Thursday, May 26, 2016

Just in time for your long holiday weekend, my new novel Almost There is now available on all channels! It's a gripping summer read about sacrifice, forgiveness, and the surprising ways God meets our deepest needs.

Here's a snippet from the first page:

In Paris, art seeps into your feet and drips from your fingertips. Dark-eyed buskers in berets squeeze out sweet accordion songs, and the birds trill along. The air tastes like crème brûlée; the light is melted butter. Or so I’ve heard. In two weeks, I’ll find out for myself.

I can see it all now: In the golden mornings, Mum and I will set up matching easels on the banks of the Seine and paint side-by-side. She’ll be too excited to sleep till noon, too inspired to stare blankly at the wall. Her sadness will fall away like a too-heavy coat, and she’ll once again fill canvas after canvas with works of aching beauty. 



Short description:
Paris, the City of Lights. To seventeen-year-old Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches a plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save.

Add it on Goodreads
Read the first four chapters for FREE on Wattpad

Purchase the ebook on Amazon (US) / Barnes and Noble / Smashwords / KoboApple iTunes
Purchase the paperback from Createspace / Amazon (US) / Barnes and Noble

Giveaway

To celebrate the release, I'm running a fun giveaway of an Almost There themed gift basket. Enter by June 9 for a chance to win.


The gift contains:
Paris-themed lined journal
Be Still: a Psalms adult coloring book
Trouvaille vanilla candle 
Parisian market-style wire basket with linen liner

Here's a peek inside the coloring book:


Not only does this verse nicely sum up some
of Dani's goals and struggles in Almost There, but also
a dressmaker dummy makes an appearance in the novel.
Intrigued?

Enter to win using the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thursday, May 26, 2016 Laurel Garver
Just in time for your long holiday weekend, my new novel Almost There is now available on all channels! It's a gripping summer read about sacrifice, forgiveness, and the surprising ways God meets our deepest needs.

Here's a snippet from the first page:

In Paris, art seeps into your feet and drips from your fingertips. Dark-eyed buskers in berets squeeze out sweet accordion songs, and the birds trill along. The air tastes like crème brûlée; the light is melted butter. Or so I’ve heard. In two weeks, I’ll find out for myself.

I can see it all now: In the golden mornings, Mum and I will set up matching easels on the banks of the Seine and paint side-by-side. She’ll be too excited to sleep till noon, too inspired to stare blankly at the wall. Her sadness will fall away like a too-heavy coat, and she’ll once again fill canvas after canvas with works of aching beauty. 



Short description:
Paris, the City of Lights. To seventeen-year-old Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches a plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save.

Add it on Goodreads
Read the first four chapters for FREE on Wattpad

Purchase the ebook on Amazon (US) / Barnes and Noble / Smashwords / KoboApple iTunes
Purchase the paperback from Createspace / Amazon (US) / Barnes and Noble

Giveaway

To celebrate the release, I'm running a fun giveaway of an Almost There themed gift basket. Enter by June 9 for a chance to win.


The gift contains:
Paris-themed lined journal
Be Still: a Psalms adult coloring book
Trouvaille vanilla candle 
Parisian market-style wire basket with linen liner

Here's a peek inside the coloring book:


Not only does this verse nicely sum up some
of Dani's goals and struggles in Almost There, but also
a dressmaker dummy makes an appearance in the novel.
Intrigued?

Enter to win using the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 20, 2016

Book series are all the rage in publishing, Readers enjoy spending more time with familiar characters and/or worlds, and series promise a kind of brand consistency that the risk-averse reader appreciates. They know that if they like your style and content, they're more likely to continue liking your other similar works.

That doesn't automatically mean one should only write series. If you are a young writer, it might be wiser to experiment in numerous genres until you hit your stride and wait to invest time in creating series once you've found the sweet spot --stories that you like to write and readers like to read.

Some genres lend themselves to particular types of series more than others. Romances rarely if ever span several books with the same characters. Romance arcs are usually constrained by reader expectations of a happy ending, not a cliffhanger. Romance series tend to be joined by locale or by theme, spanning numerous discrete pairings whose stories might or might not overlap.

Mystery series tend to follow the same sleuth, but move from case to case, again, eschewing the cliffhanger model. Readers expect a mystery to be resolved by book's end--to be a stand-alone product. The sleuth might develop over the series, or he or she might be a more steady force and the appeal is the new intellectual puzzle rather than character development.

It's in adventure, science fiction, and fantasy (and their subgenres, like dystopian) where cliffhanger endings and incomplete arcs are more the norm. But look at series like Harry Potter, and you'll find that each book has a complete, contained arc, while each book also contributes to and moves forward a larger, whole-series arc. Whether you could create such a series by building on a stand-alone is debatable, however. Rowling's work clearly was heavily planned and structured to give equal weight to each volume's arc as well as the series arc. So I'd think twice about attempting to take your stand-alone fantasy and expect to have a series arc pop out without having been planned it, with seeds planted that have yet to come to fruition.

With those genre-trope caveats out of the way, I'd like to suggest some ways to build series when you've written stand-alone books.

Same world

Some of McCaffrey's Pern series (via Amazon.com)

Frank Herbert's Dune series follows several different characters through a universe he creates in which space travel is made possible through an altered-mind state caused by a rare drug, Spice, found on the desert planet Arrakis. Whoever controls the Spice controls the universe.

Anne McCaffrey's Pern series take place on the planet Pern, where human colonists genetically modified lizards into dragons in order to fight a sky-borne menace called Thread. Books cover everything from the first colonization to generations of dragonriders over centuries, and include other professions in the planet's guild system during its "middle ages," such as healers (Nerilka's Story) and bards (Dragonsinger, Dragonsong, Dragondrums).

If you've spent considerable time and effort building a unique setting, consider how you might use the setting for other stories, focused on other characters and/or other segments of society. It doesn't necessarily need to be a fantastical or otherworld setting either. A New Adult author might work with a particular invented college campus with unique majors or unique campus features. A cozy mystery writer  might set all of the stories in the same region with different amateur sleuths. A literary fiction writer might follow several generations who live in the same oddball town.

Imagine how the unique setting might change over time because of the events in your stand-alone. Consider picking up with your main character's children or grandchildren, or with a secondary or even tertiary character you wished you could have developed more in your first book.

Spin-off characters


L.M. Montgomery's Anne series contains seven books, five that focus on Anne Shirley, and two with her children, Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside. This series follows Anne from childhood, when she is adopted by the Cuthbert siblings, into her teen years, college, early career, marriage and motherhood, moving to several locales in Canada. Once Anne is fairly settled and no longer having madcap adventures, her kids carry on.

Perhaps the sidekick character in your first book would like his or her own story. Or perhaps you'd like to carry forward what happens next from the love interest's point of view, as Gayle Foreman did with both If I Stay / Where She Went and Just One Day / Just One Year.  Perhaps you'd like to experiment with changing genres without switching brands, so spin off a younger or older character and write his or her story in your existing world, but write it as middle grade, or young adult or adult.

Thematic series


If you feel like no characters are begging to have their own story, and you want to try a new setting, consider building a thematic series of stand-alones. The books might have the same kind of content--all coming-of-age, all awkward romances, all entrepreneurs struggling with start up businesses. Or they might have complementary themes, like Melody Carlson does with her True Colors series, each a faith-based story about a teen struggling with a particular social problem, like peer pressure, substance abuse, jealousy, heartbreak, abuse, depression.

Unfinished business


Even if your stand-alone book tied up several loose ends, there might be some that you chose to leave to the reader's imagination, merely hint at, or simply chose to not address for fear the denouement would feel unrealistically tidy. That's the case with my second book, Almost There. It picks up a year and a half after my first book, which deals with my main character losing her dad. But while I gesture toward Dani and her mother heading toward a better relationship, I leave somewhat open ended what that might look like in the future. And her mother's family, Dani learns, have a history of dysfunction that's only briefly examined in Never Gone.

Think about the  How to Train Your Dragon films. While Hiccup and his father have largely reconciled at the end of the first film, it remains to be seen how their relationship will change as Hiccup matures from teenager to man. Plus, the first film hints at the hole left by the loss of Hiccup's mother--a loss shrouded in mystery. That mystery comes to the fore in the sequel.

Unfinished business stories work only if you love your character enough to stick with them into their future. What parts of your initial novel weren't tidily tied up? Conversely, which tidily tied up things might, in time, fall apart? What minor characters lurking in the background want to come forward and interact with your protagonist? What aspects of your protagonist's flaws do you believe will loom large and cause conflict in the future? Build on your previous story, considering where natural consequences would lead over time.

If time has passed since your initial release, it's wise to work to make the sequel understandable as a stand-alone itself.

What are some of your favorite books series and why?
Friday, May 20, 2016 Laurel Garver
Book series are all the rage in publishing, Readers enjoy spending more time with familiar characters and/or worlds, and series promise a kind of brand consistency that the risk-averse reader appreciates. They know that if they like your style and content, they're more likely to continue liking your other similar works.

That doesn't automatically mean one should only write series. If you are a young writer, it might be wiser to experiment in numerous genres until you hit your stride and wait to invest time in creating series once you've found the sweet spot --stories that you like to write and readers like to read.

Some genres lend themselves to particular types of series more than others. Romances rarely if ever span several books with the same characters. Romance arcs are usually constrained by reader expectations of a happy ending, not a cliffhanger. Romance series tend to be joined by locale or by theme, spanning numerous discrete pairings whose stories might or might not overlap.

Mystery series tend to follow the same sleuth, but move from case to case, again, eschewing the cliffhanger model. Readers expect a mystery to be resolved by book's end--to be a stand-alone product. The sleuth might develop over the series, or he or she might be a more steady force and the appeal is the new intellectual puzzle rather than character development.

It's in adventure, science fiction, and fantasy (and their subgenres, like dystopian) where cliffhanger endings and incomplete arcs are more the norm. But look at series like Harry Potter, and you'll find that each book has a complete, contained arc, while each book also contributes to and moves forward a larger, whole-series arc. Whether you could create such a series by building on a stand-alone is debatable, however. Rowling's work clearly was heavily planned and structured to give equal weight to each volume's arc as well as the series arc. So I'd think twice about attempting to take your stand-alone fantasy and expect to have a series arc pop out without having been planned it, with seeds planted that have yet to come to fruition.

With those genre-trope caveats out of the way, I'd like to suggest some ways to build series when you've written stand-alone books.

Same world

Some of McCaffrey's Pern series (via Amazon.com)

Frank Herbert's Dune series follows several different characters through a universe he creates in which space travel is made possible through an altered-mind state caused by a rare drug, Spice, found on the desert planet Arrakis. Whoever controls the Spice controls the universe.

Anne McCaffrey's Pern series take place on the planet Pern, where human colonists genetically modified lizards into dragons in order to fight a sky-borne menace called Thread. Books cover everything from the first colonization to generations of dragonriders over centuries, and include other professions in the planet's guild system during its "middle ages," such as healers (Nerilka's Story) and bards (Dragonsinger, Dragonsong, Dragondrums).

