Monday, December 14, 2009

Censoring Blogs--Book Burning

I recently joined a literary site for authors, writers, artists and generally anyone within an artistic field. I posted a poem, or perhaps several poems. I'm truly not sure the exact post. Yesterday I received a somewhat disturbing, but nice email informing me that although the moderator had the greatest respect for me, and in fact referred to me as Dear Sister (excuse me); that she had deleted my blog because she had never been there and therefore could not connect with the feelings expressed therein. She went on to say that abuse was a legal issue, not appropriate for writing. Abused people needed to just stop the abuse and stop whining. She invited me to write something more appropriate for the literary world.

First I was appalled that any literary site, which started it's headline and title with Literary would censor any blog as long as it wasn't offensive and it was well formatted and free of blatant typos. This reminded of the days of book burning. I wonder how many people burned C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters without ever reading it, and understanding that it wasn't the work of the devil, but was instead a wonderful book, funny and entertaining, which clearly glorified God.

I wrote a nice letter back to the moderator, and kindly informed her that on behalf of the thousands of men, women and children who suffer mental, emotional or physical abuse daily, I felt that I needed to educate her on a few things.

First of all, abuse is not just a legal issue. I know, as I worked in courtrooms for many years, and yes, the legal system can lock up the abuser--but the damage done to the abused is out of the judicial systems purview, and out of their control.

Secondly, there is not a psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health professional that would EVER tell an abused individual not to talk about, write about or somehow try to deal with the emotions and trauma that abuse has caused them. This is not whining. In fact, it's far from it. It is the abused's efforts to take charge of their emotions, their lives, and therefore never allow themselves to be a victim again. And what better way than words?

Words have power, and words can be powerless. We use words every day in one context or another. We use words that are powerless and that have no meaning. We say things to people that we don't mean, don't feel and truly don't care about. Over a period of time our words are powerless, because they have no feeling, no emotion behind them, and we start to loose that power in other areas of life. Victims of abuse, many times are powerless to stop their abuser. Powerless to change their lives.

I have been fortunate to work with many young people, mostly young women, who have lost their power. They've given in to their abusers, and simply given up on themselves. Addictions. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. They can never change their lives and come out of the victim stage without some sense of power. We've worked on creative writing. Using words to express the internal emotions of pain, frustration, anger, hopelessness and moving on to joy, hope, faith and future. Mastering words that have feelings, emotions and life gives power to the word, thus power to the writer. Power to take charge of their feelings. Power to take charge of their addictions. Power to take charge of their future. It doesn't happen overnight, but with words, therapy, and guidance every victim can change their life. I know this too, because I did.

Deleting a blog, because you can't connect with the emotions and feelings of the blogger, is like throwing out the cake, because you're allergic to chocolate even though there are going to be 30 other guests at your table. Where would our literary world be today, if every publisher or every literary site had decided to censor material? What happened to freedom of expression? And what happened to just good old courtesy from the moderator who could easily have written and said, "I'm sorry, we have a site policy against blogging about these subjects: (and listed the subjects) and therefore I would ask that you please rewrite or remove your blog."

Censorship. Book burning. I felt I woke up forty years in the past. And as a final note, I asked the moderator to remove me from their site. It clearly was not the proper forum for me. Not because I hated having my own blog removed, but I hated the idea that I might be missing some great articles by other contributors that this particular moderator had not experienced, or could not connect to.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Memories of Christmas Past

I find myself becoming melancholy every year around this time. A mixture of sadness and joy. Happiness and pain. This year is no different, except there seems to be more sadness. Sometimes I trace this back to earlier memories. And I always wind up at the same place, same time.
I was 17, and I had just started working retail sales for a local department store. We'd spent days, weeks decorating and getting ready for the Christmas rush. Most of the time I was too busy to pay much attention to the shoppers. Management placed me in toys. Wow! My job, to help every shopper find just that right thing for their little bundles of joy. And to keep the aisles straight and orderly. That was a major task in itself.
While drifting through each aisle, picking up tossed items and placing them back on packed shelves, I happened upon a woman who was picking up items and placing them back on the shelves. She wasn't the typical shopper there. Her clothes were clean, yet well-worn. Her hands wrinkled and red, from hard work. Her eyes a light grey, that reflected sadness not joy of shopping. I asked her could I help her. She smiled sweetly and said, "I have eight grandchildren to buy a present for, and I only have eight dollars. Can you help me find something they might like?"
My heart broke. Even in those days when prices weren't as high as today, finding something for eight children with only eight dollars was virtually impossible. I told her I needed to do something, and then I would be right back. I went to my manager, explained the situation and got eight new tickets priced at a dollar. I asked her ages and sexes, and the two of us scoured the shelves until we finally found eight gifts. Eight nice little presents that only cost a dollar. I then took her to my register and rang her up, telling her I would pay the sales tax on the items.
Her eyes lit up with joy, as I placed her purchases in bags and wished her a Merry Christmas.
Fortunately for me it was payday, and after she left I had the manager clear my register of the phony tickets, rering the items and we split the cost of the gifts, minus her eight bucks.
That was one of my favorite Christmas memories, and yet each year it brings a touch of sadness to my heart, because I wonder. . . how many grandmothers are out there with eight grandchildren and only eight dollars to spend.
Christmas has over the years become more and more commercial. And today's children seem to expect not just A GIFT, but THE GIFT. I hear it on radios, see it on TV and read it online. Parents searching and willing to pay three times the amount of the item just so their little angels can have it on Christmas Day.
That's a wonderful thing. But every year there are thousands of children who receive little or nothing. And there are thousands of parents who for no reason of their own simply don't have the money to buy presents. They're wondering where they're going to find food this year.
So, yes, Christmas for me holds a certain amount of joy. I love seeing my children, my grandchildren. I love giving presents. Cooking that huge Christmas dinner. But it also brings a tinge of sadness, and each year I take a moment to pray for those who have been less fortunate, and I think about that grandmother, and how just for one year at least she was able to give her grandchildren a nice present for $8.00.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Prologue--my first paranormal/psychic novel


The howl of the wind reminded Catherine Mans of the voices of lost souls as it shook the old house, rattling the window panes. A single candle flickered and died as the faded drapes gave way to the drafts pushing them. Catherine pulled the frayed blanket closer around her shoulders, sipped the lukewarm tea and waited, even though she wasn’t sure exactly what she was waiting for.
The room grew steadily colder, a constant reminder of her plight. No money. No job. No hope. Her stomach rumbled and she glanced at the single pack of crackers on the table. She would need those tomorrow.
Catherine sighed heavily and bowed her head. There was nothing she could do. Her only talent lay in the ability to see what others could not. To hear the voices of the dead, and sometimes the living as they cried out in pain and desperation. A talent no one wanted to buy.
Her face flushed, warming her body as she remembered the humiliation from earlier that morning. Desperation and hunger had led her to the police station to offer her talents there. She had fled in tears, the sounds of rude laughter ringing in her ears. Destiny? Fate? The wrong officer on the wrong day? Perhaps, but she didn’t have the courage to try again. Never again.
A familiar tiredness washed over her. She fought the trance. What good was it to see things if no one believed you? The sensation grew stronger as she grew weaker, her eyes slowly closing.
The vision was clear and Catherine found herself standing in the howling snow, watching the red and blue lights flash. She watched as the patrol car parked in front of her house. The officer sat there, hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel. He stared at her door, hesitating, weighing his options. He looked too young to be a police officer, but the clear gray eyes held a strength that told her he was older than he looked. And that he had seen things no one should have to see. He was clean shaven, blonde hair closely cropped in military style which only added to his youthful appearance.
Catherine continued to watch as he signed, wrenched his hands from the wheel, squared his shoulders, opened the door and stepped into the blinding snow. She felt desperation, frustration and fear emanating from him as he followed his steps toward her front door.

