Friday, June 17, 2011

We're Moving!

After some debate, I've chosen to move amy & the pen. Between technical issues and a desire for change, it was time for a new host. So this week is my last at this address and starting Monday we will be (Got to keep my name - phew!) To celebrate the change, next week is Open Blog week! So stop by my new address, say hello, bring friends, cupcakes. That sort of thing. We'll have some good posts and with a whole new design, I've gone ahead and refurbished everything, so there's lots to see, read, and in general check out. See you there!

Photo by TheMuuj.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Book #3 for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge is Ian Rankin's Doors Open. Until now, I only knew the author by name. I'm pushing out of my comfort zone for this challenge and pulling out titles I might pass over normally. Happily, I wasn't disappointed this time around.

Like wtih The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash, Doors Open is a little slow at times with a quieter main character. But plenty happens, and almost worse is the anticipation throughout the entire story that bad things are coming. A relatively normal group of guys have tied up their fates with an Edinburgh gangster and you can bet things are going to go very, very wrong.

What I didn't bet on was liking the characters, especially the the main character, Mike Mackenzie. I don't know why but I went into this novel with the notion that I would hate the characters. I have no explanation for that but there we are. Thankfully, I was wrong. Mike is not what you'd expect for a rich bachelor in this type of novel. He's introverted, intelligent, and bored. I love the fact that boredom with a dose of off-beat sentiment drives him to participate - and ultimately take the lead - in a major art theft.

The whole concept of Doors Open is comfortable but tinkered with. Aspects of the story are a little cheesy and predictable but I really didn't mind. I stayed up late every night to read, and all I could think about the next day was getting back to reading. I finally finished it in the AM hours and just had to sit there for a while to digest. While I always need time between novels, I enjoyed just sitting back and thinking over this one. Part of it is the writer analyzing, and part of it is the reader absorbing.

Did I mention that the story is set in Edinburgh? I've never been to Edinburgh but I want to go now. Rankin makes you feel at home there even if you're all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. That's one thing I love about reading: discovering new places and cultures. This is a good example of a writer using a place he knows (and very, very well) and introducing it to a reader like me. (I'm now more interested in anything set in Scotland.) It's writing like this that has inspired me to make better use of my home state of Massachusetts and other areas I know well.

All in all, Doors Open is an entertaining book and I will definitely be reading more of Ian Rankin's works in the future.

What are your thoughts on Doors Open (or other works by Ian Rankin)? Any suggestions for similar titles?

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Look at The Jester's Apprentice

Today the first chapter of Dead Locked is featured at the indiebookslist. I thought this would be the perfect day then to post the first teaser for my next mystery novel, The Jester's Apprentice. In short, my heroine Philippa is a medieval lady trying to put the past behind her as she marries her second husband. But the past is a tricky thing to escape, and as Philippa begins her new life, old demons resurface that leave her questioning the truth about her new husband, her own family, and a legend only known as the Jester.

I'm still editing so the following excerpt isn't polished to perfection. But you'll meet Philippa and Edric and witness the start of their story. The exact release date will be announced later, but let's just say I'm aiming for July. Enjoy!

* * *
They skipped in a circle, round and round. She closed her eyes as her chest pounded in time with the drum, sweat trickling down her spine beneath the layers of linen and silk. The music halted abruptly, and Philippa opened her eyes to see servants running into the hall and her father leaping from his seat. She broke from the circle as her cook jogged toward her, panting and sweating.

"The barn is on fire!” the woman screeched, grabbing Philippa's arms.

Edric ran from her side on the heels of another servant. Philippa ripped away from her, the shrieks of several ladies fading as she toppled out through the kitchen entrance and dashed across the herb garden. Flames licked the night sky, her former hiding place an orange blaze. Several servants formed a line, hauling water from one end to the other. Edric and other male guests joined them, but Philippa watched the puddles they threw and knew it would never do.

She clambered between the two lines of water bearers, sparks flying out toward her. This was not how she expected the evening to end. Torn between fear and annoyance, she stood there letting the heat waves wash over her sticky skin, mesmerized by how the air became visible in the heat.

"Get back inside!” Edric heaved water onto the fire, steam replacing the heat waves. His eyes pierced hers, some thought or knowledge etched into them.

Philippa tore her eyes from the blaze, blinking as she felt her way in the darkness. She rested a pink cheek against the cool stone of her house and watched them try to put out the fire in vain. She could hear the cook whispering in the kitchen behind her.

"Look what's happened!” she said. “My cousin said he was on the rise, and here's the proof.”

"You don't know that,” another servant hissed. “Homes catch on fire all the time.”