If you've spent considerable time and effort building a unique setting, consider how you might use the setting for other stories, focused on other characters and/or other segments of society. It doesn't necessarily need to be a fantastical or otherworld setting either. A New Adult author might work with a particular invented college campus with unique majors or unique campus features. A cozy mystery writer  might set all of the stories in the same region with different amateur sleuths. A literary fiction writer might follow several generations who live in the same oddball town.

Imagine how the unique setting might change over time because of the events in your stand-alone. Consider picking up with your main character's children or grandchildren, or with a secondary or even tertiary character you wished you could have developed more in your first book.

Spin-off characters


L.M. Montgomery's Anne series contains seven books, five that focus on Anne Shirley, and two with her children, Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside. This series follows Anne from childhood, when she is adopted by the Cuthbert siblings, into her teen years, college, early career, marriage and motherhood, moving to several locales in Canada. Once Anne is fairly settled and no longer having madcap adventures, her kids carry on.

Perhaps the sidekick character in your first book would like his or her own story. Or perhaps you'd like to carry forward what happens next from the love interest's point of view, as Gayle Foreman did with both If I Stay / Where She Went and Just One Day / Just One Year.  Perhaps you'd like to experiment with changing genres without switching brands, so spin off a younger or older character and write his or her story in your existing world, but write it as middle grade, or young adult or adult.

Thematic series


If you feel like no characters are begging to have their own story, and you want to try a new setting, consider building a thematic series of stand-alones. The books might have the same kind of content--all coming-of-age, all awkward romances, all entrepreneurs struggling with start up businesses. Or they might have complementary themes, like Melody Carlson does with her True Colors series, each a faith-based story about a teen struggling with a particular social problem, like peer pressure, substance abuse, jealousy, heartbreak, abuse, depression.

Unfinished business


Even if your stand-alone book tied up several loose ends, there might be some that you chose to leave to the reader's imagination, merely hint at, or simply chose to not address for fear the denouement would feel unrealistically tidy. That's the case with my second book, Almost There. It picks up a year and a half after my first book, which deals with my main character losing her dad. But while I gesture toward Dani and her mother heading toward a better relationship, I leave somewhat open ended what that might look like in the future. And her mother's family, Dani learns, have a history of dysfunction that's only briefly examined in Never Gone.

Think about the  How to Train Your Dragon films. While Hiccup and his father have largely reconciled at the end of the first film, it remains to be seen how their relationship will change as Hiccup matures from teenager to man. Plus, the first film hints at the hole left by the loss of Hiccup's mother--a loss shrouded in mystery. That mystery comes to the fore in the sequel.

Unfinished business stories work only if you love your character enough to stick with them into their future. What parts of your initial novel weren't tidily tied up? Conversely, which tidily tied up things might, in time, fall apart? What minor characters lurking in the background want to come forward and interact with your protagonist? What aspects of your protagonist's flaws do you believe will loom large and cause conflict in the future? Build on your previous story, considering where natural consequences would lead over time.

If time has passed since your initial release, it's wise to work to make the sequel understandable as a stand-alone itself.

What are some of your favorite books series and why?

Friday, May 13, 2016

By guest author Bokerah Brumley (and her collaborators)

It’s safe to say that I love anthologies. I enjoy the teamwork a multi-author project creates. The cross-promotion is invaluable and I always glean a lot from the other authors.

Here are four tips I’ve learned from participating in successful anthologies.

1. Be flexible. Invariably, the anthology lead will make a decision that, in your opinion, is less than ideal. Think of an anthology as a commercial for your work. It matters MORE that the anthology gets into the hands of as many people as possible, into as wide a market as possible. Be willing to allow advertising venues or cover art that isn’t quite your cup of tea. Most anthologies are about reaching new customers. Discuss any differences in private messages.

2. Speak up about what matters to you. If you type the words, “I don’t care,” MEAN THEM. I’ve watched whole threads dissolve in indecision because an author’s first comment was “I don’t care” when they DID care. If you care about the outcome of a decision, by all means, voice your opinion, but don’t expect the anthology lead to pick your preference. Keep it drama-free. All the other authors will love you for it.

3. Contracts help. I know it sounds a little harsh. But a contract that delineates release date, exclusivity (or non-exclusivity), length of anthology publication, price point or other important details can be helpful to long-term satisfaction of all involved. The contract puts expectations in black and white. And it might be the first time that the participants really think hard about what’s required when they sign on.

4. Have fun. Be cheerful. Most of the authors already know that best seller status probably isn’t going to happen, but it’s nice to dream a minute before reality checks in with a bad review or lagging sales. Enjoy the process.

More thoughts from Bokerah's collaborators:

From Kimberly A. Rogers: “Compromise is king. Setting realistic goals and also building in enough time to accommodate different schedules.”

From Julie C. Gilbert: “Good communication. Flexibility (don't get attached to things one way). Responsibility (meeting deadlines). Fun (enjoy the journey). Hard work (be willing to help out where you can...you don't have to volunteer to do everything, but if you can do something, offer your services).”

From C.L. Wells: “Looking back, I think it would have been fun to start off with an icebreaker of sorts to help everyone get to know each other a little bit quicker. Some short light activities that not related to the project at hand.”

From Faith Blum: “Be flexible, willing to help wherever you can, and don't be afraid to share unusual ideas.” She adds, “I like C.L. Well's idea, too!”


About their collaborative work, Where Light May Lead




Available Now for FREE

Six authors, six genres, six bite-sized stories of women living out their faith in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. When the heart is willing to follow, where does the light lead?
Sample Old West justice. Watch a romance unfold over light years. Laugh as an introvert finagles her way out of a bridal shower. Agonize with an FBI agent as she negotiates for a child’s life. Imagine a shape-shifting cat who tracks down a kidnapper. And peek behind the scenes as a guardian angel argues with a double-talking auto mechanic. Learn again that the light of faith can lead you anywhere.
That’s How She Rolls by C.L. Wells
Tessa, a self-conscious introvert, attempts to avoid a party and everything goes wrong. When a handsome stranger offers to lend a helping hand, she isn’t sure things will ever be right again.
Leopard’s Find by Kimberly A. Rogers
Ever wonder what your favorite characters were doing before you read about them for the first time? Sparks fly whenever Raina and Baran from The Therian Way are together. But what exactly was she doing before she met him?
Whatever Raina’s up to, it’s never boring.
Upsie-Daisy by Jane Lebak
Did you know guardian angels have a sharp sense of humor? It’s a requirement for the job, otherwise they’d run screaming instead of dealing with us. If you’re new to the Lee and Bucky stories, welcome to the world of sarcastic mechanics and pun-slinging angels. This story takes place about four months before any of the full-length novels, that way you can dive right in.
Circular Horizon by Bokerah Brumley
As a speculative fiction writer, I’m forever intrigued with the ‘what if.’ For instance, what if there was real-world science fiction featuring a God-fearing astronaut? This brain-wandering led to a story, and I briefly explore this idea with Mae McNair and Abel Onizuka in Circular Horizon.
‘Tis So Sweet by Faith Blum
Eleanor Miller has always loved her younger brother, even through all the bad things he has done. But when he almost kills a man, she needs to let him go and trust God to draw him to Himself. Will she find out how sweet it is to trust Jesus in everything, no matter what happens?
The Quinn Case by Julie C. Gilbert
Law enforcement’s a tough career to make it in both physically and emotionally. The Quinn Case takes place several years before the events in Heartfelt Cases Book 1: The Collins Case. Herein, you’ll meet a young FBI Special Agent named Ann Davidson who must find a missing child even as she struggles to put another case behind her.
Immerse yourself in six clean, sweet, Christian novelettes in this awesome multi-author anthology fiction box set….and maybe encounter your next favorite author!

You're invited to our Facebook party!
The Light Leads to Peace (and Prizes)
6:30 - 8:30 PM CST on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
About the Authors

C.L. Wells CL-Wells-Head-Shot

C.L. Wells is a JANE-OF-ALL-TRADES, with a passion for writing and animals. She lives in Kansas with her family, which includes a fat doggie who is not named Toto and a cat who moonlights as an escape artist. Feel free to ask her about the ‘escape artist.’ She plans to write about it someday. She would love hearing from you.

Kimberly A. Rogers

Kimberly_2011_2
Kimberly A. Rogers writes urban fantasy with a Christian twist. She lives in Virginia where the Blue Ridge Mountains add inspiration to an overactive imagination originally fueled by fantasy classics such as the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Jane Lebak

headshottiny
Jane Lebak has been publishing since 1994, with several novels in print as well as over seventy-five shorter pieces in magazines, newspapers, and journals. She is one of the bloggers for QueryTracker.net, a resource for writers seeking agents. She lives in The Swamp, reading books and knitting socks with her husband, children, cats, and fishtanks.

Bokerah Brumley

IMG_3935a (2)
Bokerah Brumley is a speculative fiction writer making stuff up on a trampoline in West Texas. She lives on ten acres with five home-educated children, four peacocks, three dogs, two cats, and one husband. In her imaginary spare time, she also serves as the blue-haired publicity officer for the Cisco Writers Club.

Faith Blum

Author Picture 2015-2016 cropped
Faith Blum is a historical fiction author who also loves to do pretty much any right-brained activity, especially if it involves crafting. She lives with her family on a small family farm in Wisconsin.

Julie C. Gilbert 

Julie Gilbert 2013 (5 of 25)
Julie C. Gilbert writes in several genres including Christian mystery, YA science fiction, and mystery/thriller. Regardless of category, she writes about people who face hardship and right wrongs because they have an innate need to do so. In other news, she is obsessed with Star Wars and has a day job teaching high school chemistry in New Jersey.
Have you ever participated in an anthology? Any tips to share or questions for my guests?
Friday, May 13, 2016 Laurel Garver
By guest author Bokerah Brumley (and her collaborators)

It’s safe to say that I love anthologies. I enjoy the teamwork a multi-author project creates. The cross-promotion is invaluable and I always glean a lot from the other authors.

Here are four tips I’ve learned from participating in successful anthologies.

1. Be flexible. Invariably, the anthology lead will make a decision that, in your opinion, is less than ideal. Think of an anthology as a commercial for your work. It matters MORE that the anthology gets into the hands of as many people as possible, into as wide a market as possible. Be willing to allow advertising venues or cover art that isn’t quite your cup of tea. Most anthologies are about reaching new customers. Discuss any differences in private messages.

2. Speak up about what matters to you. If you type the words, “I don’t care,” MEAN THEM. I’ve watched whole threads dissolve in indecision because an author’s first comment was “I don’t care” when they DID care. If you care about the outcome of a decision, by all means, voice your opinion, but don’t expect the anthology lead to pick your preference. Keep it drama-free. All the other authors will love you for it.

