Thursday, July 27, 2017

Writing a Scene You Love

Do you ever read or write those scenes that you just love?

A few months ago, I rewrote my novella Rescuing Rita and turned it into the novel, Rewriting Rita. Rita is now twice as long. But since Rita is technically the sequel to Stealing Mercy, and since Mercy was my first self-published novel, I decided to give Mercy another read-through before re-publishing Rita.

I've learned a lot since I first published Mercy nearly six years ago. But one thing I haven't quite figured out is how to make every scene magical. If I could somehow recreate that flash of a really great idea with every scene, I'd never have to stare at a blank computer screen again.

I remember exactly where I was sitting when the idea for this scene came to me. I couldn't wait to get home and capture it. Rereading it all these years later, I still love it. Here it is: Stealing Mercy, chapter 13.


The bell tower struck three as she hurried down the path with the tarts hidden beneath a cloth in the basket she carried over her arm. The May sun burned warm, clouds skittered across the sky with the light breeze, for once there wasn’t a hint of rain. It would have been a lovely day for a carriage ride, but if Mercy’s plan worked, as she hoped it would, Eloise would not spend the afternoon in Mr. Steele’s carriage.
Standing on the porch, Mercy fought back her worry. She rapped so hard on the front door that she bruised her knuckles.
Laurel, Eloise’s maid, opened the door and curtsied. “Good afternoon, Miss.”
“Good day, Laurel.” Her voice sounded steady. Grateful wracking nerves were inaudible, Mercy took a deep breath to steady herself and asked for Eloise. She trailed after Laurel to the sitting room.
Mercy glanced at the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Carol hanging above the fireplace mantle and took a seat on the divan. In her imaginations, she felt the cold gaze of Mr. Carol. You should be thanking me, she told him.
She’d learned from Eloise that Mr. Carol, a man with stern set to his lips and a rigid jaw, had uncompromising views on womanhood and marriage and Eloise’s inability to choose a suitor and settle down had caused such a frustration that after Eloise’s third broken engagement Mr. Carol had shipped his only daughter off to live under her brother’s eagle eye. Mercy prayed that Eloise wouldn’t choose Mr. Steele for her next fiancĂ©, but, just in case God wasn’t listening Mercy’s prayers, Mercy had made tarts. Tarts that would ensure Eloise would spend the afternoon in her bed. Mercy knew proud, arrogant and filled with self-importance Mr. Steele wouldn’t take kindly to being stood up. The Lord helps those who help themselves, she rationalized, but she wasn’t sure if the Lord would approve of friends drugging friends.
Mercy jumped to her feet when she heard footsteps in the hall. Her heart sped when she recognized the voices.
“She’s a pretty little filly,” Trent said. “Long legs. She may be more temperamental than you’d like.”
“Good teeth?” Miles asked.
Horses, Mercy breathed. They’re talking about horses. She tucked the basket behind her, the tarts were for Eloise only. She tried to sit still so that the men wouldn’t notice her. When the front door opened and then closed and the two men’s voices floated through the open window, she let out a sigh of relief. Please let them go far away, she prayed.
“Mercy?”
She whirled to see Eloise standing in the doorway. Her friend wore a green cotton dressed piped with a yellow silk trim and a trying-to-be-polite-expression on her face. Mercy took note that the men’s conversation had stopped when Eloise had spoken her name.
“You look so pretty,” Mercy said, hoping her tone could convince Eloise she had not come to restart last night’s argument.
Eloise’s stiff back didn’t loosen an inch.
Mercy took a step forward. “I brought you a tart, two actually, to sweeten my apology.”
“Apology?” Eloise lifted an eyebrow and looked skeptical.
Mercy nodded. “I know I shouldn’t listen, or spread gossip…It’s wrong and I’m sorry.”
Eloise sniffed and looked a little mollified. “You wouldn’t even tell me who had told you those lies.”
“You know the saying, a cruel story runs on wheels, and every hand oils the wheels as they run.” Mercy lifted the cloth off the basket and released a warm, fragrant puff of air. “I didn’t want to get gossip-oil on my hands, but, I know you’re bright, intelligent, and completely capable of forming your own judgments. I’m sorry I tried to sway you.”
Eloise took a step closer, licked her lips and looked into the basket at the two tarts. “Are you going to eat also?”
Mercy shook her head. “I’ve had plenty. They were something of an experiment.” She thought of Tilly snoring in the sewing room, her head slumped onto the table and nestled in a pile of blue surge cotton.
Eloise looked down at her dress. “Maybe I should wait until after my ride.”
“Oh please, they’re so much better when warm. Just one bite,” Mercy said, knowing that one bite would almost certainly lead to another. “It’s a new recipe I’ve just made and I’d like your opinion.”
Although, Tilly had enjoyed her tart.
“Perhaps if I’m careful not to get crumbs on my dress,” Eloise murmured as Mercy used a piece of linen to draw out the tart. Golden brown fluted crust, blackberries swirled in a creamy pudding--Mercy cradled her creation in her outstretched hand. It looked and smelled like edible heaven.
“Please take one,” Mercy said. “Then I’ll know that you’ve truly forgiven me for being a bossy, nosy gossip monger.”
“And a preachy priss,” Eloise added choosing the blackberry. “Oh, it’s still warm.”
“Fresh from the oven, because this preachy priss loves you.”
Eloise took one bite and then another. “I love you, too,” she sighed, her eyes rolling in delight.
Mercy wrapped her arm and around Eloise’s waist and led her to the divan.
“This is so yummy, are you sure you don’t want some?” Eloise asked, settling down and looking up at Mercy.
“So sure,” Mercy said.
“But you brought two.”
“Because I didn’t know if you preferred blackberry or rhubarb.”
Eloise touched her fingers to her lips. “You’re almost as sweet as this tart.”
Almost, Mercy thought.
A door opened and footsteps in the hall signaled the return of Miles and Trent.
Eloise patted the divan with one hand and ate the tart with the other. “Sit with me?” she asked with blackberry stained teeth.
“No, sweetie.” Mercy listened to the men’s footsteps and voices moving down the hall. As much as she wanted to stay to ensure the oil from the snapdragon seeds worked their magic, she didn’t want to meet Trent, Miles or especially Mr. Steele. “I told Aunt I’d only be gone a minute.”
“But you just got here. I need a hen chat.”
“Tomorrow, on the way to the ball you can tell me all about your drive with Mr. Steele.”
Eloise leaned back into the divan, her eyes dreamy. “Hmm, Mr. Steele.” She gave Mercy a lopsided grin and Mercy smiled back, wondering if she should tell Eloise that she had a smear of blackberry cream on her chin.
“Miss Faye?”
Miles stood in the hallway. Disappointment mingled with relief when she saw he was alone. Trent had gone. She despised being muddled and Trent made her feel upside down. If she didn’t want to see him then why was she so disappointed to find Miles alone? After a moment, she decided that she didn’t want to see Trent because she knew that he could ferret out her plan. If he knew what she’d done, he would think poorly of her. He had a knack for seeing through her.
The guilt returned and Mercy mentally argued it away. What should I have done? I could not tell Eloise I have a previous history with Steele nor could I stand by and watch her throw herself at him. Mercy sighed while the guilt twisted. She picked up her basket and turned to face Miles. She didn’t worry that Miles might suspect her laced tarts.
“Miles,” Mercy said, coming toward him. “How lovely to see you. I wish I could stay longer, but as I was just telling Eloise, I’m afraid my aunt needs me at the shop.” She’s sound asleep and there’s no one minding the store. After one last look at Eloise, who sat on the divan, touching a linen napkin to her lips, Mercy brushed past Miles on her way to the door.
“Perhaps I could walk you,” Miles offered, falling into step beside her.
“Oh.” Mercy thought for a moment. “But, won’t you need to be here when Mr. Steele arrives?”
Miles opened the front door and frowned. A breeze blew in and circled the foyer. It carried with it the scents of a late spring afternoon and Mercy itched to be on her way.
“I’d be happy to drive Miss Faye home,” Trent stood on the porch, to the left of a pillar, backlit by the sun. When he spoke, Mercy tripped over the threshold and landed wrong, her foot twisting beneath her. Trent caught her arm and held her for a moment against him. He smelled of leather and something she couldn’t define. After letting her go, he bent to retrieve the basket that had fallen to her feet.
“Mr. Michaels, you startled me.” She could see him assessing the basket that she took from him and crooked over her arm. She held it tightly against her body, shielding it. On the street, she could see his chestnut colored horses tied to a buggy. They pawed the ground and shook the reins that held them to the hitching post. “I wouldn’t want to take you out of your way,” Mercy hedged.
“Not at all,” Trent motioned toward his buggy.
Mercy shot Miles an apologetic glance over her shoulder as Trent led her to the front gate. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the ball,” she told Miles.
“Until then,” Miles replied, looking huffy as he followed her to the buggy. She let him hand her up and she settled beside Trent and tucked the basket beneath her skirts.
Since she’d be riding as opposed to walking, the threat of passing Mr. Steele vanished. Perhaps the extra time would allow her to double check on Eloise, to ensure the snapdragon oil had safely put her to sleep. Compared to Tilly’s girth, Eloise was a tiny thing and more susceptible to the drug, but she really wanted to make sure.
“Oh dear,” Mercy sighed. “I believe I’ve forgotten my wrap.” The guilt raised its head and Mercy disliked how easily the lies, fast and furious, came to her lips.
Trent moved to jump from the buggy.
Mercy stopped him. “No. Let me. I’ll just be a moment.” She climbed down and hurried up the front walk. Through an open window she could see Eloise sprawled on the divan, her head rolled back, her mouth open, and her eyes closed. Satisfied, Mercy returned to the buggy.
“You know, I just remembered I’d left my wrap at home.” Lies, lies, lies. At this rate, she’d need to speak with Pastor Klum. She looked up to find Trent standing beside the buggy, his hand outstretched, waiting to help her up. And then she noticed it…the unmistakable scent of rhubarb.
She let him help her up while watching his face for signs of duplicity. Once seated on the bench, she nudged the basket with her toe. Empty. She looked to make sure.
Her back stiffened with the horrible conclusion. “You ate my tart.” The words blurted out of her. She covered her mouth with her hand, equally horrified at her rudeness and the potentially awkward situation she now faced.
“Your tart?” He slapped the reins and the horses moved down the street.
Her voice sounded strangled. “I made tarts for Eloise.”
“Did she enjoy them?”
“She enjoyed one. The other is missing.”
Trent chuckled. “Are you seriously accusing me of stealing your tart?”
Her mouth fell open. “You must have!” she finally said.
“I promise you, I wouldn’t take your tart without your permission.”
She sniffed. “But—” Knowing she sounded insulting she fixed her lips together and leaned back against the cushion and watched Trent as he guided the horses down Olympic hill. “I’m sorry, of course you wouldn’t take my tart.” Another lie.
She looked at him through the corner of her eye. His teeth looked clean. He gave her a quizzical look and she flushed. What would he think of her staring at his mouth?
More importantly, what would she do if he fell asleep before they reached Lily Hill? She imagined him slumped against her, his head lying in her lap. She watched him handling the reins. He held all four in his hand, loosely, and the horses trotted obediently along. She’d never driven a buggy, never ridden a horse; it didn’t look difficult. But, Lily Hill lay on the other side of town. They’d have to pass through the business section, where she’d have to navigate around wagons, buggy’s, pedestrians, perhaps children or small animals that could dart beneath the buggy’s wheels. She couldn’t very well parade through town with Trent dozing, his head on her lap.
“Thank-you for your trust,” he said, his mouth a straight line, not a trace of rhubarb scent on his breath.