"Doubt if you like, but I know the Jester's work when I see it. I was there you know, when he burned down the master's old home. I saw his grinning face disappear into the woods. And now this, and our mistress going her way to where it all started.”

"Hush before someone hears your nonsense and takes you seriously. It's just a fire, nothing more.”

"Are you all right?” Philippa jumped, riveted by the servants' conversation. Clare stood behind her, her eyes feverish. “It's mass chaos inside.”

"It's nothing to worry about,” Philippa said blankly, leaning her back against the house. “The fire's contained.”

Clare leaned next to her. "Are you worried about the repairs? The animals?”

Philippa half-smiled. “I have more than enough to replace both. That's not the problem.”

Clare tipped her head to the side. “If this catastrophe isn't on your mind, what is?”

"Osbert. It's silly but this just reminded me of him.”

Clare followed Philippa's line of sight back to the fire, steam mixing with the smoke as another tub of water hit the fire, her dark blue eyes shimmering. "Things are now the way they should have been the first time. You will have years to get back the happiness you've lacked. Edric will see to that.”

Philippa closed her eyes. In her heart, she knew it too. Philippa fiddled with the hem of her burgundy dress, tracing the gold embroidery with her fingers. "I know we've only waited mere months for this day, but we both know we've actually waited longer.”

Clare placed a hand on Philippa's shoulder. "You're done waiting, Philippa. I promise. Fire or no fire."

Philippa smiled, but somewhere in the back of her mind she knew this was only the start.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash

So I'm doing some catch-up reading for the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge. I started the year off good and then immediately got behind. C'est la vie. My second read is The Alehouse Murders (A Templar Night Mystery) by Maureen Ash, part of the Templar Knight mystery series. As you may have already guessed, it's a medieval murder mystery set in Lincoln, England, in the year 1200. I chose it mostly for the setting. As you may know, I love medieval mysteries and I especially like anything from that particular time period. It's the age of Robin Hood, and my favorite era.

Official Description:

After years of captivity in the Holy Land, Templar Bascot de Marins escapes with injuries to his body and soul. Now on sojourn at Lincoln Castle, he hopes to regain his strength, and mend his waning faith-but not even the peace of God's countryside is safe from the mortal crimes of man...

When four victims are found slain in the town alehouse, Bascot discovers that what appears to be the grisly end to a drunken row is in fact a cunning and baffling case of murder. Bascot tracks his quarry from bawdy-house to baron's keep, once again risking his life for the justice of God's will.

* * *

My overall impression of this story was that it's rather - quiet. The story is subdued and the sleuth, Bascot de Marins, is almost in the background compared to the other characters, particularly the suspects. That might sound like a bad thing but it's really not. It's actually fitting when you think about it. What should a sleuth do but listen and watch, staying a little apart from everyone to see what's really going on. I think this contrast actually makes Bascot stand out a little more. Plus, he's a likable character with a scarred history and personal turmoil over his past choices and future decisions. He's compassionate and you can tell without a lot of smoke and flash that there is more to him than meets the eye. (That was actually an unintentional pun - he lost one eye in the Crusades.) And I really enjoyed the relationship between Bascot and his young, mute charge, Gianni. Gianni, despite not saying a word, is also a lovable character from his behavior alone.

As to the actual murder mystery, I had no clue whodunnit until the tale end. I did guess before the reveal, but it could have worked out differently. I have to say I was not into the story that much until the middle when an exciting twist is revealed. At the start, I had no idea how it would all connect and it took me until about the half-way point to really care that much. Thereafter, Ash had my attention, and she kept it going with the palpable tension among the suspects. There is very little action apart from the actual crimes, but you don't miss it. There's so much tension between the characters from the start, and even between races with the included historical import of the Jewish community in England at the time.

With all historical-based novels, setting detail is important to inform the reader and ground you in that world and Ash does a stupendous job of doing just that. It's easy to imagine the land, castle, and town. I know different readers may prefer varying amounts of historical detail, but I eat up specifics, especially for this time period. Along that line is a subplot that's entirely unrelated to the murder. Bascot orders custom boots to relieve pain in his foot from an old injury. It's a small thing, but the details and the personal nature of that side story has stuck in my mind. And Ash does tie it in to the murder mystery via information from the shop owner's son.

All-in-all this is a murder mystery grounded in details and subtleties. It's a quieter read with a lot of personal touches that draw you to Bascot and his companion. But the tension and unexpected twists really make this a mystery worth reading.

Have you read The Alehouse Murders or another Templar Knight book? What was your take? Have any suggestions for similar titles?