3. Contracts help. I know it sounds a little harsh. But a contract that delineates release date, exclusivity (or non-exclusivity), length of anthology publication, price point or other important details can be helpful to long-term satisfaction of all involved. The contract puts expectations in black and white. And it might be the first time that the participants really think hard about what’s required when they sign on.

4. Have fun. Be cheerful. Most of the authors already know that best seller status probably isn’t going to happen, but it’s nice to dream a minute before reality checks in with a bad review or lagging sales. Enjoy the process.

More thoughts from Bokerah's collaborators:

From Kimberly A. Rogers: “Compromise is king. Setting realistic goals and also building in enough time to accommodate different schedules.”

From Julie C. Gilbert: “Good communication. Flexibility (don't get attached to things one way). Responsibility (meeting deadlines). Fun (enjoy the journey). Hard work (be willing to help out where you can...you don't have to volunteer to do everything, but if you can do something, offer your services).”

From C.L. Wells: “Looking back, I think it would have been fun to start off with an icebreaker of sorts to help everyone get to know each other a little bit quicker. Some short light activities that not related to the project at hand.”

From Faith Blum: “Be flexible, willing to help wherever you can, and don't be afraid to share unusual ideas.” She adds, “I like C.L. Well's idea, too!”


About their collaborative work, Where Light May Lead




Available Now for FREE

Six authors, six genres, six bite-sized stories of women living out their faith in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. When the heart is willing to follow, where does the light lead?
Sample Old West justice. Watch a romance unfold over light years. Laugh as an introvert finagles her way out of a bridal shower. Agonize with an FBI agent as she negotiates for a child’s life. Imagine a shape-shifting cat who tracks down a kidnapper. And peek behind the scenes as a guardian angel argues with a double-talking auto mechanic. Learn again that the light of faith can lead you anywhere.
That’s How She Rolls by C.L. Wells
Tessa, a self-conscious introvert, attempts to avoid a party and everything goes wrong. When a handsome stranger offers to lend a helping hand, she isn’t sure things will ever be right again.
Leopard’s Find by Kimberly A. Rogers
Ever wonder what your favorite characters were doing before you read about them for the first time? Sparks fly whenever Raina and Baran from The Therian Way are together. But what exactly was she doing before she met him?
Whatever Raina’s up to, it’s never boring.
Upsie-Daisy by Jane Lebak
Did you know guardian angels have a sharp sense of humor? It’s a requirement for the job, otherwise they’d run screaming instead of dealing with us. If you’re new to the Lee and Bucky stories, welcome to the world of sarcastic mechanics and pun-slinging angels. This story takes place about four months before any of the full-length novels, that way you can dive right in.
Circular Horizon by Bokerah Brumley
As a speculative fiction writer, I’m forever intrigued with the ‘what if.’ For instance, what if there was real-world science fiction featuring a God-fearing astronaut? This brain-wandering led to a story, and I briefly explore this idea with Mae McNair and Abel Onizuka in Circular Horizon.
‘Tis So Sweet by Faith Blum
Eleanor Miller has always loved her younger brother, even through all the bad things he has done. But when he almost kills a man, she needs to let him go and trust God to draw him to Himself. Will she find out how sweet it is to trust Jesus in everything, no matter what happens?
The Quinn Case by Julie C. Gilbert
Law enforcement’s a tough career to make it in both physically and emotionally. The Quinn Case takes place several years before the events in Heartfelt Cases Book 1: The Collins Case. Herein, you’ll meet a young FBI Special Agent named Ann Davidson who must find a missing child even as she struggles to put another case behind her.
Immerse yourself in six clean, sweet, Christian novelettes in this awesome multi-author anthology fiction box set….and maybe encounter your next favorite author!

You're invited to our Facebook party!
The Light Leads to Peace (and Prizes)
6:30 - 8:30 PM CST on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
About the Authors

C.L. Wells CL-Wells-Head-Shot

C.L. Wells is a JANE-OF-ALL-TRADES, with a passion for writing and animals. She lives in Kansas with her family, which includes a fat doggie who is not named Toto and a cat who moonlights as an escape artist. Feel free to ask her about the ‘escape artist.’ She plans to write about it someday. She would love hearing from you.

Kimberly A. Rogers

Kimberly_2011_2
Kimberly A. Rogers writes urban fantasy with a Christian twist. She lives in Virginia where the Blue Ridge Mountains add inspiration to an overactive imagination originally fueled by fantasy classics such as the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Jane Lebak

headshottiny
Jane Lebak has been publishing since 1994, with several novels in print as well as over seventy-five shorter pieces in magazines, newspapers, and journals. She is one of the bloggers for QueryTracker.net, a resource for writers seeking agents. She lives in The Swamp, reading books and knitting socks with her husband, children, cats, and fishtanks.

Bokerah Brumley

IMG_3935a (2)
Bokerah Brumley is a speculative fiction writer making stuff up on a trampoline in West Texas. She lives on ten acres with five home-educated children, four peacocks, three dogs, two cats, and one husband. In her imaginary spare time, she also serves as the blue-haired publicity officer for the Cisco Writers Club.

Faith Blum

Author Picture 2015-2016 cropped
Faith Blum is a historical fiction author who also loves to do pretty much any right-brained activity, especially if it involves crafting. She lives with her family on a small family farm in Wisconsin.

Julie C. Gilbert 

Julie Gilbert 2013 (5 of 25)
Julie C. Gilbert writes in several genres including Christian mystery, YA science fiction, and mystery/thriller. Regardless of category, she writes about people who face hardship and right wrongs because they have an innate need to do so. In other news, she is obsessed with Star Wars and has a day job teaching high school chemistry in New Jersey.
Have you ever participated in an anthology? Any tips to share or questions for my guests?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I am busily preparing to release my new novel Almost There, thus it's been difficult to find the brain space for my usual meaty tips posts. I hope to get back to them in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I've been lining up some great guests to share their stories and tips with you. Tomorrow, a group of awesome ladies will be sharing their tips on collaboration and creating collaborative works. If you've ever wanted to team up with others on a writing project, please come back and check it out!

In preparation for my release, I've begun publishing sneak peek scenes from the opening chapters on Wattpad HERE. It's free to read there. You simply have to sign up for a free account. Please stop by and take a look, and if you'd be so kind, give it a vote. Thanks!

Second, I am running a giveaway of three paperbacks through Goodreads. Simply click the link on the sidebar on the right to get to the entry page.

What's new with you?

Thursday, May 12, 2016 Laurel Garver
I am busily preparing to release my new novel Almost There, thus it's been difficult to find the brain space for my usual meaty tips posts. I hope to get back to them in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I've been lining up some great guests to share their stories and tips with you. Tomorrow, a group of awesome ladies will be sharing their tips on collaboration and creating collaborative works. If you've ever wanted to team up with others on a writing project, please come back and check it out!

In preparation for my release, I've begun publishing sneak peek scenes from the opening chapters on Wattpad HERE. It's free to read there. You simply have to sign up for a free account. Please stop by and take a look, and if you'd be so kind, give it a vote. Thanks!

Second, I am running a giveaway of three paperbacks through Goodreads. Simply click the link on the sidebar on the right to get to the entry page.

What's new with you?

Thursday, May 05, 2016

By guest author Sarahbeth Chapin

My experience with writing nonfiction has not been what I expected. I never expected to be a nonfiction author, particularly a nonfiction religious author, but writing about religion is when I am most authentic. I would not have nearly the same number of blog and Twitter followers I do if not for my willingness to admit “I don’t know” when writing about theology. Some of my favorite religious writers are people who dare to ask the questions I’m afraid to acknowledge even in my own head. I like to imagine that’s what attracts new readers, and keeps old ones coming back to my blog and my first book, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter.

Photo by pedrojperez at morguefile.com
A second memoir was just inevitable not because I’ve lived such a unique life, but because the questions kept on growing, and they are hard to find addressed in mainstream Christian books. For converts like myself who still carry baggage from the faith of their childhood, that pool of books has even fewer options. In my case, perhaps books by Jews who converted to Christianity are still too controversial.

At any rate, the person you are when you publish a memoir becomes frozen in time. I’m not that person anymore.

This book is my response to Christians who condemn or otherwise fear the word “skepticism.” It’s a book for anyone, not just converted Jews, who embraced a new tradition as an adult, but cannot for the life of them fit in with the surrounding cultural norms of that new faith. It’s a book for anyone who grapples with doubt on a regular basis.

My story of wading through evangelical waters has been, and continues to be, a fish-out-of-water experience. In Evangelical World, I have met some truly amazing people, but have also experienced a lot of damage, which I think my Jewish upbringing made me particularly vulnerable to.

This is a book about questioning faith and fighting to keep it. This book doesn’t offer any answers, but it has been therapeutic for me to write. I have a love/hate relationship with my unusual testimony, but I don’t think it’s so “out there” that no “cradle Christian” can possibly relate. I come from a tradition that is known for asking questions, and I want this book to be encouraging for Christians bred with the idea that questions are not okay.

Much has changed since the first edition of Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter was published. For starters, I got married. My father died of cancer. The honeymoon phase of my relationship with Jesus has long faded. Restlessness has moved in. Frustration and irreconcilable differences are daily battles.

At the time I started writing Prodigal Daughter’s first draft, I was an opinion columnist for my college newspaper. I wanted the job because I was tired of the pervasive liberal attitudes that permeated the editorial section. It didn’t take long for me to develop a reputation as “that Christian columnist,” only the title was not used favorably. I can see now that my tone was obnoxious in many of my columns. I was writing as someone who thought she had found indisputable Truth. But the biggest mistake I made as a columnist was adopting the assumption that I was disliked by so many because I happened to be Christian, which could not have been further from the truth. As a Jew raised in a small, conservative Christian town, shouldn’t I have known better than to play the persecution card? Why would I have done that?

I know why now, though I wouldn’t have admitted it then. It’s very much a cultural Christian trend to take on a persecution complex, no matter how outrageous it seems compared to Christians across the world being jailed or losing their lives for their faith. More than anything, I just wanted to be included. I wanted to know what being part of the religious in-crowd felt like. If that meant pretending that the obvious Christian majority was actually in danger of extinction, so be it.

Thankfully, the mindset didn’t last. I could only pretend for so long that being the odd Jew out (an actual minority) for most of my life wouldn’t catch up to me at some point. Sure enough, during my year-long stint at a Christian seminary after college, it did.

Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic is the story of what happened to my faith when I confronted my inner Jew, who was buried for a time but never actually went away. Perhaps she was never meant to.

About the author


Sarahbeth Caplin has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University, and is currently at work on a master’s degree in creative nonfiction at Colorado State. Her memoir, Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, is set to release this spring. Her work has appeared in xoJane, Feminine Collective, The Stigma Fighters Anthology, and Christians for Biblical Equality. Follow her blog at www.sbethcaplin.com or on Twitter @SbethCaplin.


About the Book: Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic


For the first time since converting to Christianity several years ago, I was forced to reconsider what Judaism meant to me after my failed attempt at seminary, and after my father died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. This is not a story about finding God, but about what happens when doubt threatens to break the faith of your own choosing – and how one seeker chooses to confront questions that don’t have easy answers, if any answers at all.

