently at the cards Monica turned over and positioned around the King of Swords. The first she placed across it at ninety degrees. She next placed four others around it, one above, one below and one to either side. Finally, she placed a column composed of four cards along the right edge of the silk scarf.

I held my breath. The cards meant nothing to me; yet not knowing what else to do, I carefully scrutinized the images that would, truthfully or not, reveal my present.

I’d wanted Monica to reveal my present first because it was that aspect of my life that I knew least about. Suddenly aware of the silence around me, I looked up to find Monica studying me intently. I saw distrust in her eyes. I let out my breath and …

Silently took another, grateful to see Susan still studying the cards.

“You are not who you pretend to be.” It was not an accusation; an assessment perhaps, based on uncertainty. Monica continued.

“The Two of Swords crosses you. You keep many secrets.”

She stared at the card a moment, as if seeking to discover some­thing more about it.

“You are a man shrouded in mystery.”

I felt my heartbeat quicken.

“The Justice card, reversed,” Monica said, pointing to the card. “You will not receive remuneration for that which you thought you had paid.

“Here, the Three of Pentacles. This card indicates material gain that was lost because of your own selfish reasons.

“The Two of Cups,” she said, eyeing me with suspicion. “The Two of Cups is the marriage card. You are estranged,” she added, her voice barely audible. “This relationship is flawed. You thought you loved her, but you were only in love with the idea of being in love.”

She paused a moment, perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps listen­ing to some inner voice of her own.

“The relationship cannot be fixed, it is gone. Even though it is something you still want, you can never have it – it will never be.

“The Ace of Cups indicates you gave material things to this person out of love, expecting to receive love in return. This woman you gave these things to was materialistic, but it was never enough for her.

“The Strength card, reversed,” she said, touching the card.

“You must let go of this woman in order to go forward. Forget her,” she advised.

“The Hanged Man reversed. The Hanged Man provides strength – you will discover yourself, who you really are, through the guidance of this person.”

I chanced another glance at Susan, who was caught up in everything Monica was saying.

Monica continued with the reading.

“The Emperor reversed. An invasion of your privacy by another man.” Was that a glimmer of triumph in her eye? “The Strength card,” – she pointed to it again – “is also the Devastation card. You were unable to control your emotions over what was done to you, so you escaped. You must look to the Hanged Man for guidance.”

Monica now directed my attention to the last card, the bottom card of the column of four along the right side of the scarf.

“The Moon card indicates psychic ability.” She eyed me with amusement. “You knew she would do this to you, but you were unable to prevent it. Or perhaps you chose to do nothing. The Moon card also tells you to surrender and start over. This is a brand new beginning for you. But only if you choose.”

Here she stopped; the silence became deafening.

Not knowing what was expected of me, I looked from the image that depicted the Moon card – a dog and a wolf both baying at the moon – to Susan, who was staring at me, waiting expectantly for me to say something.

There was truth in Monica’s reading. How I knew I didn’t have a clue, but I knew. Images of the dark-haired woman from the hidden photograph haunted my mind’s eye.

Embarrassed by the idea of a past love, I felt myself redden.

Driven by the searching beauty of Susan’s warm brown eyes, I sought exile in Monica’s cold, calculating, masculine stare. She wore a look of superiority, born of the discovery of intimate events about my life.

How much does she know? More than she lets on.

But why hold back? Why not destroy me now, in front of Susan? Maybe she was playing a game of discretion, waiting to relate the rest of the damning evidence later, after I’d gone.

But if Monica was indeed psychic, then it was also conceivable that she already suspected the outcome and was content to allow Susan to make the discoveries on her own.

No. More than likely she merely wants to observe my discomfort.

“Wow,” Susan breathed.

“There is truth in what I have seen in the cards?” Monica was dar­ing me to refute the facts as she’d presented them.

I couldn’t.

And I’d already told enough lies.

So I conceded.

“Yes, there was a woman. She was unfaithful to me.” Somehow I knew this to be true. “She’s gone now. I don’t know where she is. She hurt me.” I sensed loss and felt pain in my breast, pain as real as truth. “But I’m working through it.”

Monica, I saw, was disappointed. She’d expected denial. On the other hand, my response elicited sympathy from Susan.

“Oh, Joe, I’m sorry.”

Susan’s response served to displease further, for Monica had ex­pected to see my esteem in Susan’s eyes fall, not rise. Her reaction to the ensuing silence was harsh as she gathered up the cards from the reading.

“Select,” she said. “Past or future.”

“Future,” I said, thinking there just might be more to my alleged future than I’d at first thought. There was my future in 2047, certainly. And being a part of my past, I already knew much about it; but there were questions regarding my future here in 1992 as well.

Curious, I waited in silence as Monica squared the pack of cards that contained my future, and then proceeded to turn them over, one at a time, placing them as she’d done before. I nervously glanced over at Susan for a measure of reassurance.

Her smile calmed me. I drew further assurance from the hand she placed on my arm. I drew in a breath and listened as Monica began the second phase of my reading.

“The Ten of Cups crosses you,” she said.

This time it was Monica’s turn to sneak a peek at Susan; in dismay, she went on.