The sound of angry pounding jerked her from the vision. Her hands trembled. Pulling the blanket closer against the chill in the room she made her way to the door.
Even though she had just watched him walk up the walkway, the shock of staring into those clear gray eyes almost caused her to slam the door in his face.
“Catherine Mans?” “Yes.” Catherine hated the sound of her voice. It sounded weak, afraid. They couldn’t arrest her for just offering her services. She stiffened her spine, raising her head to meet his stony gaze. Why was he so angry?
“We don’t have much time. Can I come in?”
His voice echoed the same desperation and frustration she had felt earlier. Opening the door she stepped aside, watching as his gaze swept over the meager furnishings before coming back to her.
“I don’t know if you’re real or not, but we have a three-year-old boy lost in this snowstorm and we’re running out of time. If you’re real, then for God’s sake help us. If you’re not, then don’t waste my time. There’s a thousand dollar reward that. . .”
“Let’s go.” Catherine pushed him toward the door, rushing ahead of him as she struggled through the knee-deep snow, wind whipping through the old blanket.
Grasping the car door, Catherine pulled it open and quickly climbed in. Gasping from the cold, she shivered in the warmth of the patrol car.
“Give me your key, and I’ll go back and get your coat.”
“I don’t have one,” she snapped. “You’re wasting time. Do you have a picture?”
Taking the seat next to her, his gaze raked her features, as if seeing her for the first time. Catherine struggled to control the shivering. She knew what he was seeing. The auburn curls matted to her pale face. The worn out shoes. The jeans and flannel shirt a size too big.
“How old are you,” he asked.
Catherine met his gaze with what she hoped was more confidence that she felt.
Reaching above the visor, he handed her a picture of a small boy laughing at some unseen antic of the photographer. His soulful brown eyes reached out to her, touching her, wrapping her in warmth, pulling her toward him.
“What’s his name?”
She felt the hesitation, skepticism. “It doesn’t work that way.” She wanted to scream at him, but her words come out as a whisper through chattering teeth.
“Danny.” He looked away from her, staring into the blowing snow.
Catherine ignored the emotion filled car as her shivering stopped and the familiar tiredness enveloped her. She closed her eyes, watching the flashes of white. Hearing the sounds of laughter. Running. She followed the sounds. He was chasing something. More laughter. Crawling. Cold. Hungry. “Mommy? Daddy?” He was scared. His hands were so cold. No, they were warm. Touching something. Something warm, furry. Hugging. A kitten. He was hugging a kitten.
Catherine felt the warmth of tears running down her face as the onslaught of emotions reached out to her from the young child. He was so cold. His eyes were stinging from the wind. His cries turned to whimpers. A large object loomed before him. “No, Danny,” she whispered. “Dear, God, no.”

“Landfill, junkyard, a place where old refrigerators are stored.” Catherine reached for her seatbelt and buckled it. “We have to hurry.”
Cody Allen didn’t move, simply stared at her.
“Start the damn, car!”
“The closest junkyard or landfill is two miles away from where the kid disappeared. There’s no way he could have made it that far in this weather.”
Catherine stared at him in disbelief and disgust. He’d come to her, asked for her help. The little boy was still alive, but he wouldn’t be much longer. Rage boiled inside her. If he wasn’t going to believe her, then why had he come? Danny’s feelings washed over her, the warmth, the laughter—the cold, the fear. If he died she would be left with those feelings for the rest of her life.
“Damn you,” she hissed, opening the door and climbing out into the howling wind. Tears of frustration froze on her eyelids as she once again struggled through the snow. She didn’t feel the cold, or hear the slamming of the door before a strong hand seized her arm, jerking her around to face him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The clear gray eyes had turned cold blue.
“I’m trying to save a child’s life.” Catherine shook off the hand.
“Get back in the car.”
“Go to hell.”
“Ms. Mans. . .Catherine, please. You’ll never find him in time.”
Catherine stopped, swallowing the remark on the tip of her tongue, along with what little pride she had left.
“Please, get back in the car.”
The authority was gone from his voice now. Catherine knew he was right. All she would accomplish was giving the city two bodies. She’d never find the junkyard in time, and her pride wasn’t worth Danny’s life.
Catherine refused his help as she made her way back through the snow to the car, opened her door and slammed it shut behind her. She stared ahead, ignoring him as he started the car and turned up the heat.
The rode in silence as the wail of the police siren competed with the howling of the wind. The streets were empty. Cold, stark and lonely.
He reached for the radio. “This is car 97, I need an ambulance at the junkyard at the corner of Seventh and Steele Street.”
The radio squawked. “What’s the code, 97?”
Cody glanced at Catherine. “Just send the ambulance.”
Catherine closed her eyes, struggling to feel the lifeline that would tell her the child was still alive. It was weak, but still there.
“You know, if you’re wrong you just cost me my badge.”
“Your badge?” Catherine turned on him, her voice filled with the contempt she felt. “If I’m wrong, I just cost a child his life.”
Turning away from him, Catherine bit her lip. Welcoming the pain. For some reason he was really getting under her skin. She’d dealt with skeptics before, but his was something more. Something personal. Why hadn’t he called for backup?
The gates to the junkyard loomed before them.
“Damn, I forgot about the gates.” The car slowed.
“Crash them.”
A slight smiled played around her lips as he heard his mumbled oath. The locks were old and the gates crashed open as the cruiser plowed through them. Not waiting for him to completely stop, Catherine ripped off the seat belt and rushed from the car. Her gaze scanned the fence line, looking for small holes underneath. Danny had crawled under a fence chasing the kitten. He was close. She could feel it. Wind whipped her hair and the old blanket, still wrapped around her small frame offered no resistance to the freezing chill that enveloped her. She had to be quick for Danny’s sake, as well as her own. Stinging tears filled her eyes as she scanned the snow covered piles of debris and old appliances.
“The refrigerator is gold,” Catherine screamed as she ran, spotting it in the distance. How could she have forgotten that? She heard the sound of the ambulance approaching, heard Cody’s yell, but the wind carried his words away from her. “Dear God, please let him still be alive,” she prayed. Her hands shook as she reached for the handle. How long had he been in there? The hinges of the old door squeaked as she jerked it loose. His tiny body was curled into a ball, wrapped around the small black kitten held tightly in his arms. “Please. . .” Catherine sobbed as her trembling hands reached out to the small still form.
“Strong fingers closed around her wrist. “I’ll do it.”
Catherine stepped back to give him room, watching as he reached in to pick up the child. She heard the sound of his whispered prayer, running footsteps coming toward them. She held her breath as he cradled the child in his arms. Waited for the words that would tell her, but he seemed unable to speak and simply stared at her. Even after the paramedics removed the child from his arms he continued to start her at.
“He’s alive. They’re both alive.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Do you believe in ghosts/spirits?

With the television hype, it’s truly hard to develop an understanding of the paranormal, and the on-going quest of many to either prove or disprove the existence of ghosts/spirits. Paranormal research teams spring up daily and vast amounts of evidence/data to uphold their claims are presented to the world as proof of the existence of “something else out there”. But if you do believe in ghosts/spirits, you are no longer the minority.

For many in the field, like myself, it is a personal quest to understand things we have seen, heard or experienced. My first actual viewing of a ghost/spirit was at the age of five. We had moved into an old house that was a part of the underground railroad at one time, hiding out Union Soldiers during the war. Bear in mind that I knew none of this at the time. Shortly after moving in I was playing in a room upstairs and tripped a panel that opened a small hidden enclosure. Just big enough for one person to hide in. There sat a Union Soldier. Fully dressed, bleeding and holding a rifle. To this day I remember his blonde curls, vivid blue eyes and the fear on his face when I opened that panel. I can only assume, by the amount of blood on his chest that he died while hiding there.

My later studies into metaphysics, mediumship and psychic experiments resulted in additional oddities that I could not explain. I had little doubt in my mind that there was indeed “something else out there”. But what, and why? Those were the questions that I couldn’t answer.

Skeptics and debunkers are quick to bash any evidence/data presented as fake, or explainable, or simply not scientific because it cannot be reproduced under certain conditions. And yet the belief in ghosts/spirits is not new. Even biblical references are made. In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus has to persuade the Disciples that he is not a ghost following the resurrection. Luke 24:37-39. Clearly that would not have been necessary if none had existed. In a similar vein, Jesus' followers at first believe him to be a ghost (spirit) when they see him walking on water.

Many accepted theories of actual activity have now been debunked. Take Orbs for instance. Many are no more than dust particles, bugs and/or reflections from the camera. I’ve seen some really beautiful ones on movies when the camera hits the light just right. But are all Orbs non-paranormal? Can a dusty room contain hundreds of orbs one minute, and absolutely none under the same conditions a day later? And what about the completely milky white solid orbs? Are they also dust? Bugs? I’m not sure. And I’m not totally willing to write off every orb figure as non-paranormal just because. Having visited the New Port Aquarium I saw many new species that until now had never been discovered before. Is it possible that some of these drifting orb shaped oddities are simply a different life form? Not, per se, a ghost or spirit, but simply something that until now our cameras and camcorders were not sensitive enough to pick up.

Matrixing has also provided a plausible excuse for the vast majority of photos out there. Shutter speed. Double exposures. Light effects. Smoke. Fog. Mist. In fact, so may plausible excuses that I rarely take photographs anymore. And if I do, I always take a series of three. If something is in one, and not the other two, then possibly it is an anomaly and bears more investigation. If it’s in all three, then the odds are that there is something perfectly normal causing the appearance of an anomaly.