I feel safer by living on the fringes of faith, where grace and humility are clearer to me than ever before. For now, this is the safest place to be. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, it’s anything but organized. But I’m learning to make it a home.

Buy links:

Where have you felt like an outsider? Have you ever written from an "at the margins" perspective?

Thursday, May 05, 2016 Laurel Garver
By guest author Sarahbeth Chapin

My experience with writing nonfiction has not been what I expected. I never expected to be a nonfiction author, particularly a nonfiction religious author, but writing about religion is when I am most authentic. I would not have nearly the same number of blog and Twitter followers I do if not for my willingness to admit “I don’t know” when writing about theology. Some of my favorite religious writers are people who dare to ask the questions I’m afraid to acknowledge even in my own head. I like to imagine that’s what attracts new readers, and keeps old ones coming back to my blog and my first book, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter.

Photo by pedrojperez at morguefile.com
A second memoir was just inevitable not because I’ve lived such a unique life, but because the questions kept on growing, and they are hard to find addressed in mainstream Christian books. For converts like myself who still carry baggage from the faith of their childhood, that pool of books has even fewer options. In my case, perhaps books by Jews who converted to Christianity are still too controversial.

At any rate, the person you are when you publish a memoir becomes frozen in time. I’m not that person anymore.

This book is my response to Christians who condemn or otherwise fear the word “skepticism.” It’s a book for anyone, not just converted Jews, who embraced a new tradition as an adult, but cannot for the life of them fit in with the surrounding cultural norms of that new faith. It’s a book for anyone who grapples with doubt on a regular basis.

My story of wading through evangelical waters has been, and continues to be, a fish-out-of-water experience. In Evangelical World, I have met some truly amazing people, but have also experienced a lot of damage, which I think my Jewish upbringing made me particularly vulnerable to.

This is a book about questioning faith and fighting to keep it. This book doesn’t offer any answers, but it has been therapeutic for me to write. I have a love/hate relationship with my unusual testimony, but I don’t think it’s so “out there” that no “cradle Christian” can possibly relate. I come from a tradition that is known for asking questions, and I want this book to be encouraging for Christians bred with the idea that questions are not okay.

Much has changed since the first edition of Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter was published. For starters, I got married. My father died of cancer. The honeymoon phase of my relationship with Jesus has long faded. Restlessness has moved in. Frustration and irreconcilable differences are daily battles.

At the time I started writing Prodigal Daughter’s first draft, I was an opinion columnist for my college newspaper. I wanted the job because I was tired of the pervasive liberal attitudes that permeated the editorial section. It didn’t take long for me to develop a reputation as “that Christian columnist,” only the title was not used favorably. I can see now that my tone was obnoxious in many of my columns. I was writing as someone who thought she had found indisputable Truth. But the biggest mistake I made as a columnist was adopting the assumption that I was disliked by so many because I happened to be Christian, which could not have been further from the truth. As a Jew raised in a small, conservative Christian town, shouldn’t I have known better than to play the persecution card? Why would I have done that?

I know why now, though I wouldn’t have admitted it then. It’s very much a cultural Christian trend to take on a persecution complex, no matter how outrageous it seems compared to Christians across the world being jailed or losing their lives for their faith. More than anything, I just wanted to be included. I wanted to know what being part of the religious in-crowd felt like. If that meant pretending that the obvious Christian majority was actually in danger of extinction, so be it.

Thankfully, the mindset didn’t last. I could only pretend for so long that being the odd Jew out (an actual minority) for most of my life wouldn’t catch up to me at some point. Sure enough, during my year-long stint at a Christian seminary after college, it did.

Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic is the story of what happened to my faith when I confronted my inner Jew, who was buried for a time but never actually went away. Perhaps she was never meant to.

About the author


Sarahbeth Caplin has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University, and is currently at work on a master’s degree in creative nonfiction at Colorado State. Her memoir, Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, is set to release this spring. Her work has appeared in xoJane, Feminine Collective, The Stigma Fighters Anthology, and Christians for Biblical Equality. Follow her blog at www.sbethcaplin.com or on Twitter @SbethCaplin.


About the Book: Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic


For the first time since converting to Christianity several years ago, I was forced to reconsider what Judaism meant to me after my failed attempt at seminary, and after my father died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. This is not a story about finding God, but about what happens when doubt threatens to break the faith of your own choosing – and how one seeker chooses to confront questions that don’t have easy answers, if any answers at all.

I feel safer by living on the fringes of faith, where grace and humility are clearer to me than ever before. For now, this is the safest place to be. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, it’s anything but organized. But I’m learning to make it a home.

Buy links:

Where have you felt like an outsider? Have you ever written from an "at the margins" perspective?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

by guest author,  Annie Douglass Lima

Worldbuilding is so important for authors – and I don’t just mean those who are creating an exotic alien world. Even stories that take place in more realistic locations deserve careful worldbuilding so that our characters can live their lives in locations that make sense.

I have found that the best way I can make my settings believable is through careful research. Yes, research, even for fiction set in a place that doesn’t exist! That’s because any set of characters living in any location must do activities similar to those we know on earth. If they do it believably, it strengthens the culture and location the author has built for her story.

My fantasy series The Annals of Alasia takes place in a non-magical world similar to medieval Europe, so many details about the world had to be similar to ours. For Prince of Alasia, I researched horse training. For In the Enemy’s Service, I looked up medicinal herbs and their uses. For Prince of Malorn, I learned all about wilderness survival: edible plants, starting a fire without matches, and even how raw beetle grubs taste (like a small piece of cooked fat, if anyone’s wondering). 

Believable character action requires research
My action and adventure series The Krillonian Chronicles takes place in an alternate world that is almost exactly like ours today. For both The Collar and the Cavvarach and The Gladiator and the Guard, I had to find out what kinds of mechanical problems a fifteen-year-old pickup truck might encounter and what their symptoms would be (and how much it would cost to fix them). I also needed to learn what tool would be most convenient to cut a metal collar off a person’s neck without hurting him, and what kind of diet professional athletes recommend. 

By far the topic I’ve spent the most time researching for any of my books has been martial arts. Since I’m not a martial artist myself, that was a particular challenge for me. Both of these last two books involve cavvara shil, a martial art I made up. Obviously, the fact that I created it doesn’t mean athletes should be able to ignore the laws of physics or perform moves that would be impossible for humans. I spent many long hours reading books and articles, examining pictures, and watching video clips of a variety of martial arts and specific moves performed in them. I consulted with real martial artists and later asked two of them to beta read my completed manuscript to make sure everything was believable. As I wrote, I was careful to make sure that my characters worked out, practiced, and competed the way professional martial artists really do – of course with variations to allow for the fact that they fight with a cavvarach (sword-like weapon with a hook halfway down the blade) as well as their feet. And it worked! Numerous reviewers have mentioned that cavvara shil is not only exciting but realistic, and one even mentioned that she looked it up to see if it really existed and to find out where she could watch a tournament.

Whatever your novel is about and whatever your characters do, there will be readers out there who have background knowledge about all of those details. Even those who don’t will probably have an instinctive feeling that some of the information is “off”, if you haven’t made sure it’s accurate. Our characters’ situations need to be realistic, whether they actually live in a real place or not. Otherwise, it won’t matter how vividly you describe your alien setting, no one will be able to picture your characters having actual lives in a world that makes sense.

photo credit: clarita at morguefile.com


The Gladiator and the Guard, a young adult action and adventure novel, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach


About Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?



What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 
for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!
 
And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

 
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon 
for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!


Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 
for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!


Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.


Connect with the Author Online:



Now, enter to win an Amazon gift card or a free digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach!




Or find the giveaway at this link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ad2fd99a3/?
Tuesday, April 26, 2016 Laurel Garver
by guest author,  Annie Douglass Lima

Worldbuilding is so important for authors – and I don’t just mean those who are creating an exotic alien world. Even stories that take place in more realistic locations deserve careful worldbuilding so that our characters can live their lives in locations that make sense.

I have found that the best way I can make my settings believable is through careful research. Yes, research, even for fiction set in a place that doesn’t exist! That’s because any set of characters living in any location must do activities similar to those we know on earth. If they do it believably, it strengthens the culture and location the author has built for her story.

My fantasy series The Annals of Alasia takes place in a non-magical world similar to medieval Europe, so many details about the world had to be similar to ours. For Prince of Alasia, I researched horse training. For In the Enemy’s Service, I looked up medicinal herbs and their uses. For Prince of Malorn, I learned all about wilderness survival: edible plants, starting a fire without matches, and even how raw beetle grubs taste (like a small piece of cooked fat, if anyone’s wondering). 

Believable character action requires research
My action and adventure series The Krillonian Chronicles takes place in an alternate world that is almost exactly like ours today. For both The Collar and the Cavvarach and The Gladiator and the Guard, I had to find out what kinds of mechanical problems a fifteen-year-old pickup truck might encounter and what their symptoms would be (and how much it would cost to fix them). I also needed to learn what tool would be most convenient to cut a metal collar off a person’s neck without hurting him, and what kind of diet professional athletes recommend. 

By far the topic I’ve spent the most time researching for any of my books has been martial arts. Since I’m not a martial artist myself, that was a particular challenge for me. Both of these last two books involve cavvara shil, a martial art I made up. Obviously, the fact that I created it doesn’t mean athletes should be able to ignore the laws of physics or perform moves that would be impossible for humans. I spent many long hours reading books and articles, examining pictures, and watching video clips of a variety of martial arts and specific moves performed in them. I consulted with real martial artists and later asked two of them to beta read my completed manuscript to make sure everything was believable. As I wrote, I was careful to make sure that my characters worked out, practiced, and competed the way professional martial artists really do – of course with variations to allow for the fact that they fight with a cavvarach (sword-like weapon with a hook halfway down the blade) as well as their feet. And it worked! Numerous reviewers have mentioned that cavvara shil is not only exciting but realistic, and one even mentioned that she looked it up to see if it really existed and to find out where she could watch a tournament.

Whatever your novel is about and whatever your characters do, there will be readers out there who have background knowledge about all of those details. Even those who don’t will probably have an instinctive feeling that some of the information is “off”, if you haven’t made sure it’s accurate. Our characters’ situations need to be realistic, whether they actually live in a real place or not. Otherwise, it won’t matter how vividly you describe your alien setting, no one will be able to picture your characters having actual lives in a world that makes sense.

photo credit: clarita at morguefile.com


The Gladiator and the Guard, a young adult action and adventure novel, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach


About Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?



What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).  

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with "have a rack"), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 
for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!
 
And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

 
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon 
for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!


Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 
for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through May 30th!


Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.


Connect with the Author Online:



Now, enter to win an Amazon gift card or a free digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach!