“You’re welcome.” She watched him, looking for signs of sleep.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Beginning of Miss Mabel's Mysteries or Writing a Mystery

I grew up loving mysteries. The Box Car Children, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew. When I was in middle school, I read all 80+ Agatha Christie's novels. Eventually, I graduated to PD James, Elizabeth George, Mary Stewart...I lived for PBS Mystery series. And then real life happened. I witnessed tragedies. The world became darker, scarier, and I couldn't watch Sunday night mysteries on PBS. I couldn't read mysteries any more. And I certainly couldn't write one. (Although, I had written a few by then.)

But what I love about mysteries isn't the horror or the dark side of the soul, I love the puzzles. The who-dunnits and red herrings. And all mysteries are essentially morality tales. In most, if not all, of Agatha Christie's stories, the victim deserved to die. Don't get me wrong, I don't think anyone should get to play God and take it upon themselves to end a life. (And no, I'm not going to argue about the death penalty...this is not that kind of blog. I'm basically a-political.)

So what made me return to what was essentially my first literary love? An idea...a really great idea. The kind of idea that won't be ignored. Here's the first chapter of The Miss Mabel Mystery.




THE MISS MABEL MYSTERY

I crept through the dark forest, mindful of every snapping twig beneath my feet. If someone should apprehend me, I had a list of reasons for my loitering in the woods outside the main house. All of them lies.
A pair of French doors opened onto a deck from the master bedroom. I stole up the stairs so I could peek in the window and watch Doris prepare for bed. A cool breeze blew through the room, ruffled the curtains, and carried Doris’s voice and lavender scented face cream.
Her beauty, long faded, had shrunk like her frail frame, but she still held her bony shoulders has straight as hangers and moved with the grace of the ballerina she’d once been.
“Oh, my love, thank you,” Doris said when she spotted a single red rose and a chocolate candy lying on her pillow. She hummed a tune—a favorite about true love. She knew little of true love or devotion. Doris was as sentimental as the Hallmark station but as clueless to real human emotions as a Barbie doll. My stomach clenched as she picked up the rose and placed it in the glass of water holding her dentures. Pulling back the covers of her bed, she slid between the sheets, slipped the chocolate into her mouth, and switched off the light.
I glanced at my watch knowing that convulsions should start in one, two, three…wait. Was she snoring?
Frustration mounted as I waited. My breath curled in front of me like smoke and fogged up the window. But Doris, ever oblivious, slept. Her snores mocked me. Clenching my fists, I stood rooted in my hiding place on the deck waiting for death that refused to appear.