I would call myself a skeptic believer. Having seen it with my own eyes, I can’t dispute that something exists outside of the “reality” I know. What? Why? Well, those are questions I haven’t found the answers to yet, so until that time—I’ll keep researching.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spamming and Authors

Do you ever get tired of seeing the same thing on the same space over and over again. I know I do. And authors are becoming as guilty of this as the viagra people. I've noticed in the last few months that more and more authors are updating their status ten, twenty, thirty times a day. This, of course, puts their book picture up there on the status page. Does this make me more interested in seeing what they have to say? Actually it has the opposite effect on me. I become immune to them. Seeing the picture I simply move on past it without even reading what they have to say.

Advertising and promotion are a must for ever author. But when does it become spamming? When does it become obnoxious? Did you join my site just for self-promotion? Do you join other sites, not because you have a true interest in getting to know people, talk with people and share ideas, or was it just to promote yourself?

I blog almost every day. I try at times to touch on subjects I believe will interest other people. I share my writing, my morning muses and marketing and promotional tips. I join groups I have an interest in the subject matter. And I try, and forgive me if I fail, to never spam the members of my groups. I now post my status change on my myspace once a day. In the mornings usually. I post only one blog, and hope that my friends enjoy that. I also visit the pages of my friends and try to read their blogs. Their writing. Share their lives.

With the vast amount of internet information out there, and the vast number of new authors published daily, spamming has become an accepted promotional tool. I hate it. And I hope I never feel I have to come to that level just to sell a book.

A better way to me is to study your market. Send out queries to those who may truly have an interest in the type of book you've written. Let people get to know you. In the end, you'll do just as well. And perhaps you may even do better.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Curse

Writing is truly the greatest therapy. Taking your thoughts, your pain, expressing them--and then changing them. Betrayal and The Curse is an example of dealing with the pain of child abuse, the awakening to a different world and starting to heal, only to find yourself betrayed by someone you loved.

A small body, cold and frightened
Wracked with sobbing pain,
The soul became shattered
And dimmed to just a flame.

I have no friends

No one knew the torment,
Lying deep inside,
No one heard the cries,
And the child slowly died.

I have no friends

A woman lost and lonely,
Needing desperately to cry,
For the lost children,
Dying deep inside.

I have no friends

You came and stood beside me,
You listened to the pain,
You helped to mend the shattered soul,
So we could live again.

You were our friend

The flame began to flicker,
Our life filled with light,
A world of chaos righted,
We emerged from the dark of night.

You were our friend.

But the world was all illusion
Created with deception and with lies,
And the soul slowly shattered,
As the flame flickered and died.

I no longer need a friend.

In lies there is only betrayal,
In betrayal only pain,
In pain lies the waking death
I shall not live again.

I have no friends.

Every abused child, woman, man deals with the pain of lost children inside. The parts of them they cannot face. Perhaps their anger. Their love. Their playfulness. Parts of their very essence and who they are.
Caralyne stood in the midst of the forest, staring at the velvety soft rose petals created by her tears. Each tiny drop shimmered and glowed with the colors of the rainbow before swirling into a tiny petal and falling softly to the ground. She felt as if her heart would break. Betrayed, defiled, soiled, used. And all in the name of love. Dropping to the ground she buried her face within her hands as she cried out, "Oh, Father, please help me. I want only to die!"
Hearing her anguished cry Allah looked down and saw His favorite daughter surrounded by the petals of her tears. The skies darkened from His anger that anyone or anything should dare to hurt her so. On a beam of sunlight breaking through the clouds He came to her.
"What is it my child? What has hurt you so deeply?"
Caralyne could not bring herself to look at Him as she slowly whispered, "I have given myself to a man without honor. I have shared with him my body and soul, Father. His heart was not true and his body not faithful. He is ruled by passion, not by love."
"Did you love him, my child?"
"Yes, Father. I loved him as I have loved no one but you."
"Then you have done no wrong. Tell me, who is this man that would defile a child of God?"
Soft blue eyes reddened by her tears slowly lifted to the vision before her. It had been said that no man could look upon the face of God, and maybe that was true. She was not a man. She had looked upon His face many times. Heard his voice. Felt His love for her. She could no longer have any doubt of who she was.
"He is your son, Jakkob."
A great sadness touched His heart. His beloved Jakkob. His son. She felt the sadness in his voice as he spoke to her again.
"I have waited many years my daughter for you to grow into yourself. I have nurtured you, sheltered you and waited for your call. You are now ready to become that which you truly are. When your soul shines even my Angels will be in awe of your beauty. You are my daughter. It is time for you to take your rightful place."
Caralyne bowed her head and gently sighed. This was her path and she would follow it, just as she had always known she would.
"What would you have me do with Jakkob?" He asked. "You may choose his punishment."
"I would not have him hurt, Father. He is just a man, and I shall remember him with sadness."
He had known her answer before he asked the question. A gentle soul she would willingly harm no one. Not even one that had shattered her so badly. A fragile smile played across her features as she bravely raised herself from the ground.
"Then I shall curse him that he shall remember you. With every touch of another woman, he shall ache for your touch. With every kiss upon his lips, with every breath that he takes he shall long for that which he tossed away so callously. I curse him to watch you grow more beautiful each day as you blossum with true love, and true love you shall find. I curse him to yearn but to find no outlet for his yearning. And though he shall continue to seek fulfillment in the arms of others -- he shall not find it. I curse him to long to hear the melody of your voice, it's soft caress from which he shall be denied. I curse him to suffer for you as you have suffered for him. I turn my face from him, and my ears shall be death to his pleas. So be it."
"So be it," she whispered, knowing Jakkob's punishment had been light and yet one she would not wish to endure. As the beam of sunlight slowly faded she felt an awakening begin inside her. Something was happening. The petals of her tears swirled and blended into a single beautiful rose, as her soul swirled and blended with her consciousness. The Angels looked down from heaven and smiled.
So beautiful.
The world was truly in for an awakening.
God smiled also as He stood beside them watching His daughter dance through the forest, one with all around her. Now the reckoning. He whispered to no one in particular, "Let the games begin."

There are many things we cannot change. People will always hurt other people. Love will bloom and sometimes die. We cannot change the world around us, but we can change how we feel about it and how we feel within it. Pain can be crushing, but it can also awaken us more fully to the true person we are. The beautiful, multi-faceted women and men we were meant to be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Morning Muse

If the world needs no new heroes,
If there's nothing new to discover,
If tomorrow is just,
A mirror image of today,
Then why am I here?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Publishing Contracts

Traditional/Small Press

Every author's dream is to pick up the mail, open that envelope and find inside a publishing contract. In wide-eyed-innocence we rarely read the entire contract, get legal advice, or even ask a friend--is this a good contract?

No, we're pumped. Psyched. Someone has finally validated our hard work. We're going to become an overnight success.

So, what happened?

With the millions of books out there, the odds of becoming an overnight success are pretty much nill. Unless you have between $30,000.00 and $100,000.00 marketing budget. I'm sorry, did your contract not state that the majority of marketing would be up to you?

So what does make a book stand out?

Good writing and a great book cover. Most contracts contain a clause that the publisher has the last say on the cover. But the cover can many times make or break your book. David Morrill said this at the 2006 Love Is Murder Conference. Fight for your cover rights. It is, after all, your work and you will be the one standing in front of the public selling that book. If you indeed have a good book, that publisher isn't going to lose you over a cover. They're going to be willing to renegotiate the contract on that point at least.

The length of your contract is also important, as well as the rights you retain. Don't be afraid to fight for a higher royalty, digital rights and/or movie rights. Okay, the odds your book will become a movie are pretty slim, but I talked with an author at the Western Kentucky Book Fair whose book was being turned into a movie. Problem was he signed away his movie rights. He signed a horrible contract, and he wasn't going to make anything off the movie. His book, a debut novel had already sold 350,000 copies. Someone was making money, but it wasn't him.

My best advice to any author who receives a publishing contract--if you don't have an agent who will fight for you and your rights, then get an attorney who can explain the details of the contract to you and advise you. If you can't afford an attorney, talk to other authors published by this publisher. See how they feel about their representation. Check out their books and see how those books are doing.