Or find the giveaway at this link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ad2fd99a3/?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Chapter 1
In Paris, art seeps into your feet and drips from your fingertips. Dark-eyed buskers in berets squeeze out sweet accordion songs, and the birds trill along. The air tastes like crème brûlée; the light is melted butter. Or so I’ve heard. In two weeks, I’ll find out for myself.

I can see it all now: In the golden mornings, Mum and I will set up matching easels on the banks of the Seine and paint side-by-side. She’ll be too excited to sleep till noon, too inspired to stare blankly at the wall. Her sadness will fall away like a too-heavy coat, and she’ll once again fill canvas after canvas with works of aching beauty. 

We’ll while away the hot afternoons in the Louvre, communing with the masters. Finally meet some of her long-lost French relatives. Wear goofy hats and stuff ourselves with pastries and laugh like we haven’t in ages. Every day will be a chick-flick montage of joie de vivre.

Or is it joyeux de vivre? Theo would know.

“Theo? Thebes?” I shake my boyfriend, who snoozes beside me on the couch with his school tie loosely askew and notebook open in his lap. When he doesn’t react, I stroke his left forearm. He swats at me with an oar-calloused hand, mutters, “Stalin… Churchill…Roosevelt.”

He must be in bad shape if he’s dreaming history notes. “Never mind. Just rest.”

I’m not exactly the most diligent study buddy either. It’s hard to focus when I’m two finals from freedom. Two finals till I can shop for my France wardrobe, till I can dedicate maximum brain space to merci, s’il vous plaît, and three thousand other phrases that will keep me from looking like a lazy américaine

I pull out my highlighter and mark my top three café picks near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Summer 2009, just published in March. I wonder if these places serve iced decaf lattes. Or is iced coffee a gauche American concoction? Yet another thing to ask Theo.

His sleeping face pinches. I reach to touch his cheek, then stop. Facing finals right after two weekend crew regattas in a row has already made him totally stressed and exhausted. I’m probably stressing him more by talking nonstop about my trip. For him, it means five long weeks apart. We’ll Skype every day and muddle through somehow. The painful separation will be totally worth it when Paris works its magic and Mum’s back to normal.

The kitchen phone jangles and I guiltily stuff my Paris guidebook under a couch cushion. Theo stirs, but doesn’t shift enough to free my hair from under his sleep-heavy head.

Why isn’t Mum answering? Is she napping again?

With a swift tug, I free my hair. The hefty textbook I’m supposed to be studying slides off my lap and thuds to the floor. I sprint to the kitchen, reaching the phone on the tenth ring.

“Mrs. Deane? Mrs. Grace Tilman Deane?” A woman asks.

“Just a sec. I’ll get her.”

I carry the handset through the apartment to the spare bedroom we use as a studio and gingerly knock on the door. No answer. Is Mum hiding or deep in another epic zone-out? Since she left her stressful Madison Avenue advertising job for art school, thanks to a foundation started in my late father’s memory, Mum should be having the time of her life. Art was the passion she couldn’t pursue when she was young for a lot of stupid reasons. But now that she’s actually living her lost dream, paint seems to dry on her palettes more than her canvases.

I press my ear to the door and hear only the low hum of the air conditioning. When I peek inside, our husky-mix Rhys raises his head, perks his ears, gives a fangy yawn. On the easel above him sits a white canvas with a single red stripe down the center. Beside the easel is an empty stool. What the heck? Did she go back to bed?

I stare at the phone a moment. Chances are it’s just some stupid survey or courtesy call. Nothing worth waking Mum for.

I clear my throat and mimic Mum’s smoky alto. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Deane? This is Nurse Lowman from North Penn Health System. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania? It’s about your father. Daniel Tilman?”

Good Lord, now what? Poppa hasn’t gone berserk on another doctor, has he? You’d think the time he got hauled off by security would have shamed him into changing his ways. Mum should let them press charges this time. Poppa might finally get a clue about how big a jerk he is.

I deliver the standard Mum line: “My apologies. How can I assist?”

“There’s been an accident, Mrs. Deane. Your father…his condition is needing surgery and we have to get your approval to proceed.”

My guts drop seven stories. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on Columbus, pancake-flattened and dimpled with taxi tire marks. “Poppa’s had an accident?” I squeak.

“This isn’t Mrs. Deane, is it?” Her tone is so cold, my wet tongue would stick to it.

“Sorry, it’s…Danielle, the daughter, I mean Mr. Tilman’s granddaughter. I’m sorry about pretending to be my mother. I thought you were a telemarketer and Mum’s not feeling well. Since I’m family, too, it wouldn’t be against HIPAA regulations for you to tell me what happened, and I can let her know, right?”

“I’m afraid not, Danielle. I have to speak to your actual mother.”

Crap. It must be bad. Really bad.

“Um, okay. I’ll, ah, go find her.” I cover the mouthpiece and head to the master bedroom.

In the phone, I can distantly hear the nurse crack up and tell her medical cronies, “Get a load of this: I’ve got some kid from New York on the phone who knows about HIPAA regulations! City kids! Gawd. She’s probably been playing the stock market since kindergarten.”

I’d love to give this bumpkin nurse chick a piece of my mind. Tell her that the adult world finds some of us young and makes us grow up fast, whether we’re ready or not.

But I don’t say this, because my persistent knocks are getting no response from Mum at all. As I step into her dark bedroom, I’m surprised by a strange, sour smell. I pat her bed, expecting to feel the warm hump of a leg. Instead, I touch something thick and sticky. Blood? I bring my hand to my nose. Ugh. Spoiled milk.

I switch on the bedside lamp and find a toppled Stonyfield ice cream tub that’s left a gooey puddle on her silk bedspread. Okay, it’s organic, but still. The woman’s a gym addict. Grabbing a tissue to clean the goo off my fingers, I see a worse sign: Mum’s cell phone is on the dresser. But Mum is gone.

I take a deep breath, then uncover the mouthpiece of the phone. “Um…” I tell the nurse, “I think we might need to call you back.”
*  *  *
Seeing the empty key hook by the front door sucks the air right out of me. Dear God, no. I crush the paper scrap with the hospital’s number in a trembling fist. For all I know, Poppa will be dead in minutes if they don’t operate. But without Mum’s approval, they legally can’t.

I cannot believe Mum left Theo and me alone in the apartment. She usually checks on us every ten minutes like clockwork, bugging us with questions or roping Theo into chores like opening jars or pulling things off high shelves. It’s like she has this bizarre fear that we’re going to rip each other’s clothes off at any moment and make me the next teen pregnancy statistic.

Well, she can’t have gone far — probably just to the little market on Columbus to pick up dinner ingredients. Surely she’ll be back any minute. I should call the front desk and ask the doorman if he saw her go out. Theo could hold down the fort while I look for her.

Gosh, I can just picture her standing in line at Rico’s, looking for all the world like a bohemian free spirit in her snug t-shirt, paint-spattered jeans, strappy sandals, gobs of gypsy jewelry, hair in long, loose layers. She’ll glance up from her basket of Thai basil and coconut milk, see my face and just know. Know that I’m about to hurl a bomb at her. Know that trouble’s found her yet again, like it always does.

How can I tell her? How? It’s only been a year and a half since Dad’s car crash and the month of ICU agony before he was snatched from us. How can she possibly cope with Poppa right now? He’s as fatherly to her as a lion is to a gazelle.

I just wish I could make this all go away.

I look at the hospital number in my hand again, and my mouth goes as dry as a day-old croissant. What if Poppa and his car—? There’s no ice on the roads, but a couch could tumble off a truck, or a rogue deer leap out of the woods and straight through his windshield. Poppa could have massive bleeding on the brain right now — pressure building like floodwaters behind a levee, flattening everything. Cells, synapses, ganglion crushed, dying, dead. I’ve seen it before.

My grand Paris dream starts to pull away, a face in a taxi window. Off toward Midtown. Off to find a more worthy recipient.

Who can help me stop this taxi from driving away with my dream?

A homeless drug addict steps in front of the taxi in my mind and it stops. The coked-up guy stands there, fists on hips, chin jutted out, dark eyes flashing, as if daring the driver to flatten him in his frayed cords and Nietzsche T-shirt. Uncle David?

He winks at me, then in a blink transforms from his old stoner self into the bald, flannel-shirted craftsman I now know and love. Of course. If there’s anyone who can help me sort out what to do about Poppa, it’s Mum’s younger brother, the prodigal son. 

I carry the phone to my bedroom, hit four on speed dial.
Chapter 2
“Ah-yup,” Uncle David says, another weird Maine expression that’s crept into his speech. A table saw whines in the background. The tone changes as the blade tastes wood, gearing up to a horrific shriek like someone being tortured. A woman with serious lung capacity. A shot-putter. One of those beefy opera singers.

I close my bedroom door, shout, “Hey! It’s Dani. Could you go to your office maybe?”

“Hey niece o’mine, what’d ya say? Keegan’s ripping boards and I can’t hear squat. I better go to my office.” He shouts something to his assistant and gradually the heinous squealing fades. “A’right. Office. Shoot.”

“I need your help right away. Some hospital called saying Poppa’s been in an accident and they want to operate immediately and they need approval from Mum, but she’s not here and I don’t know where she went or exactly how long she’ll be gone or anything, and the nurse lady who called wouldn’t give me any details at all but it must be pretty bad if they have to operate. I’m seriously freaking out. Could you please, please, please call the hospital and see if you can find out what the heck is going on and give them the okay to operate?”

“Whoa. Accident? What kind of accident? Car accident?”

Images of crumpled fenders, broken glass, thick smoke, and charred car remains click through my mind in rapid succession. Not again, Lord. Please, not again. I wobble, sink onto my bed. “I—. I don’t know,” I choke.

“Sorry, I’m just in shock. I mean, after your dad…” he gives a low whistle. “Gracie’s been through this kind of hell one too many times. Give me that number. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks,” I wipe my eyes and give him the nurse’s name and number. “What should I do now? Mum could be back any time. She’s gonna just curl up and die when she finds out.”

“Well…” he drawls, “I reckon there might be, you know, divine providence in her missing that call. It’s about time I had a go at being the responsible kid. Don’t you worry, and don’t say nothing. Got it?”

“You want me to lie to Mum?”

“I’d like to spare Sis some grief for a change, so let’s keep this between us for now. No guarantees it’ll work, but it’s worth a shot. Go back to what you were doing and just be normal.”

I snort. “This should be good. I’ve got two finals tomorrow.”

“I’m real sorry, Dani. Go study and try not to worry too much. God’s watching over you and Gracie. He won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear, as the Good Book says.”
*  *  *
Just be normal, Uncle David said. Right. I’ve got exams, a dying grandparent, a missing mother. My dream summer hanging in the balance. Well, not so much a dream as a nightmare-chaser. An antidote to the poison that’s been building inside of Mum.

I plod back to the living room. My throat aches even more when I see Theo’s face tipped onto a couch cushion, muscles slack in peaceful sleep. If Mum and I don’t get to Paris, then what? Mum becomes even more sad, more sick? Breaks down? Goes to the hospital and I go where? To freaking Maine with Uncle David? I’d rather sleep on park benches.

