Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31 - My writing life

The computer came back on Tuesday afternoon and was able to get back on schedule. I felt so deprived for the days the machine was missing and the limited internet access frankly was the pits. Hard to imagine how much our lives resolve around a machine. For a writer the computer has been a real savings in time and money. The days of typing the manuscript and making sure you had a carbon since you were typing the script to send out to publishers. Usually you could get away with sending it out twice before you had to retype. There was also white out what fun that was. I graduated to a typewriter that allowed you to make the changes without using the liquid. Finally the computer. The first one I had was an Apple with the large floppy discs and I had to load the writing program every time I sat down to write. The machine only saved chapter by chapter. Does anyone remember the continuous paper and how sometimes the tear was right and sometimes wrong? Those were the days.

This week also found me involved in contests, not enterine but judging for three. Two were relatively easy since there were only a few pages to read. The other required books. I do like judging contests of both kinds. Finding someone who has talent and might become published is a real treat. Also finding a new writer who's prose sings is always fun.

Now to my own writing. I;m moving along on Confrontations and hopefully I'llhave it finished by mid-March. Sure hope so. I do hate endings and I've been living with these characters for about six or seven years. Writing the end to a series will be a great moment. Then I have another series to conclude but it is a quartet of novellas so that's not too bad.

Have been also reading on my Kindle, two chapter members mss and they were both interesting and fun reads. Also have been sorting through my shelves of books and re-reading many. Sometimes I wonder why I kept some books. So the shelves are dwindling once again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Three Blog visit Sunday

Today's blog visits are for lovers of mysteries. I've known Marilyn since the first EPIC conference in Omaha and have enjoyed her mysteries. A long time ago, I interviewed her for the blog and she interviewed me. She has I believe two mystery series ongoing. I found this blog while bouncing around. The last post really interested me. There were terms in US language and in Brit language. This a a blog by a number of women who write mysteries and covers books and other things.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

First Chapter Saturday -- A Silken Seduction

A Silken Seduction
Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing

Chapter 1

“Done.” Megan Blakefield closed her laptop and sank back in her chair. Move, she told herself. “Friday at last.” Unlike her siblings and co-workers she refused to use the cliché. And unlike most of them she had no plans for the weekend beyond reviewing her rules of life. Should she scrap them and start anew? They certainly hadn’t taken her to the place she desired, a home settled by the man of her dreams. What she’d received as a reward for obeying those rules was a handful of failed relationships.

Her hands dropped to her lap. The next issue of Good Lookin’ was at the printer’s, a perfect ending to an intense week of work and a very long day. She yawned.
The office door opened. One of her brothers stepped inside. “Good, you’re still here.”

She looked up. “No, it’s my ghost.”

“I need a favor.”

“Sure.” She wanted to bite her tongue a moment too late. She’d just tramped on one of the rules. Know what you’re agreeing to before you make a commitment or you’ll find yourself in trouble.

“Thanks. You can pick up Steve Morgan at the airport tonight. His flight arrives around nine.”

“Wait a minute.” Megan’s shoulder muscles tensed. Once more she had leaped into the steaming kettle. She stared at her brother. What did his smile mean? Was this some kind of sick joke? “You want me to do what?”

“Go to the airport and meet Steve’s plane.” He spoke each word as though addressing a child.

“I’m the last person he would want to see. Remember the scene I created three weeks ago.” Though she hadn’t yelled her accusations she had definitely made them. She would never forget Steve’s reaction. After a flash of angry denial he had laughed and resigned.

“Come on. Steve doesn’t hold a grudge. Kiss and make up. He would like that.”

“Right.” Megan glared at her brother. She couldn’t tell him or anyone about the impact of her first meeting with the photographer. He’s the one, her body had signaled. You’re crazy, the sane part of her had yelled. The inner debate still raged every time she saw him. And her body reacted in the same way. She blushed and his knowing green eyes showed he read the strength of the attraction. Then he made another teasing remark that increased her unease. Most of the time she avoided him but how she felt hadn’t changed.

“Remember how he reacted when I accused him of leaking the details of my exclusive interview to that witch at Beauty Spot?”

Mark chuckled. “Yeah, I do. He resigned. Then Allie explained how you shoot first and regret at leisure. He stayed. He even looks on the incident as a joke.” Mark put his hands on her desk and leaned forward. “You never explained why you thought he was the culprit.”

Because she hadn’t wanted to believe the man she’d been dating was the one had been the person to leak the information. “They had a relationship.”

Mark hooted. “They had a fling. At the time you jumped to that conclusion she was a month behind him.”

“She used to be his boss.”

He nodded. “She was but he quit and came to work for us. Be a sport and do the airport run. You’re the only one who can. Dad’s away. Luke’s tied up. Allie’s at Greg’s restaurant and I’m off to check some B&Bs.”

“Maybe I have plans.”

“Do you?”

“Sort of.”

He studied her. “No you don’t. What is your problem?”

She couldn’t tell him how much she felt like a dumb teenager lusting after the school jock when she was around Steve. “I …”

“Meg, you live the closest to JFK and drive that huge sedan.”

“You could hire a limo.”

He nodded. “I could but you know that’s not the way the Blakefields treat their employees.”

She did. And Steve knew the policy. When any staffer was out of town on an assignment unless they were being met by their own, a member of the Blakefield family played chauffeur.

Why was her sedan so important? She closed her eyes and began to plan. The plane landed at nine. They could leave the airport by nine thirty. The drive to the Hudson River village where he lived would take about an hour. Thirty minutes later she would be home. She could handle the temptation Steve posed for that long. “You win. I’ll go.”

Mark patted her hand. “Good girl.”

She considered barking. Instead she waved him to the door. “You owe me.”
He paused. “One more thing. Take the wheelchair that’s in the hall. Steve had a small accident.”

“How small?”

“Just a broken leg and a lot of bruising.”

Megan rolled her eyes. There went her plans for a quick pickup and delivery. She would have to escort him into his apartment. Before she voiced another objection she realized Mark had vanished. She thought about throwing something but the only things on her ultra neat desk were her laptop and a stack of page proofs. “You really owe me and I’ll collect.”

Steve Morgan. A sound midway between a sigh and a groan escaped. She was in trouble. He was hot. So was she but his teasing remarks always made her bristle. His green eyes made promises he would keep for a time. She wanted to believe he could commit to forever but she’d heard about his short attention span. According to her sister there had been at least four women since he’d begun at the magazine group.

You don’t want an affair, Megan reminded herself. Rule number two. Find a man who wants a lifelong commitment. No matter how hard she wished Steve wasn’t that man. She laughed at herself. Saying no to what hadn’t been offered was foolish.
With her laptop in hand she stepped into the hall. Mark hadn’t been joking. There really was a wheelchair outside her door. She pushed the battered vehicle down the hall and rode the elevator to the basement parking garage. After putting the chair in the trunk she drove to her apartment and made an omelet for dinner. Then she checked the arrival time of Steve’s flight.

She was going to kill her brother. Around nine thirty was a few minutes before ten. By the time she delivered Steve she wouldn’t have the energy to drive back to the city.

Megan paced around the living room. She needed to revise her plan. She reached for the phone. She could camp on the couch in her sister’s fiancé’s riverfront apartment. In the morning she could visit the Peek-A-Boo Boutique, check the lingerie and speak to the owner about the possibility of a magazine spread for the February issue of Good Lookin’.

She dialed the apartment. The answering machine invited her to leave a message. “Allie, Meg here. I need a place to crash for the night. Bringing Steve home from the airport. Arrive around midnight.” To make sure her sister received the message Megan called Allie’s cell phone and left the message again.

Megan rolled her shoulders and the tense muscles uncoiled. She had a plan to minimize the time with Steve. Was that what she wanted? No, but it was the only way to keep her rules of life.

* * *

Steve sank into the wheelchair the attendant held. His leg throbbed and the bruised and abraded shoulder, back and arm ached. He felt drained. Since the accident that had left him with a broken leg and other injuries he’d had little sleep. A week had passed before he’d been cleared for travel.

The airline employee wheeled him past shops and a food court to an elevator. “You being met?”

“My boss.” They exited the elevator and turned toward the baggage claim area. He saw her. “No.”

The attendant let loose a low whistle. “That your boss?”

“His sister.” Steve swallowed.

“Man, she’s a babe and you’re helpless. Shame.”

Steve grinned. “Hardly helpless but I’m not touching her.” He wanted to but he wouldn’t. Megan Blakefield was trouble. She was one woman who could make him forget he liked his freedom.

“You dead or is she taken?”

“Neither. It’s complicated.” That was the truth. Much as he denied the attraction Megan was able to make part of him stand at attention in less than a second. He reacted that way every time he saw her. She also made him act as rude as a teenager with his first crush.

Steve shifted the camera case. He wasn’t walking her road. She was a forever woman and he was a today and maybe tomorrow man. There was always a new place that cried to be photographed. Have camera and love to travel was his way of life.

“Steve,” she said.

He loved the prim precision of her voice. “Megan, you’re looking … good,” he drawled. Slowly his gaze moved from her short blonde curls over her breasts and drifted lower before returning to her face. As usual she blushed. “Get a bit too much sun.”

According to her sister Megan had rules of life, a large dose of curiosity and a penchant for leaping then looking. Could he push her into a more intimate reaction?
His gaze lingered on her mouth. He wanted to taste her full lips and explore her taste. He wanted to inhale the fragrance of her passion.

Wouldn’t happen. She would jump to the wrong conclusions the way she had when she’d shouted her suspicions about the stolen exclusive. When her voice had lost the crisp cool tones his interest had peaked but his anger had won.

Sure Simone had been his boss and his lover for a brief interval. But he didn’t give secrets away. Megan had apologized. He’d told her the next time she jumped to aim for his bed. Scarlet had been the color of the day with a touch of glacial glare from her blue eyes. Did she remember?

The attendant dropped a duffle on the floor. Steve slipped him a tip. With the man’s assistance Steve carefully made the transfer to the wheelchair Megan held. She fitted the duffle to the handles in the back and pushed him outside. As they crossed the street and went down a ramp the sounds she made brought a grin to his lips. “A bit out of condition, are you? I can show you some exercises to build stamina.”

“Not needed. You’re riding in a relic left from the days when my brothers were involved in sports. Bet that cast weighs a ton.”

“Hardly. It’s fiberglass.”

“Who’s taking care of you when you get home? You are an invalid.”

“Care to see how much of one I am.” He imagined the rosy hue of her cheeks. “You driving back to the city after you leave me off?”

“Not tonight. I left a message for Allie. I’ll bunk on the couch in their home office.”

“Brave woman. That pair can’t leave each other alone. You’ll need blinders and earplugs. They’re in lust.”

“That’s love. They’re engaged.”

“When did that happen?”

“Last week. They’ve set a date for December. So I believe it’s love.”

“Guess so.” He turned his head so he could see her. “Why did Mark send you?”

“I live the closest to the airport and everyone else was busy. I figure I was his last resort.”

Steve sucked in a breath. Was his friend and editor of Good Travelin’ playing matchmaker? Just because Mark had caught him closely observing Megan every chance he could didn’t mean more than an admiration of a pretty woman. Not that being cozy with her for a month of two wouldn’t be great but for forever. No way.

Megan halted the wheelchair beside a gray sedan. She opened the passenger’s door and slid the seat back. Once he was belted in she stowed the chair and bags in the trunk.

Steve had planned to stay awake and keep her company but the long flight, the pain pills and the two beers he’d drunk united. The last thing he remembered was Megan promising to have him home in less than an hour.