ARIEL

Put your back into your work, apply that spit and shine, and conjure up some elbow grease…A combination of physical exertion, endurance, and mental dedication to a menial task is good for the soul…not to mention the maintenance of a smooth running inn.
At least this is what I told myself.
The sun was warm, the breeze blowing in off the ocean cool, the sound of children’s laughter floating in from the beach heavenly. I had every reason to be happy as I wielded my broom. Of course, because I preferred being on the patio than vacuuming, mopping, cleaning toilets, or spritzing mirrors…I typically saved the patio for the last of my chores. The cherry on top.
The Hemingway Home was one of the Writer’s Away Inn most luxurious suites. It had windows on three sides and two balconies—one overlooking the beach and the other the pool. Each room in the inn was named after a famous author. My working here was fortuitous—not only because the inn happened to belong to my Aunt Victoria, but also because I had literary ambitions of my own. Because of yesterday’s rain, water mixed with sand and dust had pooled on the balcony. I swept the sludge over the edge.
“Hey!” A man shouted from below.
I paused my broom.
“Lunatic!”
Horror swept over me. What to do? I considered slinking back into the suite, but honesty pushed me to the ledge.
A wet man stood glaring up at me. With his hair slicked back, he looked like an angry Antonio Banderas—a little like Zorro right before he wielded his sword at Don Rafael Montero. It didn’t take a Ph.D. to know what had happened. He slapped at his arms and chest, brushing himself off.
“Sorry!” I called out.
His lips twisted in a sneer. “Get a dust pan,” he grumbled, “and a clue.”
I gave him what I hoped was a friendly and apologetic wave and slunk back into the suite, wishing that that was what I’d done in the first place. Not that I wanted one of the other maids to take the blame, but if he hadn’t seen my face…not that I regretted seeing his. What did he look like when he wasn’t frowning?
I peeked back over the ledge. He’d moved to a chair on the opposite edge of the pool and lounged with a novel in hand. I wished I could read the cover. Could he be one of those rare combinations of beauty and brains?
I slipped back into the suite and closed the literal patio door and the figurative door on my disloyal thoughts. To distract myself, I did some mental math. The three hour time difference between New York and Shell Falls would put Andrew on the stock exchange floor. I itched to call him and tell him of my sweeping mistake. I wanted to hear him laugh and tell me it wasn’t a big deal. Everyone does stupid stuff sometimes. Besides, it didn’t really matter. In a few months, we’d be getting married. And shortly after that, I’d start my new job at the music academy, and I’d never have to sweep a balcony again unless I wanted to.
These happy feelings carried me to the service closet where I hung up the broom, and took off my apron, before heading back to my room.
#
Later in the early evening, Victoria met me in the foyer. Sweeping her gaze over me, she flinched when she spotted my shoes. “Can’t you put on some heels?” she asked in a hushed whisper.
I had two jobs at the inn—housekeeping and piano playing. They each required a very different sort of uniform. No one cared how I dressed while I mucked out the rooms, but when I played in the dining room, Aunt Victoria liked me to look my best. I typically wore a black cocktail dress, lacy hose, and low-heeled black shoes. I had tried to explain to her that I needed a comfy pair of shoes to work the suspension pedal, but she liked to me to be as beautiful as my surroundings. This was a tall order since the dining room had massive floor to ceiling windows and a sweeping view of the ocean.
Tonight, she seemed more on edge than normal. “Miss Mabel McKnight and her cohorts are here.”
My pulse quickened. Miss Mabel, Shell Falls very own Jessica Fletcher, lived in a mansion at the edge of town. She’d written more than eighty mystery novels, and was our local reclusive celebrity.
“They say it’s been years since she’s been out in public,” Aunt Victoria said. “And she’s here!”
I glanced over my aunt’s shoulder and caught sight of a tiny figure sitting at a table with a cluster of well-dressed and expertly groomed elderly women. I easily recognized her from her picture on the back of her book jackets. My breath caught when I saw the Zorro look-a-like sitting beside her.
Aunt Vicky squeezed my hand. “Play Vivaldi,” she whispered.
I smiled back at her and tried to look more confident than I felt. I’d been playing at weddings and other events since I was thirteen. I had a Ph.D. in music therapy, had graduated with honors, and had an amazing job lined up for the fall.
I didn’t question my musical abilities.
But I seriously doubted my ability to face the man sitting beside Miss Mabel McKnight.
I told myself he wouldn’t recognize me. Very few people expect the maid to also be a concert pianist. I crossed the dining room, lifted the piano lid, settled on the bench, and launched into my music.
The dying sun cast the room in an amber glow. We were only a few days away from the summer solstice and the days were so long they melded together—a continuous round of sun, sand, and warmth. Within minutes, I was lost in my music. My fingers touched the keyboard, but my thoughts were in New York. With Andrew.
“You’re really playing.”
I glanced up at the Zorro standing behind me, his gaze on my fingers.
“I thought this might be a Disklavier or something.” His warm brown eyes met mine. Up close, he was even better looking than I’d earlier thought.
“You didn’t think the maid could also play the piano?” I shot back.
I immediately regretted my words when his eyes widened. Disbelief faded into recognition. Humor followed.
“You’re the girl who dumped water on Brandt?”
My fingers faltered as I twisted to look over my shoulder at Miss Mabel. She was older and smaller than I would have guessed from her pictures. Although her eyes were swimmy with age, they were still intense and inquisitive. In her younger days, she’d been an Audry Hepburn beauty—petite, dark haired, pale but pink-cheeked, large brown eyes. My dad had once said that Miss Mabel was like a poodle with razor-sharp incisors. Her deceptively dainty demeanor made her dangerous. Her intellect made her lethal.
“It wasn’t exactly a dumping,” I spoke without missing a beat, a skill I’d developed from years of practice.
“I wouldn’t be critical if that’s exactly what happened,” Miss Mabel said.