I kneel at Theo’s feet and shovel papers back into my history binder. My face’s reflection in his polished school shoes is stretched like a limp, useless noodle.

How could Uncle David say we’re not being tested beyond what we can bear? Jeez. Mum and I are still trying to recover from losing Dad. Do we never get to settle into normal? Real normal, not pretend normal. Not resigned normal.

Church words flood my mind and push back the rising tide of self-pity. What Uncle David said is only half-true. Part of the story. There’s more to that passage — a promise: “When you are tested, he will provide a way out, so that you can bear up under it.”

Right. There is a way out. My uncle will handle this. He’ll get Poppa the care he needs and everything will be fine. Mum can stay at a safe distance and just…send him a get well card. We’ll head to Paris as planned and leave our worries behind.

I pile my binder and textbook on the far end of the couch, untuck my shirt again, twist my pleated skirt askew, and sink into the cushions beside my boyfriend. Theo registers my return by dropping his head back on my shoulder and draping his warm arm across me.

I pull History: Modern to Contemporary onto my lap and pretend to be engrossed in the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain falling, the Cold War blowing in. But I can’t stop my hands from trembling as I turn the pages. I practice French phrases in my head, but quelle heure est-il? sounds vaguely like “kill or steal” and I picture Parisian police descending on me for asking the time. I open my mental sketch book and let strokes flow over the whiteness, but the virtual charcoal stick crumbles in my inner grasp.

All right, God, I want to trust you here, but what the heck are you doing? How will Mum ever believe you aren’t out to get her? She needs to be healed, not drawn into Poppa’s world and his hateful words: she’s “uppity,” “useless,” “a waste of space” with “no use for a soul.” I know you expect me to be still, Lord, and believe you’re going to fix this. Can’t you give me something to hold onto before I tear out my own hair?

Theo grunts in his sleep, nuzzles against my collarbone, his whiskers scritching across cotton. I rest my cheek on the back of his head and breathe in the familiar scent of his scalp, his musky vanilla cologne. My anxious mind stops flailing and I sink into memories of our last rooftop picnic.

We nestled on a tattered afghan, my spine curled against Theo’s chest, blanketed from the chilly spring air by his toasty arms. The sun sank behind the buildings and distant windows lit up, one by one. In awed silence we sat, listening to whirring HVAC units and the distant hum and honk of traffic below. I could not imagine a more perfect peace than this.

But soon the roof access door banged open. Mum appeared in her paint-spattered smock, bringing us a bag of Chinese takeout. Theo jumped to his feet to make space for her on the blanket, but she backed away, shaking her head. She stared at the sparkling Manhattan skyline for a moment and her shoulders sagged under some invisible weight. Then, without a word, she turned and disappeared down the stairs.

In her overworked fog — or whatever was making her so droopy — Mum had forgotten to send up normal silverware. So Theo and I cracked apart the cheap chopsticks from the bottom of the bag and fed each other sloppy clumps of Chinese chicken and shrimp. Between bites, we talked about the years to come — him studying psychology, me, art. Living with our families and commuting to college here in the city to save money.

“I’ll save as much of my inheritance as I can,” I said, “so we can get a place of our own.”

Theo prodded his Lo-mein, his ears turning pink. “I take it you plan a wedding in there somewhere,” he said, more to the noodles than to me. “Shacking up doesn’t seem your style.”

“Yours either.”

“I think my family would be more supportive of that than me getting married at twenty.”

I swallowed hard. “That’s just two years from now. You think….”

“Can we pull it off? I don’t know, Dee. We’re just day­dreaming here, right?”

Were we? It felt so tantalizingly possible. I could picture us brushing our teeth at a dinky apartment sink, barefoot and sleep rumpled. 

“We’d have my trust fund and I could learn Web design. Mum has tons of business contacts — plenty to keep us fed and housed while you do med school and then your psychiatry residency.”

“Web design? Uh-uh. These hands?” He grasped my wrists and lifted my palms to eye level. 

“They’re meant to make masterpieces, not code HTML.”

“I can still draw and paint on the side. Heck, I’d rather be a janitor and be with you, than have gallery shows without you.”

“I don’t deserve you.” He pulled me close and kissed me. Soy sauce and spice.


WOOF! WO-WOOF! WOOF!

Rhys’s barking snaps me out of my reverie. As he nudges open the studio and bolts for the front door, my heart becomes a thumping drum again. It’s Mum. She’s back.

I get my nose out of Theo’s sweet-smelling hair and rivet my attention on the textbook in my lap. 

Theo rolls away from me, onto his other side, but he doesn’t wake.

Here goes. Act One of Just Be Normal. Places everyone. Aaand, action!

Mum shuffles in, sorting a pile of mail, while Rhys runs circles around her. Instead of her usual strappy sandals, she’s wearing ratty slippers, the once-white chenille now gray and frayed. Her hair is tangled and there’s a coffee ring on the leg of her jeans. Yikes.

“Hey.” Her voice is limp and breathy. “How’s the studying going?”

“Great. Super stimulating. Right, Theo?”

Mum thumbs through a magazine and absently pats Rhys’s head. She still hasn’t noticed snooze boy.

“Yeah, definitely,” I say in a pitiful imitation of Theo’s bass voice. “Once we dropped some acid, the ’60s came alive for us.”

“What?” Mum’s gaze drifts up and she takes in the scene. “He’s asleep again?”

“Of course. He’s used to crew practice at dawn. When four p.m. comes, he’s out. I swear you could set clocks by it.”

“Another early bird.” Mum’s chin puckers beneath her downturned mouth — her missing Dad expression. He woke at six every day, annoyingly chipper.

Her eyes roam. I turn to see what’s caught her attention. On the wall behind me is a snapshot from my parents’ engagement day, shot by a Japanese tourist Dad pressed into service, so the story goes. Dad’s on one knee at Mum’s feet in a grassy spot among English castle ruins. She cradles his face in her hands as if it were pure gold. 

Gold turned to dust.

Don’t go there. Don’t let Mum go there, either.

“I suppose you told Sleeping Beauty where you went?” I say.

“He said you were in the bathroom, and I thought I’d be right back. But the condo association president cornered me in the mailroom. What an exhausting motor mouth. I could use a nap.”
Another nap? No, no, no. Come on, brain. Think upbeat. Think perky.

“So!” I chirp, “What came in the mail? Anything good?”

Mum flips through the pile again. She frowns and waves a lime-green postcard at me — an RSVP card for my seventeenth birthday bash, held weeks ago. “This came from Poppa Tilman. I don’t know why he bothered after all this time.”

All the blood in my head drops to my toes. If I weren’t already sitting, I’d swoon. Why did that have to come today, of all days?

I stuff my shaking hands under my thighs. “M-maybe it, uh, got lost in the mail.”

“I don’t think so. There’s a note on the back: ‘Sorry I missed your party, pumpkin. I’m not coping well with paper at the moment. Those infernal women your mother keeps sending can’t work with my system or stay out of my business. But don’t worry your pretty head none. I ordered something special that’s due to ship any day now.’ I should have known his silence about the invitation wasn’t something so simple as rudeness.”

“You think he fired another maid?”

“Obviously. Not that he’d bother telling me about it. In my memory, Pop’s jealously guarded system is to keep every last thing and make piles to the ceiling. I’m surprised the contents of his house haven’t spontaneously combusted, they’re packed in so tight.”

The cordless phone rings from the far end table, just out of reach. Mum picks it up and checks the caller ID. “Ah, it’s David. I’ll take this in the studio. Why don’t you ask Theo to stay for dinner? I’m sure he’ll perk up with a little food.”

I say “okay” to Mum’s departing back and reach to Rhys for comfort. Stroking his fluffy neck slows my galloping heart. “Oh, Rhysie, I hope Uncle David’s just making small talk and he’ll ask for me soon, that he won’t tell her anything. For now, I guess we need to play normal. Lay down, boy.” He settles at my feet with a grunt of protest.

I reach for Theo’s shoulder and give him a little shake. Then a harder one. “Thebes?”

He lifts his heavy head off of me. His hazel eyes flutter open, more gold than green in the afternoon light. He groans. “Oh, Dani, I did it again, didn’t I? Jeez, I’m sorry. I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe I need to start drinking coffee like you do.”

I smile. “It would stunt your growth.”

“Little late for that, don’t you think?” He leans back, stretching, and his firm stomach peeks between his shirt hem and the waistband of his khakis. I look away and sit on my hands again before my hormones get the better of me.

“Mum wants to know if you can stay for supper.”

“Yeah?” he says, poking me in the ribs. “What about you?” Poke. “Do you want me?” Poke, poke, poke. “To stay?”

“Not if you’re gonna be a bully.”

Moi?” He strikes a Miss Piggy pose.

Non, ta jument méchante, qui ronfle comme un os endormi.”

Theo roars with laughter. “My evil what? Mare? Who snores like a sleepy bone?”

“I meant twin. Ju-something…else.”

“Ah. Jumeau méchant. Evil twin. And I do not snore. Especially not like a bone.”

I roll my eyes. “Bear. I wanted to say bear.”

Ours, not os. Bien? Dis-le et répète, Danielle.”

You say it. Repeat. Oh, brother.

I tip my head side to side as I chant, “Ours, ours, ours, ours, ours. Happy?”

“Come on, babe, cheer up. Your grammar’s quite good. You used the feminine adjective with jument, which was great, even if it wasn’t the noun you wanted.”

“I’m never gonna get this. Parisians will bludgeon me with baguettes for crimes against the mother tongue.”

“You are getting it. You’re brave enough to try making jokes in another language, which is pretty complicated. Honestly, you’ve picked up in six months what it took me three years to learn. Of course, I didn’t have a patient instructor completely dedicated to my success.”

“Come on, Thebes. You’ve got to be bored out of your mind teaching a dunce like me.”

“You are way too hard on yourself. So you made a mistake. Big deal. Who doesn’t? Heck, I’m learning here, too. Remember the flashcard fiasco?”

“I’d rather not.” Theo pounding the wall, purple-faced; me hunkered in a distant corner, utterly stunned by his rare flare of temper — not a scene I care to replay. Ever.

“Well, me neither. That was totally my bad. But I learned from it, right? I’ve had quite the adventure developing my cutting-edge teaching techniques.”

I snort.

“Yeah? You doubt me? I’m deeply insulted.”

“What’s so cutting edge about, ‘Dis-le et répète’?”

“How do you think you learned to draw? Practice. Years of filling sketch pads until your scribbles became art. Anyone who thinks they can get some new skill without practice is an idiot. So once we get through finals, we will répèter, en français every day, until you go. Très bien?” 

Mum strides into the living room clenching the phone. I can almost smell the fury pulsing out of her like fumes from a hot engine.

Pas bien. Mal. Très, très mal.

“There’s been a change of plans,” she says.

========

For more information and buy links, visit my Books page. 