Tomorrow I'll delve into self-publishing contracts which are becoming all the rage today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Read The First Three Chapters of The Gifts


Corrine Larson bit her lip, stifling a scream as she turned slightly, struggling to open her eyes. She’d never heard a death rattle, but she recognized it now, deep inside her chest, with each shallow, painful breath. Her body was begging to shut down. She didn’t know if he had beaten her for one hour or six. She was dying, but the son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t get the satisfaction of knowing she wanted to die.
Corrine managed only a narrow slit with her left eye, just enough to stare at him, convey her hatred. He’d used her, and because of her, others would die. She fought the thoughts threatening to overwhelm her, concentrating instead on the new pain caused by the salty tears coursing down her face. Her tortured mind honed in on her one satisfaction, that one ray of light in the darkness. She hadn’t told him everything.
He whistled softly, a haunting rendition of I Saw the Light as he loaded the gun. Corrine drew in one last ragged breath, closed her eye, and allowed the feel of the cool damp concrete to soothe her burning body. It was almost over.
Her thoughts turned to Sarah and her child. She’d written an article once about a psychic who believed your dying thoughts could travel across time and space, influencing the outcome of events to come. She hoped the psychic was right. Maybe she could at least undo some of the damage she’d done. Warn Sarah.
Rough hands jerked at her hair, raising her from the bloody warehouse floor. She felt the cold steel pressed against the back of her head, heard the sound of the gun cocking. Funny, she had always thought her dying thoughts would be of Rob or Gavin; instead, she could think of nothing but Sarah and her child. As the bullet shattered her brain, she held the image of Sarah in her mind and silently screamed, He’s coming Sarah. He wants to destroy you.
Murder is a sin. You’ll go to hell.
It wasn’t murder—it was self-defense.
He hated the voice in his head. She was always bitching at him. Always butting in. Preaching. A cruel smile twisted his handsome features. Today it didn’t matter. Today was a day of celebration. Soon he’d have what was rightfully his. All the years of waiting would be over. Whistling softly, he pulled away from the dumpster and parked the car. Just a few little things to finish. He pulled the police cap down low as he entered the apartment building.
“Evening officer, can I help you?”
“Just delivering some luggage to Ms. Larson.”
The security guard checked the register. “Looks like Ms. Larson is out this evening.”
“Yeah, I know. She gave me a key and told me to set it inside the door. Working on some big story and needed to meet the mayor or somebody. Don’t know why the city wants to waste the taxpayers’ money and use me as her damn courier, but here I am.”
The guard grinned. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” Shrugging in sympathy, he turned his attention back to the crossword puzzle. “Go on up.”
He walked slowly, taking his time. The bitch had been tougher than he’d thought. She’d cost him a whole fucking day. He wouldn’t rush things now, though. Everything had to play out just right. All he had to do was make it look like she’d never left town.
What if she told someone?
The thought enraged him. He cursed softly as he slipped the key into the lock. That was the trouble with women—they talked too damn much. He frowned as the pain in his groin started again. No satisfaction. He hadn’t even wanted her. Too old. He liked them young; firm, breasts just starting to bud. The throb increased as he thought about the young girl he’d glimpsed just inside the alleyway on his way into the building.
And she wouldn’t scream, would she?
He clenched his fists. The bitch just wouldn’t scream. Unclenching his fists, he ignored the voice. It didn’t matter. He had what he wanted. After setting the luggage inside the door, he relocked it and pulled out the faded snapshot from his shirt pocket. She would scream. It was all her fault. Six long years. But time had given him a bonus. Oh, yes, a definite bonus. Maybe he’d let Sarah live and just take the child. He liked that idea.
The throbbing in his groin increased, reminding him he had a mission to complete. Checking his gun, he screwed the silence into place. The cameras had seen only what he wanted them to see, but the guard would have to be dealt with. He chortled. Everyone knew about the corruption in the police ranks. The bitch had actually written an article on it. By the time they stopped chasing that lead, he’d be long gone.
The security guard glance up as the elevator doors opened. “Everything okay, buddy?”
“Everything is just fine now,” he said raising the gun. He snickered at the look of surprise that crossed the guard’s face, right before the bullet pierced his heart. The world was full of stupid people.
Murder is a sin.
“I told you, it’s not my fault. She’s the reason I have to kill.”
You like killing.
He whistled as he exited the building and glanced at the dumpster. He didn’t like killing. He was just cleaning up the trash.
Clouds hung low in the sky, threatening to open up any minute. He listened to the whimpers coming from the alley. She was still there. An omen. It really was his lucky day. He approached her slowly, his voice low and gentle. “Aren’t you a little young to be out this late at night?” The girl stopped her whimpering and looked at him. He saw the fear reflected in her deep blue eyes slowly dissipate as she looked at the uniform. She nodded. Smiling, he held out his hand. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Excitement coursed through his body as she placed her small hand in his. This one would be a screamer. Whistling softly, he buckled her in and brushed the blonde curls away from her face. “Did you know tomorrow is Mother’s Day?”


Gavin McAllister groan, fighting the pink swirls, the arms reaching through the mist. They were calling him, their tiny hands reaching through the fog, begging, pleading. Help us Gavin. You have to hurry.
Terror built inside him. He could hear the laughter in the distance coming closer. Hollow, evil, maniacal laughter. Felt the eyes boring into him from the darkness just outside the mist. Black eyes. The quintessence of all that was evil.
The mist turned red, seeping into his brain, enveloping him in pain. Excruciating pain. Laughter. Pain. Black eyes. Screams.
Too late. You’re too late, McAllister. Every day is Mother’s Day.
Like all the times before, the scream jerked Gavin from the nightmare. Throwing off the covers he sat up, trembling and glanced at the bedside clock. Four fifty-five a.m. He groaned and ran a hand through his thick dark hair, waiting for the trembling to stop. The nightmares were getting stronger, the screams louder, closer. Different. This time there had been blood and pain. The knot in his stomach still hurt, and there was a strange ache in his chest. An eerie sadness.
“What the hell have I done?” he whispered.
His gaze strayed to the phone, mentally willing it not to ring, but knowing in his heart it would. It was Mother’s Day, and somewhere out there was the body of a young girl. The phone would ring. It always rang.
Feeling less shaky, he made his way through the dark apartment to the kitchen. Hesitating, he gritted his teeth and flipped the light switch, his gaze immediately going to his hands. He expected to find them covered in blood. The blood of the innocent. The blood of those who came to him in dreams, the ones he couldn’t save.
He cursed softly as he ground the coffee beans, started the pot to brew, and headed for the shower. He might as well be ready. It would be useless to try to go back to sleep.
The hot water from the shower helped to clear his head and ease the knot in his stomach. He needed to write down the dream, compare it to the others. Five years. The son-of-a-bitch had been inside his head five years, playing games with his sanity. Gavin examined the image in the mirror, searching for answers he could never seem to find, listening to words echoing inside his head. Too late. You’re too late, McAllister.
“Shit,” he muttered at the sound of the phone ringing. Wrapping a towel around his body, Gavin walked to the bedroom. He didn’t need to look at the caller I.D.; he knew who was on the other end.
“Hey, Rob.”
“We’ll pick you up in thirty minutes.”
“I’ll be ready.”
Dressing quickly, Gavin picked up the overnight case sitting by the bed. Rob hadn’t told him to pack a bag this time. The ache in his chest deepened, the eerie sadness spreading. This time something was different. As he sat down on the edge of the bed, he bowed his head, his thoughts in turmoil. He should have refused to work with Rob on this. All the steps he’d taken to protect his adopted brother, even changing his surname to McAllister, would be worthless if the truth came out. He was running out of time.
The ringing of the doorbell pulled him from the depths of despair. He couldn’t go there now. There would be time for that later.
“You’re early,” Gavin stated, nothing the grim faces of the two FBI agents.
“Yeah, well, traffic is kind of light this time of the morning.” Rob Walker pushed past Gavin and tossed his jacket on the nearest chair.
“I hope you made it strong,” Carl Jackson muttered, closing the door.
“Just the way you like it, Carl.”
Gavin turned his attention to his brother pacing in the small kitchen. Something was bothering Rob. Something more than the early morning call.
“I’m getting too old for this, guys. The only reason a man should get up at five in the morning is to go fishing.” Carl followed Gavin’s stare and turned to watch his partner pacing back and forth.
Gavin squeezed Carl’s shoulder and shook his head. He’d heard this song and dance the past ten years. Carl Jackson had been with the Bureau more than forty years. No matter how much he moaned and groaned, he would never retire.
“Catch this guy and I’ll buy you a fishing boat.” Rob stopped pacing and poured three cups of the strong coffee.
“The way it’s going, I’ll be too old to use it,” Carl muttered.
“We’ll catch him, Carl. No matter what it takes, we’ll get this damn bastard!” Rob gripped the coffee mug, his light blue eyes darkening into grim turbulent pools.
Gavin studied his brother over the mug of steaming coffee. “Something eating at you, Rob?”
“Yeah, the son-of-a-bitch got personal.”
Gavin raised an eyebrow in silent question.
“Hollywood Cemetery. Hit us in our own backyard.”