“That is exactly what happened,” the man muttered.
“Brandt could use a good dumping,” Miss Mabel said.
“Then I did you a favor.” I wondered how the two were related. Did he work for her? He wasn’t her son. Long ago, my oldest sister had once pointed out Miss Mabel’s only son, Douglas McNight. He’d been middle-aged then, a David Hasselhoff wannabe lurking on the beach and chatting up teenage girls. I’d heard he’d been married a number of times, and I’d seen him tooling around town in his cobalt blue Maserati on numerous occasions. But even though I had lived in Shell Falls my entire life—aside from my years at Julliard—I had never seen Miss Mabel. “You’re welcome.”
I felt the man stiffen while Miss Mabel chuckled.
“What’s your name?” Miss Mabel asked.
“Arial Guthrie.”
“And you know who I am?”
“Of course. Doesn’t everyone?”
Her laughter deepened. “I knew I’d like you. You remind me of my younger self.” I felt flattered that she remarked on our resemblance. It was something I'd been told before. I wondered if I would look like her in some sixty-odd years.
What are you doing here?”
“Playing Vivaldi. Excuse me, but I’m coming to the finale and it requires my full attention.” I plunged into the sonata’s climactic finish, hoping they’d be gone by the time I finished. I felt slightly shaky by the time I lifted my fingers.
“Miss Guthrie, that was breathtaking!”
I twisted on the bench to get a better view of Miss Mabel and her Zorro-friend. “Thank you.”
“Are you busy next weekend?”
I studied her face, trying to read her. “Do you need a pianist?”
“No, a companion.” Her eyes sparkled as if she knew a humorous secret.
I lifted my chin at the man beside her. “You don’t want to take him?”
“Brandt? Heavens no. He’s much too clever. I don’t want to work that hard.” She cocked her head and studied me. “Do you?”
He did seem worth the effort, but a mental image of Andrew flashed in my mind and I lowered my gaze to hide my flushed cheeks.
“Good! It’s settled then. You’ll accompany me to Doris’s birthday bash. It’s next weekend in Lake Arrowhead. You’ll have your own suite, of course. Doris has this ridiculously mammoth lodge with plenty of rooms. We can take my car, but you’ll have to drive. You do drive, don’t you?”
I nodded.
“Me too,” she said.
Beside her, Brandt grumbled, but Miss Mabel ignored him and patted me on the shoulder. “Well, I need to get back to my friends. Why don’t you come by tomorrow and we can chat some more over lunch? Discuss the details—like your fee.” She winked. “I’m very generous and I’m sure you’ll find your compensation to be well worth your while.” She glanced back at her table of cohorts and flashed me a smile. “My friends might be old, but I think you’ll find us entertaining.”
Miss Mabel moved away, but Brandt remained, hovering over me. I stood, just to feel less intimidated by him. It didn’t really help. He still had at least six inches to my five foot five. For the first time ever, I wished I’d listened to Aunt Victoria and worn my heels.
“I suppose I should thank you for taking her to Doris’s, but I will warn you—I have my hesitations.”
“Like what?”
“My grandmother is…”
“Impetuous?”
“Well, of course…that goes without saying. After all, she just picked you up off the street without knowing a thing about you.”
This made me feel like one of those cute but obnoxious puppies that you might find in a cardboard box in front of a grocery store wearing a large FREE sign. I probably shouldn’t have come across as so pathetic. I should have said something like, I’ll have to check my calendar, or let me see if I can rearrange my schedule. But the terrible truth was that since I’d moved here a few weeks ago, my calendar was as empty as an alcoholic’s whiskey bottle.
“It’s only a weekend,” I told him. “And it’s not as if I would persuade her to join a cult or invest in a shady business deal.”
He narrowed his eyes at me as if these were all things I could be capable of.
#
“You what?” Rainy voice squeaked when I told her about meeting Miss Mabel. “But when are we going shopping?”
“Not next weekend. You told me you had rehearsal.”
Rainy was suspiciously quiet.
“You do, don’t you?”
“Of course, I do.” Rainy’s pause was almost imperceptible.
I leaned back against my bed and picked up a pencil and a scrap of paper. I doodled while Rainy told me about a new guy she’d met. He was in a band—played the drums. He sounded exactly like the last guy she’d dated. Frankel something. She must have noticed my less than enthusiastic response because she shifted the conversation back to shopping—something we could both agree on.
“Technically, I’m not engaged,” I reminded her.
“But isn’t that the whole reason you’re here? To save money and plan the gala?” She emphasized the word gala in her Hollywood voice.
“Well, yes, but…you know it won’t be official until Andrew talks to Dad.”
“Ugh. That’s so last century!”
Because I was sick of defending Andrew to Rainy, I said, “I’ll have more money after my weekend with Miss Mabel.”
Rainy let out a happy squeal. “How much more?”
“I’m not sure, but she said it would be worth my while.”
“Do you know who would be worth your while? Her grandson.”
“She has a grandson? Is his name Brandt and does he look like Zoro?”
“Brandt? No, I thought his name was Zach.” The sound of clicking computer keys sounded over the phone. “Oh, he’s cute, too.”
“You googled her grandsons?”
“Yep. She has two, but oddly enough, they’re not brothers. Brandt—who you’ve met, and Zach, who I’ve met. There’s one for each of us!”
“I thought you were in love with…” I searched my memory for her latest’s name.
“Marcus? Oh, I am,” she said in a sad voice.
My phone buzzed with an incoming call. My heart sped when Andrew’s picture flashed on the screen.
“I have to go,” I told Rainy. “Andrew’s calling.”
“Oh, Andy…” Rainy said in a singsong tone.
I didn’t have to see her to know she was making the face she always wore when we talked about Andrew.
“Love you,” I said, ending the call. I immediately responded to Andrew but was disappointed when I saw he’d hung up. I shot him a text. WHERE’D YOU GO?
CAN’T TALK. JUST WANTED TO TOUCH BASE BEFORE GOING OUT.
Going out? It was ten here, making it nearly one a.m. there.
CALEB GOT US INTO CLUB 99
He answered my unasked question.
K, I replied, but it really wasn’t. I didn’t like Caleb—one of Andrew’s co-workers. He worked hard but partied harder. I considered him a Wall Street wolf—a clichĂ© of the money driven, woman hungry, and status seeking. But Andrew, for whatever reason, liked him.
LOVE YOU I texted him.
He sent me back on emoji of a heart.