Monday, April 25, 2016 Laurel Garver
Chapter 1
In Paris, art seeps into your feet and drips from your fingertips. Dark-eyed buskers in berets squeeze out sweet accordion songs, and the birds trill along. The air tastes like crème brûlée; the light is melted butter. Or so I’ve heard. In two weeks, I’ll find out for myself.

I can see it all now: In the golden mornings, Mum and I will set up matching easels on the banks of the Seine and paint side-by-side. She’ll be too excited to sleep till noon, too inspired to stare blankly at the wall. Her sadness will fall away like a too-heavy coat, and she’ll once again fill canvas after canvas with works of aching beauty. 

We’ll while away the hot afternoons in the Louvre, communing with the masters. Finally meet some of her long-lost French relatives. Wear goofy hats and stuff ourselves with pastries and laugh like we haven’t in ages. Every day will be a chick-flick montage of joie de vivre.

Or is it joyeux de vivre? Theo would know.

“Theo? Thebes?” I shake my boyfriend, who snoozes beside me on the couch with his school tie loosely askew and notebook open in his lap. When he doesn’t react, I stroke his left forearm. He swats at me with an oar-calloused hand, mutters, “Stalin… Churchill…Roosevelt.”

He must be in bad shape if he’s dreaming history notes. “Never mind. Just rest.”

I’m not exactly the most diligent study buddy either. It’s hard to focus when I’m two finals from freedom. Two finals till I can shop for my France wardrobe, till I can dedicate maximum brain space to merci, s’il vous plaît, and three thousand other phrases that will keep me from looking like a lazy américaine

I pull out my highlighter and mark my top three café picks near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Summer 2009, just published in March. I wonder if these places serve iced decaf lattes. Or is iced coffee a gauche American concoction? Yet another thing to ask Theo.

His sleeping face pinches. I reach to touch his cheek, then stop. Facing finals right after two weekend crew regattas in a row has already made him totally stressed and exhausted. I’m probably stressing him more by talking nonstop about my trip. For him, it means five long weeks apart. We’ll Skype every day and muddle through somehow. The painful separation will be totally worth it when Paris works its magic and Mum’s back to normal.

The kitchen phone jangles and I guiltily stuff my Paris guidebook under a couch cushion. Theo stirs, but doesn’t shift enough to free my hair from under his sleep-heavy head.

Why isn’t Mum answering? Is she napping again?

With a swift tug, I free my hair. The hefty textbook I’m supposed to be studying slides off my lap and thuds to the floor. I sprint to the kitchen, reaching the phone on the tenth ring.

“Mrs. Deane? Mrs. Grace Tilman Deane?” A woman asks.

“Just a sec. I’ll get her.”

I carry the handset through the apartment to the spare bedroom we use as a studio and gingerly knock on the door. No answer. Is Mum hiding or deep in another epic zone-out? Since she left her stressful Madison Avenue advertising job for art school, thanks to a foundation started in my late father’s memory, Mum should be having the time of her life. Art was the passion she couldn’t pursue when she was young for a lot of stupid reasons. But now that she’s actually living her lost dream, paint seems to dry on her palettes more than her canvases.

I press my ear to the door and hear only the low hum of the air conditioning. When I peek inside, our husky-mix Rhys raises his head, perks his ears, gives a fangy yawn. On the easel above him sits a white canvas with a single red stripe down the center. Beside the easel is an empty stool. What the heck? Did she go back to bed?

I stare at the phone a moment. Chances are it’s just some stupid survey or courtesy call. Nothing worth waking Mum for.

I clear my throat and mimic Mum’s smoky alto. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Deane? This is Nurse Lowman from North Penn Health System. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania? It’s about your father. Daniel Tilman?”

Good Lord, now what? Poppa hasn’t gone berserk on another doctor, has he? You’d think the time he got hauled off by security would have shamed him into changing his ways. Mum should let them press charges this time. Poppa might finally get a clue about how big a jerk he is.

I deliver the standard Mum line: “My apologies. How can I assist?”

“There’s been an accident, Mrs. Deane. Your father…his condition is needing surgery and we have to get your approval to proceed.”

My guts drop seven stories. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on Columbus, pancake-flattened and dimpled with taxi tire marks. “Poppa’s had an accident?” I squeak.

“This isn’t Mrs. Deane, is it?” Her tone is so cold, my wet tongue would stick to it.

“Sorry, it’s…Danielle, the daughter, I mean Mr. Tilman’s granddaughter. I’m sorry about pretending to be my mother. I thought you were a telemarketer and Mum’s not feeling well. Since I’m family, too, it wouldn’t be against HIPAA regulations for you to tell me what happened, and I can let her know, right?”

“I’m afraid not, Danielle. I have to speak to your actual mother.”

Crap. It must be bad. Really bad.

“Um, okay. I’ll, ah, go find her.” I cover the mouthpiece and head to the master bedroom.

In the phone, I can distantly hear the nurse crack up and tell her medical cronies, “Get a load of this: I’ve got some kid from New York on the phone who knows about HIPAA regulations! City kids! Gawd. She’s probably been playing the stock market since kindergarten.”

I’d love to give this bumpkin nurse chick a piece of my mind. Tell her that the adult world finds some of us young and makes us grow up fast, whether we’re ready or not.

But I don’t say this, because my persistent knocks are getting no response from Mum at all. As I step into her dark bedroom, I’m surprised by a strange, sour smell. I pat her bed, expecting to feel the warm hump of a leg. Instead, I touch something thick and sticky. Blood? I bring my hand to my nose. Ugh. Spoiled milk.

I switch on the bedside lamp and find a toppled Stonyfield ice cream tub that’s left a gooey puddle on her silk bedspread. Okay, it’s organic, but still. The woman’s a gym addict. Grabbing a tissue to clean the goo off my fingers, I see a worse sign: Mum’s cell phone is on the dresser. But Mum is gone.

I take a deep breath, then uncover the mouthpiece of the phone. “Um…” I tell the nurse, “I think we might need to call you back.”
*  *  *
Seeing the empty key hook by the front door sucks the air right out of me. Dear God, no. I crush the paper scrap with the hospital’s number in a trembling fist. For all I know, Poppa will be dead in minutes if they don’t operate. But without Mum’s approval, they legally can’t.

I cannot believe Mum left Theo and me alone in the apartment. She usually checks on us every ten minutes like clockwork, bugging us with questions or roping Theo into chores like opening jars or pulling things off high shelves. It’s like she has this bizarre fear that we’re going to rip each other’s clothes off at any moment and make me the next teen pregnancy statistic.

Well, she can’t have gone far — probably just to the little market on Columbus to pick up dinner ingredients. Surely she’ll be back any minute. I should call the front desk and ask the doorman if he saw her go out. Theo could hold down the fort while I look for her.

Gosh, I can just picture her standing in line at Rico’s, looking for all the world like a bohemian free spirit in her snug t-shirt, paint-spattered jeans, strappy sandals, gobs of gypsy jewelry, hair in long, loose layers. She’ll glance up from her basket of Thai basil and coconut milk, see my face and just know. Know that I’m about to hurl a bomb at her. Know that trouble’s found her yet again, like it always does.

How can I tell her? How? It’s only been a year and a half since Dad’s car crash and the month of ICU agony before he was snatched from us. How can she possibly cope with Poppa right now? He’s as fatherly to her as a lion is to a gazelle.

I just wish I could make this all go away.

I look at the hospital number in my hand again, and my mouth goes as dry as a day-old croissant. What if Poppa and his car—? There’s no ice on the roads, but a couch could tumble off a truck, or a rogue deer leap out of the woods and straight through his windshield. Poppa could have massive bleeding on the brain right now — pressure building like floodwaters behind a levee, flattening everything. Cells, synapses, ganglion crushed, dying, dead. I’ve seen it before.

My grand Paris dream starts to pull away, a face in a taxi window. Off toward Midtown. Off to find a more worthy recipient.

Who can help me stop this taxi from driving away with my dream?

A homeless drug addict steps in front of the taxi in my mind and it stops. The coked-up guy stands there, fists on hips, chin jutted out, dark eyes flashing, as if daring the driver to flatten him in his frayed cords and Nietzsche T-shirt. Uncle David?

He winks at me, then in a blink transforms from his old stoner self into the bald, flannel-shirted craftsman I now know and love. Of course. If there’s anyone who can help me sort out what to do about Poppa, it’s Mum’s younger brother, the prodigal son. 

I carry the phone to my bedroom, hit four on speed dial.
Chapter 2
“Ah-yup,” Uncle David says, another weird Maine expression that’s crept into his speech. A table saw whines in the background. The tone changes as the blade tastes wood, gearing up to a horrific shriek like someone being tortured. A woman with serious lung capacity. A shot-putter. One of those beefy opera singers.

I close my bedroom door, shout, “Hey! It’s Dani. Could you go to your office maybe?”

“Hey niece o’mine, what’d ya say? Keegan’s ripping boards and I can’t hear squat. I better go to my office.” He shouts something to his assistant and gradually the heinous squealing fades. “A’right. Office. Shoot.”

“I need your help right away. Some hospital called saying Poppa’s been in an accident and they want to operate immediately and they need approval from Mum, but she’s not here and I don’t know where she went or exactly how long she’ll be gone or anything, and the nurse lady who called wouldn’t give me any details at all but it must be pretty bad if they have to operate. I’m seriously freaking out. Could you please, please, please call the hospital and see if you can find out what the heck is going on and give them the okay to operate?”

“Whoa. Accident? What kind of accident? Car accident?”

Images of crumpled fenders, broken glass, thick smoke, and charred car remains click through my mind in rapid succession. Not again, Lord. Please, not again. I wobble, sink onto my bed. “I—. I don’t know,” I choke.

“Sorry, I’m just in shock. I mean, after your dad…” he gives a low whistle. “Gracie’s been through this kind of hell one too many times. Give me that number. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks,” I wipe my eyes and give him the nurse’s name and number. “What should I do now? Mum could be back any time. She’s gonna just curl up and die when she finds out.”

“Well…” he drawls, “I reckon there might be, you know, divine providence in her missing that call. It’s about time I had a go at being the responsible kid. Don’t you worry, and don’t say nothing. Got it?”

“You want me to lie to Mum?”

“I’d like to spare Sis some grief for a change, so let’s keep this between us for now. No guarantees it’ll work, but it’s worth a shot. Go back to what you were doing and just be normal.”

I snort. “This should be good. I’ve got two finals tomorrow.”

“I’m real sorry, Dani. Go study and try not to worry too much. God’s watching over you and Gracie. He won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear, as the Good Book says.”
*  *  *
Just be normal, Uncle David said. Right. I’ve got exams, a dying grandparent, a missing mother. My dream summer hanging in the balance. Well, not so much a dream as a nightmare-chaser. An antidote to the poison that’s been building inside of Mum.

I plod back to the living room. My throat aches even more when I see Theo’s face tipped onto a couch cushion, muscles slack in peaceful sleep. If Mum and I don’t get to Paris, then what? Mum becomes even more sad, more sick? Breaks down? Goes to the hospital and I go where? To freaking Maine with Uncle David? I’d rather sleep on park benches.