P.S. I also have a guest post today over at A Word Please. I chat about how everything I love came together in my first novel. I hope it will encourage and inspire you to keep writing!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Interview with Debut Author S.C. Harvey

I caught up with friend and fellow author, S.C. Harvey, this week to ask her a few questions about her debut sci-fi action-adventure novel, Sand Castles & Seashores. It's the first in a series of four following the epic journey of Madison Chase as she searches for her true identity. You can read a sample and buy the book over at Amazon. And read to the end for a short excerpt right here. Let's find out more about Madison's, and Harvey's, journey!

So tell us a little about your book, Sand Castles & Seashores.
Sand Castles & Seashores is a story about a young tracker named Madison whose past is hidden from her, and because of her special abilities, becomes the special interest of an agency. Sand Castles is the bleeding of worlds, not so much blending, with elements of two worlds bleeding into each other. It is the turning of the clock backwards and forwards. It is the journey of one woman to find the secrets of her past and fulfill the promise she made years ago. Along that journey, she encounters a special operative named Will Matthews and Nicholas, a special person from her past, and the trio’s lives become intertwined, weaving each into the other’s destinies.

What inspired you to write this story?
My husband began writing and the joy he had was infectious. It renewed my love of writing so I began to pick up the pen again with stories I have long hung onto. Sand Castles & Seashores first came to life in a dream I had long ago. Not that dreams always make sense but there were elements of it that really struck a chord with me, and so I tried to pen what would be understood to the waking public. My hope is that the essence of the story survived the translation from the dreamscape to paper. I wanted the betrayal to have as large an impact as it did and I wanted the rebuilding of her soul to be as compelling a journey as it felt. The characters and their stories are all magnificent and it was up to me to get it down on paper.

How did you get the idea for Madison's 'gift'?
I tried to see what she needed and what would suit her. Madison’s gifts complement her personality. There exists a dichotomy with Madison’s character. Her control over matter makes up for her lack of control over her own life and relationships which she so desperately yearns for. It will be later revealed in the series that she is among a special group of her kind, capable of performing the feats she does, but the talents generally appear later in their lifespan when their thinking ability and minds become more powerful. In Madison’s case, because of her amnesia, her mind was unrestrained, free of the history written for her and was able to realize its unbounded potential. Her powers manifest as she needs them to in order to survive the new reality she found herself in, our world.

What is your favorite scene?
That’s a tough one because there were so many scenes I enjoyed writing. One that stands out for me was when Will showed up at her flat and his true intentions were revealed. I can’t go into it anymore without giving away half of the story but its impact is everlasting on Madison’s character. Another one of my favorite scenes is when Nicholas showed up on the beach. Just his presence spoke volumes as to his role in Madison’s life. And certainly, I cannot leave out the last scene. I had struggled as to how I would end this chapter of her life and funny enough, I slept and had a dream about what it was like her last day with Nicholas before she had to say good-bye to the world she knew. And tah-dah! It brought the story full circle for me and hopefully readers will get that same sense of renewal and finality. She started in the book tracking fugitives and in the end, she is the one hunted.

What books, movies, TV shows, etc. have influenced your writing?
X-Men. Need I say more? I sometimes wonder if I was one of them, what my mutant powers would be. Yes, plural. I mean, don’t we all? And I tinker with the idea; sure the powers are great but what’s messed up with the person because of it or augmented by it?

Truly, there were a lot of shows and movies that influenced my writing because they have influenced me. I am a firm believer in love transcending time and space, that love conquers all, and so the reader will see some struggles along the way before they see a happy ending or the ending most true to the characters. I grew up on shows such as Star Trek TNG, Sailor Moon, MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. I love Hayao Miyazaki works and really admire how he blends worlds together coherently and how his characters are largely simple but beautifully portrayed. Stargate does much of the same but has the element of sci-fi which I find very intelligent and witty. Star Trek and Star Wars helped me to create one of my favorite characters for the Casala Series as well as a feel for the interstellar adventure Casala and Brandon are set on. I love all things spy related - James Bond, Mi-5, Salt and the novel Ice Storm by Anne Stuart. And through this genre, the element of mystery and different sides trying to outdo the other with competent operatives comes to the fore which all makes for a good story for me.

What's next for you?
There are a number of side projects that I am currently working on between series, but the book that is of primary concern is the next book in the Sand Castles series, Galatea Rising – The Shepherd Moon’s Call. It’s the next chapter in the lives of Madison, Nicholas and Will but at the same time a continuation of some of the themes of the first story and incorporating new challenges. I had considered the Prodigal Daughter as a title but it didn’t speak enough to the role Madison must play throughout the series and the destiny she must fight for. Galatea is the shepherd moon for Neptune and influences the tidal activity for the planet, so too will Madison play a central role in the future of Thylea. Even though all the books of the Sand Castles series have already been written, I am working on adding a couple of additional chapters to give more flesh to some of the characters, and after that … Editing.