“You will find that which you seek, your paradigm – that which has seemed so elusive to you. Because of her, you will be able to finish that which was started long ago. Also, a lost child will seek to renew a rela­tionship with you – this is indicated here, by the Ace of Swords.

“The Queen of Wands shows herself as an unfaithful lover. She will try to rekindle your love for her, but beware, she tells lies. Here,” she said, indicating the next card, “the Page of Wands, are those lies. But the truth is, if you take her back all will be lost.”

She paused again, head cocked, as if listening to a voice that was hers alone to hear.

“This woman caused you much suffering. You feel she must be punished because of the man who removed you from your place and subsequently caused you to lose your ambition. This man shows up in your reading as the Five of Swords reversed. He will be defeated in battle and will no longer perform for her what she needs. Therefore she will return to you.

“The Six of Swords tells of future travel. You will have business re­garding your work.

“A long lost brother will seek you out, as shown by the Knight of Wands. He is very angry with you, as well as disappointed. Listen to what your brother has to say. It will be easy for you to distrust his words, but he speaks the truth.

“The Ace of Pentacles, reversed, shows a loss of business or opportunity for continued success. You will regain all, but only if you spurn the Queen of Wands –”

“That’s enough.”

My outburst surprised everyone at the table save myself. My deci­sion to halt the reading was the only thing that hadn’t surprised me since this nonsense began.

“But I have not completed your reading.”

“I don’t need to hear more.”

“But, Joe, what about your past?” Susan asked.

“I already know what resides there.”

The truth was that the reading she’d completed thus far, concern­ing my present and the one that lay incomplete before me, didn’t be­long to me. None of what she was talking about dealt with me. Un­faithful lovers. How could a lover be unfaithful to me when in turn I had never been faithful?

Untrue, a part of me argued back.

But I was already moving on.

A child? Impossible. I’ve sired no offspring. And I have no brother. It’s all a sham.

Or meant for someone else. Who, then?

I stood, upending the board the cards had been positioned on, sending them into Monica’s lap and onto the floor; the reading had come to an end, of that I’d made certain.

I strode purposefully into the living room, where I stopped in front of the window to gaze at two fags strolling hand-in-hand past Monica’s second floor apartment.

A moment later, I felt Susan’s light touch on my arm. That simple gesture sparked anger in me – that she could make me feel the way she did just by the gentleness of her touch.

I turned, preparing a reprimand but was stopped short by the concern in her eyes.

Now my anger was directed inward. The very idea that I could even consider reproaching her was reprehensible.

Suddenly, I was nearly consumed with a passion to cup her face with my hands, to taste the sweetness I knew resided on her lips, and to hold her close and bury my face within the soft, luxurious texture of her wondrously dark hair, inhaling its fresh fragrance.

Ashamed, yet not knowing the source of my abasement, I turned away.

“What is it, Joe?”

I ached for her, and because I ached for her, it pained me to have to do what was becoming more and more common although no less difficult – lie.

There was trust in her eyes, but like the cards had foretold, I was a man shrouded in mystery. I held secrets that, were the truth known, could not be believed. Even I was finding it more and more difficult to believe the facts as they unraveled, so how could I expect her to com­prehend them?

I took a deep breath. I could see, peripherally, Monica leaning against the archway to the other room.

How much did she actually know?

Would she contradict what I was about to say?

It didn’t matter. I had to say something; maintaining silence at this point was just as damning.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that … well, I thought I had that part of my life under better control. I thought I’d put all that behind me. But to see, in the cards, that I’ll have to deal with all that again, it’s painful.”

“Ah, but the cards also say you have the option of closing the door.”

“What if I can’t?”

“A better question would be what if you don’t want to?”

Then, in response to my exasperation, she added, “There is a dif­ference.”

“I know that.”

“Isn’t it better to recoup at least some of what you lost as opposed to losing it all, including yourself?”

I smiled down at her.

If you only knew, I reflected. If I opt for what you think is the best option the cards offer, then I will lose myself.

My smile seemed to reassure her.

“Come on,” she said, taking my arm and leading me back to the dining room. “Let’s have another cup of coffee.”

Thirty minutes later, Susan left to get Sarah Jane while I offered muttered apologies to Monica for upsetting her cards; she in turn ac­cepted them graciously enough. I thanked her for her hospitality and for reading the cards; she seemed indifferent.

She may now believe the advantage has shifted in her favor, I reasoned. That might very well be the case, but I’m still leaving with the prize, while she’s being left behind to play fifty-two card pickup.

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To Go, A Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings, January’s Thaw, and One Hot January

Cover concept

Cover concept

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My Newest Release in the Slave Bound Series!!!

Happy Sunday!

I would like to share with you my newest release A Lady Unbecoming (Slave Bound Series #2) available now on the Second Wind Publishing website.

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Blurb:

Lydia Parker has never known love or compassion and doesn’t believe she ever will. After the death of her grandmother, she has no other choice but to fend for herself in the dangerous city of Dallas. She becomes two personnas to earn her living Lyod, a young skinny man who visits different peasant establishment to horn her craft of gambling and Wild Cat a seductive vixen and a whore to gain access to the gambling tables of wealthy men.  Lyida becomes the one thing no other woman dares to become, a survivor.