* * *

As Megan drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge the clock on the dash registered eleven forty-nine. Why hadn’t Allie returned the call? Was she tied up at Five Cuisines? The restaurant owned by her fiancé remained open until two AM. On weekends she often worked with Greg in the kitchen. As soon as Steve was settled a call to the restaurant was in order. Megan checked her cell phone and realized she had turned it off. Maybe a stop at the apartment would find her sister at home.

Moments later Megan parked in one of the visitors’ spots in the complex lot. Bright lights on poles illuminated the area. She studied her passenger. A lock of his dark auburn hair lay on his forehead. Asleep, he looked innocent, a state she knew he’d graduated from years ago.

She sucked in a breath. Her body said, “attack” while the sane part of her yelled, “run.” Staring at him wasn’t removing the temptation to touch his face and taste his skin. Move, she told herself. Don’t be a fool. Acting on an impulse will bring more trouble than you need. But she wanted. Her hand hovered over his forehead. She jerked it back.

Megan left the car and popped the trunk. What would happen if she kissed him the way she’d dreamed of since he’d joined the magazine group?

Do not go there. A rule of life was to resist the lure of a buff body and dreamy eyes.

She opened the passenger’s door. “Steve, wake up. You’re home.”

He reached for her. She ended sprawled across his lap. Though his eyes were closed his mouth found hers. Heat sizzled from the touch and shot to her groin.

“Danger,” a voice shouted.

“Enjoy,” another whispered.

His lips parted. His tongue brushed across her mouth. She felt the heat increase and she knew she had to resist. He would accept everything she had to give and walk away. She would be left with bruised emotions. She pressed her hands against his shoulders and pushed away. “You don’t want to do this.”

“Seems I do,” he said. “You’re blushing. How far does the red extend?”

Megan nearly cracked her head on the frame of the car. “You’re not going to learn.”

He winked. “Is that a challenge?”

She pointed to the wheelchair. “Get in. I’ll deliver you and your things so I can check in with Allie. She never answered my call.”

“Try the restaurant. Or better, we could stop by.”

“I don’t think so.” The object was to see him home and leave before desire changed her mind.

He moved into the chair. She handed him the camera bag and her overnight case.

She pushed him to the door where a security guard let them in.

“Welcome back, Mr. Morgan. She do this?” The elderly man guffawed.

“Not her. A mountain.”

While Steve entered the enclosed mail room, Megan ran down the hall to her sister’s door. Please be there, she begged. She pressed the buzzer, waited and pressed again. When there was no answer she returned to the foyer. A series of yawns made her realize how tired she felt.

Steve arched a brow. “You set?”

She shook her head. “She’s not at the apartment. Once I have you safely stowed I’ll call Five Cuisines.”

The elevator ride of a single floor lasted too long. Steve’s scent permeated the small space. She felt an urge to break all the rules of her life. That could bring delight or disaster. She felt torn between sanity and madness. Her lips still burned from the kiss. Her breasts felt full and the throbbing low in her belly reminded her of an urgent wish to be with Steve.

He handed her the apartment key. She opened the door and pushed him into the large living room. Moving the wheelchair across the plush dark blue carpet was a chore. She pushed him down the hall to his bedroom. As they entered she glanced through the large window and saw the moon reflected on the river’s dark surface and the distant lights of the bridge. “Nice view. Almost like the one from Greg’s place.”
“Should be. His apartment’s below.”

The bedroom wasn’t what she’d expected. The scene wasn’t set for seduction. Plain deep green drapes matched the bedspread and the carpet. The furniture was dark and masculine.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Had she really asked that question? The gleam in his green eyes said she had. “I mean … to make you more comfortable.” Lord, what imp had grabbed her tongue? She felt her skin heat and knew the flush had spread along her neck.

Steve laughed. “Now there are several things on my mind but I won’t ask. Yet. You need to make a call.”

Megan breathed a sigh of relief. She retreated to the living room and called Five Cuisines. What she heard from the hostess caused her to land on the couch with a thud. Was this a joke or a stroke of fate? What was she going to do? She had to drive back to the city, something she had hoped to avoid.

“Megan, could you give me a hand?”

She walked to the bedroom. She’d been on the go since a five AM workout in the gym. Her body felt like rubber. She was too tired to drive to the city and the temptation to remain here was strong.

Steve pushed the wheelchair from the bathroom. “Could you undo this cast boot?”

“Sure.” She loosened the Velcro straps and slid the boot free. “Where do you want it?”

“By the bed. Hopefully I’ll be able to put it on.” He moved from the chair to sit on the edge of the bed. “Did you reach Allie?”

She shook her head. “Seems she and Greg are away until Sunday. Shame she didn’t mention that when I saw her this morning. Let me get you settled before I go.” She paused. “Is there a motel or hotel nearby?”

“There’s a motel but it’s midnight. They’re probably full.”

“Maybe there’s a B&B.”


Her shoulders slumped. “Guess I’m leaving for the city.” She covered her mouth to hide a yawn.

“Stay here.” He grinned. “I won’t be jumping your bones.”

But she might jump his. “I’d better go.”

“And have an accident. How do you think I’d feel then?”

Her resolve faded. “Thanks.” For better or worse she would stay. Her rules of life were in danger of being shattered.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday's Writer's Tip --Plot continued

Finally through all my mail, contest scores in two contests sent off and I'm back to blog posts. This is the final one on Plotting.

I'm into saving plots these days and here's the final segment. These are the things to check.
The Framework - Now those are the five things mentioned in the beginning, the who, what, when, where and why.

Though Motivation is the why of a story, not only your hero and heroine's motives need to be checked but also those of your secondary characters and also yours as the writer. Just what are you trying to bring to light in your story.

The Significant events are important to see if their function works in the story. Sometimes the writer skips over what should be a significant point in the story. Make sure this doesn't happen in yours. Another thing is over-playing the event.

The vital ides is sometimes called the theme. This can be tailored to fit the story.
When I wrote Obsessions when I reached the third draft, I realized not only did the villain have an obsession but so did many of the other characters. I had to go back and strengthen the viewing of these,

These two come together. Action and Reaction. Every time an event occurs, the characters react in a certain way and the action they take is based on their reaction. Happens to us in real life.

Goals are the what but the final goal a character seeks may not be the one he wants at the end of the story. So make sure if the goal has changed the reasons are shown to the reader and that they make sense.

Subplots- Often there are other characters who have events occurring that may mirror those of the main characters or be in opposition to those of the characters. Check these to see that they make sense.

Conflicts are the rocks in the character's paths to reach their goal. There are internal conflicts rising from the character's nature and there are external conflicts. Those are imposed on a character from outside. Conflicts, particularly internal ones are often based on secrets. Check to make sure the main characters have secrets that make sense and those that can't be cleared up by a single sentence of paragraph.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I'm back

Computer disaster has kept me from posting. The fan that cools the computer died and had to be replaced. By next week I should be up and totally running. I have about two hundred and fifty more emails to read.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Last week and the coming days

The past week saw the kinks finally worked out of the last segment of Confrontations. Doesn't mean it's written but I think I've all the loose ends gathered and tied in a knot. Loose ends always bother me when i find them in a book. Once had to call a friend to ask her about the loose end I'd found in her book. The single line had intrigued me and when one of the characters said, "I'll tell you later," I really wanted to know. When the book was reissued she plugged that hole. Only took a sentence or two.

Saw the release of the entire, so far, collection of Katherine Miller mysteries released for the Kindle. I now have 21 books up there. That's not a lot considering some authors but it does make me feel good to know people can buy them and for reasonable prices.

Coming up this week will be more from Bird by Bird, more on characterization, an interview with a fellow Vanilla Heart author, the final segment on saving the plot, a chapter and maybe some blog visits or maybe something else. Can't seem to settle on what to do on Sundays. Hope to finish the third segment of Confrontations and get the fourth well on the way.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday - Three blogs visited

Some different blogs for you to visit, I found them interesting. This is a clever idea, especially for writers who want to get some feedback on their sentences and to intrigue readers with what they've written. I did participate for a time and I have friends who do. Here you might find some tips to aid in marketing your books This blog is for members of EPIC but interesting reading with interviews, articles and news about the organization and the members.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Savory Seduction -- First Chapter Saturday

A Savory Seduction
Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing

Chapter One

When his mother entered the office of Five Cuisines, Greg Ramsey pushed his chair back and smiled in welcome. “Your timing is perfect. Just finished creating the menus for the week.”

Stella Ramsey crossed the room and kissed his cheek. “And how is my handsome son?”
“Pleased with our success.” The restaurant had opened six months before and was on the way to becoming a profitable venture. For the past month, there’d been few empty tables at either seating. Even on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, they’d been nicely booked. The weekend lunches were gaining the attention of the people who came to browse in the antique shops and other unusual stores.

He reached for the letter that had arrived in the morning mail. The offer could make or break his dream. He knew very little about the magazine other than a spread was eagerly sought by restaurants. As a silent partner, his mother had a voice in whether they should chance a bad review.

“What was so important you interrupted my lunch date.” She stared at him. “You’ve found a weekend hostess.”

He shook his head. “That job’s yours until you say you’ve had enough.”

“Then what?” She sat on the captain’s chair beside the desk. “Have you met the woman of your dreams?”

He laughed. “When do I have time?”

“Several of the sous chefs are young attractive women.”

“They’re taken, and I don’t poach anything but eggs.”

“Then what did you want to tell me?”

He handed her the sheet of paper. “This letter came today, and the offer is a very sweet opportunity.” As she read, Greg studied her. The few strands of silver in her jet black hair just added to her attractiveness. She’d been a widow for fifteen years, and he often wondered why she hadn’t remarried. Did she still mourn for his father? Why? He remembered the many nights that he’d awakened late at night to hear their angry voices.

“You will not let them near Five Cuisines,” she said. “I won’t have it.”

He frowned. “Why not? A feature in Good Eatin’ will place us among the top restaurants in the country.”

“I won’t let him use his magazines to destroy you the way he ruined your father’s dreams.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Peter Blakefield, editor in chief of this magazine, deliberately used his wife’s magazines to destroy Le Provencal.”

Greg rose and went to his mother’s side. He’d been sixteen when the tragedy had occurred. His father’s suicide had brought his mother grief and had brought drastic changes in Greg’s life. “Why would this Blakefield do that?”

She stared at his hand. “Your father told me the families had been at odds since they arrived in this country during colonial days. Your father and Peter had become rivals in high school. Then I met Peter at college. We fell in love and were engaged but we had a fight. I broke the engagement. Peter wanted no part of my parents’ restaurant. Victor learned about the rift and comforted me. He went to work for my parents and we were married. Peter was furious. He said he would destroy Victor. He waited for years, but he succeeded.”


“He wrote dreadful articles about the food, the service, and other things. The shame caused your father to take his own life. Victor wasn’t the most stable of men and when he was drinking became very depressed.”

“Do you have copies of these articles?”

“Your father wouldn’t let me read them. I watched him burn them. Promise you won’t let those people near Five Cuisines.”

Greg turned away. Her comments were disappointing, but, until he knew more about this feud, he’d hold off on sending a letter of regrets. “Are you sure this is the right decision?”

She looked away. “Yes.”

He nodded. “I’ll take care of this later.” He took the letter. “About this feud. Is there any real reason you and I should be involved in the mess?”

“Greg, drop the idea of being featured in Good Eatin’. Peter Blakefield doesn’t forgive or forget.” She rose and walked to the door.