Traffic was light, and Gavin used the time to gather his thoughts. He’d never told Rob or Carl about the dreams. He’d entered the investigation unofficially on his own time, and he’d been surprised when Chief Walsh called him in, asking for his help. Well—not his help—the help of the famous private investigator, Jacody Ives. The master of uncovering secrets, unmasking killers. Gavin had long ago forgotten where the character in his books stopped and he began. Someone along the route, the two had become one. Or maybe they’d always been one.
The sun was just rising over the James River. Gavin watched its reflection shimmering, creating dancing diamond glints on the rippling water, as the rays penetrated the shroud of mist that surrounded Belle Island. Gavin’s thoughts turned inward, pensive, as he watched the fog separate—a thousand ghosts, dissipating in the early morning light. Places like people, rarely showed the ugliness of what lay just beneath the surface. Unlike the majority of tourists who traipsed and jogged over the hiking trails, Gavin saw the ugliness of the island. It had once been a Civil War prison harboring almost 10,000 prisoners. No one was sure just how many prisoners had died and were buried here. There were no marked graves. History was forgotten. The small island had been turned into just another tourist attraction for hikers and joggers. He wondered if the tourists ever thought about the bodies they strolled over.
He turned his attention to the road as they crossed the Robert E. Lee Bridge and pulled up to the gates of the cemetery.
“Stop a minute, Carl.” After exiting the vehicle, Gavin examined the gates for signs of forced entry.
Rob scowled, watching as Gavin examined the gates. “Nothing. How did he get past the gates? There’s no other way in.”
“Told you he’s a fucking ghost,” Carl answered.
“What do you think, Gavin?” Rob asked.
Rising from his crouched position, Gavin flexed his legs to ease the cramps. “Ghost or man, let’s see if we can’t send him to hell.”
They returned to the car and resumed their trip deep into the cemetery.
Gavin’s thoughts turned to the history of the cemetery. Harvie’s Woods had been named after Colonel John Harvie and covered acres of ground, winding over hills and valleys. Some magazine had referred to it as America’s most beautiful garden cemetery. Gavin had always thought of it as the Garden of Angels. That was what he remembered from childhood. The haunted faces and sad eyes of the angel statutes that must forever stand in silent vigil.
Presidents John Tyler and James Monroe were buried here. His mother had always said its random, timeless beauty housed the eternal dreams of people’s lives, their loves, laughter, sorrows and hopes.
“Remember when Mom and Dad brought us here all the time?” Rob turned around in the seat facing Gavin. “Said they wanted us to know our history. Learn reverence for the past and hope for the future. We ran around reading the epitaphs for hours.”
Gavin laughed. “Yeah, you would read the epitaphs and then rush to the history books to find out who killed them and why.”
Rob grinned at him. “What about you? You couldn’t wait to uncover what the epitaphs didn’t say. Always looking for secrets.”
“Your parents were both history teachers weren’t they?” Carl asked, glancing at the two brothers.
“Yeah. Mom always said you could chart the future by knowing the past.” Rob’s face turned thoughtful, his eyes reflecting the sadness that thoughts of his parents still evoked even after eight years. “Ever wonder what would have happened, Gavin, if Mom and Dad had known you were a twin and adopted Cory, too?”
Gavin shook his head and laughed. “Hadn’t thought much about it. Of course the Larsons could also have adopted both of us. Then I wouldn’t have to spend all my time looking out for you.”
Rob grumbled something unintelligible.
Gavin continued to grin. “Esprit de l’escalier, little brother?”
Gavin ignored the comment, continuing his teasing. “Of course if the Walkers had adopted both of us, then Cory would be your sister. Not getting cold feet are you?”
“No way. Cory is everything I ever wanted in life. Which reminds me, don’t forget about tomorrow. Tux fittings for both of you.” Rob grinned at Carl.
“Shit, we really got to wear them money outfits?” Carl grimaced.
“We’d better, unless we want Cory to take off our heads.” Gavin laughed. “I have been thinking though, Rob. When you and Cory get married, that makes my brother my brother-in-law and my sister my sister-in-law. So, when you two have kids, what does that make me?”
“The babysitter.” Rob smirked.
“Not in this lifetime. I’ll be the favorite uncle. Distant uncle, that is,” Gavin stated.
“Hey, don’t forget about Uncle Carl. I’ve had to watch this sorry wimp sit around moon-eyed for a year now before she finally said yes. I gotta get something out of this.” Carl feigned his best pained look.
Gavin laughed. “Okay, you can be the favorite uncle. . .and babysitter.”
The laughter stopped abruptly as they arrived at the center of the cemetery, taking in the scene before them. Carl pulled over to the side, parking the car out of the way.
“Why here?” Rob wondered out loud.
Carl shrugged, but Gavin had been wondering the same thing. Was the killer sending some message to them? Disposal sites were often picked at random. Convenience played a key role. This site had taken some serious thought and planning.
“Looks like the Blue Boys have secured the perimeter,” Carl stated flatly.
“Don’t let them hear you call them that,” Rob cautioned as they exited the car. “Politically correct, it’s Boys in Blue, or better yet, Officers in Blue.”
“Shit, everybody calls them that,” Carl muttered.
The medical examiner looked up and shook his head as they approached. From all appearances the young girl could be calmly sleeping, her blonde curls brushed delicately to the side, head turned, hands positioned under her cheek. A picture of innocence nestled among the angels watching over her. Her clothing had been carefully arranged to protect her from prying eyes. Gavin knew what the medical examiner had found beneath the clothing. What had been found four times before.
“Morning , Rex. Was it here?” Rob asked.
Rex Bray nodded as he handed over the plastic bag containing a small pink gift card.
“Kept it under wraps until you guys got here.”
Rob nodded his thanks. Rex had worked the previous cases with them and knew to keep news about the cards quiet. They’d been lucky so far. Rex had managed to convince the other medical examiners of the importance of keeping the cards secret. All they needed was a worldwide panic every Mother’s Day.
“Who found the body?” Gavin asked.
Rex nodded his head toward the young officer standing about twenty feet away. “Talk to Officer Preston. I think he was the first one on the scene.”
Rob and Carl approached the young officer, flashed their badges, and introduced themselves.
“Rob Walker and Carl Jackson, FBI,” Carl stated. “This is Gavin McAllister. Who found the body?”
“Groundskeeper when he came in this morning. Said he thought maybe she’d gotten lost and just fell asleep on the ground. Didn’t realize she was dead until he got closer.”
Gavin breathed deeply, letting it out slowly, frustration causing the knot in his stomach to catch, twist. The more people who had walked over and around the scene, the harder it would be to find anything of significance. Not that the bastard had ever left anything of significance. Even the cards were generic, found in any department or drug store across America.
Carl nodded to Rob. “We’ll need to interview him.”
Officer Preston shook his head, glancing, and then averting his gaze from the small lifeless body.
“Be a little hard. Poor guy suffered a heart attack right after he called it in. I found him when I got here. He died on the way to the hospital.”
Gavin walked a short distance from the trio, studying the ground, searching the faces of the angels. The groundskeeper’s death would be put down as natural causes, but Gavin knew it wasn’t natural. It should be recorded as a homicide. The bastard had gotten two for the price of one. And they were still stuck with no clues. Literally, another dead end.
“Okay, you guys can leave. We’ll take over from here,” Carl stated.
Officer Preston nodded. Gavin knew the young officer was glad to turn this one over to someone else. Glad he wouldn’t have to be the one who had to look into the eyes of grieving parents and tell them that their child had been murdered.
“Let’s go to work,” Rob growled.
Gavin watched as Richmond’s finest exited the scene, and wondered, work on what? The cities had changed, but nothing else. Five long years, and not one clue other than those damn cards.
“Yeah, let’s go to work,” Carl muttered.
Gavin glanced at Carl’s slumped shoulders, realizing for the first time just how old Carl really was. He should have retired years ago. The once black springy hair was not totally white. The Bureau had tried to retire him to a desk ten years ago, but Carl had fought like hell. Chief Walsh had finally given in and paired him up with Rob. Gavin figured the chief thought Rob could take care of Carl if they got into trouble. It was the other way around. Carl had ended up taking care of both of them after their parents’ death.
Rex Bray had just finished packing up his equipment and was overseeing the loading of the body.
“Same as usual. Repeated lashings with some type of belt or paddle, genitals show signs of vicious rape. Death by suffocation. Can’t tell you more until the autopsy.” He shrugged, knowing there wouldn’t be much more to tell.
“Think anybody saw the card?” Rob fingered the package hidden in his jacket pocket.
“Don’t think so. It was under the body and I put it out of sight as soon as I arrived. You need to get this guy.”
“Yeah, we know,” Rob stated, pulling the package from his pocket.
Gavin noted the look on Rob’s face, and took the package from him. “I’ll read it.”
Rob simply nodded. Gavin knew that Rob and Cory wanted children. A case like this screwed with your head. Made you doubt your ability to protect your own child. He knew that Rob was thinking about that now.
Pulling on tight surgical gloves, Gavin took out the small card, grimacing as he read the message.
A gift for you.
Ah, sweet little one, the salt of your tears, the music of your screams brings joy to my ears. Every day is Mother’s Day.
Not quite the same. Gavin shivered as he ran his fingers over the words on the card. Every day is Mother’s Day.
The ringing of Rob’s cell phone broke the uneasy silence.
Gavin mentally shook himself, pulling away from the darkness of his thoughts. He stopped looking at the card to listen to the one-sided conversation.
“What’s up, Chief?”
Frustration and anger darkened Rob’s features.
“We just started here. Wait a damn minute. This is our case.”
Rob listened another second before slamming the cell phone shut.
“The chief wants us at the office. You too, Gavin.”
“What’s up?” Gavin asked.
“He wouldn’t say. He’s sending Johnny and Brad out to the scene.”
“Shit, they’re just novices. Not ready for this kind of scene.” Carl reached for a cigarette. “Damn,” he grunted, realizing he’d left them in the car.
“Yeah, well, tell it to the chief,” Rob snarled angrily as he strode toward the car.
Gavin felt as if he were wearing lead shoes, each step a slow painful process. The wind had picked up, and the rustling through the leaves whispered to him. Too late.


