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Excerpt from “Carpet Ride” by Norm Brown

Near the end of their honeymoon trip across Oregon, Sam Stanley, his new wife Lynn, and her one-year-old son Andy, traverse a steep mountain road in a rented RV. In the middle of a blind curve they run over a long roll of carpeting angled across the road. Sam barely manages to avoid crashing the huge vehicle down the mountainside. When he walks back up the road to move the obstacle—it’s gone. Upon returning home to Austin, Sam learns that the crushed body of a business executive from Boulder, Colorado has been found at the site of their reported accident. There is no roll of carpet.

Excerpt:

“Lightning maybe?”

“Could’ve been, I guess. But the storm clouds are gone. I can see stars now.”

They both watched the tree top and sky for a moment.

“We need to keep moving.”

Lynn nodded and started forward.

They walked on down the trail, passing through alternating patches of moonlight and shadow. The low hum from up ahead was becoming more like a rumble. There was an ominous sense of power in the sound that made Sam’s stomach want to roll.

Then he saw the light.

A large white spot flashed across the brush to his left. He stopped and watched. The light became brighter, more focused. First one tree trunk and then the next lit up briefly as the beam of light swung through the woods.

“He’s back,” Lynn cried out behind him.

The light sank lower on the tree trunks and then vanished completely. The approaching vehicle must have dropped into a dip in the trail behind them. It was hard to guess how far behind.

“How can he be coming from that direction, Sam? From behind us.”

“That fork in the trail, back near the cabin. That must be another way in here.”

Sam bounced Andy higher on his hip to get a better grip and then turned back in the direction they had been going.

“Let’s get around this next curve, find a place to hide.”

He walked fast, with long strides. In spite of her limp Lynn kept up fairly well as they followed the ruts around a gentle curve. After about fifty feet, the trail straightened and started down a slight incline. Sam slowed and squinted into the patchy moonlight, trying to make sense of what he saw ahead of them. The white gravel tire ruts they had been following appeared to go straight for a short distance and then disappear into an expanse of open moonlight. It looked to Sam like the world ended a few yards ahead. The rumbling sound was coming from beyond the edge.

He took a couple more slow steps forward before the white beam of light suddenly reappeared, lighting up the woods to his left. It provided enough diffuse light down the trail for Sam to clearly see what lie ahead. From where he stood, the trail continued for a few feet and then abruptly ended. Or more correctly, he realized, it submerged. A dark churning mass of water flowed across from his right to his left. Sam could feel a cool mist on his face.

They had found the creek Sam remembered crossing on the way to Martin’s cabin. Only it was no longer a wide shallow creek, but a raging torrent. Although the heavy rains had ended, all that accumulated water still had to go somewhere. In this hilly terrain the floodwater sought lower ground with amazing speed and force.

Sam felt Andy’s arm tighten around his neck. Lynn came up beside him and squinted in the low light at a pile of white foam tumbling by a few feet away. All three seemed mesmerized by the surging rise and fall of the water. Then they were suddenly lit up from behind. Their long skinny shadows stretched out across the surface of the water, but never quite found the opposite shore of the swollen creek.

Sam and Lynn turned just as the source of the light came into view. Two incredibly bright headlights topped by small orange running lights. The body of the vehicle was not yet visible, but there was little doubt that it would prove to be the big white van.

***

Norm Brown was born and raised in Groves, a small town at the very southeastern corner of Texas. He earned a degree in physics from Lamar University, but a science career was not in the cards. Instead Norm got in on the ground floor of the rapid expansion of computers beginning in the 1970′s and has enjoyed a long, successful career in programming and analysis, living and working in Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Wichita, Boulder, and finally Austin.

As an avid reader of mystery and suspense, however, Norm always had an unexpressed desire to see his own words in print and to entertain people with stories from his imagination. Carpet Ride is his first novel to be published.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Carpet Ride

Click here to buy: Carpet Ride

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Introducing LONE WOLF, a New Novel by Dellani Oakes

The year is 3032 and mankind has expanded far beyond Earth’s galaxy. Matilda Dulac is a member of the Galactic Mining Guild. With her lover, Marc Slatterly, she works in a small mining ship in deep space. Their well ordered life if suddenly thrown into chaos when one miner arrives with a load of Trimagnite, a highly toxic liquid ore. Enter the Lone Wolf. Wil VanLipsig, known as the Lone Wolf, arrives to take the Trigmagnite off their hands. Is it a coincidence for him to show up on Marc’s ship years after Marc thought he’d killed Wil? Or is this the beginning of something far more insidious? Lone Wolf is the first book in a new science fiction series by Dellani Oakes.

Excerpt:

Their eyes met over the glow of the candle. He started to speak once or twice, but each time he stopped before doing so. Matilda sat placidly, waiting for him to make the first move. She had a feeling she knew what he was trying to say, but couldn’t quite put into words. A playful smile tugged at her lips.