There had to be more than she’d told him, but he had no idea how to discover just what had happened. Greg slipped the letter in a drawer. He didn’t want to slam the door on an opportunity. Maybe she would change her mind. He would hold off on answering for a time. He shook his head. An ancient feud. How medieval.

* * * *

Allie Blakefield stormed into her father’s office. “What is the meaning of this memo?” She slapped the offensive paper on his desk. “’Good Eatin’ will have no good words for Five Cuisines, a restaurant owned by the Ramseys.”

Peter Blakefield looked up. A few streaks of gray could barely be seen in his blond hair. “The memo is clear and you will honor it. There has been bad blood between the families for generations.”

Allie laughed. “What? Like the Hatfields and McCoys? I thought I was the editor of Good Eatin’ and made the decisions on which restaurants are reviewed.”

“In this case, I’ve over-ruled you.” He smiled. “How was California?”

Allie sighed with frustration. His change of subject rankled, but she knew he’d told her all she would hear from him. “Warm. Some good food and some bad, but the restaurants have been selected and the photo shoots arranged.” She curled in a chair across from his desk. “Why can’t I do Five Cuisines? I’ve heard so many raves about the food and the ambiance. Surely some feud from the old days is a poor reason.”

“Allie, forget it. I made a similar decision fifteen years ago.”

She frowned. Fifteen years ago, her mother had died. Allie had been twelve. Back then, her Dad had edited Good Eatin’. Afterwards, he’d become editor and chief of four magazines and sole parent to four young children. What else had happened then? Her curiosity simmered, but she knew he wouldn’t tell her more. “I still want to consider the place.”

“I said no and I meant what I said.” Her father leaned forward. “Are the galleys for the next issue proofed?”


“Then I’ll see you for dinner on Sunday.”

Allie paused at the door. “I’m not sure I can make it.” Though Sunday dinners were a family affair, usually one of the other of the four siblings was absent.
Allie hurried to her office. Vowing to learn more about her father’s reasons for meddling in her territory, she closed the door and dialed her aunt’s number. “Aunt
Laura, what can you tell me about the Ramsey/Blakefield feud?”

Her aunt laughed. “Thought that ended when Victor died. His wife took their son and moved to Europe. What made it surface now?”

Allie explained about the restaurant and how her father had reacted to the idea of a feature article. “He forbade me to go near the place.”

Laura chuckled. “So he waved a red flag and bull-like, you will charge.”

“Yes. Would you give me the facts?”

“As much as I can. The feud began over loyalties during the Revolutionary War and some betrayals, had its ups and downs but vanished after the Civil War until your dad and Victor attended the same high school. In college, they fell in love with the same woman. She and your dad were engaged, but Victor married her.”

Allie slumped in a chair. “What about Mom? Didn’t Dad love her? Did he marry her for the magazines?”

Her aunt sighed. “Peter married her on the rebound. They learned to value each other. When she died, he was devastated. I’m sure he loved her.”

“Nothing explains his attitude about an article. What happened in the past can’t be changed.”

Laura laughed. “I know. This might give a clearer picture. Several months after your mom died, Victor Ramsey lost his restaurant. He killed himself and his wife blamed your father.”

That made little sense to Allie. “Thanks for the info.” The situation was still from the dark ages. She couldn’t see why Good Eatin’ couldn’t do a spread on the most unusual restaurant in the area. She nodded. No matter what her father said, she intended to scout the place. She leaned back in the chair and made a decision. Except the thought of driving across the bridge and back five evenings in a row didn’t thrill her.

She booted her computer and looked among the employees to see who lived on the west side of the Hudson River. She found seven. After checking the master assignment schedule for the four magazines, she tapped an extension number. One of the names belonged to a friend. “Steve, Allie here. When do you leave for Alaska?”

“Tuesday evening. Why?”

“Do you have a guest room?”


“Could I sack out there for a week while you’re away. I promise not to pry.”

He laughed. “Prying is your sister’s way. You’re too direct. What’s up?”

“I want to check Five Cuisines.”

“Be my guest. You’ll love the restaurant.”

“And the location of your apartment is perfect.”

He chuckled. “While you’re in town, look around. There are some neat shops and several other good restaurants. I’ll drop a key off tomorrow and alert the doorman that you’ll be there. I’ve several new neighbors. One’s a real hunk. Just your type.”

“Interesting. Which apartment?”

“Directly below mine. If you score, I want a finder’s fee.”

She laughed. “You’re outrageous. See you tomorrow.”

* * * *

Allie tied her sneakers and walked to the sliding doors leading to the apartment’s balcony. She’d arrived in the Hudson River village late last evening and settled in. Before Steve left, he’d made reservations at Five Cuisines under the name she’d used when scouting. Five dinners. One in each room of the restaurant for the first seating as six.

She inhaled a deep breath and walked to the railing. A warm summer breeze caressed her skin. A few cloud puffs scudded across the blue sky. Several sailboats glided past. She watched until they reached the Tappan Zee Bridge.

A sound caught her attention and she looked down. Steve had been right, definitely her type. A man wearing black briefs flowed from one Yoga position to another. His tanned, sculptured body was glorious. She felt a stirring in her blood.
She inhaled. A man who looked so fabulous had surely been claimed years ago. She muffled a groan. She was four months past her last relationship with no one on the horizon. Her constant flitting about the country wasn’t conducive to long term relationships. Face it. None of the men she’d dated had made her want to remain earth-bound.

Though she’d planned to walk to town to find coffee, browse through the shops, and check what the local restaurants offered, she couldn’t move. Her gaze focused on her neighbor’s broad shoulders, tight rear, and muscular legs. His dark hair touched his shoulders. Was his face as striking as his body?

He finished the exercises and turned. A long sigh escaped Allie. Definitely easy on the eyes. Too bad she couldn’t see his hands to check for a ring. If he’d been hers, she would have banded him with a broad one.

If you lean over the railing another inch, you’ll fall. Though a novel way to meet a man, there was no guarantee he would catch her.

At that moment, he looked up. Their gazes met, and she felt the impact down to her toes. Yes, yes, rang in her thoughts. Her breath caught in her throat.

“Well, hello. Thought Steve was off on a trip.”

She grasped the cool metal railing. “He is. Steve’s a friend. He loaned me the apartment while I’m in town doing research.” Surely the man’s eyes were as dark as the midnight sky.

“A writer?”


“Need help with your research?”

She released her grip on the railing. Better move on before she made a fool of herself by propositioning him. “I’ll let you know. Right now, I’m off to explore the town.”

“See you around.”

“I’m sure.” Allie backed into the sliding door. She rubbed her rear. Boy, she was rattled. She laughed and ducked inside. Chances were he was single, but did she want a short-term involvement with a stranger? The way her body pulsed and the trend of her thoughts shouted yes. Slow down.

She slid her small bag over her shoulder, tucked the apartment key inside, and left. On the ground floor, she glanced at his apartment number. Maybe she could learn his name from the mailboxes. As she reached the front door, she made a face. The boxes were in a locked room, and she didn’t have a key. Just my luck.

She waved to the doorman as she passed and strode up the hill to Main Street. As she strolled along, the aroma of coffee drew her to a storefront where several tables stood on the wide sidewalk. She read the name on the door. The Coffee Mug.
When she entered, the scent of freshly baked bread united with the coffee and drew her to the counter. Sweet rolls, a variety of breads, assorted cookies, cakes and pies lined the showcase shelves. She ordered a coffee to go and promised herself she would stop on the way back to the apartment for some rye bread.

As she continued her exploration, she marveled at the variety of small shops selling books, antiques, dollhouses, and jewelry. Restaurants were interspersed with the stores. At each eatery, she paused to read the menus. Some were tempting. Maybe Five Cuisines wasn’t the only game in town.

Then a display window made her grin. The Peekaboo Boutique. She dropped the coffee cup in a trash container and pressed her nose against the display window. Mentally, she flipped a two-headed coin and won. Lingerie was her downfall, and many of the items in the window were sexy and unique. The bras and bikini bottoms appeared to have been hand-painted with flowers and butterflies. She opened the door. A bell tinkled.

A middle-aged woman pushed through a beaded curtain behind the counter. “Hi, I’m Peggy Lou. What would you like to see?”

Allie laughed. “Everything. Let’s start with those lace-up thigh highs and the matching teddy.”

The woman arched a brow. “You’ve great taste and the perfect body to wear them.”

“And I have the right dress.”

Before long, a half dozen sets were added to the stockings and teddy. Allie chuckled. “I’d better stop before I max my card. Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Plots - Writing Tip

Today's writing tip is more about saving a plot. No matter what plot line is chosen there are six elements that must be considered and developed when checking the plot. If one of these six is weak or not considered the plot will fall flat.

Who - this is the characters in the story and they must fit the design. I've been struggling with a hero who has rejected all the heroines I've given him. None of them offered what he wanted. So your characters must belong in the plot and belong to each other. Even the bad guys must be the right ones.

When is the second element. This is time. The day, month, year, era, all have an effect on the plot. Using the wrong words in an historical can stop a reader. The values of people change with the time. So time is important.

Where is the third element. This is the setting and shows the place of the action. There is a difference between city, small town, country. A difference between the slums and a manor house. The setting adds flavor to a story and if the wrong one is chosen, the plot will fail.

What is the goals of the characters. Just what is their desire. Choosing a small goal won't drive the characters to tell an interesting story. Each of the major characters in a story must have a strong desire and if they are in opposition, you have the making of a great story.

Why means motivation. Why has the hero, heroine, villain chosen a particular goal. This needs to be as strong as the goal. Weak motivation doesn't drive the characters to tell a great story.

The last element is how. These are the steps taken to by the characters in the story to reach a goal. and this involves action and reaction that calls for further scenes.

Next week there will be more on plot. Now that the major elements are in place it will be time to take care of the small cracks that can break the plot.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Collin Kelley - Interview

Collin Kelley is a fellow Vanilla Heart author. I've yet to read one of his books but soon will once I get my reading devices under control. As someone who took a college course on writing poetry designed to help with word choice we share a bit more than telling stories.

1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?

I am a jack of all trades, actually. By day, I'm a journalist, but I'm also a poet and novelist. In the 90s, I wrote for the stage and a couple of screenplays, so I've dabbled in all the genres.

2. Did you choose your genre or did it choose you?

Poetry was my first love. I started writing in high school after discovering Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Sharon Olds and Whitman. Learning to write clearly and concisely in as few words as possible has helped me in every facet of my career.

3. Is there any genre you'd like to try? Or is there one you wouldn't?

'm planning to write a travel memoir about London. I've been going there for 15 years and have met a lot of characters and had some odd adventures, so I want to capture all that in a book.

4. What fiction do you read for pleasure?

I love Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, John Irving and I just finished reading Michael Cunningham's latest, By Nightfall, which is excellent.

5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing?

I grew up near Atlanta, Georgia with supportive parents. They taught me to read at a very early age, so by the time I was in first grade I'd read all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and was ready to move on to Judy Blume. I was reading way above my grade level, which freaked out the teachers and librarians. I started writing little stories and skits when I was in junior high. I had my first poem published in Welter in 1993. Since then, I've been published in magazines and journals around the world.

6. Which of your characters is your favorite?

In Conquering Venus, it has to be Diane Jacob. She's the cynical, sarcastic teacher who has absolutely no filter on her mouth. Writing her dialogue is fun because she's the least like me of any of the characters in the novel.