****

Lord Nicholas Wentworth, Earl of Townson loves a challenge, especially one that comes in a red mask and little underthings. He loves women and all they have to offer and is determined to sow his oats until the dreaded day he had to take a wife because he is determined to remain faithful and be nothing like his father.

Lies are told, lines are crossed and tempers are lost.

Will one of them finally concedes and lets the other take the lead?

SB

Excerpt:

Lydia swallowed hard. His lustful look was the first that rendered her speechless. Her quick sharp tongue lay lifeless in her mouth.

Mr. Kingston laughed, “Not even for that sir.”

The Englishman shifted his gaze from her to the man she sat on for a moment before it rested back on her, “Is she your courtesan?”

Mr. Fisher, who sat to his right, snorted a laugh, “You will have no luck from that direction either. We’ve all tried to have our own romp in the sheets with her but Mr. Kingston threatens retaliation if anyone tried.”

The Englishman’s grin deepened. “It is possible what you offer is very low for her talents?”

Mr. Kingston leaned forward, pushing Lydia with him. Her hands fell on the table for support, inches away from the Englishman’s thick forearms. She stared at the few inches that separated their fingers from touching then back to the Englishman’s eyes, and swallowed the large lump in her throat.

How would it feel to touch his pale skin? Are his hands soft? What nonsense are you thinking of Lydia? She shook her head clear. She wasn’t a whore, even though the man’s gaze burned an unfamiliar fire in the pit of her belly.

Simple attraction, lust! She chastised herself as her eyes roamed his thick arms, broad shoulders and a chest she could only presume to be as hard as it was enticing from the little she could see from his parted collar and the two top undone buttons.

Lydia felt her body flush when her eyes travelled up his square jaw and a face that both echoed power and enticement. Her breathe seized when her eyes met his. They darkened with desire Lydia had seen in the eyes of many men. But none were as imposing and alluring as his. He didn’t drool, he had no reason to. His eyes clearly spoke his intentions and Lydia got the impression he’d seduced many women with just that look.

Those deep blue sea eyes….

“Listen Lord whatever your name is, she is mine and only mine. So drop your hunting!”

Mr. Kingston’s threat seemed to amuse the man. He laughed while his eyes slowly moved over Lydia’s visible body. Lydia felt her heart quicken under his consuming gaze. Never had a man made her so uncomfortable.

His eyes lingered on her breasts then rose to meet her own. “I’ll give you triple what he gives you, for the night.”

His voice was firm and direct. He was serious! But the most unbelievable thought, was that she was considering it. Not for the money he promised, but just to see him naked, to feel his hard body against hers.

Lydia sat back away from the table. It wasn’t her nature to let a man control her and she was quickly losing her sense drowning in this man’s eyes.

She was there for business not pleasure.

She smiled then tapped on the table to signal to the dealer to shuffle the cards, “Why not discuss this after we are done playing?”

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Would you like some space to talk?
I’m opening up my blog to anyone who would like to share a post exclusively on writing/publishing including book promos. Or even a story you just happened to remember because you were reading a certain book. Or even your views on a book and what could in your opinion have made it better. I’ll be publishing these posts starting January 2015. I’m not much of a blogger because truthfully I’m a little shy about sharing thoughts that are not about my books.
So ‘talkers’ are welcomed! Just inbox me through my FB page.
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Excerpt from A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE by Pat Bertram

ASHFborderStraight from today’s headlines! In the novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. In an effort to stop the disease from spreading beyond the state of Colorado where the disease originated, the entire state is quarantined. In this dangerous world, Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

Excerpt:

After an uneventful day at work, Kate hurried home through the silent streets. More than half the houses she passed had fluorescent orange dots splashed on their front doors indicating that someone had died within. Beside some of those doors were small shrines or memorials—artificial flowers, crosses, dolls, teddy bears. Other houses were unlit, mute testimony that entire families had died.

A white unmarked delivery van stopped in front of a house that already had one fluorescent dot on the door. When two men jumped out of the truck and ran up the porch steps, she knew that soon another orange mark would appear next to the first.

She could hear the men lamenting the loss of the Broncos while they waited for someone to answer their knock. It seemed strange that they spoke of such a prosaic matter. Shouldn’t they be crying, “Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead,” as their counterparts during the Black Death had done?

As she neared the house, she could see the door open. An old woman with bowed head and trembling shoulders stood aside to let the two men enter.

Kate had passed the house by the time the men emerged with their burden, but she could hear the thud of the body when they threw it into the van.

She thought of Greg and how he had cradled Mrs. Robin’s body in his arms as he carried her down the alley and how he had gently laid her under a tree.

And how he had said he liked her, Kate, very much.

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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Excerpt From “School of Lies” by Mickey Hoffman

School of LiesMorale is falling at Standard High
Dedicated Teachers in Short Supply
One has discovered a dangerous lie
Will she be the next to die?

Teacher Kendra Desola opens an anonymous email to find that someone’s photoshopped her into a snapshot from a student party, and this bogus picture means jail time for her if it gets around. When a staff member turns up dead on campus, that photo becomes the perfect set up to make her murder suspect number one. Kendra plays off an unknown adversary — and the police — as she seeksto prove her innocence before the killer can kill again.