I dropped the phone in my lap and gazed at my doodling. I’d drawn a caricature of a boy in a band. Not knowing what to make of it, I crumbled up the paper and got ready for bed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Would You Like to Read Melee in Exchange For an Honest Review?

I'm excited because I'll finish the third and final book in my Menagerie series this week--although I won't be publishing it until August. It's always a rush of accomplishment (although a little sad to say goodbye to my characters) when I finish a series. If you would like to read Melee in exchange for an honest review, please email me at kristyswords@yahoo.com and use the word REVIEW in the subject line.

Of course, you might be a little lost if you haven't read the first two books in the series, but Menagerie, the first book, is only .99. You can get it here: MENAGERIE



It is during the wee hours when our most immense dreams come to us.
Jean Arp
From Lizbet’s Studies


CHAPTER 1

As sunlight touched the eastern sky Declan sat up, shivering. Brushing twigs and leaves off his naked skin, he crawled to huddle behind a huckleberry bush to make sense of things. His whole world tilted as he tried to process what had happened. He had spent the night in the woods. Naked? How could he have forgotten something as important as his clothes?
Beyond the woods, Lizbet’s house. Only the barn stirred with life. Horses nickered, goats bleated, pigs snorted—all were waiting for their breakfast, and Declan knew who would provide it. Lizbet. He couldn’t face her. Not like this. After shooting a quick glance at the house, wondering if anyone was awake to witness his streaking, he ran for his car.
The keys. Where were they? In the pocket of his jeans. But where were his pants? Crouching behind the Mercedes, he spotted them—or what was left of them—at the edge of the woods. He commando crawled through the tall grass, snake-like, flinching as twigs and pebbles poked and pierced his skin. All his clothes had been ripped to shreds, but thankfully, his keys were still in the remains of his pocket. He scooped up the cottony threads of what had once been his clothes.
His shivering accelerated as he pressed the key fob, crawled back through the grass, avoiding anything sharp or dangerous looking, and lifted the car’s door handle. Inside the Mercedes, he started the engine and turned up the heater full blast. He glanced in the rearview mirror, half expecting to see a furry snout instead of his nose and unshaved chin. He looked exactly like himself, but…he gazed at his arms and chest…different. He studied the wolf bite on his hand. A few hours ago the puncture wounds had been a bloody mess, but it had since healed to a pink line. Strange.
By the time he arrived at his grandfather’s house in the University District, he had practically convinced himself that it had all been a bad dream.
But his shredded clothes told a different story.
He collapsed onto his bed just after dawn and fell into a restless sleep.
#
Lizbet addressed a crowd of gathered animals. “I really appreciate your willingness to put aside your animosity to fight our common enemy. As you know, a pack of wolves has been terrorizing our community. There have even been some deaths.”
Chattering, growling, and murmuring rippled through the crowd.
“It needs to stop,” Lizbet said. “And I believe it can. But only if we all work together.”
A crow fluttered to perch on Lizbet’s shoulder. It whispered in her ear and she stopped and slowly turned in Declan’s direction. He thought about hiding, but realized he could never do so from the birds.
“What are you doing here, Declan?” she asked, her voice hard.
He stepped out from behind the tree, amazed to find he was almost as scared of Lizbet as he was of the bear. “What—“ His voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What are you doing?”
She twisted her lips together and scowled at him. He could tell she was battling between the truth and a lie. Finally, she said, “I’m going to catch a werewolf.”