Wil blushed, his gaze dropping to his lap uncomfortably. He couldn’t remember a time he’d felt so awkward in a woman’s company. Probably not since he was a kid. Suddenly, it was very important to him that she say yes to what he wanted to ask.

“I was going to try to be subtle and charming.” He grinned at her shyly. “But it’s been so long since I tried to be either, I can’t remember how.” He pressed his lips together and the candlelight played along his scar. “This usually isn’t a problem for me. I guess I got used to being irresistible.”

Matilda reached out, tracing the line of his scar with her finger. The skin was warm and silky. He held her fingers to his lips.

“It’s all right, you know,” she said softly. “You don’t have to be subtle with me. You were about to invite me to your room, weren’t you?”

He nodded sightly, looking embarrassed.

“But you weren’t sure what the answer would be.”

He looked even more uncomfortable, silent. The table developed interesting dimensions. He stared at them.

“Where are you staying?”

Trying to speak, he stammered.

“We can’t go to your room if you don’t show me.”

Wil stood awkwardly, nearly knocking the table over. He pointed to a luxurious hotel near the hostel.

“I’m—over there.”

Taking his hand, she tugged pointedly so he’d follow. “Show me,” she whispered throatily. Leaning toward him, the top of her breasts brushed his bare chest. “I want you to show me everything.”

Gulping, Wil followed her eagerly, like a puppy until he caught up with her. Sweeping her into his arms, he carried her quickly to his room. Only after the door was locked behind him, did he kiss her for the first time.

Wil brushed his lips lightly across hers, barely touching. His tongue flickered between them, teeth nipping playfully as he explored her mouth. Holding only her cheeks between calloused hands, he caressed her throat, licking the base. He hadn’t even kissed her mouth and already she was his.

Hungry for his mouth, Matilda brought his face to hers, demanding that he kiss her. Lips parted, she brought him closer, sure of what she wanted. Laughing throatily, Wil complied, giving generously, taking hungrily.

He held her gently, his full lips leaving a blazing trail upon her skin. He held her tantalizingly close, their bodies not quite touching. The heat from him set her on fire as the intensity of his kisses increased. Still he held her carefully, treating her as if she were made of spun glass. Somehow, this contrast of passion and tenderness made his touch even more erotic.

After several minutes just kissing her, he took off her bikini top. For the space of three breaths, he gazed at her breasts without touching them. Admiring the firm, fullness, he took one nipple into his mouth, suckling blissfully. Sighing happily, he moved to the other, treating each like the greatest of gifts.

Matilda moaned as his hands moved along her body, pulling her so close to him, she could feel the beating of his heart. His touch was still consciously delicate. She sensed a tension in him, his body fighting with itself for control. Marc had always held her the same way, afraid he’d crush a delicate flower.

Nearly mad with desire, Matilda decided she’d had enough standing around and kissing. She wanted action and now. Shoving his shoulders hard, she pushed him on his back. Wil sprawled on the bed as she removed his shorts and her bikini bottoms. He laughed, glad she had finally decided to take control.

“I admire a woman who knows what she wants,” he chuckled as she made her desires clear. Still laughing, he complied.

Matilda had never been so aggressive in bed. Something about Wil encouraged her to assert herself. She pulled him close, demanding his all. He gave it to her freely, unconditionally, something he had never given to any other woman.

For the first time in Wil’s adult life, a woman left him so breathless, he couldn’t even speak her name. But that was all right, because she couldn’t say his either. He kissed her softly, holding her close, stroking her hair. His fingers played along her spine, sending a thrill dancing down her back.

He wanted to speak, but couldn’t find the words to express how he was feeling. After sex dialogue had never been his strong suite. Anything he said at this point would be trite, or worse yet, silly. Instead, he kissed and fondled her, expressing himself more eloquently than words.

***

An adopted Floridian who fell in love with its culture-both modern and historical-Dellani is a happily married mother of four, substitute teacher and former English teacher. When she isn’t being one of the above, she is an avid writer, spending every possible moment immersed in her other worlds. “Indian Summer” is her only historical romance, but she also has written a series of futuristic romance novels, contemporary romances and short stories. Dellani’s interests include reading, going to the beach, listening to all kinds of music and cooking.

Click here for an interview with: Dellani Oakes

Click here to read the first chapter of: Lone Wolf

Click here for an interview with: Wil VanLipsig from Lone Wolf by Dellani Oakes

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Excerpt from The Phantom Lady of Paris by Calvin Davis

In 1968, a year of worldwide explosive protests, Paul Lasser, an American educator, ventures to Paris on sabbatical to write a novel. There he encounters the mysterious “Phantom Lady of Paris.” Though cordial, she conceals a shadowy past that will change Paul’s life forever, a secret history which unfolds amid a backdrop of café bombings, Sorbonne student riots and the drug overdose death of an American “flower child.” But in spite of these events, there blossoms a soulful relationship between the American educator and the walking enigma, The Phantom Lady, all taking place in the metropolis for lovers and dreamers…Paris.