7. Are there villains in your books and how were they created?

I suppose the villain in Conquering Venus is Frederick, the young man who had an illicit affair with Irene Laureux's husband, Jean-Louis in 1968. Jean-Louis is mysteriously murdered during the student/worker riots in Paris and Irene is sure Frederick knows the answers or was directly involved.

8. What are you working on now?

I'm finished the sequel to Conquering Venus, which is called Remain in Light. All the characters are back from the first book, but I'm also trying to create a standalone story that you can pick up and enjoy without having read Conquering Venus. While Venus is literary fiction, Remain in Light is a literary thriller with plenty of intrigue, mystery, detectives and crooked cops in Paris.

9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive?
Conquering Venus is my debut novel. The idea for the book came in 1995 after I helped chaperone a group of high school students on their senior trip to Paris. I was so taken by the city, the odd mix of people on the trip and the politics happening while we were there, that I wanted to create a fictional story to explore all those experiences.

10. Tell me about your latest book and how it came about. Enclose the opening of the book around 400 words.

In the summer of 1995, Parisian widow Irène Laureux is 67 years old and has been unable to leave her apartment on rue Rampon for almost 30 years due to crippling agoraphobia. When American writer Martin Paige, acting as chaperone for a group of high school students on their senior trip, checks into the hotel across the street, Irène discovers that she and the young man have logic-defying connections, including similar tattoos and unresolved mysteries about the deaths of their partners. Irène's husband, Jean-Louis, was mysteriously killed during the chaotic 1968 student/worker riots and Martin harbors a dark secret about the suicide of his lover, Peter.

Prologue: The Reflecting Hands

For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. – Rilke

In his dreams he can remember her name. From the shadowy first glimpses when she was peripheral, on the edge of a crowd or morphing into a friend or family member, to the day the plane lifted off from Memphis Airport bound for London and her face and body finally synchronized in mid-flight slumber. Upon waking, her image remains sharp and clear, but her name slips into the ether of his subconscious.

She is older, but stunning, like a French movie star; her mouth down-turned at the corners, dark eyes, hair long and blonde. She has a place now, too, not just random locations in unrelated dreams, but a balcony over a street. She appears, a palm raised in what seems like greeting, until she begins tracing her life line, a delicate finger circling the pad under her thumb, the mound of Venus. I don’t know what you mean, -----, he says with frustration. She smiles and rests her hands on the railing, their whiteness shocking against the black metal, and on the back of her left hand, between the thumb and index finger, is a tattoo of small interlocking crosses. He knows this marking, knows it like the back of his own hand, because in the summer of 1995 as Martin Page stares at himself in the mirror of his London hotel room, he can see the same tattoo inked into his skin – a South American symbol meaning “equal but opposite” – and her name is on the tip of his tongue.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Characters - More figures of speech

Back to figures of speech --

Irony is similar to sarcasm except it's not as biting. It's a gentler way of saying something is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words. Humor is often employed, not loud laughter, but a gentle chuckle.

Metonymy involves putting one word in place of another. It intensifies an idea and expresses it pictorially. It is adaptable and can show a lot in a few words. With lance in hand, the knight headed into the fray. "Tom, just what are you doing? Stop and think." Here instead of saying her brother always plunged into action without thinking you've used a substitution.

Hyperbole - this is an exaggeration that stops the reader and gives a sharp reaction. Mary moved with the precision of a well-oiled clock.

Paradox is a statement that is nonsense or contradictory if taken at face value. This is a difficult figure of speech to pull off. Sally never says anything but she keeps talking.

Onomatopeia - means fitting the sound to its sense. His boots scraped against the concrete. A sound like the scrape of nails on a blackboard sent chills along her spine.

When using figures of speech, choose those that are suitable to the setting or to the characters. Having a city scene and using rural figures of speech doesn't fly. Or having a nurse as a character and using figures of speech appropriate to a ballet dancer doesn't work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Inspirations - Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

This chapter of Bird by Bird gives us the story of the title of the book. And that's an important thing for a writer to remember. There are times when I get myself bogged down thinking things like I need 20,000 more words or I need 6 more chapters and so I dither. The answer to this is to think in small units.

I can write a paragraph and when that's done I can write another one and suddenly I have a scene and this becomes a chapter. Taking a story bit by bit is a good way to keep from feeling pressured by yourself. Of course sometimes the floodgates open and words pour out. There's nothing wrong with this either.

One thing I tell new writers and that's to write every day even if it's only a paragraph. At the end of the week maybe you'll only have seven paragraphs but chances are the next week the writer can produce two a day. Suddenly they have a whole page and do a page a day. This comes to 365 pages a year and many books are that length.

The moral of this chapter in Bird By Bird is to think in small units and the large unit will happen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday January 10 - What's ahead and what's past

The past week was sort of non-productive with writing. For me, non- productive means not completely meeting my goals. Not that I didn't write but visits to the dentist and taking down Christmas decorations took time out of my writing life. Hopefully this week will go better since I've moved to the fifth segment of Confrontations and rather feel like a clown ready for a party and trying to fit through a door with fifty baloons on strings. That's called tying up loose ends and not letting them go. I've had to re-order the nine segments of the story to get all the balloons through the narrow door.

So what's ahead blogwise this week. On Tuesday more inspirations from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Wednesday more on characterization, Thursday an interview with Colin Kelley, Friday More writing tips on the Plot, Saturday a first chapter of one of the many I have floating about and Sunday three more blogs visited.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Three blog visit Sunday

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

First Chapter Saturday -- Come Into The Light

Welcome to First Chapter Saturday. Come Into The Light is a hospital intrigue. The heroine is an older woman who solves the hospital's problems and finds a lasting love.

Come Into The Light
Janet Lane Walters
Published by Hardshell Word Factory
An imprint of Mundania Press

Chapter 1

JOHANNA GORDON RAKED HER fingers through her short curls and glanced at the clock centered on the wall between her diplomas. Seven-thirty. No wonder her shoulders ached. She’d been hunched over the desk since four.

With a sigh, she closed a folder and added it to the neat stack on a corner of the desk. She pursed her lips. For two weeks, the budget for the nursing department at the hospital had consumed her time. Unfortunately, money would remain her focus until she found areas to cut costs without compromising patient care or breaking the current contract with the nurses. Not that Hudson Community’s CEO cared about either option. She stretched to ease the tension between her shoulder blades.

“Why couldn’t I...” An idea occurred and she smiled.

Something to consider. Richard Jamison didn’t care which programs were dropped as long as his pet projects remained intact. Just this morning he’d reminded her she belonged to administration and to remember where her loyalties lay. Not with him. She’d risen through the ranks and saw more than the profits and losses he tossed around.

The loudspeaker on the wall crackled. “Dr. Red to the Emergency Room.” In staccato fashion, the operator repeated the message three times.

With a well-honed response, Johanna rose, grabbed her briefcase and, in three strides, reached the door. The call for any surgeon meant an emergency requiring immediate surgery. Her body quivered with excitement. She dashed through the empty outer office, crossed the hall and hit the call button for the elevator.

Just like an old fire horse, she thought. The alarm clangs and I’m off running. She stepped into the empty car. What was her hurry? How much help would she be? She’d been away from the bedside for ten years.

As she exited on the first floor, she nearly collided with Rachel Hill. Her friend’s dark hair had slipped from the neat bun at her nape. Like a sail, Rachel’s lab coat flew behind her. She carried two units of blood.

Johanna frowned. Rachel usually worked the day shift. “Bad accident?” Johanna asked.

“The worst. A six-year-old hit by a car. And to think I volunteered to switch.”

As Johanna matched strides with her friend’s half-running gait, the soft leather briefcase slapped against her thigh. “Need an extra pair of hands?”

“Hardly. If there was another body in the room, they’d be standing on the patient. Be glad you’re out of the zoo. Not that I blame people for caring about a child, but if the patient was old, indigent or dying... Don’t let me get started.”

“Want to talk?” Together they dashed up the five steps to the emergency room level.

Rachel straight-armed the door. “Maybe I do. Dinner on—” The door closed and cut off the rest of her words.

Johanna frowned. By the time they found an evening to fit Rachel’s schedule, she would have forgotten the incident that had triggered her anger. Instead of talking about the hospital, she would discuss her children. Despite their closeness, this topic always added to Johanna’s aching knowledge that she had no one.

She continued to the exit. For the past few months, she’d wondered if the climb up the administrative ladder had been the right choice. Ten years ago, she’d been an ER nurse, meeting challenges and solving a dozen crises every day. The decision to leave the ER had been made for financial reasons. The higher salary had paid for her sister’s and her parents’, home health aides. Six months ago, the family obligations had ended, leaving Johanna with an empty social life.

For a moment, she stared at the red brick building. The hospital’s center section was five stories, while the angled wings were four. The sight always made her think of a bird in flight. Lately, her office here had seemed more like home than the house eight blocks away.

A reluctance to move held her prisoner. Spray from the lawn sprinklers misted on her face and arms. She studied the bank of peonies along the walk leading to the hospital’s front entrance. Their sweet scent mingled with the aroma of wet earth. With a sigh, she overcame the inertia and crossed the street.

Brisk steps carried her down the hill. In the distance, the Hudson River reflected the colors of the setting sun. At the bottom of the hill, she turned the corner. She hurried past houses dating from colonial days to a turn-of-the-century Victorian that towered over two houses built in the last ten years. Each house had a unique charm.

She paused beside the yew hedge surrounding the yard of the house where she’d lived all her life. As she strode up the walk, her hand brushed the clipped edges. The scent of roses reached her. Red, pink and white blooms covered the trellises at either end of the porch.

She climbed the steps, turned and paused. With arms crossed on her chest, she stared at the street. As though trying to erase a chill, her hands moved along her arms. A soft sigh escaped. The ice of loneliness couldn’t be rubbed away like frost from windows on a winter morning.

Her hands dropped to her side, but she made no move to go inside where shadows of the past gathered. She had no desire to face memories of the years when she’d been a devoted sister and a dutiful daughter.

She looked at the darkening sky. Sometimes, she felt her entire life had been lived in the moments between day and night—with every instant tinged with gray, and every action controlled by duty and responsibility. Were they virtues or walls she’d erected to keep from reaching for life?

The sound of children’s laughter carried across the hedge from the house next-door. Like a gusting wind, envy rose. Her childhood memories held few laughing moments, just those of trying to teach games to a sister who lacked the ability to learn.

With a habitual gesture, she combed her fingers through her hair. Life should be more than ritual and routine.

As she moved from the edge of the porch, a pair of lovers, lost in each other’s eyes, strolled past. Johanna’s eyes burned with unshed tears. For her, only dreams of romance existed and, in her fantasies, she found adventure.

She unlocked the door and stepped into the hall. The screen door closed with a snap. She flipped the light switch and the ceiling fan stirred the stale air.

In the living room, she dropped her briefcase on the sofa and turned on the CD player. Strains of Tchaikovosky’s Sleeping Beauty followed her into the dining room.

Memories swamped her. The room became a miniature hospital ward where an elderly man and woman lay in twin electric beds. Matching walkers, wheelchairs and commodes stood against one wall.

Six months before, after the second death in three weeks, she’d scrubbed the walls and floor in an effort to ward off grief through frantic labor. After returning the hospital equipment, she’d hired a painter to re-do the room. The freshly painted walls and the refinished oak floor failed to blur the lingering memories.

Why did I allow my life to take this road?

Duty and responsibility. The voices were her parents’.

In the kitchen, she seasoned a chicken breast, put it under the broiler, made a salad and cleaned strawberries for dessert. As she ate, she searched for ways to fill the long hours until Monday, but ideas remained as illusive as the shadows in the house. Why did the weekend seem longer than the five-day work week?