Drenched in sweat, Declan bolted up, kicking the covers off his bed. He swung his legs off the side of the bed and sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He willed his heart to stop racing. It’s only a dream, he told himself. But it was more than that. It was a memory. A painful one.
And if it was a memory, it meant that the other, more terrifying dreams could also be memories. He padded over to his computer, sat down in front of it, and turned it on. He typed “night terrors” into the search engine.
Episodes usually occur 1 to 2 hours after going to sleep and can last from 1 to 30 minutes. The victim will look like himself with open eyes but his expression will be vacant, if not horror-struck. Waking a victim will prove difficult, if not impossible. Upon waking, he or she won't remember the incident, no matter what terror he has endured.
During an episode, it is typical for one to exhibit intense fear or agitation. They may be violent. They will not be cognizant of their surroundings. Their breathing may quicken and their heartrate increase. They may perspire profusely. They may scream and try to fight demons that only they can see.
Night terrors are different from nightmares. Nightmares are frightening dreams that can often be recalled the next morning in vivid detail. Night terrors leave no trace in the memory.

That was it. Night terrors. Although, according to this article, victims of night terrors were usually under the age of twelve. But Declan wrote off his experience in the woods as night terrors—a phenomenon brought on by the shock of Lizbet’s revelations. For that, of course, he couldn’t manufacture a rational explanation without engaging in a losing argument with her—and maybe a bear or a skunk. No sense in picking a fight he had no chance of winning. But as for his own personal nightmare—he didn’t need to revisit it.
He hoped.
It was only a little after six. He could sleep for another couple of hours. But could and would were two very different concepts. Silently, he crept from his room and down the hall and peeked through his mom’s ajar bedroom door. She slept curled in a ball in the middle of her king-size bed, the bedclothes wrapped around her legs, her arms tucked under her. He tiptoed across the long stretch of carpet, passing through a swath of early morning light streaming through the window. In her bathroom, he found her collection of medicine in the cabinet. He grabbed four bottles, and after another glance at his mom, he took them into her closet and closed the door before flipping on the light.
The sudden brightness stung his eyes. It took a moment for his vision to clear. Surrounded by his mom’s power suits, silky dresses, and shoes, he scanned the medicine labels before selecting the one that read, For relief of sleeplessness when associated with pain.
He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he rationalized away his guilt. He told himself emotional pain was just as real as physical pain. He swallowed the pills dry.

#

Elizabeth stood in the far corner of her garden waving her cane at a flock of sparrows.
“Something wrong, Grandma?” Lizbet asked, coming up behind her.
“These dad-gum birds are eating all of my grapes!” Elizabeth groused.
“They have to feed their families, too,” Lizbet said gently as she eyed the small, hard green balls that had weeks to go before being palatable to anyone other than the sparrows.
Elizabeth blew out a sigh. “You sound like you’re on their side!”
“I didn’t know there were any sides,” Lizbet said. “I’m just pointing out—”
“Ugh. You sound like Josie!” Elizabeth sloshed through the muddy garden patch. “She’s always trying to get me to sell this place.”
That was not only unfair, but it was also untrue. “I don’t want you to sell the ranch, and I know my mom doesn’t either.”
Elizabeth sniffed as she moved between the corn stalks. Some had already grown past her shoulders while others barely reached her waist. A few of the taller stalks had baby ears of corn and sported puffs of silk.
“This place is my life,” Elizabeth said. “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I had to vegetate in Josie’s condo all day.”
Lizbet trailed after her grandmother. Because she was a good five inches shorter than her grandmother, some of the stalks touched her hair and threatened to poke her in the eye with their floppy leaves. “No one is asking you to move in with Josie.”
Elizabeth made a harrumphing sound. “We’re going to have to make some salsa out of these tomatoes,” she said. “If we can keep the deer out of here.”
Lizbet took note of the hundreds of nearly ripe tomatoes. Only a few, that she could see, had deer bites in them. “I think the critters have shown a lot of self-restraint,” Lizbet said.
Elizabeth turned and gave her an are-you-insane look.
“Come on, Grandma,” Lizbet said, taking Elizabeth’s arm. “Let’s go and make some lunch.”