Excerpt:

Riot scene from The Phantom Lady of Paris

Year: 1968. Place: Paris, France; Latin Quarter; Boulevard Saint German. There Sorbonne students mass for a demonstration against “the educational establishment.” The protest leader is a communist-trained revolutionary, “François the Incendiary,” a human fireball of rhetoric and rabble rousing.

One of the leader’s aides handed him (François) a bullhorn, and he pressed its mouthpiece to his lips. Immediately, Boulevard Saint Germain transformed into a sepulcher: total silence. “Fellow revolutionaries,” the Incendiary bellowed, “Patriots of France”—he paused, the intermission accentuating silence like an exclamation point—“hear my words.”

Cheers exploded, followed by a chain of chants: “François…François…François!” The speaker once more signaled for silence.

“Comrades,” he continued, “comrades.” Again, an explosion of cheers.

“Quiet, let ‘im speak,” a man yelled.

“The time,” François said, “has come, the day, the hour; the moment is at hand! Not tomorrow, as the bureaucracy would have you believe, nor some unnamed future date. Fellow revolutionaries, now is the time when we must end once and for all the university’s inequalities, dismantle its archaic bureaucracy and curricula and make known to the world our grievances.” With a raised fist, he shouted into the bullhorn, “Now! Now! Now!

The crowd responded: “Now! Now! Now!” Beneath the din of the throng edged another sound, the wail of police sirens, but the resonance of approaching sirens didn’t deter François. “We have not gathered here,” he extolled, “to capitulate!” His words were now fireballs of passion. “We shall not be moved!”

“Never!” demonstrators responded. “Never!”

“Nor shall we cower,” intoned the speaker.

“Never!” protestors replied.

“Or be intimidated by billy clubs.”

“No.”

“Or tear gas!”

“No! No!” The crowd chanted louder and louder.

The screech of police vehicles slamming to a stop punctuated protesters’ chants as officers with shields, nightsticks, and gas masks, poured from vans. “Form ranks!” barked the commander. “Double time!” Like automatons, lawmen scurried.

“The presence of policemen will not weaken our resolve,” François the Incendiary orated.

“No!” responded a chorus of frenzied voices.

Officers formed lines on the sidewalk across the street from Gilbert’s. “This demonstration,” the commanding officer bellowed, “is unauthorized. You have sixty seconds to disperse.” No one moved. “Fifty-nine seconds…and counting!”

***

An educator, Calvin Davis spent a year in Paris (1968-69), during most of which time he sat at outdoor cafes on boulevards Saint Michel and Saint German, observing the endless streams of passing humanity and writing The Phantom Lady of Paris, all the while downing countless cups of midnight-black java.  The experience taught him a lot about writing and also how to wear out the seats of a half dozen trousers. So, he’s out of six pairs of pants. No big deal. That’s a small price to pay for bringing such a wonder child into the word…the remarkable phantom lady of Paris.

Calvin Davis is also the author of two other novels; Love in Opposing Colors and The Event at Fourteenth and U: A Christmas Story.

Click here to read the first chapter of: The Phantom Lady of Paris

Click here to buy: The Phantom Lady of Paris

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Interview With Sherrie Hansen, Author of Merry Go Round

1. What is your book about?

Merry Go Round is about Tracy Jones Tomlinson, the youngest of three sisters in my Maple Valley trilogy. Tracy married her childhood sweetheart, is a minister’s wife, and has three lovely children. In the first two books, Rachael and Michelle’s mother brags about how perfect Tracy and her husband are. “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble…” When Merry Go Round opens, it quickly becomes apparent that Tracy’s supposedly perfect life is anything but. When her husband leaves her for another man and she’s faced with moving out of the parsonage, she has no where to turn for help but to her older sisters. Rachael, her oldest sister, from Stormy Weather, is none too eager to help, and frankly, feels that it’s about time that Tracy gets hers. Tender-hearted Michelle, from Water Lily, wants to help however she can and offers Tracy a job painting and wallpapering the home of Barclay Alexander III, the owner of the house she’s decorating. Between Barclay’s critical parents, Tracy’s three kids, and a town full of people who are depending on Barclay to keep Elk Creek Woolen Mill open despite his father’s insistence that the factory be closed, there are all kinds of ups and downs in this story. The extreme changes occurring in Tracy’s life make her feel like things are spinning out of control and that all she can do is hang on for dear life.

2. How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

I think I wrote the book very shortly after the idea first came to me.

3. What inspired you to write this particular story?

I guess on some level, I’m like Rachael, Tracy’s oldest sister – I thought it was time for Tracy to “get hers”, to have to deal with her pride issues and becomes a real person instead of a perfect, plastic, Barbie doll character. People who have been humbled a little are so much more loveable.