Excerpt:

“What is it, Nicole? Aren’t you assigned to VP Favor this period?” Zant gave her a quick head to toe appraisal. Nicole was squirming in front of him, working her fingers into the back pocket of her exceedingly tight jeans. She surely was a “babe,” as the students said. Zant wasn’t so far removed from those years that he couldn’t easily remember how it felt to be in class with girls like her. Next thing you know, she’d be calling him a dirty old man, but what should he do with his eyes? These kids thought a dress code was a cipher to be broken, not a clothing guide. He forced himself to look at her face, at that lovely wide mouth.

“I already told you that I won’t have you reinstated as a candidate, Nicole. Once you get a suspension, you can’t run for office.”

“This’ll make you change your mind.” Nicole held out an envelope decorated with her signature cartoon and moved forward to edge around the side of his desk. In a lower voice she continued, “Yesterday, after school, I was on my way to interview a teacher for the school paper and I saw the Special Ed. teachers having a little get-together in the room next door. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but when I heard what they were talking about I thought, like, maybe I’d help you out a bit, you know?” She upended the envelope and slid out two cassette tapes.

When Zant didn’t rise to the bait, Nicole made a gesture to put the tapes back. “Or, maybe you already know what they’re planning to do?”

He could see his pet tarantula in its tank, crawling mere inches from the girl’s arm. He was struck by the irony that the girl was a predator in her own way as well. However, her proposal was not without interest. The gleam in his eyes contradicted his careful words. “I don’t make deals with students, Nicole. Save your business skills for your senior vocational task.” He picked up his Army insignia paperweight and fondled it.

“Well, Mr. Zant, I think that you’ll find it very worth your while to listen to this. Tell you what, you can have ‘part one’ now. After you hear how their meeting was going, I just know you’ll want ‘part two’.” Nicole leaned forward, revealing several inches of cleavage. She dangled the tape before him. “I’m totally sure you’ll want to show your appreciation by putting my name back on the ballot and then I’ll give you the second tape. You know I should be senior class President.”

The VP gave her his most professional smile. “I’ll give it only my best, Nicole. Hand it over and go.”
“I knew you’d see the light, Mr. Zant.” She dropped the cassette into his hand and bounded out of the room, leaving a cloud of perfume behind.

Cripes, he thought, that café latte girl was much more than her six feet of trouble. The tape seemed to jeer at him from his hand. Clearing his head, he locked it into a drawer. He’d listen to the tape later. That had been a real interesting little scene. The tape must have been made on the sly. It was probably illegal to even have it. Even if it actually did contain useful information, he had no intention of reinstating her as a candidate. He’d find a way to get the second part of the tape.

***

mickeypic_1_-124x149Mickey Hoffman was born in Chicago, and attended public schools where she acquired the strong suspicion that some of her teachers might be human. She wasn’t able to prove this fanciful thinking until much later, when she became a high school teacher herself.

Before landing in the halls of academia, she worked in a variety of jobs, including computer typesetting and wholesale frozen fish sales.

The author is also a printmaker and painter and resides on the West Coast with her long suffering mate, eight marine aquariums and a very large cat.

Deadly Traffic, the sequel to School of Lies will soon be released by Second Wind Publishing.

Click here to read the first chapter of: School of Lies

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More Deaths Than One by Pat Bertram

More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.

This is the beginning of the first chapter of More Deaths Than One, available from Second Wind Publishing.

 

“What do you think of a guy who embezzles from his own business?”

Bob Stark recognized the voice of the graveyard shift waitress, the attractive one with the black hair. He glanced up from his contemplation of the scars on the laminated plastic table and saw her standing by his booth, gazing at him, her eyebrows quirked. She seemed to expect a response, but he had no idea what to say. And why would she ask him such a question? Though he’d been coming to Rimrock Coffee Shop for four weeks now, she’d never deviated from her standard lines of “What’ll you have?” and “Here you go.”

He took a surreptitious look around. Except for the two drunks arguing in a corner booth and a cook cleaning the grill in the kitchen, he and the waitress were the only two people in the twenty-four-hour coffee shop.

Beneath the overly long bangs, her dark eyes gleamed, giving him the impression of laughter. “Yes, I am talking to you.”

“I’ll have hot chocolate,” he said, adhering to the unwritten script.

With a flip of her wrist, she brushed the hair off her face. Her skirt flounced as she whirled away from the table, and Bob noticed that she had nicely muscled thighs. Good calves, too. Not wanting her to catch him staring, he picked up a newspaper someone had left behind and leafed through it.

The waitress returned with his beverage. “What would you do if you were a girl who just found out her boyfriend is embezzling from himself?”

Bob stirred his hot chocolate, trying to think of the right response, but nothing came to mind.

“Men!” she said, hurrying off to answer the ringing telephone.

Later, after the drunks had stumbled out into the night, she came back to Bob’s table carrying a cup of coffee for her and another cup of hot chocolate for him.

He raised his palms. “I didn’t order this.”