#

When an invitation to Nicole’s going away party coincided with the first night of August’s full moon, only a niggle of warning flashed in the back of Declan’s mind.
“Are you sure you want to go?” Declan asked Lizbet as they browsed the bookstore for used textbooks. He would be a freshman at the University of Washington at the end of September and Lizbet would start classes at Queen Anne Community College a couple of weeks before that.
“Sure, why not?” Lizbet flipped her curls over her shoulder and gave him a smile that sent him over the moon.
“Well, it’s not as if you’re friends…”
“But she’s your friend, right?”
“Yeah, but…”
“Come on, it’ll be good for me. I’m trying to be more social.” She bumped him with her hip before moving down the aisle. She glanced at her list of required books for the upcoming semester.
“You’re plenty social.” Declan trailed after her, but stopped as a title caught his eye.
The Meaning and Translation of Dreams. He pulled it off the shelf and flipped it open.
People who are anxious or overtired are more likely to sleepwalk or experience sleep terrors. A relaxing bedtime routine paired with an early bedtime can help prevent sleep disturbances.
Avoid sleepwalking injuries by making the bedroom and house as safe as possible. Consider the following precautions:
Make sure there are no sharp or breakable objects near the bed.
Install gates on stairways.
Lock doors and windows.
If psychological stress contributes to disordered sleep, counseling may help. Both children and adults may benefit from hypnosis or biofeedback.
In some cases, a doctor may prescribe short-acting sleep or antianxiety medications to reduce or eliminate episodes.
Seek professional help if:
Episodes are frequent or severe.
The sleepwalker gets injured during episodes.
The sleepwalker leaves the house.
Nighttime episodes are accompanied by daytime sleepiness.
Stress, anxiety or other psychological factors may be contributing to sleep disturbances.
Sleepwalkers occasionally injure themselves or others. But most episodes of sleepwalking and sleep terrors are brief and harmless.
Lizbet glanced over his shoulder. “What’s this?”
He slammed the book shut. “Nothing.”
“You having problems sleeping?”
“Not really. Just that one night.” He slipped the book back onto the shelf.
“What night?” she pressed.
He shrugged her question off. “Listen. It makes sense. Talking animals, werewolves, and were-Schnauzers. Anyone would have nightmares. It was a lot to process.” A sudden memory assaulted him and he closed his eyes, trying to tune it out.
Hunger burned the back of his throat and tightened his gut. He padded across the forest floor. A carpeting of pine needles and soft soil muffled his footfalls. Above the trees’ canopy, a smattering of stars glistened, pale against a cloud-filled night. Mist shrouded the round, full strawberry moon.
He sat back on his haunches and lifted his head toward the moon. Snatches of conversations drifted by. Apprehension surged through his blood. He gazed at his paw…so foreign. How had he transformed into this creature? Standing on all fours, he loped through the woods aimlessly, fighting the hunger that zinged through his veins.
“Of course.” Lizbet looped her arm around his and pulled him into a sideways hug and out of the memory. Hallucination. Nightmare…whatever it was.
“It’s amazing that we’re both not bonkers,” she said.
“Bonkers,” he murmured. His gaze landed on another book, Mental Health for Dummies.
He needed help.
#
Music thrummed through the open windows. Someone had hung a disco ball from the dining room chandelier and shafts of multicolored light sparkled on the dark lawn. Kids in jeans, T-shirts, and UW hoodies lounged on the front porch. Lizbet wanted to belong, but she still felt like a poser. This was Declan’s world, as foreign to her as the moon.
She picked out Baxter, Declan’s oversized friend, Maria, her friend and neighbor, and McNally, another friend of Declan’s from East End High’s basketball team all standing in a tight circle just inside the double-wide doors. She tightened her grip on Declan’s hand.
He wore jeans, flip-flops, and a Twenty One Pilots T-shirt. Trying to fit in, she’d chosen a nearly identical outfit, but her T-shirt and jeans couldn’t hide her curves…and nothing could tame her curls.
As if sensing her insecurity, Declan dropped a quick kiss on her temple.
“Who’s that with Nicole?” she asked, nodding at a guy with a Cross-Fitter’s build leaning against the porch railing, his eyes trained on Nicole, a lithe blonde with flushed cheeks.
“Jason Norbit. Her old squeeze. They broke up a while ago.”
“You mean when she applied to Duke?”
Declan dipped his chin. “He’s going to UW on a football scholarship.”
Lizbet bit her bottom lip as she followed Declan up the porch steps and through the doorway. She had her own theories about why Nicole had applied to Duke.
Nicole was beautiful in an ice-queen way. Her home had the same understated elegance—the disco ball being the notable exception. Someone had carried the dining room table out through the French doors to the back patio and people danced on the hardwood floor beneath the spinning lights.
“Want to dance?” Declan asked.
“No.” The thought horrified her. She’d never danced before in front of a crowd. Her thoughts flitted back to the first time she had ever danced…with Declan…in the moonlight. Dancing had turned to kissing. That had been a first for her, too. “Do you?”
He shook his head, grinned, and put his hand on her shoulder to steer her outside to his cluster of friends surrounding the food-piled dining room table.
Nicole waylaid them. “Hey, Declan. Any second thoughts about ditching Duke?”
Declan shook his head. “Sorry, Nicki, you’re on your own.”
Jason pulled himself away from the wall and draped his arm across Nicole’s shoulder. “Not quite on her own. There’s only about three thousand in the freshman class.”
Lizbet wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw a flicker of irritation in Nicole’s eyes.
McNally appeared at Declan’s side and elbowed him. “Yeah, now that you’re going to UW, have you thought about playing intermural basketball?”
“Basketball?” A girl Lizbet didn’t know broke into the conversation. “That’s no fun. What about ultimate frisbee?” She flashed Declan a smile full of perfectly straight, bright white teeth. “That’s co-ed.”
 “How about you?” Jason nodded at Lizbet. “Where you headed?”
“Queen Anne Community,” Lizbet said. “Staying local.”
Jason’s gaze swept over her and lingered on her lips. “Me, too.” He lifted his soda bottle as if to clink her invisible goblet in a toast.
Lizbet sent Declan a quick glance, but he was lost in conversation with McNally and the unknown girl, debating the virtues of basketball and ultimate frisbee.
Jason leaned forward, placing his hand on the wall directly behind Lizbet and making her feel pinned. “What’s your story?”