4. How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

In a long ago life in a different place and time, I loved a man who turned out to be gay. I remember how it felt, and how hard it was to move on after I found out. I do need to add a disclaimer at this point, however. Like Trevor, Tracy’s husband, who is gay, my husband of seven years is a pastor. He is definitely not gay! The first draft of this book was written before I even met Mark and became a pastor’s wife. I think of all the sisters in my Maple Valley trilogy, I am least like Tracy. Maybe that’s why she was so fun to write!

5. Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

I love this book because it has several scenes that involve all three sisters from the Maple Valley trilogy, together in the same room, duking it out. I loved writing Rachael in this book because she gets to say things to her sisters that I never would. She’s very gutsy, and totally justified. I love it!

6. Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

Barclay (Clay) Alexander III is very unlike my other heroes in that he is wealthy, and has a very distinctive plot line and character arc of his own. He’s trying to do the right thing by several different people, and try as he might, he can’t please everyone… anyone, or so it seems for a time. Clay is falling in love with the wrong woman, but she is so right for him that it is painful. He has the weight of the whole town of Maple Valley on his shoulders. When he finally gives in to his feelings for Tracy and lets himself indulge in a bit of selfish pleasure, the results are devastating. I have a lot of respect for Barclay and hope my readers feel the same although he is a much more complicated hero than most.

7. How long did it take you to write your book?

I wrote the rough draft of Merry Go Round several years ago in about six months time, tabled the project for years, and then spent the last year re-writing and editing the book.

8. How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

I always have a specific framework in mind, but the characters and plot details evolve and grow as the book progresses.

9. Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

I interview people when needed and look up details about places on the internet, visiting in person when I can.

10. How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

I think my characters have very distinctive personalities, and in Merry Go Round, the differences in the sisters is very apparent when they’re all in the same scene, interacting with one another. I try to get into their heads and consistently think and act like they would.

11. Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I pick my husband’s brain occasionally and I constantly ask the question, “What if…?”

12. How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

I have no idea! I just seem to know.

13. What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

A song we used to sing in my adult Sunday School class in Colorado Springs comes to mind… “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up…” I think when we are prideful, and refuse to let people see our imperfections and idiosyncrasies, we make it very hard for people to know and love us. It’s our humanness that makes us loveable. When Tracy finally lets down her defenses, drops her perfect life facade, and lets people glimpse a little of what she’d been going through, she is lifted up and at long last, truly loved for exactly who she is.

14. Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

The subject of homosexuality and the church, nature or nurture, sin or not sin, etc. is a touchy issue for many right now. I tried very hard NOT to let this book become a forum for my beliefs and thoughts on the issue, but to accurately reflect the feelings, emotions and conflicts my characters go through as they struggle through the implications of Trevor admitting he is gay, and dealing with the ramifications to his children, extended family, and church. I have been told by my advance readers, whose opinions on the subject probably vary from mine, that I was successful — that they finished the book not knowing what I, the author, thought about the subject. I took that as high praise and hope other readers agree.

15. What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

The only struggle I seem to face with my writing these days is finding enough hours in the day to sit down and write. I own and operate a bed and breakfast and tea house and am a pastor’s wife. I maintain four houses. It’s a good, but very busy life, and when the day is done, I am often too exhausted to think.

16. Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

I think each book that I’ve written has changed my life. I remember an episode of Star Trek, Next Generation, when Jean Luc Picard was swept away to live out his life on another planet. He eventually fell in love, married, had children, and learned to play a musical instrument. When his new world came to an end, he learned that he had never left the Enterprise, and that the whole alternate life experience had occurred only in his mind, in a few days time. I feel like that every time I finish a book. It’s like I’ve visited some alternate reality and lived the life of my character from start to finish, feeling what they feel and experiencing what they experience, when in reality, I’ve just been sitting at my desk, typing away. In a very real way, I think each book makes me a richer, more multi-faceted, more understanding person because when I’ve walked a mile (or a hundred) in my character’s shoes.

17. What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

When I first started writing, I was single and had been for almost 20 years. My life changed dramatically when I met my husband and remarried (in a good way, but still… it was a big adjustment!)

18. How has your background influenced your writing? How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

I was raised in a very conservative Christian home. My upbringing and personal beliefs color everything I do and think. I have lived in many parts of the world, known many people and experienced many things. My writing is filtered through each of the things that have made me the person I am. Although my books do not fit into the Inspirational Fiction category because they contain some adult scenes, they definitely have a Christian world view which includes characters honestly struggling through issues of faith. The mistakes I’ve made and life lessons I’ve learned over the years have become fodder for many interesting characters and scenarios in my books.

***

Click here to read an excerpt from: Merry Go Round

Click here to read first chapter of: Merry Go Round

Click here to buy: Merry Go Round

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Merry Go Round by Sherrie Hansen

Tracy’s supposedly perfect life as a pastor’s wife and mother of three is turned upside down when her husband leaves her for a man.

Clay Alexander’s charmed existence starts spinning out of control when his father threatens to shut down Maple Valley’s woolen mill – unless Clay conforms to his family’s expectations.