After dinner, she opened the kitchen door and stepped onto the stoop. A crescent moon hung above the trees at the end of the yard. Wind rustled the leaves of the locust and oak trees and carried the scent of roses. She rested her hand on the wooden rail. Was there a different way to live?

She closed her eyes and entered the fantasy world she’d created as a child to escape what couldn’t be changed. A few minutes later, with a sigh, Johanna forced herself to resist the lure of escape into the world of her dreams. As a child, she’d needed these fantasies to escape reality. Was this a habit she couldn’t escape? How could she resist being in a world she could control?

She closed the kitchen door, slid the bolt into place and turned the security lock. Before going upstairs to the bedroom, she made rounds of the first floor to check the windows and front door.

A BEAM OF SUNLIGHT slid between the slats of the venetian blinds and cast a band of brightness across Johanna’s face. She stretched and touched her toes. Twenty minutes later, she’d showered and reached the kitchen for breakfast.

Once the household chores had been done, she changed into dark green slacks and a white sleeveless blouse. As she left the house, strains of Swan Lake flowed through the open window. Knowing the music would be playing when she returned allowed her to pretend someone waited for her.

As she strolled toward town, she skirted a game of hopscotch, then paused to watch the local double dutch team at practice. A pair of young boys on bicycles swerved from her path. As she walked along the sidewalk, she planned her expedition. After exploring several antique shops, she would stop at the library to see what new books had arrived.

Trees shaded the sidewalk from the bright morning sun. Cars, parked bumper to bumper, lined both sides of the street. As she passed the library, the crowd-jammed walk nearly made her change directions.


Johanna plunged through an opening between two groups of shrill-voiced women. She barely avoided a collision with the fist of a wildly gesticulating bleached blonde. A purse smacked her arm. Someone tramped on her foot. Though the mass of people brought a false sense of togetherness, she knew none of the strangers cared about her presence.

Moments later, she exhaled a sigh. An empty space in front of Blarney’s promised a moment of calm. Last month, she and Rachel had eaten dinner here. The food had been delicious, but the noise from the partisan baseball fans at the bar had made conversation nearly impossible. She sank on one of the benches flanking the door and watched people eddy past.

“Blaine—” She cut off the greeting. Though the man who strolled past resembled her friend from freshman year at the local college, nearly twenty-five years had passed since then.

Her thoughts flashed to a time when gentle caresses and sweet kisses had been hers. She’d been in love with him, but there’d been no future for them. He’d had his life mapped out and so had she. At the end of the year, he’d left for a more prestigious school.

Johanna had never brought him home. Her parents would have been angry. Her sister had to be protected from the eyes of strangers.

Though Blaine’s parents had also lived in Hudsonville, he’d seldom returned and on those rare occasions, he hadn’t called. He’d never written. Through the local newspaper, she’d learned of his success as a lawyer and of his marriage to a socialite. Her love and dreams had died that day.

“Meow! Meow!”

The plaintive cry sounded beneath the noise of the crowd. Johanna peered
between the slats of the bench. A long-haired black-and-brown kitten huddled against the restaurant wall. The animal resembled the one she’d found a week after her eighth birthday. She’d called him Fluff. The kitten had been the first and last thing completely hers. On a gray day, Alice had caught the small bit of fur and squeezed him to death.

“She doesn’t know any better.” Johanna’s mother had pulled the retarded child into her arms. “Pets aren’t a good idea, Johanna.”

Friends hadn’t been acceptable either. Other children wouldn’t understand what a special burden Alice was. The habit of standing apart from others had grown until Johanna shielded herself and seldom allowed people to brush more than the surface of her life.

Impulsively, she crouched beside the bench and coaxed the kitten from its refuge. A door banged shut. The kitten scampered away from her hands. As the small animal darted toward the street, somehow it managed to avoid being trampled.

Johanna jumped to her feet. The kitten tumbled from the curb and landed between two parked cars. After righting itself, the animal darted into the street. Without a glimpse at traffic, Johanna followed. Seconds later, she scooped the bit of fur from the pavement.

A car horn blared. She froze. How dumb. Visions of being a patient in the intensive care unit flashed through her thoughts. An arm caught her around the waist and pulled her from the path of an oncoming car. Brakes screeched.

“Lady, there are better ways to commit suicide. Lucky thing I stepped out for a breath of air before the lunch crowd descends. What in heaven’s name made you dash into the street like you’d been shot from a cannon?”

Johanna’s feet touched the sidewalk. Her rescuer’s arm remained around her waist. He pulled her toward Blarney’s. The deep voice continued scolding. Unable to speak without revealing how scared she’d been, she studied his hands. Tanned, square fingers, short nails.

The kitten squirmed. Needle claws raked furrows on her arms. They reached the door of Blarney’s. Instead of allowing herself to be dragged inside, Johanna sank on a bench. Reaction to the earlier surge of adrenaline made her body shake. She looked up and her eyes widened.

He was like and unlike the warrior in her fantasy world. His unruly, auburn hair needed a trim. Green eyes tinted with blue reminded her of the sea. His rugged face bore laughter lines.

“I’m waiting for an explanation of your rush toward oblivion.” His voice held concern and amusement. “Hope it wasn’t thoughts of the food.”

Her cheeks heated. How could she deal with the glint of humor she saw in his eyes? “The kitten ran into the street.”

“And look what the ungrateful creature’s doing to you. He’s not feeling an ounce of remorse. You’ll be lucky to escape with your skin intact.”

Johanna tried to contain the kitten on her lap. “Guess it was a foolish thing to do.”

“An act of kindness.” He plucked the animal from her hands. “See here, my boy, you’ve got to treat this lady with more respect.”

Johanna smiled. She wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what would end the tension that pulsed between them.

He put one foot on the bench and held the squirming kitten. “Dylan Connelly at your service. Next time you need a rescue, be sure to call me.”

A bubble of laughter escaped. “Johanna Gordon.”

“Aha. Hudson Community’s Director of Nursing. My niece has told me a lot about you.”

“Your niece?”

“Bridget Long.”

When he laughed, Johanna knew her expression showed dismay. Bridget was a talented nurse and the most vocal of the union leaders. Johanna wondered if she and the younger woman would ever agree about anything.

“Don’t look so shocked. The girl likes you.” He reached for Johanna’s hand. “You’re needing to see to your wounds. No telling where the wee beast has been.”

Without a protest, Johanna rose. She frowned. Why was she following him? In ten minutes, she could be home using her own first aid supplies. When he opened the restaurant door, cool air rushed over her flushed face. She blinked to adjust to the dim light.

Empty stools lined the curved oak bar. A younger version of the man whose hand cupped her elbow slid wine glasses into a rack above the bar. Dylan Connelly ushered her to the ladies room and vanished down the hall. Johanna attacked the multitude of scratches with soap and water.

Dylan tapped on the door. “Peroxide. I’ve bandages if you need them. We have our share of kitchen mishaps.”

“No need for them.” Probably not for the peroxide either, but she took the bottle.

“I’ve boxed the kitten.” He paused with one hand on the door. “Would you be interested in joining me for a bit of lunch before you leave?”

Not sure what she saw in his eyes or his smile, she nodded. “I’d like that.”

“Then you’re on. I’ll put in our order.”

“But—” The door closed leaving her with second thoughts. He hadn’t given her a chance to choose her meal. She poured peroxide on her arms. What had she done? When the liquid no longer foamed, she patted dry. She had to tell him she’d changed her mind. She opened the door and stepped into the hall. Maybe she could slip away.

Dylan leaned against the wall across from the door. “I was wondering if you’d gone out the window.”

She frowned. “There’s no window.”

“Good thing you noticed before you tried to escape.”

Had he read her mind? Johanna felt thankful the hall was dimly lit. “I wanted to be thorough.”

He grinned. “Your lunch awaits.”

What, no chariot? The frivolity of this thought surprised her. Maybe she was in shock from accepting his invitation. Having lunch with a stranger wasn’t her style.

He showed her to a booth across from the bar. High back church pews formed the seats. She saw a shoebox on the bench and heard a faint meow. “What am I going to do with a kitten?”

“Become a slave. The creatures have a way of creeping into your life and letting you know how much you need them. The pair of you are bonded for life. I’ve a memory of the time my oldest brought home a bedraggled cat. Next morning, there were six. Makes one think twice about rescue missions.”

Johanna stared at the box. Did Dylan feel responsible for her? How could she tell him there was no need? Before she framed a reply, a significantly pregnant waitress set two plates on the table.

“Dina, love,” Dylan said. “I thought you were hostess today.”

She made a face. “You and Patrick...I’m not an invalid. Colleen’s late, so I’m filling in ’til she gets here.”

“Make sure you’re not on your feet too long.”

Johanna smiled. The caring in his voice raised a bit of envy. She wished someone cared for her in that way.

She watched him drip catsup on his burger and fries. Did he realize how much fat the food contained? She inhaled and the aroma of the burger made her realize how hungry she was.

As they ate, he related stories of the bar he’d bought from his father-in-law and how it had evolved into a restaurant. “First there were the snacks. Then a bit of soda bread. When Colleen’s husband graduated from the Culinary Institute, he was needing a job, so we bought the building next door and expanded.”

Before she finished the savory burger, Johanna learned Dylan had been a widower for two years. His oldest children were his partners, and the youngest two were in college and spending the summer on work/study projects.

The town clock struck twelve times. Johanna glanced around the room. The other booths and the tables near the windows were occupied and so were most of the seats at the bar. She slid toward the aisle. “I should go.”

“Feel free to stay for a bit of dessert,” Dylan said. “Time I was headed to the bar. I’ll call and see how you and the wee beast are dealing with each other and if your wounds have healed.”

“There’s no need. I’ll be fine.”

He winked. “I’m not one for doing a thing I don’t want to do. Remember, if you need another rescue from an iron dragon, I’m your man.” He strode to the bar.

Johanna waved the waitress away. “No dessert. Thanks.” She’d eaten more this noon than she had for months. She slipped a bill beneath her plate and rose. As she lifted the shoe box, she heard a mournful cry. What was she going to do with a kitten?

“Take care crossing the street,” Dylan called.

Johanna stepped outside. Forgotten were her plans for the antique shops and the library. She had a kitten, the promise of a phone call and lighter spirits. At the curb, she turned to look at the restaurant, saw Dylan and waved.

DYLAN PLACED TWO GLASSES of wine on one of the window tables. Instead of returning to the bar, he watched Johanna walk away. When she waved, he grinned.

Why had he promised to phone? What he knew about Johanna Gordon came from his niece. Bridget admired the older woman, and often spoke about her fairness to the nurses and her uncluttered life, a thing Bridget’s certainly wasn’t. His niece worked full-time to support four children and a husband who tossed his shoes beneath any woman’s bed.

The strength of his attraction to Johanna rocked Dylan. Though there was no logical reason, he knew he would call and invite her to dinner.

Since Maureen’s death, he’d had no desire to become involved with another woman. If he could find one like her, he might reassess his notion that the coupled part of his life had ended. Maureen had met his passion, his laughter and his temper with her own.

Johanna Gordon was nothing like Maureen. There’d been shadows in the depths of Johanna’s brown eyes. The sadness had stirred a need in him to see them gone.

“Nice going, old man.” Dina poked his ribs with a finger. “Glad to see you haven’t lost your touch with the ladies.”

“Get out of here with your nonsense. I was only being the gentleman.”