Excerpt from Sand Castles & Seashores
The cool tide swept in, partially claiming my still, limp body, making every sense vividly raw. My physical wounds have healed over into scars. The not so physical one remained open, but bled no more, because there was nothing left to bleed. The winter that was my soul had frozen into a timeless tundra. Cracks and crevices remained, because in a climate so cold, nothing was left to bind them shut.

There were a few times when I would try to heal myself, to take away the scars, but couldn’t, and more pain ensued. They were a constant reminder of them, of him, of the life that could not be. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about my powers, about myself. Stupid locked box, why can’t I remember?

I remained in this purgatory and lost track of time itself. The concept seemed irrelevant now. There were no deadlines, no jobs, nobody, nothing to tie me to this world ruled by time.

The following day, when I began sculpting a new castle to replace the one taken away during the course of the night, my heart thumped. It wasn’t an ordinary thump that generally went unnoticed, but a powerful beat that became a rhythm responding to something, and it kept pounding. I consciously sensed it shortly after I sensed a shift in the world, a shift in gravity. There was someone coming, whose power rivaled my own, whose very existence validated my own. I shot my gaze up off the sand castle to the cliffs above. A lone figure stood, still in the warm sea breeze that swept through. The winds howled and picked up in intensity against the cliffs, against him, but he would not yield. Against the bright midday sun behind him, my eyes squinted, but I did not turn away. My center shifted, followed by louder thumps from my chest, and I was forced to look away when I felt my hands pulse. I looked down at them, palms raised up to my face, then turned and examining every inch as if looking at them for the very first time. Did he trigger them? I looked back up to where he stood, but he was gone.

I was not able to make out very much from the few seconds that passed. His figure seemed toned but not feeble. His golden blond hair shined with the intensity of the sun. It was short and untamed in the wind. He stood with an air of nobility that seemed out of place from the common man these days, whose postures were never good enough to hide the slouch that ached to come out. I was not able to make out his eyes, or the look upon his face. His clothes were ordinary and casual but seemed to clash with his stance. I sat there for some time, frozen as I thought about him. Ultimately, I decided to try and shake it off, returning my focus to the castle as Tantalus to his boulder.


Thanks to S.C. Harvey for joining us today! What new authors have you come across lately?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Decode, Chapter 8: V Gets Her Spy On

For a refresher, get the previous seven chapters of Decode here. Now, on to #8!

Chapter 8: V Gets Her Spy On

Veronica waltzed through the heavy glass doors emblazoned with the silver Maddox Technology logo, her story prepared in her mind. The disc the programming department had given her was corrupted and she'd swung by to see if they could give her a new one. Simple but believable she thought. She flashed a big smile for the receptionist behind the horseshoe shaped desk.

"I was here yesterday - not that you'd remember," Veronica said and half-laughed, "but I'm consulting with the programming department and they gave me a disc for something. Well, anyway, it's not working so I thought I'd stop by while I was in the area and see if they could replace it." Veronica grinned apologetically. So much for practicing what she was going to say.

The older woman looked a little confused but consented and called someone. Veronica dug her hands into her coat pockets to keep from fidgeting and hoped her scheme worked and they would let her in. The receptionist handed her a visitor's badge and directed her to the stairs. Veronica dashed up the emergency stairs to the top level where Maddox had told her to find David Moore's office. He hadn't left much to chance, giving her incredibly specific directions.

Out of breath and flushed, Veronica told herself to walk with purpose as she raced down the carpeted hallway in her pumps. In case anyone saw her, she wanted to appear to know where she was headed. Veronica came to the last door at the end of the hallway. She took a deep breath and pushed the door slowly, creeping into the dark office.

Veronica closed the door behind her and started opening drawers. Maddox instructed her to stay clear of the computer; any activity on David's computer would send up a red flag and send Guarini back. But none of the drawers were locked so she opened each one, peeking through the contents with a gloved hand. Veronica doubted he would keep anything important in such an open place, but it didn't hurt to look. Other than a great number of pens, a package of index cards, and a package of spearmint gum, nothing interested her. But in the bottom drawer underneath a folded up sweatshirt Veronica found something entirely out of place. She touched it absently, then retracted her hand as the door swung open.