Is Tracy and Clay’s love meant to be, or will they forever be on opposite sides of the merry-go-round?

Her children. His parents. Her pride. His honor. The welfare of an entire town.

MERRY GO ROUND… Hang on for dear life.

Excerpt:

Their mother went to the door and looked out. “Did Trevor have trouble finding a place to park?”

“He’s not here,” Tracy told her with feigned surprise. “I’m sorry. I thought I told you he wouldn’t be able to make it.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, dear.”

Her mind went blank. Panic clutched at her side. What was wrong with her tonight? She was a master at keeping a straight face when she was trapped in a half-truth and had to find the right words to cover her tracks. She’d been practicing since she was what – eight or nine? She knew hundreds of ways to bend words, to get out of a jam without actually lying. Sadly, the web of deceit she and Trevor had woven since he’d asked her for a divorce had stretched even her reserves.

“Um…” She had already nursed the counseling-a-hurting-parishioner angle to death, and given the excuse about Trevor having to visit a very ill member of the con­gregation too many times over the last few weeks for it to be plausible. Their church wasn’t big enough to warrant such never-ending pain and suffering among its members. Be­sides, the children were still within earshot. Whatever she said now would have to jive with what she had told them ear­lier.

“I’m sure I told you about the conference, Mom.” She kept her tone light. “He’s been gone all week. He did call the other night though, and he told me to give Ian a big birthday hug. Is he downstairs with his daddy?” Tracy was halfway across the spacious kitchen by the time she finished speaking and around the corner before her mother could for­mulate the words to disagree with her again.

“Conference? Something to do with the church?” She heard her dad ask.

“I have no idea,” she heard her mother say.

Tracy gripped the handrail at the top of the stairs and stood concealed from the sight of the others. She could hear Jake’s melodious voice, Mac’s deep, rumbling laughter, and Timothy’s high-pitched squeal of excitement mingling with the noisy clatter of the other children’s voices.

It wasn’t really lying, she tried to convince herself. Keeping your troubles to yourself was just what the Joneses did. Problems, personal flaws, shortcomings, and weaknesses of the flesh were squelched –
squashed if necessary – and made to disappear long before they ever became public knowledge. These people lived victorious Christian lives even if it killed them.

Unless you were taken with a serious disease, of course. No one asked to be sick. There was no shame in sharing your woes when one of you was ill. She certainly didn’t wish Trevor any harm, but him being
sick would have been easier to explain than what was really going on.

She herself was feeling ill just imagining what people would say if they knew their perfect pastor / son-in-law / husband of the year was gay.

***

By day, Sherrie Hansen owns and operates a Victorian bed and breakfast and tea house in Northern Iowa called the Blue Belle Inn. By night, she enjoys not only writing, but traveling, reading, needlework, quilting, and renovating and decorating old houses. She is the author of three additional books, Night and Day, Stormy Weather (Book One of the Maple Valley Trilogy) and Water Lily (Book Two of the Maple Valley Trilogy).

Click here to read first chapter of: Merry Go Round

Click here to buy: Merry Go Round

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Images of Betrayal by Claire Collins

Abandoned by her family, Tysan works as a waitress in a cheap diner. One cold evening, a beguiling, rugged young man barges into her life. He possesses the remarkable ability to take photographs of events that have not yet happened. Ty narrowly avoids a harrowing death in a disastrous explosion, only to be drawn into a dizzying cascade of conflicts involving a new family that takes her in, Walker-her apparent savior, David-her new admirer and her own family. Kidnapping, betrayal, obsessive love and courageous lovers co-mingle in this romantic thriller.

Excerpt:

His eyes darted to the envelope on the table. He took a drink of coffee, swallowing too hard. When he turned back to me, his eyes were haunted. He reached out, grasped the envelope, and pulled out another picture. As he handed it to me, his words registered.

“You’re supposed to keep yourself safe.”

The photo I held was taken in the restaurant. I was standing behind the front counter, the picture taken from across the room. A man sat in front of me, only the back of his head visible in the picture. He was covered in soot and ashes. Pieces of his clothing were burned away and blackened. My skin was blistered and the remnants of my hair were singed. My uniform had burned to my body, sticking to me as I stood there, coffee pot in hand. The ceiling of the restaurant was behind me, or at least part of it. Grey, cloudy skies formed a backdrop where some of the ceiling and the wall to the kitchen used to be. The pieces of the restaurant in the picture were burnt; smoke still rising from the embers surrounding me.

The picture was dated two days from today.I dropped the picture like the paper itself was on fire. I didn’t want to touch it. In the photo, I stood there with a coffee pot in my hand, while everything around me and my clothes were in utter destruction. Walker snatched the picture from the table, dropping it back into the envelope.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking my hand in his again. “Short of kidnapping you that day, I didn’t know any other way to tell you about this.”

***

Claire Collins resides in North Carolina and writes across many genres. She loves reading when she gets the time around her family and her work schedule. She currently has two novels available through Second Wind Publishing and is working on her third, Seeds of September.