“Looked to me like she got to you.” She danced away and collided with her sister-in-law. “Your father invited a lady to lunch.”

“And I missed it,” Colleen said. “What’s she like?”

“In her forties. Tall, slender, brown hair. Kind of stiff, but she had a sweet smile. He saved her life.”

Colleen giggled. “My dad, the hero. What happened?”

Before Dina had a chance to answer, Dylan put his hand on her shoulder. “Get to work, the pair of you.”

Dina laughed. “This is for the way you teased Patrick and me. Payback’s a—”

He put a finger on her lips. “Watch your mouth. If music can effect the unborn, just think what that kind of language can do. I don’t want my grandson arriving with a sewer mouth.”

“What if he’s a girl?”

“You’re having a boy. I’ve the second sight. It’s a family trait.”

Patrick’s loud guffaw interrupted the verbal sparring match. “My lovely wife, you’ll never win a battle of words with Dad. Who do you think this place is named for?”

Dylan winked at Dina and walked to the bar. He pushed Patrick to the opening. “Get out there and give your wife and sister a hand with the tables.”

“On my way. I liked her looks. You know, I’m amazed an old man can move so fast.”

“I’ll give you old. Three rounds in the backyard in the morning.”

Patrick chuckled. “Be sure to call her. You need more of a social life than family gatherings and watching Colleen’s boys.”

“Hey, he volunteers to babysit. Just wait ’til Dina pops and we’ll see who calls Dad.” Colleen patted Dylan’s arm. “I’ll add my vote for the lady.”

Dylan laughed. Even thinking about Johanna made him eager to see her. He filled four mugs with beer and slid them down the bar. Tomorrow, he thought. Let her get used to life with a kitten.

JOHANNA SAW THE STATUE of a cat in front of a building not far from the library. Yes, she thought and prayed the vet was still in the office. She opened the door into the waiting room.

The woman seated behind the desk looked up. “Can I help you?”

“I found a stray kitten,” Johanna said.

“We don’t take strays. You can take it to the animal shelter.”

“No. I plan to keep him, but I don’t know what I need.”

A young man wearing a lab coat appeared in the doorway. “I’m Dr. Greene. Let me see your friend.”

“Johanna Gordon.” She handed him the box.

He took the kitten out. “He’s a handsome one. What’s his name?”

She nearly blurted Dylan. “Why?”

“For our records.”


He laughed. “For the restaurant.”

She nodded. “I found him beneath one of the benches. How old is he?”

“About six weeks,” the doctor said.

“What do I need?”

The young man smiled. “I’ll have Lila set you up while I check him out and give him shots.”

A short time later, Johanna looked at the stack of items she’d purchased. “Could you keep him here while I run home for my car?” She handed the woman a check.

“No problem,” the vet said. “How long will you be?”

“Fifteen minutes at most. I live down the street.”

A half hour later, Johanna carried the last of the many supplies needed for the kitten into the house. She removed Blarney from the carrier and sat on the couch. She stroked the kitten’s soft fur and let the music whirl her into the fantasy world.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Writing Tip -- Plots

When Jane and i started writing Becoming Your own Critique Partner we named the chapter on plots - Can This Plot Be Saved? Then we brainstormed on what made a plot. This chapter went back and forth as we decided what to include.

First, a plot is a plan of a story. Not all stories have plots. If you say John and Mary meet, get married and live happily ever after, this is a story. If you say John and Mary meet, get married and she learns he's having an affair, now you have a plot. A plot is a pattern of interconnected series of motivated events.

In general, there are three kinds of plots. Man against man. Man against himself. Man against nature. Every story can have elements of one, two or even three of these confrontations, but in general, one has the main line and the others are subplots.

Man against man is one we see in most stories. Two people want the same thing. Someone wants something that goes against society.

Man against himself. A man or woman has a desire that he knows is wrong or this character must do something that may destroy his world. This is against his will.

Man against nature. Here we have flood, fire, earthquakes, all kind of disasters. The hero or heroine is faced with conquering this element that is threatening his life.

Next week will be a look at what elements are needed to design the plot.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interview Thursday -- Margaret Carter

Margaret is an on line friend and a great writer. She and her husband have collaborated on what is one of my favorite Fantasy trilogies. T;ve read the series three times. Though vampires are her chosen group of characters and not my favorites, I think you'll enjoy her stories.

My website is Carter's Crypt:


Margaret L. Carter

1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?

I started in horror. Eventually, I added fantasy to my repertoire and now write predominantly paranormal romance. I have a special fondness for vampires. In addition to fiction, I've written literary criticism and bibliographic work on vampires in literature.

2. Did you choose your genre or did it choose you?

A little of both. I read DRACULA at the age of twelve and was so enthralled I started reading all the vampire fiction I could find (not easy in the early 1960s), then horror, fantasy, and "soft" SF. I wrote the kind of vampire stories I wanted to read -- from the "monster's" viewpoint and focusing on relationships. Much later, when paranormal romance became a recognized market category, I realized that was the niche for me.

3. Is there any genre you'd like to try? Or is there one you wouldn't?

I've thought I might someday like to write a mystery. Intricate plotting, however, is not my forte, so it would be a stretch. There are many genres I'm sure I would never write. LOL. Westerns. Spy thrillers. Nonsupernatural contemporary romance. While I might enjoy reading in those areas occasionally, they don't inspire me to create my own stories.

4. What fiction do you read for pleasure?

Paranormal romance, fantasy, vampire fiction in general, some favorite mystery authors. In addition to fiction, some nonfiction in the "soft" sciences; manga on fantasy and supernatural themes.

5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing.

I started writing at the age of thirteen, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. One of my earliest pieces was a thirty-plus-page, single-spaced story about a man inadvertently transforming into a vampire. Two characters from that story and its sequel survived to be included in my first vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING. I majored in English (on the theory that I could get a college teaching job and be paid to read) and earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. As a career Navy wife, I never lived in any one place long enough to get a full-time job, but I did teach a few classes here and there, and I have several academic publications on the supernatural in literature on my resume. I now work as a part-time legislative editor for the General Assembly of Maryland.

6. Which of your characters is your favorite?

Psychiatrist Roger Darvell, a vampire-human hybrid who stars in DARK CHANGELING and CHILD OF TWILIGHT and has cameo appearances in a few other works.

7. Are there villains in your books and how were they created?

I try to create villains who will cause the protagonists the greatest amount of trouble, such as the rogue vampire in DARK CHANGELING who stalks Roger's patients and lover (who's also his partner in his psychiatric practice) and complicates the challenge Roger faces in trying to adjust to the truth about his nature as a vampire.

8. What are you working on now?

My husband and I are working on a sword-and-sorcery novel with romantic elements. I also have a paranormal romance novella out on submission, featuring a female vampire captured by a vampire hunter.

9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive?

My latest full-length book (spring 2010) is ROGUE MAGESS, the conclusion of a fantasy trilogy my husband and I collaborated on. Having created the world and the characters, he wrote the books with my input. The first novel, WILD SORCERESS, grew out of a story we unsuccessfully submitted to one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies, about a young sorceress in her country's army who struggles with difficulty in controlling her magic. We realized the story had too much implied backstory to stand alone and needed to be expanded in both directions to explore how the heroine, Aetria, got to that point and what happened next. As she exposes traitors within the army, she also discovers a long-lost twin, secrets of how magic really works, and a hidden race of dragons manipulating her world. My most recent solo release (November 2010) is a Lovecraftian erotic romance novella from Ellora's Cave, "Song from the Abyss."

10. Tell me about your latest book and how it came about. Enclose the opening of the book around 400 words.

"Song from the Abyss" was inspired by Ellora's Cave's theme for the month of November, music. I'd previously had a Lovecraftian romance novella, a humorous piece called "Tentacles of Love," published by them. For the music theme month, I decided to try a darker story set against a Lovecraft-inspired background of eldritch entities trying to invade our world from another universe. The heroine's boyfriend disappeared without a trace when they were both eighteen. Now, seven years later, she inherits her late aunt's house and discovers a music CD that had been used in arcane rituals. Playing the music, she frees her boyfriend from the interdimensional portal where he has been trapped, only to find that he isn't quite human anymore.

Excerpt from opening scene:

Under the sound of surf wafting in through the open window, a voice seemed to whisper. It hissed words in a language Alyce didn’t recognize, yet it sounded all too familiar. Almost as if she’d heard those sounds before, maybe at the age of twenty, on the night before she’d left her Aunt Cora’s house for the last time.

Until today. Furthermore, it was her house now. It wasn’t a monster that would swallow Alyce whole and trap her like Pinocchio in the whale’s stomach. The waves did not sound like the hoarse breathing of a creature from an alien world.

“Shut up,” she ordered the imaginary voice. The phantom whispers fell silent. What was wrong with her, getting spooked in such a mundane setting? Sure, she was alone in a run-down oceanfront house built in the 1880s but nothing could look less haunted than her late aunt’s cluttered office. Books overflowed shelves and tottered in precarious towers on the floor. File drawers gaped half open. Papers heaped on the desk almost hid the polished wood surface. The humid air smelled like mundane dust, not the mold of ancient tomes. Yes, some of those volumes might almost qualify but Aunt Cora wouldn’t think of letting her tomes molder.

If she had magically foreseen dropping dead and leaving Alyce to rummage through the house, she would probably have tidied up the place and hidden or destroyed her most esoteric materials. Although much older than Alyce’s mother, Aunt Cora had seemed in excellent health, so the fatal stroke must have surprised her as much as it had her family. Actually, it was a wonder she hadn’t changed her will long ago. Why had she bequeathed her estate to the niece who’d fled from this house four years previously and refused to answer so much as a Christmas card ever since?

*Most likely because I’m her only relative except for Mom, and at least Aunt Cora and I used to be close. She and Mom hadn’t spoken face-to-face in a lot longer than four years.* Emails, phone calls, and holiday cards between the sisters hardly counted.

So she’d had a choice between leaving the house to Alyce, as originally planned, or willing it to some flaky cult. *I’m almost surprised she didn’t do that.* Such a choice would have been typical of the woman Alyce’s mother always referred to as “my crazy sister”. For the hundredth time in the past few weeks, Alyce tried to dredge up a proper portion of sadness. She felt she’d long ago lost the aunt she’d loved, the one who’d treated her like a younger colleague instead of an airheaded kid, the one who’d taken her on excursions to historic sites off the well-traveled tourist track and taught her to delve into research many layers deeper than the top page of a search engine. Alyce had lost that relative four years earlier, when she’d dragged Alyce into some kind of arcane ritual.

-end of excerpt-

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Characters - Figures of speech

This blog is about using figures of speech to give a bit of depth to the people in the woven stories. Some people have a knack for using all of these. For me it can be a struggle and that may be a nurse thing since we're told just to get the facts. Why use these tools. To cpature a reader's attention, to stimulate their imagination and to give them an emotional response. One of the problems in using figures of speech is that some of the best are oft repeated and turn into cliches. The trick is to make them your own and your characters own. There are nineof these devises and some are very similar but different. So let us begin.

The simile is a comparison of one thing to another. This is an example. John is like a still pond. Makes you think about the qualities of a still pond. Perhaps secretive. Maybe deep. Perhaps someone with no emotions or with hidden ones. Similies are versatile and the most used figures of speech. Look at your story and see how you could use a simile to give flavor to one of your characters.

A metaphor unlike the simile that says one thing is like another, says one thing is another. John is a still pond, never showing emotion. She wonders what is going on beneath the surface. The important thing with metaphors is to maintain the image through out the sentence or paragraph. A rule is don't mix your metaphors. John is a still pond chasing after rainbows with the enthusiasm of a butterfly. That is definitely mixed.