She sat across from him. “Let’s not quibble over details.” She sipped her coffee, eyes laughing at him over the rim of the cup, then she set the empty cup aside.

Folding her arms on the table, she leaned forward and stared into his face. “What do you have to say for yourself? And who are you? You’ve been coming in here every night, real late, and you never talk except to order hot chocolate.”

She leaned back. “I bet you can’t sleep. That’s why you come, isn’t it? What’s the problem? Bad dreams?”

Bob felt a shudder go through him. He came here to get away from the nightmares, not remember them. He took a gulp of chocolate, grateful for the warmth sliding down his throat.

“You’re a shy one,” she said. “And you never did answer my question.”

He lifted one shoulder in a disinterested shrug. “You asked a lot of questions.”

“The one about the girl finding out that her boyfriend is embezzling from himself.”

“Depends on their relationship. Is she involved in the business?”

“She helped him start it, works in the office during the day, and waits tables at night to pay the rent.”

“Then he’s embezzling from her, too.”

She flicked the hair out of her eyes. “You’re right. God, what a fool I’ve been. Ever since I found out he’s been cheating on his business, I’ve been wondering if he’s been cheating on me. That son of a rabid dog. He promised we’d get a house together as soon as the business did well enough, and it turns out we could have been living in our own place for several months now.”

“Even if he’s not cheating on you physically,” Bob said, “he’s cheated on you morally.”

“I want someone who’s honest and true to himself, someone who likes and respects himself so he can like and respect me. Is that too much to ask?”

The door opened. A young couple entered. Mouths locked together, they slid into a booth and groped beneath each other’s clothes.

The waitress stood. “I better go remind them this isn’t a motel.”

Grateful to be alone, Bob sipped his hot chocolate and read the newspaper.

The Broncos still reeled from their humiliation at the previous Super Bowl, having lost to the Redskins forty-two to ten.

Two youths found a man’s decomposing body in a culvert off the South Platte River. The man had been tortured; the work of a gang, the police surmised.

Silverado faced insolvency, having squandered one hundred million dollars on bad loans.

And Lydia Loretta Stark was dead. Again.

***

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Second Wind Publishing liked her style and published four of Bertram’s book:  More Deaths Than One, Daughter Am I, Light Bringer, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

Read the rest of the first chapter of: More Deaths Than One

Download (free) the first 30% of: More Deaths Than One

Click here to buy: More Deaths Than One on Amazon

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Interview with Susan Surman, Author of Dancing at all the Weddings

What is your book about?

Vivacious and talented Elaine Richman is faced with choices: A risky life in the New York theatre; an exciting life with college sweetheart, actor/director Jake Applebaum in Hollywood; a secure life in Boston with predictable lawyer David Alter, the match anointed by her domineering mother because ‘he’s the kind you marry.’ On the way to a dream, it is possible to collide with another dream’s seduction, only to learn there is no fulfillment on the path to safety. Elaine goes through the wringer to meet herself, proving there is no expiration date on talent or true love.

How long had the idea been developing before you wrote it?

I had an idea for a short story – this was maybe 4 years before I expanded it –

The character was the same, but had a different name, etc. Title: Where in the World is Mary Reynolds? I invited an audience to a reading to get some feedback. There were 35 people there at Altair Casting Agency Studio in Winston-Salem. I knew it was the germ for something more which had to be developed. That story actually is in the book – it covers several chapters.

Why this particular story?

Ernest Hemingway said you must write what is burning up inside. I knew the theatre from the inside; I had been writing novellas; it was time to write a full-length novel. I had so much to put into this book from personal experiences. (Only the names have been changed to protect the innocence, as the saying goes)

How much of you is hidden in the characters?

For those people who know me well, not so hidden. It’s the same with all my writing. I have no imagination. Why invent when all I have to do is remember? Born in Boston, I moved to London, then Sydney, as an actress and writer as Susan Kramer or Gracie Luck. I traveled the world, returned to the US – what I’ve done really with all my books is fictionalized fact.

How long did it take to write Dancing at all the Weddings?

This particular book took about 2 years – I kept expanding. And it just wasn’t finished until it was finished. I had to let it go. That’s it. You just have to let all these people you’ve invented go out and live their own lives by getting out there……

What did you do for research?

I use a lot of the places I’ve been, but to be sure I had updated information, I had to research – online; magazines; talking to people. For example, I don’t know anything about small private aircraft, so I found the person online who owns and sells what I was writing about. We communicated and I had my answers. Mostly, I was really writing what I knew about and one of the main male characters is based solely on a real person. Perhaps the novel depicts the way I would have liked it to turn out with him. That’s why it’s called ‘romance.’ It can be anything you like. Romance, I mean.

What was your technique to stay on track and develop your story?

It was very hard to keep track of the ages. I’d never done anything like this before. One year was usually my time frame. This book spans 28 years. I had to go back to the 1970’s. I kept lots and lots of notes. As math isn’t my strong suit, it wasn’t easy figuring out their ages at any given time, but I did it. I worked backwards with ages and found it the best way to do it. I went over and over it.

Since writing your first book, what has changed?