Sheriff Sarah Burns pulled off the road and parked near the site of Saturday night’s tragic accident. Unnatural deaths were rare in Glade Springs, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’s missed something. An image of Morgana Nelson clutching the body of her daughter, her heartbroken cry echoing through the morgue, flashed through Sarah’s mind.
Maybe it was only wishful thinking. The Nelsons were good people, and Johanna had been their only child. The accident made no sense. Johanna wasn’t the typical eighteen-year-old. She didn’t run off to Edgewood or Richmond after graduation, looking for a larger city, more excitement. She didn’t stay out late. She didn’t drive fast. She didn’t drink. So why had she been here, driving so fast she missed the curve? The toxicology reports weren’t in yet, but the body reeked with the smell of alcohol. The Nelsons had questions, needed answers.
Climbing out of the Explorer, Sarah walked toward the curve as she closed out the noises around her, traveling the path Johanna had driven. Emotions were strong here. She could feel the sadness—and the anger. Johanna was upset.
Sarah moved into the curve slowly, feeling the shift in the emotions surrounding her. Panic took over, quickly turning to fear. She retraced the path the car had taken as it skidded off the road into the huge oak tree.
Crouching near the point of impact, she placed her hand on the earth and closed her eyes. For a brief moment she felt physical pain and then all emotions ceased.
Sighing, Sarah stood up. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find. Let it go, Sarah, she chided herself. Some questions have no answers.
Heaving another sign, Sarah started toward her vehicle. She was tired, looking forward to a quiet evening at home. Last night’s dream had upset her. All day she’d been haunted by the image of the dark brown eyes filled with pain, the heart-wrenching cry that had jerked her from an uneasy sleep. The whispered message that had kept her lying awake, trembling as she listened to the sounds of the night.
She hated the dreams. Hated the feeling of helplessness they created inside her as the dying reached out, sending messages to loved ones, or crying out for vengeance against their attacker. Only this time the dream had been different. This time the message was for Sarah.
Sarah shook herself mentally, pushing away the memories, the fear. It was just a dream. And this was just a horrible accident. Accidents happened—especially when teenagers drank. Her foot touched the passenger tire track imprinted in the soft earth near the tree. A feeling of panic clutched at her, growing stronger, making it hard to breathe.
“Jesus,” she muttered as she stepped away from the track, breathing deeply.
Kneeling, she touched the earth, holding her breath, as emotions flowed through her fingertips. Unlike the driver’s side, the panic here continued to escalate. There was no physical pain, no ceasing of emotion. This was what had been bugging her. The something missing. Johanna Nelson had died almost instantly, but she hadn’t died alone. Someone else had been in the car with her when she crashed into that tree.

The trip to Parham Road was a forty-five minute drive from the cemetery, but Carl seemed determined to make it in twenty. Gavin watched as Carl weaved in and out of traffic, cursing and blowing his horn. The old man’s hands were gripped tightly around the steering wheel. They were all feeling it. Ninety percent of all investigative work was instinct, and instinct told them something bad was wrong.
“God, I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Rob stated, breaking the uneasy silence in the car.
Carl nodded. “Yeah, me too.”
Gavin remained silent. The knot in his stomach had returned, a burning, gnawing pain. His heart still ached with a loneliness that spread throughout his soul. Somehow he knew what waited for them would forever change their lives. Time had run out.
Jennifer Warner looked up as the three men entered the office. “You guys must have been moving,” she stated looking at her watch. Only twenty-five minutes had passed since she’d placed the call for the chief. “The chief wants. . .”
Rob brushed past her, heading for Chief Walsh’s office. “Yeah, we know what the chief wants.”
Not bothering to knock, Rob opened the door, ready to blast out his anger and frustration. One look at the chief’s face stopped him.
“Close the door and sit down, Rob. Carl. Gavin, it’s good to see you again.”
Gavin nodded, watching the chief fidget with paperwork on his desk as he waited for them to take their seats. Gavin remained standing. He studied Chief Walsh’s face. Walsh was a hard man, but a good man. His face revealed little, but the pale gray eyes held a look of compassion and sadness. Whatever he was about to say, it wasn’t good news.”
Chief Walsh sighed. “There’s no easy way to say this. The body of Corrine Larson was discovered in a dumpster outside her apartment this morning. She was murdered.”
Gavin heard his brother’s whispered word as he reached out, grabbing onto the chair to steady himself, struggling to breathe. He knew he should go to Rob, but his head felt light, as if a huge fist had slammed into his gut, knocking the breath from his body. Shock washed over him in waves.
“That’s not possible. She not even here. She’s off somewhere researching a story. It’s not her. We’re getting married next week.” Rob was rambling.
“It’s her, Rob. She’s already been identified by a co-worker at the paper. I’m sorry.” Chief Walsh avoided meeting Rob’s eyes.
Leaping up from the chair, Rob yelled at the chief. “It’s not her!”
“Where is she?” Carl asked the question quietly, his voice filled with reverence.
“County morgue.”
Carl nodded. He knew what had to be done. Rob had done the same thing for him five years ago when Sharon had been killed in an automobile crash. You had to see the body. It was the only way. Taking Rob’s arm Carl pulled him toward the door. “We’ll call you,” he stated, as he opened the door and pushed Rob through it.
Gavin stood silent as Carl pulled and pushed Rob through the door, not waiting for an answer, or for Gavin to follow. Carl knew Gavin would follow. After all, Gavin was the strong one. Right now, Rob needed Carl the most. Partners were often closer than brothers. They knew each other’s secrets, pains, hopes and dreams. Gavin knew them, too. He knew that Carl was wishing for a cigarette. And he knew Carl regretted not listening to his wife, taking early retirement and buying that fishing boat.