Lizbet knew he wouldn’t believe her if she were stupid enough to tell him. She tested him. “Well, last month I killed a werewolf. How about you?”
He laughed as if she were joking. “So you’re like Buffy? A vampire slayer?”
“No vampires,” she said in all seriousness. “I tend to stick to creatures.”
He nodded and a glint she didn’t like filled his eyes.
“Seriously,” she said. “I’m auditing a mythology class from Professor Madison at the University of Washington right now.”
“What are you going to do with that? Kill more werewolves?”
“I’d rather just scare them away.”
He snorted. “You’re a tiny thing. It’s hard to believe you could scare anything.”
She blinked at him. “You’d be surprised.”
“You’re like a werewolf warrior?”
She wanted to smile to show him his invasion of her personal space wasn’t making her crazy, but the closer Jason pressed, the more uncomfortable she felt. She looked over his shoulder for Declan, but couldn’t see him. Everyone else had deserted the porch and gone inside. Annoyance flashed through her. She spotted a cat sitting on the windowsill, watching them with slit eyes. She crooked a finger at the animal. He responded by twitching his whiskers.
Jason flicked a glance over his shoulder before turning back to Lizbet. The cat stood, arched his back, and batted a dead moth out of the corner of the window toward Jason’s crotch. Surprised, Jason jumped out of the line of fire.
Lizbet’s lips twitched as she escaped. “Thanks,” she whispered to the cat as she went to find Declan. She didn’t see him with his friends in the backyard, in the mass of kids huddled in the kitchen, or in any of the circles of conversation in the living room. She thought she heard his laughter floating up the stairwell that led to the basement, but before she climbed halfway down, someone turned off the lights and plunged the basement into inky darkness.
“Everyone close your eyes,” a girl said.
Lizbet froze on the stairs, unsure where to go or what to do. She risked tripping in the dark in either direction.
“Vampire, open your eyes and select your victim.” Someone switched on a flashlight and a girl giggled.
Lizbet hurried down the stairs.
“Stop! Intruder!” Someone turned on the overhead light amidst groans.
Lizbet swallowed hard, suddenly aware that somehow she’d inadvertently pooped on the party.
The girl who seemed to be in charge pointed at Lizbet. “State your name and business.” She had a severe haircut and wore I-mean-business glasses, a black turtleneck despite the warm summer night, and a pair of painted-on jeans.
“She’s Lizbet and she’s with me.” Jason came up behind her and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder. “’Scuse us for interrupting. Mind if we join you?”
A couple of people made groaning sounds, but most murmured a welcome. The lights were doused before Lizbet even got a look around the room to see if Declan was in the crowd.
Jason tugged at her hand and she fell into a cross-legged position beside him. “I don’t know this game,” she whispered as she disentangled her fingers.
“It’s easy. You’ll catch on.” Jason’s warm breath fanned against her cheek. “As a werewolf warrior, you’ll be a natural.”
In the darkness, he seemed closer than she would have guessed. She inched away from him and bumped someone next to her. “Sorry,” she hissed and held herself very still so as not to touch anyone else.
“Night has fallen…again,” the game-master girl began. “While the villagers sleep, the vampire works the wages of death. Vampire, open your eyes and select your victim.”
“Keep your eyes closed,” Jason whispered, and he squeezed Lizbet’s knee.
Moments later, the game-master girl flipped on a flashlight. “Everyone open your eyes.” She flicked the flashlight at the faces of the twenty or so kids seated on the basement rug. When Lizbet saw Declan wasn’t in their number, she wanted to leave, but she’d already interrupted the game once and didn’t want to do it again.
“In the dark of night, a vampire stole into the home at twenty-eight Reynolds.”
“Yeah! That’s my house!” a redheaded kid with a smattering of freckles said.
The game-master girl slid him the evil eye.  “While Carl slept, the vampire sucked his blood and left his lifeless body on the library floor.”
“I have a library. Cool,” Carl said.
“Yeah, like that’s going to do you any good seeing as how you don’t read,” someone said.
“Hush!” a girl in a vintage Van Halen T-shirt hissed.
“You can’t talk,” a guy with hair like a hedgehog said. “You’re dead.”
Carl looked as if he wanted to argue, but he bit his tongue.
“I’m not sure I want to play this game,” Lizbet whispered to Jason.
“You better be quiet, or else the vampire will kill you, too,” Jason whispered.
“I’d be okay with that,” Lizbet returned, “seeing as how I don’t want to play.”
“Silence!” the game-master girl called out. “Villagers, who among you executed this dastardly deed?” she asked as she flashed the light into the blinking faces of her friends. “Who is the vampire?”
Speculations and laughter flew. Lizbet tried to be a good sport, but with Jason’s thigh pressing against hers, she felt increasingly uncomfortable. The guy sitting on her other side had excessive arm and leg hair so that every time she bumped into him she felt like she was touching a fur ball. Plus, he had onion breath.
“Okay! New round!” The game-master girl stood and flipped on the overhead light, illuminating the orange shag carpet and plaid sofas pushed up against the wood-paneled walls. “Everyone turn in your cards.”
Lizbet had missed something.
Declan, Baxter, and McNally followed by Nicole and a couple of girls trooped down the stairs.
“Hey, can we join in?” Baxter asked. Lizbet had observed that because Baxter was so big, people rarely told him no. The circle widened to let him in while Declan inserted himself next to Lizbet.
“What brought you down here?” Declan whispered in her ear.
“I was looking for you.”
“Hmm, I was looking for you, too.” He kissed her lightly on the lips.
“Not yet, Lamb.”
“Sorry,” Declan said, sounding not in the least repentant.
Nicole, who had wedged herself on the other side of Jason, rolled her eyes.
The game-master girl hit the lights. “Villagers, close your eyes! Night has fallen in the village of the doomed. While the villagers slumber, the vampire stalks his prey.”
Someone dropped in front of Lizbet and planted a sloppy wet kiss on her lips. She struggled and pushed him off.
“Yeah! That’s the game!” Jason said.
“Sorry, I…” Lizbet jumped to her feet. “I told you I didn’t want to play.” Embarrassed, she crawled over people in the dark until she found the stairs and felt her way out of the basement. In the kitchen, she realized that Declan had followed her.
“Ugh.” She covered her face with her hands. “That was awful.”
He laughed. “Don’t let Jason hear you say that.”
She shuddered. “Can we go?”
“Sure.” He draped his arm around her shoulder. “It was just a game.”
“I know. It wasn’t a big deal.” But it felt like it was.