Personification means giving an inanimate object or force of nature human attributes, emotions or powers. The wind raised its fist and smashed against the building. Using personification can establish and sustain a mood.

Sarcasm - A sarcastic speech is bitterly reproachful and often the implications taunt. One must be careful when using this figure of speech. In the mouth of a hero or heroine, this could make them unsympathetic. But this could give a real boost to the character of the bad guy. And above all don't use the tag, he said sarcastically. If used properly the sarcasm will stand out.

There are five more of these delightful tools that I'll go into next week.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Inspiration -- Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott starts telling her students that good writing is about telling the truth. This set my thinking in gear. What truths should I tell? How do I know what the truth is? While these thoughts were whirling through my head, I came to one conclusion. My truth may not be your truth. Why?

Truth comes from experiences and no two people experience the same events in the same way. But truth is truth, you might think. Perhaps if one was writing scientific papers they could find truth or could they. They could find facts that are true. There is that. When writing fiction truth takes on color and nuances.

How to get your truth across to the reader can seem to be a puzzle. What a fiction writer must do is to persuade the reader to believe their truths and engross them in the story. Perhaps a hard thing to do.

One of my writing truths is that every character contains a bit of myself. Now sometimes I write about villains. Does that mean at heart I'm a villain? Not really.
What it means that inside myself I have the grains to show the why behind a villain's actions. I've been angry. I've even thought about killing someone, or loving someone, or having magical powers. So when I write about any characters I must delve into myself and find what truth this character will show. Sometimes getting this down on paper can be hard and sometimes easy.

What about you? Do your truths as a writer come from inside? Are you able to persuade your readers to see your truth.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Writing Week - January 3, 2011

Going to change this a bit. This week I'll e working on section 4 of Confrontations. Will be glad to get to section 5 but that's for next week. Holidays do tend to cut a bit into writing but I managed to make my quota every day last week. On Tuesday I'll be continuing with Bird by Bird for Inspirations. There will be more on characterizations on Wednesday. On Thursday Margaret Carter's interview will be up. This is one of my fellow Jewels of the Quill and a favorite author. Friday will see more from Becoming Your Own Critique Partner written by Jane Toombs and me. Saturday is First Chapter. Haven't decided which one of the books I'll use. There are a lot. Sunday will see me visiting three blogs. Not sure which ones yet but I'll be sure to find some interesting ones.

Now about last year. Success in seeing a number of books released or re-released. I believe there were 5 to be reissued and 3 new ones. Boggles my mind, Also learned an anthology I was part of is an EPIc ebook award finalist. This was done by the Jewels of the Quill, a group that promotes each other and does fun things like having a contest. I ran a contest on my blog and gained a number of new followers and I hope they'll remain and chime in. I'll probably be having other contests but I'm not sure what or when. Last year saw a number of close friends selling for the first time or returning to the writing life. Though there are some stubborn people out there who should be writing but aren't. Guess that's life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Three Blogs Visited

Here are the blogs I'm visiting today. You might want to give them a look see. This is a blog belonging to a group of fantasy, science fiction and paranormal authors. Some of them are among my favorites. They talk about world building and many other subjects. Good place to visit. Charmaine, a fellow chapter member and Vanilla Heart author, talks about her books and about movies. If you're a movie buff here is a place to visit and see what you may have missed. Here allie talks about life in all it's guises since she has a number of haldles. Teacher, writer, and other paths.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Healwoman - Dark Moon - First Chapter Saturday

Healwoman Dark Moon is the first of a series with hopefully four more books to follow as soon as I finish the one I'm working on. The first four segments of the First Book of the story are to follow. There aren't really chapters but once again casts of thousands. Hope you enjoy. The book is available both in electronic and print editions.

Janet Lane Walters
Vanilla Heart Press

Part One
1 The Hodara of Healing in Bethsada

Mabe sat on one of the stone benches in the Grotto. The Eldest had called her here and she didn’t know why. She didn’t think she had done anything to deserve a judging, but why else would the god and goddess want her presence? Soon, the moon would rise and she would dip her hands in the chill waters of the crater lake. Midra and Midran would speak. The only time she had heard their voices had been the night she’d finished her training and had been accepted as a Healwoman. She rubbed her hands along her arms.

The Eldest touched her shoulder. “The time is near. There are things I must tell you.”

“Are you sure ’tis me they want?”

“You are part of their plans for the future.” The old woman smiled. “In the days of yore, the Three of Midra--Seer, Warrior, Healer--united with their mates. Together they defeated those who embraced the dark faces of Midra and Midran. For a time, the priestesses and priests who served the god and goddess walked in the light and brought miracles to the land. But as time rolled on its circular path, what was once came again. The dark face of Midra enthralled the priestesses. They turned from the light. Then the power of the goddess faltered. Midran drew his priests into the shadows. Still, what was will come again.”

Mabe nodded. She’d read the old tales kept in the archives. She had found them fascinating, but were they true? They told of the days when the face of the goddess had darkened. ’Twas then the Healwomen had walked away from the temples to found their own place. In the years that followed, the temples had ruled and men had little power in ruling any of the four divisions of the land now known as nomes. Gradually, the priests of Midran had gained strength, first in the light. Then they had embraced the dark face of the god.

She glanced at the dome over the cavern. Rays of moonlight shone through the four crescent shaped holes, one for each nome. Keltoi, Sippal, Nilos and Incal. Bands of color--red, yellow, blue and white--spread across the water. The arrival of the colors never failed to startle and amaze Mabe. What caused them to appear? She turned to the Eldest. “What do the legends have to do with me?”

“One will come from Keltoi. She is a daughter of this nome. Her lineage rises from the Seer, the Warrior, the Healer and their spouses. She will have four talents and will be the gleaner who finds the Four and Four. One pair for each nome. They will bring light from darkness. You will seek and find her. Bring her to Bethsada so she can enter the hodara and learn.”

Mabe nodded and accepted the task. She felt both humbled and excited to be chosen. “When do I leave?”

The Eldest rose. “The god and goddess will tell you when.” She placed her hands on Mabe’s head. “Seek their blessing. Their commands are for you alone.”

Once the shuffling footsteps of the old woman no longer echoed, Mabe closed her eyes. Her thoughts turned inward. She had hoped to remain in Bethsada and join the other women who taught in the hodara. Though her talents in Earth and Fire were moderate, her years of travel had brought her knowledge of the customs and ways of the people in each nome. This knowledge was valuable to the Healwomen who staffed the many hodaras.

She rose and walked to the rock shelf surrounding the crater lake. She knelt and dipped her hands in the icy water. “Midra, Midran, I have come. What would you have me do?”

As the voices of the god and goddess sounded in her head, awe filled her being. The desires to laugh and cry co-mingled. She remained silent and listened.

*Go. Seek the one who will find the Four and Four. Beware all who serve the dark faces. They will try to keep you from completing your task.*

“How will I know the one I seek?”

*She will find you, for she prays for refuge from the ones who slink in the shadows.*

“And the enemies?”

*One you know, for you have faced and defeated her in the past. Of the other, if he knew the girl was his daughter, he would be filled with joy. While he is not of the dark, he might seek to sequester her so her growth would be stunted.*

*Of her enemies, there are two she must face. One would see her dead. The other will crave her as a possession. Rise. Gather your supplies. Choose a companion for your journey. On the morrow, leave for Keltoi.*

Mabe sank back on her heels. She dried her hands on her skirt. She rose and left the Grotto. There was much to do before morning. As she strode through the tunnel, she considered who to ask to accompany her. Glena was her choice.

2 Ulrica

Ulrica, the Voice of Midra in Keltoi, stood on the forecourt of the temple. The massive wooden gates parted and she watched the riders approach. A chill wind whipped leaves from the courtyard orchard trees sending them skittering across the paving stones. Clouds shrouded the pale midday sun and warned of an approaching storm.

An omen of strife to come, Ulrica thought. But every encounter with her sister brought a battle of wills. Let her argue. This time I have the means to force her to cede one way or another.

Temple warriors in their brilliant red divided skirts and paca lined scarlet cloaks formed a row on either side of the gate. The five members of Bodlesa’s party entered. Ulrica smiled. She hadn’t expected her sister to answer the summons to bring her only and unacknowledged daughter to the temple. Which of the four women was the girl?

The priestess’ eyes narrowed and she studied the four. Only a daughter born of Bodlesa’s body was acceptable as Ulrica’s heir. Ages ago, the priestesses of Midra in Keltoi had decided the Voice of their temple must remain chaste and her successor would be found among her sister’s daughters. Until now, Ulrica’s clan had held sway in the temple. If her twin continued to evade another childbirth, the rulership of the temple and the nome would pass to another clan.

One by one, Ulrica dismissed the women. She stared at the youngest who wore the brown garb of a drab, making her fated to serve others as little more than a slave. The girl rode a dun-colored dunkie. The small riding beast plodded as though exhausted. Though her hair was a pale red hue and her features were dainty, the girl bore a startling resemblance to Bodlesa.

How dare the Keltoi dishonor her only child? The girl had never been claimed by Bodlesa or her spouse, thus she couldn’t be heir to the nome. Yet, her lineage allowed her to enter the temple.

Ulrica released her held breath. The girl was here and would remain. Ulrica glided down the broad stone steps and waited for her twin to dismount. “Well come, sister.”

A scowl brought ugliness to the face of the woman called the fairest of Keltoi. Ulrica had often wished she’d been blessed with her sister’s vivid beauty. Though twins, they were dissimilar. Bodlesa had a mass of brilliant red hair, eyes of flashing emerald, and a well-endowed body. Ulrica was a thin, pale copy. Only her recognition that arrogant pride coarsened Bodlesa’s features blunted Ulrica’s envy.

“I’ve come.” Bodlesa tossed her steed’s reins to one of the warriors. She grasped the short but lethal horns of the reddish brown bihorn and vaulted to the ground. Her kilt of red, blue and yellow stripes rose, then fluttered into neat folds.

“A room has been prepared for you and your serving women,” Ulrica said. “Since I know how much you dislike cold, ’tis an inner room. A fire has been kindled in the ingle.”

“Even knowing this, you dragged me from the comforts of the megara for reasons you chose not to reveal.”

Ulrica laughed. “And you answered for reasons you choose to keep secret. Face facts, sister. We are much alike.”

Bodlesa scowled. “The Dark Moon nears the end of its cycle. Winter comes. Why have you called me here? What matter of importance could not wait until spring?”

“Why have you obeyed when for lunars you have ignored my requests?” Ulrica drew a deep breath. “The goddess has a need.”

A mirthless smile curved Bodlesa’s full lips. “In time I’ll tell you.” She snapped her fingers and gestured to the three older women. “Take my packs to the room set aside for me. See that mulled wine is ready when I arrive.”

“Where are your guards? Surely you didn’t travel from the megara with only four women.”

“Do you think I would bring my men here to be feted by the temple warriors? They are camped several kils from here.” She pointed to her bow. “Have you been walled in this place so long you’ve forgotten how to use weapons?”

Ulrica frowned. What was her sister planning? Why did she deny her men the chance to enjoy the pleasures the warriors could provide? “The duties of the Voice leave me with little time for play. I’m surprised Prasutus allows you to be armed.”

“That one.” Bodlesa’s lips curled. “If he were not chieftain of our clan’s strongest rival, I never would have wed him. He’s crude. I make no complaints about the women he futters or the hunting trips that are little more than orgies. Why should he restrain me?”