Click here to buy: Images of Betrayal

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Interview with Coco Ihle, Author of She Had to Know

Today we are speaking with Coco Ihle, whose book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, has just been published. What is your book about?

SHE HAD TO KNOW has an autobiographical element to it and deals with two long lost sisters who reunite and nearly lose their lives searching for a hidden treasure and a murderer in a Scottish castle.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

I was a product of foster care and adoption, so my early life was spent fantasizing about finding my birth family with the thought of writing a book one day involving my search. It wasn’t until my early thirties that my Scottish roots were uncovered and a tiny seed was planted. In my fifties, one of my sisters was located and the book started forming in my mind. What better story to write than a mystery?

How much of yourself is hidden in the main characters of this book?

SHE HAD TO KNOW has two protagonists, the two sisters. I found it interesting that both sisters in the book have multiple characteristics of my sister and me. That is to say, one isn’t me and the other my sister, my fictional characters have traits that both my sister and I have, plus some. It just worked out that way. Does that make sense?

Yes, actually. Tell me, did you do any research for this book?

Yes, a great deal. Luckily, when I found out about my Scottish heritage years earlier, I joined a local Scottish society and met many Scots who shared with me stories of their lives and culture. My son and I joined the society’s bagpipe band and traveled to Scotland to order our bagpipes and kilts and to discover more about my homeland. To make things interesting, we stayed in several castles all over Britain. That’s when I knew one sister in my book would own a castle hotel. More trips were necessary for fact finding, and many hours of speaking with my wonderful Scottish friends helped me get the details down. I also used books and pamphlets that I gathered on my travels along with the phone and, toward the end, the internet. What can I say, I love research.

What challenges did you face when you wrote this book?

In part of the book I deal with reuniting the sisters. I already knew how I felt, but I needed to find out how my sister dealt with her questions of not knowing where she came from or why she was given up; that sort of thing. The questions were difficult to ask and the answers were tough to put on paper, because I wanted to emphasize the joy of the sister’s reunion, not dwell on the sadness of our lost childhood together. In the end, I left out much of the negative, though in the future, I may touch on more of the problems the sisters faced.

Another challenge for me was in simplifying the Scottish dialect so that everyone could understand it. I tried to be consistent with it so the reader would get into the cadence of the characters. I thought adding a glossary might help, too.

Do you think writing this book changed your life? If so, how?

Absolutely. In a couple of ways. My sister and I talked in detail about our lives before we met, and how we felt about all the things that happened and didn’t happen through the years. Our talks created a stronger bond between us.

Another way my life changed was, my adopted mother used to accuse me of starting projects and losing interest before finishing them. Well, I took that criticism to heart. I know she’s up there smiling down at me, because I finish projects now.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

Mornings are my favorite time, because my mind is fresh, but sometimes late at night when there are no distractions. Often, I’ll wake in the middle of the night with an idea or a phrase and have to write it down on a tablet I keep on my nightstand. And occasionally, I just have to get up and write that thought or idea in more detail.

Do you have a favorite snack food or beverage that you enjoy while you write?

Ha! That would be my famous cup of joe. I have a wonderful 16 oz. thermos mug that keeps my coffee hot, so I don’t have to get up so often for a refill. My right hand seems to be permanently crooked into the mug holding position. Just kidding. Occasionally, I like to munch on roasted almonds, too.

Why did you set your book to begin in 1985?

I’ve always been told to “write what you know.” Since my own search was done primarily before computers, I wanted to write my story before that era. As I continue to search for two more siblings, I’m finding the computer age has only complicated matters. Often, too much information can be as much of a hindrance as not enough. Also, found information is often incorrect, which can lead to wasted time and effort. If it hadn’t been for the Alma Society, which helps in family searches, I may have given up years ago.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

When I read a story, I want to be swept into it and escape from my life issues and just be entertained. I hope my readers will feel that way with my book. I also hope, people will be reinforced in their thinking that persistence is a virtue which almost always has its rewards. It certainly has in my life.

What do you like to read?

Mostly mysteries since that’s what I like to write, and I’m lucky to know some very excellent writers in my genre through conferences, conventions and listserves. Memoirs are another area I like and in which I have written. And there are some wonderful YA authors out there whose work in fantasy I enjoy. But, I like thrillers, too. Oh, dear, I just love to read and if it is well written, I’ll read just about anything that isn’t too violent or graphic.

Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?

Funny you should ask. My favorite is: “Aspire to inspire before you expire.” Isn’t that great?

I’ll say. Thank you, Coco, for taking the time to speak with us today.

You are most welcome. Thank you for having me.