That was ten, twelve years ago. My first book, Max and Friends, was anthropomorphic for children of all ages; the second book, Sacha:The Dog Who Made It To the Palace, also anthropomorphic, but for adults. I needed to keep going. I needed to keep writing to find out what else I could write. A lot has changed since then. Now I’m introduced as the author or the writer – I guess with the fifth novel coming out, you earn the title. I like that. People treat you differently when they hear you are a writer. It was like being an actress in Europe. You get to the head of the line in restaurants. That type of thing. A little side story about Sacha. He was my dog in London. When I left, I had to leave him. My friend happened to be the florist to the Royal family. She would take Sacha with her. One day the Queen Mother looked out the Palace window, saw the dog in the van and told my friend to bring him in. And that’s where Sacha spent his mornings for a long time. I wrote to Queen Elizabeth that I would be in London (2004) and would like to deliver a copy of the book. It was affirmed I was to enter by the side of Buckingham Palace via the staff entrance. A few weeks later, I got a letter thanking me for the book and saying Her Majesty was most interested in the inspiration for the book about my little dog.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process?

The idea. Coming up with the idea. Then the doing of it. Finding the word; then finding the exact word to describe what you mean. Writing is intellectual prison. I’ll do anything NOT to do it; then once I begin, I can’t do anything else. When in the creative mode of the work, I say ‘no’ to a lot of social invitations. This is very hard because I’m basically a gregarious person.

Does writing come easy?

Sometimes; usually not. But you keep going. It has to become an obsession. You become addicted to your own words. And it flows.

Where do you keep future ideas? Computer? Notebooks? Pieces of paper?

I’ve lots of notebooks with ideas. Big notebooks; little notebooks. And scraps of paper. Will I ever get to them? Who knows? Maybe just one sentence from something looms, and I’ll use it, once I can find it.

What is the best writing advice you ever got?

Stop writing on your Brother Electronic typewriter and buy a computer. The best writing advice was from author, screenwriter, Joe Schrank. When I first started writing or rather ‘thinking’ I was going to write, I didn’t really know how to do it. He told me, because he liked the title: “If you don’t do something with it, I’m going to do it.” I didn’t like that, so I got busy. He also said, “Put aside 2 hours a day to start. That’s all. Clear everything off the desk, and just do it.” I did. By the way, the title rarely came first after that time. Usually, there’s a provisional title and then after the work is finished or nearly finished, the real title comes to me.

What is the first story you remember writing?

I remember the first story – I was 13; 1953. I don’t remember what grade I was in. I still have it. I got an A minus. “The Will to Dance.” I don’t know where it came from because it’s about a ballet dancer. I’m not a ballet dancer. Anyway, I actually used it in my Sacha book! So nothing is wasted.

What other books have you written?

Max and Sacha, of course, and The Australian Featherweight; The Noble Thing. Plays: George; In Between.

What last words would you leave?

I think you mean literally the last words and not the last words of this interview. In my book, Dancing at all the Weddings, my main character is at her mother’s side as she is dying. Mother’s last words to her daughter: “If you use a public toilet, remember to hover.” My last words will be: Stay curious.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Dancing at all the Weddings

Click here to read an excerpt of: Dancing at all the Weddings

Click here for an interview with: Elaine Richman, Heroine of Dancing at all the Weddings

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Contest — “A Healthy Divorce”

To celebrate the release of Susan Surman’s new book, Dancing at all the Weddings, she is hosting a writing contest, “A Healthy Divorce.” Please write a short story or a real life anecdote (no more than 500 words) about a healthy divorce — to help you think of a subject, here are the stages of a healthy divorce: Denial, depression, anger, acceptance, reorientation of lifestyle. Or you can read Susan’s book to see how her character, Elaine, goes through her divorce.

Post your story here on the blog or send it to: secondwindpublishing@gmail.com. The winner, chosen by Susan Surman, will win a signed copy of Dancing at all the Weddings. Deadline for entries is September 15, 2011.The contest is open to anyone, but if the winner resides outside the United States, the prize will be a coupon for a free ebook download in the format of your choice. So . . . get ready, set, write!

***

Dancing at all the Weddings: Vivacious and talented Elaine Richman is faced with choices: A risky life in the New York theatre; an exciting life with college sweetheart, actor/director Jake Applebaum in Hollywood; a secure life in Boston with predictable lawyer David Alter, the match anointed by her domineering mother because ‘he’s the kind you marry.’ On the way to a dream, it is possible to collide with another dream’s seduction, only to learn there is no fulfillment on the path to safety. Elaine goes through the wringer to meet herself, proving there is no expiration date on talent or true love.

***

Click here to read the first chapter of: Dancing at all the Weddings

***

Boston-born Susan Surman, author of Dancing at all the Weddings, lived abroad for over twenty-three years in London and Sydney as an actress and playwright (Gracie Luck/Susan Kramer), performing in London’s West End, Edinburgh, Sydney Theatre Company, Ensemble Theatre before returning to the States. Surman has also written Max and Friends; Sacha: The Dog Who Made It to the Palace; The Australian Featherweight; The Noble Thing. Plays include: In Between; George; The Australian Featherweight.