I kneel at Theo’s feet and shovel papers back into my history binder. My face’s reflection in his polished school shoes is stretched like a limp, useless noodle.

How could Uncle David say we’re not being tested beyond what we can bear? Jeez. Mum and I are still trying to recover from losing Dad. Do we never get to settle into normal? Real normal, not pretend normal. Not resigned normal.

Church words flood my mind and push back the rising tide of self-pity. What Uncle David said is only half-true. Part of the story. There’s more to that passage — a promise: “When you are tested, he will provide a way out, so that you can bear up under it.”

Right. There is a way out. My uncle will handle this. He’ll get Poppa the care he needs and everything will be fine. Mum can stay at a safe distance and just…send him a get well card. We’ll head to Paris as planned and leave our worries behind.

I pile my binder and textbook on the far end of the couch, untuck my shirt again, twist my pleated skirt askew, and sink into the cushions beside my boyfriend. Theo registers my return by dropping his head back on my shoulder and draping his warm arm across me.

I pull History: Modern to Contemporary onto my lap and pretend to be engrossed in the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain falling, the Cold War blowing in. But I can’t stop my hands from trembling as I turn the pages. I practice French phrases in my head, but quelle heure est-il? sounds vaguely like “kill or steal” and I picture Parisian police descending on me for asking the time. I open my mental sketch book and let strokes flow over the whiteness, but the virtual charcoal stick crumbles in my inner grasp.

All right, God, I want to trust you here, but what the heck are you doing? How will Mum ever believe you aren’t out to get her? She needs to be healed, not drawn into Poppa’s world and his hateful words: she’s “uppity,” “useless,” “a waste of space” with “no use for a soul.” I know you expect me to be still, Lord, and believe you’re going to fix this. Can’t you give me something to hold onto before I tear out my own hair?

Theo grunts in his sleep, nuzzles against my collarbone, his whiskers scritching across cotton. I rest my cheek on the back of his head and breathe in the familiar scent of his scalp, his musky vanilla cologne. My anxious mind stops flailing and I sink into memories of our last rooftop picnic.

We nestled on a tattered afghan, my spine curled against Theo’s chest, blanketed from the chilly spring air by his toasty arms. The sun sank behind the buildings and distant windows lit up, one by one. In awed silence we sat, listening to whirring HVAC units and the distant hum and honk of traffic below. I could not imagine a more perfect peace than this.

But soon the roof access door banged open. Mum appeared in her paint-spattered smock, bringing us a bag of Chinese takeout. Theo jumped to his feet to make space for her on the blanket, but she backed away, shaking her head. She stared at the sparkling Manhattan skyline for a moment and her shoulders sagged under some invisible weight. Then, without a word, she turned and disappeared down the stairs.

In her overworked fog — or whatever was making her so droopy — Mum had forgotten to send up normal silverware. So Theo and I cracked apart the cheap chopsticks from the bottom of the bag and fed each other sloppy clumps of Chinese chicken and shrimp. Between bites, we talked about the years to come — him studying psychology, me, art. Living with our families and commuting to college here in the city to save money.

“I’ll save as much of my inheritance as I can,” I said, “so we can get a place of our own.”

Theo prodded his Lo-mein, his ears turning pink. “I take it you plan a wedding in there somewhere,” he said, more to the noodles than to me. “Shacking up doesn’t seem your style.”

“Yours either.”

“I think my family would be more supportive of that than me getting married at twenty.”

I swallowed hard. “That’s just two years from now. You think….”

“Can we pull it off? I don’t know, Dee. We’re just day­dreaming here, right?”

Were we? It felt so tantalizingly possible. I could picture us brushing our teeth at a dinky apartment sink, barefoot and sleep rumpled. 

“We’d have my trust fund and I could learn Web design. Mum has tons of business contacts — plenty to keep us fed and housed while you do med school and then your psychiatry residency.”

“Web design? Uh-uh. These hands?” He grasped my wrists and lifted my palms to eye level. 

“They’re meant to make masterpieces, not code HTML.”

“I can still draw and paint on the side. Heck, I’d rather be a janitor and be with you, than have gallery shows without you.”

“I don’t deserve you.” He pulled me close and kissed me. Soy sauce and spice.


WOOF! WO-WOOF! WOOF!

Rhys’s barking snaps me out of my reverie. As he nudges open the studio and bolts for the front door, my heart becomes a thumping drum again. It’s Mum. She’s back.

I get my nose out of Theo’s sweet-smelling hair and rivet my attention on the textbook in my lap. 

Theo rolls away from me, onto his other side, but he doesn’t wake.

Here goes. Act One of Just Be Normal. Places everyone. Aaand, action!

Mum shuffles in, sorting a pile of mail, while Rhys runs circles around her. Instead of her usual strappy sandals, she’s wearing ratty slippers, the once-white chenille now gray and frayed. Her hair is tangled and there’s a coffee ring on the leg of her jeans. Yikes.

“Hey.” Her voice is limp and breathy. “How’s the studying going?”

“Great. Super stimulating. Right, Theo?”

Mum thumbs through a magazine and absently pats Rhys’s head. She still hasn’t noticed snooze boy.

“Yeah, definitely,” I say in a pitiful imitation of Theo’s bass voice. “Once we dropped some acid, the ’60s came alive for us.”

“What?” Mum’s gaze drifts up and she takes in the scene. “He’s asleep again?”

“Of course. He’s used to crew practice at dawn. When four p.m. comes, he’s out. I swear you could set clocks by it.”

“Another early bird.” Mum’s chin puckers beneath her downturned mouth — her missing Dad expression. He woke at six every day, annoyingly chipper.

Her eyes roam. I turn to see what’s caught her attention. On the wall behind me is a snapshot from my parents’ engagement day, shot by a Japanese tourist Dad pressed into service, so the story goes. Dad’s on one knee at Mum’s feet in a grassy spot among English castle ruins. She cradles his face in her hands as if it were pure gold. 

Gold turned to dust.

Don’t go there. Don’t let Mum go there, either.

“I suppose you told Sleeping Beauty where you went?” I say.

“He said you were in the bathroom, and I thought I’d be right back. But the condo association president cornered me in the mailroom. What an exhausting motor mouth. I could use a nap.”
Another nap? No, no, no. Come on, brain. Think upbeat. Think perky.

“So!” I chirp, “What came in the mail? Anything good?”

Mum flips through the pile again. She frowns and waves a lime-green postcard at me — an RSVP card for my seventeenth birthday bash, held weeks ago. “This came from Poppa Tilman. I don’t know why he bothered after all this time.”

All the blood in my head drops to my toes. If I weren’t already sitting, I’d swoon. Why did that have to come today, of all days?

I stuff my shaking hands under my thighs. “M-maybe it, uh, got lost in the mail.”

“I don’t think so. There’s a note on the back: ‘Sorry I missed your party, pumpkin. I’m not coping well with paper at the moment. Those infernal women your mother keeps sending can’t work with my system or stay out of my business. But don’t worry your pretty head none. I ordered something special that’s due to ship any day now.’ I should have known his silence about the invitation wasn’t something so simple as rudeness.”

“You think he fired another maid?”

“Obviously. Not that he’d bother telling me about it. In my memory, Pop’s jealously guarded system is to keep every last thing and make piles to the ceiling. I’m surprised the contents of his house haven’t spontaneously combusted, they’re packed in so tight.”

The cordless phone rings from the far end table, just out of reach. Mum picks it up and checks the caller ID. “Ah, it’s David. I’ll take this in the studio. Why don’t you ask Theo to stay for dinner? I’m sure he’ll perk up with a little food.”

I say “okay” to Mum’s departing back and reach to Rhys for comfort. Stroking his fluffy neck slows my galloping heart. “Oh, Rhysie, I hope Uncle David’s just making small talk and he’ll ask for me soon, that he won’t tell her anything. For now, I guess we need to play normal. Lay down, boy.” He settles at my feet with a grunt of protest.

I reach for Theo’s shoulder and give him a little shake. Then a harder one. “Thebes?”

He lifts his heavy head off of me. His hazel eyes flutter open, more gold than green in the afternoon light. He groans. “Oh, Dani, I did it again, didn’t I? Jeez, I’m sorry. I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe I need to start drinking coffee like you do.”

I smile. “It would stunt your growth.”

“Little late for that, don’t you think?” He leans back, stretching, and his firm stomach peeks between his shirt hem and the waistband of his khakis. I look away and sit on my hands again before my hormones get the better of me.

“Mum wants to know if you can stay for supper.”

“Yeah?” he says, poking me in the ribs. “What about you?” Poke. “Do you want me?” Poke, poke, poke. “To stay?”

“Not if you’re gonna be a bully.”

Moi?” He strikes a Miss Piggy pose.

Non, ta jument méchante, qui ronfle comme un os endormi.”

Theo roars with laughter. “My evil what? Mare? Who snores like a sleepy bone?”

“I meant twin. Ju-something…else.”

“Ah. Jumeau méchant. Evil twin. And I do not snore. Especially not like a bone.”

I roll my eyes. “Bear. I wanted to say bear.”

Ours, not os. Bien? Dis-le et répète, Danielle.”

You say it. Repeat. Oh, brother.

I tip my head side to side as I chant, “Ours, ours, ours, ours, ours. Happy?”

“Come on, babe, cheer up. Your grammar’s quite good. You used the feminine adjective with jument, which was great, even if it wasn’t the noun you wanted.”

“I’m never gonna get this. Parisians will bludgeon me with baguettes for crimes against the mother tongue.”

“You are getting it. You’re brave enough to try making jokes in another language, which is pretty complicated. Honestly, you’ve picked up in six months what it took me three years to learn. Of course, I didn’t have a patient instructor completely dedicated to my success.”

“Come on, Thebes. You’ve got to be bored out of your mind teaching a dunce like me.”

“You are way too hard on yourself. So you made a mistake. Big deal. Who doesn’t? Heck, I’m learning here, too. Remember the flashcard fiasco?”

“I’d rather not.” Theo pounding the wall, purple-faced; me hunkered in a distant corner, utterly stunned by his rare flare of temper — not a scene I care to replay. Ever.

“Well, me neither. That was totally my bad. But I learned from it, right? I’ve had quite the adventure developing my cutting-edge teaching techniques.”

I snort.

“Yeah? You doubt me? I’m deeply insulted.”

“What’s so cutting edge about, ‘Dis-le et répète’?”

“How do you think you learned to draw? Practice. Years of filling sketch pads until your scribbles became art. Anyone who thinks they can get some new skill without practice is an idiot. So once we get through finals, we will répèter, en français every day, until you go. Très bien?” 

Mum strides into the living room clenching the phone. I can almost smell the fury pulsing out of her like fumes from a hot engine.

Pas bien. Mal. Très, très mal.

“There’s been a change of plans,” she says.

========

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