Click here to read the first chapter of: She Had to Know

Click here to read an excerpt of: She Had to Know

Click here to buy: She Had to Know

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She Had to Know by Coco Ihle

After the deaths of her adopted parents, Arran discovers her long lost sister’s name and, despite a terrifying premonitory dream, embarks on a quest to find Sheena. After reuniting in Scotland, the sisters search for the reason their birth father and his housekeeper mysteriously died and why Sheena’s life is being threatened. Led to a cryptic rhyme rumored to map the way to an ancient hidden treasure buried deep in the bowels of Wraithmoor Castle, the sisters follow the clues. A murderer follows the sisters. Will the secret passages lead them to discovery and triumph, or death and eternal entombment?

Excerpt:

Hours of compiling, arranging, rearranging and packing had left Sheena’s body fatigued, but her brain wouldn’t rest. She kept thinking about her father’s unknown cause of death. Something distracting would help, perhaps a book to read. Several were on the nightstand, and she looked through them. The Magus, by John Fowles, she’d already read. The next was Barbarians at the Gate, by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. No, not in the mood. The third book was most curious. The aged volume of The Nature Library on Birds, by Neltje Blanchan, seemed especially heavy for such a small size. Sheena was immediately intrigued. The front cover had an illustration of a bluebird family: male, female and chick. How odd. This hardly seemed the kind of book her father would read.

The shock came when she opened the front cover. Inserted in a precisely cutout hole in the pages was a gun. Carefully, she extracted the weapon by the wooden grip and held it in the palm of her hand under the bedside lamp to get a better look. “MADE BERETTA USA CORP” was etched on one side of the blue-black metal barrel. The .22-caliber semi-automatic, just like the one she had learned to shoot a few years ago, was loaded.

As she was carefully returning the gun to the hiding place, she noticed a folded piece of yellowed paper tucked in the bottom of the hole. Laying the gun on the bed, she reached in to retrieve it and noticed the edges of the folds were weak and brittle. As she was carefully unfolding them, she felt a firm lump between her finger and thumb. A cracked piece of cellophane tape was stuck to one side of the paper, and under that, a key. A safe-deposit key. Stamped into the flat surface, were the initials, “CMB.” Chase Manhattan Bank on Madison Avenue, a few blocks away, was the bank on her father’s monthly statements. Why wasn’t this key in Father’s study with his other papers?

Turning the book over, she discovered another surprise. Inside this cover was another cut out section containing a small leather notebook, underneath which, a thick piece of cardboard separated the two compartments. She opened the notebook to the first page. In the upper right corner was written, “Oct./Nov.” Centered below was “This Book Belongs To: J.W.B.,” her father’s initials.

She plumped up two pillows and leaned back against the headboard, excited by this new discovery which appeared to be a journal. The entries were sporadically dated, and the writing, in her father’s hand, was scribbled and barely legible, as though written in a hurry. He had used initials rather than full names throughout. She read aloud the last entry dated the week before he died:

“Have the feeling I’m being followed. Yesterday, a car almost hit me outside the hotel. Driver didn’t stop, too dark to see license plate. Wonder if it has something to do with running into P.S. last week? Never liked that greedy snake.”

Sheena’s intake of breath was followed by an icy chill shivering through her body. With pounding heart she looked across the room at the photograph of her parents, singling out her father’s image and said, “What in the world happened to you? Did you die naturally? Or were you murdered?”

***

Coco, a product of foster care and adoption, spent over fifty years searching for her sister, whom she found in 1994. Thus the idea for SHE HAD TO KNOW was born. She discovered Scottish roots and plays harp and bagpipes, along with piano and cello. The Florida Writer’s Association published a short story of hers in 2009 in their first anthology. Coco is a member of MWA; SinC; FWA; The Alma Society, which aids in family searches; the DorothyL Digest and the Scottish St. Andrew’s Society.

 Click here to read the first chapter: She Had to Know

Click here to buy: She Had to Know

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Interview with Paul Mohrbacher, Author of The Magic Fault

What is your book about?

The Magic Fault takes place in 2004 in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic Church’s most revered relic has been stolen by a mysterious sect from the city’s cathedral. An American professor who studies magical thinking uncovers a baffling series of answers to the question, Why?

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

The idea blossomed in 2004, and the writing started within months.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

The inspiration came from being in Turin, Italy, during a festival of food sponsored by the International Slow Food movement. Just a few miles from the festival is the church where the Shroud of Turin is honored. It was the confluence of the two events, one celebrating life on and in the earth, the other the afterlife and its promise of a future life after-earth. Putting the two themes together was an inspiring challenge.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

The most unusual character is an elderly Parisienne who is protecting a secret. She is based on a woman I met some years back who lived through WW II as a resistance fighter. She was an incredibly still-beautiful woman who smoked strong French cigarettes and climbed mountains. I may bring her back in another book some day.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I spent six years writing The Magic Fault.

How much of the story did you have in mind before you started writing it?