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Coming Soon From Second Wind Publishing: “Dancing at All the Weddings” by Susan Surman

Vivacious and talented Elaine Richman is faced with choices: A risky life in the New York theatre; an exciting life with college sweetheart, actor/director Jake Applebaum in Hollywood; a secure life in Boston with predictable lawyer David Alter, the match anointed by her domineering mother because ‘he’s the kind you marry.’ On the way to a dream, it is possible to collide with another dream’s seduction, only to learn there is no fulfillment on the path to safety. Elaine goes through the wringer to meet herself, proving there is no expiration date on talent or true love.

EXCERPT:

Elaine stared at the flames in the fireplace, unable to look at him now. All the romance had gone out of those crackling logs burning in the fireplace.

Jake broke the awkward silence. “You’re choosing your talent as a haus frau in Boston with David Alter over the bright lights in Hollywood with Jake Applebaum.”

“Sometimes on the way to your dream, you can fall into an even better one.” Did she mean it? Was she still sitting on the fence? Did she want him to imitate the final scene of An Officer and a Gentleman when Richard Gere picks up Debra Winger and carries her out of the factory?

“Elaine. Elaine. Elaine.” He wasn’t ready to end this. “This isn’t only about your career. It’s about being with the person you love. I thought that was me.”

“Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

“I thought you told me you weren’t getting what you needed out of the marriage.”

“The receiving is in the giving.”

“You didn’t learn that from me.”

“It’s very Zen.”

“It’s very bullshit.” It wasn’t in Jake’s nature to beg, but he wasn’t giving up so easily. Not like before. “I believe that love is all there is.”

Why did love hurt so much? She loved him with all her heart. But she had other responsibilities. She knew she was turning her back on the true love of her life. Maybe all women had a guy like Jake in their lives. The love they had tucked away so they could move forward and lead sensible, sane, and ordered lives. The lives their mothers picked out for them because they knew better and only wanted their daughter’s happiness.

“I don’t want to re-create you. I won’t make you into who I think you should be. I’ll continue to develop myself; you’ll continue to develop yourself. We’re good apart, but we’re better together. If that isn’t love, my sweetheart, I don’t know what is.” Jake spoke from deep within.

“You can’t dance at all the weddings.” God! Her mother’s words and now hers.

“Where did you learn you can’t have it all? Who taught you that crap?”

Elaine realized she already had the thing she’d been searching for. Constancy.

She would be forever grateful for this time with Jake instead of going through life wondering what might have been. There would always be a place in her heart for Jake Applebaum. But he was her past, not her future. Her mother had been right. David is the kind you marry.

Outside the inn, the cold air stung like an ice pack on their faces. Despite all that had been said, he couldn’t believe it was over. “I have this image of us each going through our lives with other husbands and other wives and then at the end, we’re together.”

She couldn’t let herself be swept up in his movie-esque fantasy. She had made her decision. “We have to go now.” She couldn’t look at him. If she had, she would have seen his lovely green eyes filled with tears.

They sat for a while in the car, watching the ocean waves beating against the sand. Every now and again, the back of their hands brushed lightly, but they didn’t look at one another. They caught the deep orange and blood-red sunset, like none they’d ever seen before. It was an awesome sight as it shifted into amber and then pale apricot before fading away.

Boston-born Susan Surman, author of Dancing at all the Weddings, lived abroad for over twenty-three years in London and Sydney as an actress and playwright (Gracie Luck/Susan Kramer), performing in London’s West End, Edinburgh, Sydney Theatre Company, Ensemble Theatre before returning to the States. Dancing at all the Weddings will soon be released by Second Wind Publishing. Surman has also written Max and Friends; Sacha: The Dog Who Made It to the Palace; The Australian Featherweight; The Noble Thing. Plays include: In Between; George; The Australian Featherweight.

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Excerpt from Donations to Clarity by Noah Baird

The plan was simple: hoax Bigfoot, then sell tours to Bigfoot enthusiasts. The plan wasn’t brilliant, and neither were Harry, Earl, and Patch. The three chemical-abusing friends only wanted to avoid the 9 to 5 rat race, but their antics attract the attention of a real Bigfoot. When the misogynistic Earl is mistaken for a female Bigfoot by the nearsighted creature and captured; it is just the beginning of their problems.

Between bong hits and water balloon fights, Harry and Patch come up with a plan to save Earl and the lovestruck Bigfoot. Where do you hide a giant, mythical creature? In an insane asylum, because who is going to listen to them?

Excerpt:

“How much do you think the average human turd weighs?” Earl asked as he sat down at the table, pulling the plastic lawn chair up behind him and reaching across the table to dig into Harry’s basket of buffalo wings.

“Are you serious? Why?” asked Harry.

“Well, answer me this: how much does an order of wings weigh?”

“Regular or jumbo?”

“Jumbo” Earl mumbled with a mouth full of meat, spraying Three Mile Island sauce across the table. Droplets of orange-tinged spit peppered the table. Earl snatched a paper towel off the roll sitting on the table and wiped the table once, leaving an arc of smeared wing sauce across the table.

“Dude! Say it, don’t spray it!” Harry yelped, holding his beer out of the mist with one hand, while trying to cover a baskets of wings and celery sticks with the other hand.