“He flirts with the teachings of Midran. The day will come when he places you beneath his boots the way those cursed priests wish to place all women.”

Bodlesa laughed. “Those priests are men and must slake their lusts in the same manner as those men who wear no robes.”
Ulrica held the urge to slap her sister in clenched hands. “We have much to discuss.” She beckoned to the girl who had remained beside her shaggy mount. Ulrica turned to one of the underpriestesses. “Take Norna to the novice’s room and see her suitably garbed.”

Bodlesa paused on the top step. “She isn’t here to become a priestess or your heir.”

“Midra cares nothing for your wishes in the matter. When the bells for the fifth hour ring, you will present yourself in my quarters to discuss the will of the goddess.” Anger curdled in Ulrica’s gut. She watched her twin stride into the temple. In the lunars since their last meeting, Bodlesa had lost none of her hauteur. She’ll soon learn she cannot control everything.

* * * *

Ulrica counted the chimes. When the fifth sounded, she stared at the door of her suite. Her muscles felt like taut wire cords. Memories of the many times she’d contended with her sister roiled in her thoughts. The only clear victory Ulrica could remember was the day their aunt had chosen her to enter the temple. Even that day had been tainted. Bodlesa had craved the position as the Voice of Midra in Keltoi. Ulrica stroked the scar that ran from her shoulder to the wrist. On the day she’d left the megara for the temple, Bodlesa’s anger had changed to blind fury. One slash of her knife had nearly cost Ulrica her life.

The door opened and crashed against the wall. Bodlesa stalked into the room. “I am here. Why have you chosen to raise the misbegotten from her lowly place?”

“She is of our clan and your get. Every year, the number of girls suitable to serve Midra dwindle. There is no other of our clan who is suitable. The temples of the other nomes are in ruins. The priestesses hide. The priests of Midran clamp tighter bonds on all women.”

“Norna isn’t pure. Though her father was Keltoi, he denied his clan to walk in Midran’s way. I brought the girl to serve you as a drab.”

“Your own daughter? If you do this, who will become my heir?”


Ulrica laughed. “Will Prasutus let her go? Though I don’t live in the megara, I know what happens there. These days, she’s his favorite bedmate. If he gets a son from her, trouble will flare.”

“She has left the nome but I can call her back.”

“There is another reason she is unsuitable. Though she wears our clan’s stripes, she’s not of pure lineage. Her grandfather was from Incal. Norna’s line is pure. I will have her.”

Bodlesa prowled the room. Her braid switched like the tail of an enraged firelion. “Prasutus wants her. If she stays in the drab’s quarters of the megara, he will have her. He could even come here and take her.”

“If she were my heir, he wouldn’t dare.”

“I caught her trying to flee the nome. She wanted to go to the Healwomen.”

Ulrica spat. “Those abominations. Once they served Midra, but they have turned their faces from Her. They say they serve the god and goddess the way all priestesses and priests once did.”

Bodlesa laughed. “Do you fear them? The priests use them for their healing skills and for the sons they birth.” She waved her hand. “I have set a plan in motion. Britha joins them to sow discord in their ranks.”

Ulrica’s hands fisted. “Have you trained your daughter to do the same in the temple?”

Bodlesa scowled. “Trained her? I have had nothing to do with the girl. I was but fourteen when I birthed her. That Healwoman Mabe gave the infant to a drab. Norna has learned to labor like the women who cook, scrub and grub in the earth. ’Tis said she has a way with beasts.”

“And she can hate. Think carefully about your choice. Have you no love for her?”

“I didn’t choose to give her life. I was bedazzled by a handsome face and a well-formed body.” She moistened her lips. “’Twas a challenge to tempt him. He was virile and like a drug. To my regret, I bore the fruit of his passion.”

Ulrica stared at the wall. In that pairing, Bodlesa had been the aggressor. Her lust for the Militos subaltern had been the talk of the megara. “And he refused to put his desire for the priesthood aside. For that reason, you deny her.”

“So does her father.”

“Does he even know he has a daughter?”

Bodlesa laughed. “Why would I send the news to him? Will you accept her as a drab? Otherwise, she dies.”

“I’ll ask Midra to guide my decision. Once the evening meal ends, I’ll go to the chapel and seek her guidance. Will you accept Her command?”

Bodlesa’s smile failed to erase the ice in her eyes. “Hers, not yours.”

Ulrica hid her own smile. Her twin was a fool. If not Norna, I will have my heir.
The cup is prepared. “Come to the chapel after the curfew bell.”

* * * *

The stones before the altar in the apex of the chapel held the chill of the Dark Moon and brought thoughts of the coming winter. Ulrica steeled herself against the numbing cold and stared into the scrying cup. The still water showed no images of what had been or what was to come.

She breathed deeply and sought to calm her anxiety. A young woman’s fate depended on the answers she received. “Midra, my sister must be swayed to follow the way You would have her walk. The misbegotten must enter your service. If not, there is no one of the clan Keltoi to serve you. This temple will fall the way the others have.”

The water in the cup stirred. Colors appeared. Red, blue, white, yellow. The churning increased. *Beware.*

“Midra, beware what? Does it mean if Norna becomes a priestess she will bring danger?”

Red filled the cup. The Warrior’s color and that of Keltoi. The curfew bell chimed the ninth hour and cut short her meditation. She heard the scuff of boots behind her. Bodlesa’s laughter rose. Ulrica drained the cup and placed it on the altar. She rose to face her sister.

“What said Midra?” Bodlesa laughed.

“I haven’t interpreted the meaning of Her signs. Will you permit Norna to enter the temple as a novice?”

“You know the answer. She is doubly misbegotten and has no place in life except as a drab.”

“Doubly? What do you mean?”

“She is unacknowledged by dame or sire.” Bodlesa sat on one of the benches. “Her first cries were made to the Dark Moon sixteen years ago. Is it not among the teachings of the temples that those born during that lunar bring disaster to all? I believe I am right.”

The impact of her sister’s words washed through Ulrica. As she struggled to find an answer, she heard sounds in the hall. Had the warriors arrived early or was some underpriestess spying in hopes of learning something she could use in a quest for power? Ulrica brushed past the bench where her sister lounged and peered into the shadows. She saw nothing suspicious and turned to her twin. “So be it. Norna will serve the temple as a drab.”

Bodlesa rose. “Then in the morning, I’ll leave for the megara.”

“I’m afraid not. You have a duty to the clan and the temple. You must give birth to two daughters.”

“One childbirth was enough to endure.”

“Then you will remain here until you agree.” Ulrica called to the waiting warriors. “Take my sister to a meditation cell.”

“You have no right to order me to do anything. I am Keltoi of Keltoi.”

“And I am the Voice of Midra. You will do your duty. Until you agree to the demands of the goddess, you will remain in the cell.”

The women grasped Bodlesa’s arms. She spat. “With a man I did not choose.”

“The goddess cares not for who sires your daughters, only that his lines are pure and you acknowledge the infants.” Ulrica smiled. After a few doses of somma, Bodlesa would have no choice except to follow the command.

3 Norna

Norna scurried out of the bathing room. After the evening meal, she’d come here to luxuriate in the baths the way she’d never been able to in the megara. The curfew bell startled her. Would she be punished for being out of the sleeping chamber after the bell chimed?

In her haste to reach the room, she turned the wrong way. She halted at the top of the staircase. Her mother’s voice raised in anger caused her to back away. Then she saw her aunt on the stairs. Norna turned and ran down the hall.

As Norna crawled into bed, she pulled the covers over her head to muffle the excited chatter of the other occupants of the room. For them, the end of the lunar of the Dark Moon would bring joy. Her future was unsettled. She had no desire to become a priestess and remain in the temple for the rest of her life. Nor did she want to return to the megara and be dragged into Prasutus’ bed the way her mother had threatened.

A scrap of conversation reached her. “The chapel is interesting. There’s a wonderful tapestry on one wall and a map of the nomes made of tiles on the other. Did you know we’re almost to the ocean here?”

The bells chimed again. Her companions settled on their cots. Norna listened as their breathing took on the rhythms of sleep. With care, she rose from the narrow bed. If she could see this map, she could learn how far ’twas to Bethsada.

She slipped into the hall. Eternal torches set in brackets along the walls softened the deep shadows. She crept toward the stairs. When she heard her mother’s voice, she pressed against a door.

“Leave me alone. I won’t drink your vile brew.”

“Will you allow me to train Norna as my successor?”

“A drab nursed her. A drab raised her. A drab I have named her and as one, she will remain.” The frost in Bodlesa’s voice chilled Norna.

“What if Midra wants her? The signs in the cup were strange. Four colors, followed by red. That is the color of this nome.”

Bodlesa’s wild laughter made Norna shiver. “And the color of death and war. Has the goddess marked her? When I dragged her to the baths before we left the megara, her skin was unmarked. She is mine to give or hold. She will have no high place in the temple or the megara. As one doubly misbegotten, she must pay for the life the Healwoman gave to her.”

“Will you return to the megara and willingly take Prasutus to your bed and produce the daughters who are needed?”

“You ask too much.”

“Until you agree, the cell will be your home.” The iron in Ulrica’s voice made Norna ease away. “Dear sister, your will is strong, but mine is as firm as the surface on the roads throughout the nomes. Hold her while she drinks.”

Norna fled along the shadowy hall and returned to her cot. Tears flowed down her cheeks. What could she do? Twice misbegotten. A drab she’d been named. She couldn’t accept that fate. She had to escape and find a refuge. Would the Healwoman give shelter to someone like her?

* * * *

The soft chiming of the night bells roused Norna. One. Two. She slid to the edge of the cot. She hadn’t meant to sleep. She had to be far from the temple by morning. Once she pulled the brown skirt and tunic over her shift, she reached for her pack. Though her mother had named her a drab, she wouldn’t accept the sentence of eternal servitude.

Norna hugged herself. She must be gone before Ulrica fastened the bonding bracelet on her wrist so the prongs pierced her skin. Removal left scars and anyone she met would know what she had been.

She added the wooden comb and the woolen stockings she’d washed to the pack. Near the door, she paused to examine the row of boots. The soles of hers were thin. She wasn’t sure how far she had to travel. With the winter lunars about to begin, she needed sturdy footwear. One pair was too small. A second, lined with paca fleece, fit perfectly. Her brown cloak hung with the others. The thin wool provided little protection from the icy winds. She snatched the one that matched the purloined boots and carried it over her arm.

Norna slipped through the hall and crept down the stairs. Before leaving the temple, she needed to stop in the chapel and study the map.

When she entered the triangular room, she dropped the cloak and her pack on one of the wooden benches. Flickering lights on the altar did little to brighten the gloom. She saw the mosaic panel on one of the side walls. After lifting a votive lamp, she moved closer. She found Keltoi and traced the road from the megara to the temple. Then she looked for Bethsada, home of the Healwomen and her chosen destination.

She sounded the names of the places on the map. There, she thought. She had to travel south and west to the place of refuge for women. The distance seemed great but she had no other choice.

When she returned the votive lamp to the altar, she saw the testing gems. Each one bore an engraved image from one of the nomes. With a finger, she touched the firelion of Keltoi. The red stone glowed. In turn, she brushed the amber sandcat, the blue water lynx and the white air tigre. For an instant, each gem glowed. Curious, she thought, but there was no time to search for a meaning.

The silver cup caught her attention. She lifted it and nodded. Bits broken from the cup could be traded for supplies. She tucked the cup in her pack and slipped from the chapel.