The trip to the morgue took less than ten minutes. Carl parked the car in front, ignoring the “No Parking” sign. The morgue was dreary on a good day. Today it was dark, malevolent.
“It’s not her, Carl.”
“You gotta do this kid. You gotta know.” Carl placed his hand on Rob’s shoulder.
Gavin felt as if his face had turned to stone. He wanted to say something, but no words would come. Instead he watched, his thoughts muddled, painful, as Carl offered Rob comfort. It should be me, he thought. I should be comforting him. A cold, steady reserve enveloped him. A numbness that seeped through his heart and mind. No, not me. This is my fault.
His legs felt stiff as he followed Carl and Rob. He retreated deeper into his mind, seeking the comfort of his alter ego, Jacody Ives. Jacody would know what to do. And he wouldn’t feel anything. Couldn’t afford to feel anything. Too many demons in his head. Too many losses in his life.
A sliver of pain sliced through Gavin’s heart as Carl pushed open the double doors. Too late, McAllister. You’re too late.
The attendant barely glanced up as he stated, “Viewing room is upstairs. Who do you want to see?”
Carl glared at him before flashing his badge. “No viewing room. We want to see Corrine Larson.”
The attendant looked at the badge, shrugged, and glanced down at the papers before him.
“Number eighteen.”
“She ain’t no goddamn number, buddy,” Carl growled.
The attendant started to make some flippant remark, but changed his mind as he looked into the murderous glint of Carl’s dark eyes. “Hey, it’s not personal.”
No one bothered to answer. This time it was personal. Too personal.
Gavin followed silently behind the others, still examining his feelings. Cory was his twin, the other half of his soul. Would he hurt worse if he’d known her longer? Fate had separated them as babies. The Larsons had adopted Cory only one day before the Walkers adopted him. For twenty-nine years he hadn’t known she existed. Only that something was missing from his life. Something vital. Now, she was gone, just as if she’d never been there.
The attendant had stopped in front of the drawer number 18. He reached for the handle and Carl stopped him.
“Get out.”
Rob stood frozen in front of the drawer. Inside lay his hopes, his dreams, his future. With trembling hands, he grasped the handle and pulled out the shelf. His eyes focused on the white sheet over the body, his hands shaking as he reached to pull it back.
“Want me to do it?” Carl moved closer.
Rob shook his head and took a deep breath. It wasn’t her. It was all a mistake. It couldn’t be her. Rob touched the sheet and slowly pulled it away from the body. Pain hit Gavin, a bolt of lightning, starting in his gut, forcing the air out of his body.
“Dear God…” Reaching out, Rob touched her hair and drew back his hand, looking at the traces of dried blood on his fingers. Her blood.
“Son-of-a-bitch.” Carl pulled him away from the body, holding him as Rob bent forward, retching. The smell of vomit filled the air.
Gavin forced himself to look at the body. It bore no resemblance to the pretty young woman he remembered. Gone was her laugh, her love of life. He didn’t feel the same shock as Rob. Somehow he’d known. He’d known since he woke up this morning that the dream was different. Laughter filled his head. You’re too late.
Gavin felt his jaw tighten. Everything seemed distant. He heard the sobs of his brother, smelled the vomit. Watched as Carl wiped the blood from Rob’s hand with his handkerchief. He welcomed the numbness that spread from his mind, through his body, settling around his heart. Turning to what remained of the other half of his soul, he whispered, “As God is my witness, Cory, I’ll find whoever did this. And may God have mercy on him, because I won’t.”
Gavin pulled the sheet up over the body. He wanted to say something. Needed to say something. For the first time in his life words failed him. He closed the drawer.
“Let’s go, kid. We can’t do anything else for her. We need to get Rob out of here.”
Gavin nodded, following Carl out of the building. He checked his watch. Five hours had passed since the early morning call. A lifetime. The warmth of the sun touched his face as his gaze drifted to the morning edition of the Herald. The headline branded its message inside his head.


Gavin sat nursing his third glass of brandy, as the apartment grew dark around him. In the past two days he’d grown to hate the light. Everywhere he looked he saw Cory. She was everywhere in the apartment—the drapes, the paintings on the wall, the furniture, the French cameo vase. He remembered her face the first time she’d come here, her words. Gavin Colin McAllister, this is a disaster. She’d immediately set about changing everything in the apartment. Her zest for beauty an inspiration, she’d turned the drab apartment into a home.
Gavin rose from the sofa, walked to the bar, and poured another glass of brandy. No matter how much he drank, he couldn’t get the headline out of his head. Just words. He was a writer, made his living with words. He knew the impact of words was in direct correlation to the motions of the reader. Words could be twisted, knives to open up wounds long hidden. Maneuvered to evoke buried nightmares. Bare the soul, expose the wound, and you had a best seller. Make them laugh. Make them cry. But above all, make them feel something. He was an expert at manipulating words for emotion.
But he’d seen the body.
He emptied the glass of brandy, welcoming the burn in his throat. The blinking red light on the answering machine was a constant reminder of his shame, his guilt. He should have erased the message. Instead, he tormented himself by playing it again.
Gavin, it’s Carl. Rob collapsed. I’m taking him to the hospital. I’ll call you.
Carl would call, but he wouldn’t answer. It was better this way. Better for all of them if he simply disappeared. The darkness followed him. And wherever the darkness was, death was close behind.
Gavin, you have to help them.
Cory was standing in the shadows of the living room. “Cory?” His mind registered what his heart refused to believe. Cory was dead. He closed his eyes, counted to ten and reopened them. She was still there, her beautiful ethereal form a light in the darkness.
Gavin, please protect her.
She drifted across the room, stopping in front of the stack of mail he’d tossed on the coffee table. She smiled at him, a small wistful smile that broke the ice around his heart. Tears began to flow down his face. “Cory?” He choked on the word, reaching for her. She drifted away from him.
Protect her Gavin. If she dies, my death will have no meaning.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he wiped his eyes. “I don’t understand, Cory. Who?”
Her light shimmered, fading into the darkness.
Gavin stood motionless, his mind blurred by the brandy. He was drunk. That had to be it. Hallucinating.
How many hallucinations ask you to protect someone?
“Go away, Jacody.” Gavin groaned slumping on the sofa, head between his hands. He’d never cried before. Not even at the death of his parents. He felt strange inside, hollow.
She came here to tell you something.
“God, I need a drink.”
You can run, but there’s no place to hide, Gavin. We have to protect them.
“We?” Gavin laughed hollowly. “You’re a character in a book. There is no we.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. You have to protect them, or her. A mystery. Secrets.
Gavin curled his hands into fists. Raising his head, he focused on the red blinking light of the answering machine. Jacody had always been his voice of reason. The hero. Now, it was his turn. There was no story, no book rights. Cory was dead, and Rob needed him. And if Cory was right, somewhere out there, someone else needed him.
He picked up the stack of mail. The wedding invitation on top started a new wave of pain, but he tossed it aside, digging through the envelopes until he found the small postcard. He ran his fingers over the writing, closing his eyes. He allowed himself a moment of grief, feeling her love, her warmth wash over him. Trembling, he opened his eyes to read the card.

Gavin, I’ve found a great story. I’m worried though, because it
may have something to do with this case Rob is working on.
The Mother’s Day thing. I’ll call you tonight. Love, Cory.

He fought the rage that threatened to consume him. Fought the tenebrosity that pulled at his soul. Cory deserved better than that. She’d died to protect someone.
He examined the card, the old building burning its image in his mind. The Lodge, Glade Springs, West Virginia.
Cory’s words echoed in his mind. The Mother’s Day thing. What was it Rob had said? The son-of-a-bitch got personal. Hit us in our own backyard.
It wasn’t a story this time. This time it was personal. The demon of his nightmares had no name, but now he knew where to look for him. Glade Springs had secrets. And no one uncovered secrets better than Jacody Ives.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What Makes A Great Mystery

Before becoming a mystery/suspense author, I was and still am an avid mystery/suspense reader. Perhaps I'm just a detective at heart. I love following the subtle clues, fleshing out the characters underlying personalities and guessing--and then waiting until that last page and finding out if I was actually a good detective, or because of my bungles the killer would have gone free.

A good mystery needs a good plot, and possibly several sub-plots to keep the reader guessing. So if you're starting a mystery today, consider the following:

1) A believable protagonist. Every believable protagonist makes mistakes. They don't walk from point a to point b and capture the killer. They struggle, both with the clues themselves as well as their own inner struggles which make you like them or love them and want to follow them all the way to the end.

2) A really intelligent bad guy. Criminals are not stupid. In fact, many are brilliant. Your bad guy must be able to lead your main character on a chase--which of course should have a good ending, the killer punished by being caught or well. . . .

3) Clues. Readers are not stupid either. And we love to follow clues. Figure out the answers and use our own imagination. So leave plenty of clues to allow your reader to make an educated guess, and follow you to the end--just to see if they're right.

4) Reality in place and time. Research your period. Not just the architecture, but the language, the dress. Mini skirts weren't prevalent in the 1920's. At least not on the street. A mistake in time and place can stop a reader dead cold and make them wonder what you were thinking, or what the heck did they just read.

Should a mystery have a sequel? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It truly depends on your character and your readers. After writing The Gifts, many of my readers wanted to know more. More about Jacody. What caused the split between him and Gavin. Loved or hated, they wanted more. So I didn't write a sequel. I wrote a prequil. The story behind the story. I sort of did a Star Wars. Wasn't my original intention, but I wanted to give my readers what they wanted.