“You know: my usual. How much do you think that weighs? The parts I eat?” Earl said, craning his neck around looking for a waitress. Harry could hear the frustration in Earl’s voice. Earl hadn’t sat down with a beer, and he didn’t usually like going for very long without one. Especially in The Beaver, not because the wings were too hot, but because Earl swore Yuengling tasted better from The Beaver’s taps. Everyone else in the village thought The Brown Beaver’s draft beers tasted skunky because the staff never cleaned the lines. “That’s bullshit!” Earl would bellow to anyone who would listen. Earl had the proud distinction of having been in two fist fights and arrested once for defending The Brown Beaver’s honor. The second fight (and arrest) was with The Brown Beaver’s owner, Seamus, who refused to give Earl any more alcohol one night.

“I don’t know. Why?” Harry said, responding to the back of Earl’s head.

“I’m just trying to figure out how much I’m eating, is all.” Earl said, holding up one finger to the waitress.

“What? Can’t shop in the Miss’s section anymore, Meatball?”

“Screw you! I’m serious!”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Good for you! I’ll support you on your diet. I hear they can be tough.” Harry was switching gears, downshifting into sincerity drive, and hoping he sounded convincing or at least supportive.

“I’m not going a diet! I’m trying to figure out, in pounds, how much food I eat.”

“Here you go, Earl” interrupted Cindi, placing his beer on the table.

“Well, thanks, darlin’, and keep ’em coming.” Earl cooed after taking a long drink. He gave Cindi his biggest smile, like a proud little boy showing his mama he ate all of his dinner.

“I sure will, honey.” Cindi cooed back. She was a good waitress. She played along with the customers’ little games, and ignored the slurred speech and rude pick up lines. She had wide hips and full breasts, her body was often described as good breeding stock by the old ranchers and lumberjacks sitting at the bar without their wives. She usually wore T-shirts with a low v-cut neckline when the weather was warm because she got better tips when she did.

“Cindi, how much does a jumbo order of wings weigh, not including the bones?” Earl probed, trying to sound intelligent in front of Cindi while still pumping out the charm.

“Uh, I don’t know,” Cindi responded sheepishly. Why do customers always think of strange things to ask me?

“No idea? Can you ask the cook how much an order of wings weighs without the bone? Do they weigh differently depending on the sauce?”

“Uh, sure,” was all she could reply as she backed away from the table. Why can’t Earl do like Harry does and just stare at my tits instead of asking weirdo questions?

“What’s this have to do with turds?” Harry asked, watching Cindi’s ass walk away.

“I’m trying to achieve neutral buoyancy within a human vessel.” Earl deadpanned, also watching Cindi’s ass walk away.

“Huh?”

“I said I was ‘trying to achieve neutral buoyancy within a human vessel,’ that is, me.” Earl repeated with what he thought should be the impatient air of an academic.

“You see, Harry,” Earl continued after taking a long pull from his beer, “I don’t like taking shits.” Earl stated, pausing for effect. Harry raised his eyebrows. Earl mistook the raised eyebrows as a signal to continue. “I’m tired of taking shits. It is the most despicable of all bodily functions,” Earl continued, gaining speed. “Either through design or evolution, our waste disposal system is lacking. Our scatological process needs to be revamped. It’s disgusting. It smells. It can be embarrassing. Leaves you feeling uncomfortable. I’m tired of it. I’ve done some research, and the average adult turd weighs between half of a pound to about a pound and a half.”

“Really? That’s it? I’ve had some whoppers I thought must’ve been heavier than that” replied Harry, his curiosity peaked, wrinkling his brow as he pondered Earl’s latest bit of trivia. Another part of Harry’s brain was simultaneously wondering why he was entertaining this conversation.

“I know. I thought the exact same thing” replied Earl, pleased Harry was showing some interest. “Anyway, I figure the weight of turds must equal the weight of excess food we consume. Food our body doesn’t need.” Earl was now punctuating the air with the fat end of a buffalo wing as he spoke. “So, I figure, if I reduce the amount of food I eat by the weight of my bowel movements, my body won’t need to crap anymore. I will consume exactly what my body needs. So no waste. No more taking the Browns to the Super Bowl, or dropping the kids off at the pool! Close and seal the hatch. My crapping days are over.”

Harry sat in amazement by the range of subjects Earl could pull out of his ass and discuss, without fear or embarrassment, in a public place. Maybe sealing the hatch would be best? “So, how’s it going so far?” asked Harry, unconvinced.

“I’m still working on the ratio.”

***

Noah Baird wanted to attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, but his grades weren’t good enough (who knew?). However, his grades were good enough to fly for the U.S. Navy (again, who knew?), where he spent 14 years until the government figured out surfers don’t make the best military aviators. He has also tried to be a stand-up comedian in Hawaii for Japanese tourists, where the language barrier really screwed up some great jokes. On the bright side, a sailboat was named after the punchline of one of his jokes.

He has several political satire pieces published on The Spoof under the pen name orioncrew. Noah received his bachelors in Historical and Political Sciences from Chaminade University, where he graduated magna cum laude. He knows nothing about hoaxing Bigfoot. This is his first novel.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Donations to Clarity

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