I found I first had to describe the plot to friends. By talking about it I got in touch with what I wanted to say in the story. I needed to know the plot well enough before I could choose my characters. Then the characters started telling me how they would react in the situations I put them in. As usual, they talked too much; I tossed everything into the first few drafts and then crawled exhausted to an editor who found a way to cut and trim and guide me back to the story line.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

Given the topic, there was a lot of research; mainly books on the subject. The Internet was a major source for fact-checking. I made visits to some of the sites described in the book, and had heavy email contact with sources who lived in places I couldn’t visit. Finally, the New York Times always had a story that nudged me when I was writing something related.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

There is pre-writing and there is post-writing. I differentiate characters by “sleeping” with them, every last one of them. I write something and then wait for the characters to knock on my head in the night. They finally come alive after many nights spent in their company (dreams, waking up and writing down some dialogue or action, etc.). They point me on the right path on how they would act and think in the story I want to tell.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

The book is done when my characters’ involvement in the story seems fully realized.

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

Balancing a day job with writing on a weekly basis was a huge challenge. I finally changed my job to four days a week instead of five. Those three-day weekends make a difference, especially if two of the days are more or less filled with other chores or getaways.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

My writing schedule varied with the stages of development of the book. Early in the book I wrote on a couple of weekday early mornings and then also on weekends. Usually my computer went with me on vacations and I wrote daily. Rewriting was more episodic, hit and run, because I spent more time thinking how the story held together. When I found an agent and began heavy editing and rewriting, I imposed a rule for myself; get the agent the latest version as soon as you can. Write whenever one finds time; deadline writing.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

The most difficult part of the writing process is cutting out extraneous plot detours. That usually means characters you like but who shouldn’t be in this book; scenes that seem essential but aren’t, dialogue that explains more than it should. The “aha moment” comes at the right time, about halfway through the first draft — where am I going with this story? And usually it’s an editor who taps me on the head with the question.

Where can people learn more about you and The Magic Fault?

From my publisher’s website: Second Wind Publishing/Paul Mohrbacher

See also:
Chapter One of The Magic Fault
Excerpt from The Magic Fault

Click here to buy: The Magic Fault

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The Magic Fault by Paul Mohrbacher

The Magic Fault unfolds in Turin, Italy, where the Catholic Church’s most revered relic has been stolen by a mysterious sect from the city’s cathedral. The theft occurs during the 2004 Salone del Gusto, Turin’s celebration of “good, clean, and fair food” sponsored by the international Slow Food Movement. Tom Ueland, an American Midwest college history professor and journalist who writes about magical thinking, is in Turin to vacation with a friend, Rachel Cohen, an exhibitor at the celebration. He’s also there at the invitation of the Turin archbishop, himself a student of magical thinking. Tom takes up the chase after the Shroud of Turin and is spun toward a resolution he never sees coming.

The Magic Fault will resonate with people who love the drama of European history, with those who follow religious debates, and with people passionate about where and how the world’s food is grown. Mystery lovers will have fun trying to figure out the resolution before the protagonist does. And the “magic” theme adds to the mystery.

Excerpt:

He never would have been in that church yesterday if not for one other person. A month earlier, he had received a letter from the archbishop of Turin, a priest named Michael Tucci. Tucci had read an article on magical thinking in the New York Times arts section. In the article, Tom had been quoted as an authority on the topic. He summarized the Historian Norman Cantor’s insights into medieval behavior during the Black Plague of the 14th Century: Christians blamed the Jews for the plague. “Scapegoating is magical thinking,” Tom wrote. “And it goes on today. We blame the ‘other’ for everything wrong in our lives. Religious extremists are often the worst offenders.”

The priest wrote that he was deeply fascinated by the topic and invited him to Turin. Tom wrote back he’d be there in a month. Yesterday was to be the day for the meeting. Tom had decided to check out the famed Shroud of Turin relic first.

Now it looked as though he might not get to see the priest. Next stop: The U.S. consulate in Turin, if there was one. And he needed a lawyer.

Another knock on the door; the big guy barged in and spoke actually using nouns and verbs. “The archbishop of Turin wants to see you.”

Tom looked at his watch — 7 a.m. The cop had brought him a shaving kit, a cappuccino and a bag of fresh bread and rolls. “Get dressed, please, and I will be back in thirty minutes.” “Please” meant something for sure — he was cleared.

“It’s about time. Is it a trial, the inquisition, what the hell is going on?”

The big cop had undergone a personality change from the night before. He even looked smaller. “The archbishop will meet you in the Duomo. The scene of the crime. Then of course, if all goes well, you are free to go about your business in Torino.”

***

The Magic Fault is Paul Mohrbacher’s first venture into genre fiction. His writing career began as a playwright. His first script for the stage, The Chancellor’s Tale (The Dramatic Publishing Company), won first prize in the 1991 Julie Harris Playwright Award Competition and has received numerous productions and readings. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, he was a Catholic priest for 16 years. He lives with his wife, Ruth Murphy, in St. Paul, surrounded by grandchildren.

(Photo by Andrea Cole Photography)

See also:
Chapter One of The Magic Fault
Interview with Paul Mohrbacher

Click here to buy: The Magic Fault

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