Sacred Secrets was a character driven novel all the way for me. To be honest--I guessed, but I truly didn't know 100% for sure who was the bad guy--until the last three chapters. Was I surprised? Yeah, I sat back in my chair and looked at Coby and said, "Geeze, I would never have guessed that."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Artist's Way

Have you ever met someone and they didn't quite seem all there? Well, you probably met an artist. Either a author, poet, musician, painter, actor--some form of artist.

Growing up I thought I was simply different. Perhaps a little weird. My mind never seemed to be quite "right here". I made good enough grades. I have friends. My family wasn't all that functional, but then whose family really is when you're young?

It wasn't until many years later when I joined a writer's group that I realized my disease. I walked into a room of 50 people I had never met before and yet felt as if I had come home. These were my family. They were all like me. All never quite "right here".

So what makes me think of this now? As a paranormal investigator I spend hours listening to audio tapes. The most unusual one taken in my kitchen from one a.m. until six a.m. Why? Well, let's just say things were a little crazy around here and I wanted to know what was going on after I went to sleep. What will I do if I actually hear something? Heck if I know. Probably write it into another novel.

The mind of the artist works on images, dreams, thoughts and imagination. I wrote a story once that dealt with dreamers and the fact that I wasn't really here. I was simply the dream of a dreamer. Interesting concept and one that has been explored in other stories by other authors. Mine dealt with the fact that the dream watcher fell in love with one of the young women here on earth. Another concept that has been explored by other writers at other times. Each time someone hurt her--well, he woke up that person's dreamer, and of course they died. I'm not sure what I did with that story. Doesn't really matter. There are a million others rolling around in my head all the time. Which is why I'm never really quite here. The story ended with Caroline in a mental institution. She wasn't crazy of course, but to the world she was. She was singing a song:
"It doesn't matter what you feel,
Nothing is what it seems,
For we're not really real,
We're just someone else's dream."

For an artist dreaming is a way of life. We create our own reality with words and pictures. But most of all we feel. And those feelings must be expressed either in words or colors or sounds. Many artists are loners due to the fact they feel so deeply. Pain cuts so deep.

Sometimes I do feel that I'm not really real. That nothing is what I perceive it to be. And that perhaps I am just someone else's dream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


As a mother I remember the necessity of burping the baby after feeding. You didn't always know what you were going to get. A nice quiet burp with no smell, or one that woke the dead immediately followed by a stream of vomit that smelled to the heavens. Book reviews are much the same. And they're just as necessary as that burp for the baby.

To me as a reader book reviews are not all that necessary. I choose books based on their cover, which makes me pick it up, the back blurb which catches my interest a little more and the first page. The first page needs to give me something I want to know.

Here in the real world of libraries, bookstores and readers groups that isn't always the case. Many of them want reviews and they want reviews from reputable reviewers like Kirkus and Pulisher's Weekly or the New York Times. On limited budgets this is how they choose many of the books they decide to purchase or represent.

As a new author many times, unless your publisher is huge, it's very difficult to get a review by Kirkus and/or Publisher's Weekly and my understanding is the New York Times only reviews the best sellers list. So how does a new author, especially a self-published author break the chain of no reviews? You research--and you keep trying. A recent article stated that a new author should send out 200 review copies to every place they could think of. For self-published authors this is a little stiff. So perhaps not 200, but as many as you can reasonably afford.

Should you pay for a review? Well, that's difficult to actually determine. It depends on the who is doing the review. Kirkus Discoveries accepts self-published authors. The price is rather stiff, but a good review there could really help you in the area of marketing your book.

So what if you get a bad review? Does that mean you should stop? No. In my humble opinion a bad review is just as good as a good review in many cases. It gets your name out there. Some people may not even read the actual review, just note that you were reviewed and therefore pick up your book and buy it, or ask their local library to order it so they can read it. Either way you made a sale.

So if you're working on a new baby, or have an old baby sitting around that needs burping, pat it on the back and find a reputable reviewer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Future of Writing and Reading

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be published, or are thinking about publishing and follow the markets, trends and general publishing information are quickly realizing that everything is changing. The prediction is that e-books will far outsell printed books by the year 2018. POD is becoming a way of life, and soon bookstores will not have the old browsing sections of books you can flip through, or grab a seat and read part of. Instead you will push a button and the book you want will be printed and bound right before your eyes. Amazing.

Bookstores are closing all over the country. Publishers going bankrupt. As a writer this is scarey to me, but as a voracious reader it is terrifying. It isn't that I'm not technologically inclined, and I can't purchase, download and read an e-book. It's that I don't want to. For me I would lose the pleasure of holding that old classic, turning its pages, and entering its world. I lose the pleasure of holding my granddaughter in my lap as I read to her, and let her turn the pages.

As a writer, I realize that e-book publishing is cheaper, and viral marketing many times more effective. I've delayed the release of my second novel, Sacred Secrets due to the economy and the high price of books at the moment. New authors are always at a disadvantage when selling side by side with the known best sellers, but we're placed at even more of a disadvantage when our books are priced anywhere from $4.00 to $8.00 more than the best sellers. As a reader, and a person who keeps a lot of the books I buy, I'm only going to spend $20.00 to $25.00 on someone I know I'm going to enjoy. Therefore, as a reader I myself pass up a lot of new authors that may be just as good, but their prices prohibit me from buying their books.

So, will I conform to e-books? As an author, I assume that I must. As a reader, I doubt seriously that I will ever be a big e-book fan. Nor an audio book fan. I will always want to hold that book, run my fingers over those pages and slip in my favorite bookmark at my stopping place.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Characters - Bits and Pieces of Me

One of the more interesting questions I was asked at a book signing was where my characters came from. I have to admit at the time I really hadn't given it much thought. They were fictional.
I recently reread my first novel, The Gifts. Just to make sure that I didn't make any mistakes in the prequel, Sacred Secrets. Writing a series you have to be sure you don't make that dreaded mistake of changing eye color or hair color, or other important things.
Like all authors I have my favorite characters. Those I feel a special affinity with. But it wasn't until I finished Sacred Secrets and reread The Gifts that I realized many of my characters were bits and pieces of me. My dreams. My fears. My life.
Sacred Secrets was written on reader request. Many people wanted to know more about Jacody Ives. Where he came from. What made him like he is. And what happened to Gavin McAllister that caused the split.
Life happened to Gavin McAllister. Lies. Secrets. Pain. And no one hates lies and secrets more than Jacody Ives. Except perhaps me.
Everyone has secrets. Things they hide within the dark depths of their minds. Darkness spurred on my evil intent. They believe themselves safe, secure in the knowledge their secret is hidden from prying eyes. But that's never enough for the darkness. It soon grows hungry. A hunger fed by fear. Silent screams. The rapid beat of hearts. Death.
My children would be the first to tell you that you should never lie to me. I can deal with almost anything, and forgive almost anything. I would stand by my family and my friends through all things, but only when I'm told the truth.
Lies and secrets destroy the very foundations of friendship and family. What starts out small escalates until the light of love and friendship is overcome by the darkness of lies and deceit.
So Jacody Ives is actually a little bit of me. As are all my characters. He hates lies and secrets. He would die for those he loves. But he doesn't fool himself. There's a part of him that's evil. Waiting, watching, hoping the balance will shift. Set it free. Give it life.
And isn't that truly a part of all of us? It's why I hate lies and secrets. They fester into open wounds that pull you into the darkness. The weight of the world on your shoulders.
The truth may not always set you free--but it breaks a lot of chains that bind you. We are not always in charge--but we are always responsible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Streams of consciousness--Be Still My Child

Never too old to learn I remember when streams of consciousness writing started to appear in books, articles, etcetera. I didn't particularly like it. It felt strange. But it can be useful at times.

I can hear it now. I know it's coming. Am I strong enough. Can the light of my love overcome the shadows of hate? My heart flutters. I'm scared. To not be scared is to be stupid. Years have passed. I miss you. You were with me in the beginning--be with me now. If I rise or if I fall it makes no difference if you're at my side.

Love shall lift me
On its wings
As truth clears the way
God has forgiven all my sins
as I knelt to pray
Forgive me Father, touch my hand
Dry my crying eyes
Love shall lift me on its wings
Love shall help me fly

Be still my child
For I am near
My love shall set you free
Be still my child
For I am light
The darkness is not in me
Be still my child

In context of a story--it has no meaning. But in context of inner thoughts of a character it could be invaluable. The struggle, the prayer, the answer. Perhaps it is all that simple.

I had a writer tell me she was going to pitch her novel and start over. Never pitch your writing. Perhaps the story as a novel doesn't work, but if you comb through it there are probably many little jewels just waiting to be found.