Veronica dove under the desk, pushing the drawer shut simultaneously. She held still, praying the person had missed her. Canvas sneakers and jeans stood right in front of her and Veronica squeezed into the shadows as much as possible. If he sat down, he would see her. She held her breath, feeling dizzy, and waited for what he would do next. She heard a mouse clicking and heavy breathing. Maddox indicated that David's office was on lock down for the police - and the company - until things straightened out. She wished she could see a face. Whoever it was either didn't know about the computer security issues or didn't care. Realistically, would David have kept anything top secret on his work computer?

Desperate for oxygen, Veronica exhaled slowly. The mouse clicking stopped. Did he hear that? Veronica held still. The feet stepped back from the desk, and slowly a torso and then a face came into view. They both froze, each face equally nonplussed.

"What are you doing under the desk?" Jesse whispered.

"I'm trying to help."

"You need to get out of here," he peeked over the desk, "and so do I." With no more of an explanation, Jesse left her there.

She retreated back into the hallway, running toward the stairs. At the other end, Guarini stepped out of an office, seeing her flee from the opposite end. Veronica busted through the metal door to the stairs and out of sight.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

BestsellerBound Anthology Trailer

Last week I mentioned that the BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology was available as a free download over at Smashwords. Now we have a trailer announcing the event and offering a quick description of each story. This is definitely a something-for-everyone collection with 10 stories covering light, dark, and in-between. Be sure to check it out and download your copy today! 

Thanks to Belle for creating the trailer!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Surprise in the Mist Writing Prompt

This seems like an odd photo to post on such a sunny day, but I love the mood of it!

Imagine yourself standing on the edge of this foggy lake. You think you see something moving in the mist beyond the bend. Are your eyes playing tricks on you? You squint and see someone - or something - you never expected to find there. Who - or what- is it?

And before you take off, I have a quick announcement. The BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology, Vol. 1 was just released as a free download yesterday! I'm a member of the BestsellerBound forum, a support network for indie authors, and a few other members put their heads and skills together to get this off the ground. It features 10 short stories from various genres, including my story, "Stained." Please support these authors by downloading the anthology (totally free) on Smashwords.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The New Title Showcase at BEA 2011

My friend and fellow author, S.C. Harvey, and I took a day trip yesterday to New York City to check out the New Title Showcase at the 2011 BookExpo America. Her first release, Sand Castles & Seashores, is featured as part of the Trafford Publishing display. I wanted a glimpse of the action and I have to say it was well worth it!

Sam with her new book!
The energy and activity at the center invigorated me to get to work. So when I got home, I pulled up my upcoming novel, The Jester's Apprentice, and finished revising the ending. I still have a lot of editing ahead of me, but taking a little time out to pop in at the BEA stoked the fire to revise and make plans for the release!

Activity around the New Title Showcase

Now I wish I'd gotten a photo, but outside the front of the center they were giving out free mini red velvet and strawberry whoopie pies to promote Sarah Dessen's new novel. The strawberry one was delicious!

Later this week, you can catch the next chapter of Decode and see how Veronica does with her first spying attempt!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Decode, Chapter 7: Business Affairs

Chapter 7: Business Affairs

Lieutenant Guarini sat in Maddox Felton's office, admiring the way the sunlight lit up dust particles floating through the air. Without the light, you'd never know they existed. Maddox crashed into his chair, the wheels squeaking as he pulled up to the desktop. Guarini observed that Felton had no photos, no memorabilia, no awards. Just the desk, a wall-sized book shelf, and two chairs for guests. It was modern and stylish, but hardly the plush CEO office Guarini expected. Maddox apologized for the wait, and they got down to business.

"David was an efficient project manager," Maddox said, folding his hands on his desk. "And well-liked, near as I could tell."

"Did you like him?" Guarini admired Felton's tone-on-tone shirt and tie and thought he should try that look sometime himself.

Maddox tilted his head quizzically but his chiseled features stayed neutral. "Of course. I wouldn't say we were friends, but we got along just fine."

Guarini nodded. "Did you know David had some financial problems?" Guarini watched him, but if any recognition crossed his eyes, he'd missed it.

"No." Maddox laughed quietly. "I can't imagine he would have told me."

"They had incurred some major debts after building a new home. David had taken on a second job to keep them afloat."

"I had no idea."

"It seems to me this kind of financial desperation could lead to other activities."

"You mean illegal activities."

"If not illegal then let's say unethical. What would an unethical business practice be to you, Mr. Felton?"

Maddox kept his eyes on the Lieutenant while he processed his question. Guarini admired his unflinching stance, but really just wanted into his mind. "I would have to say using others to get ahead."

"Good answer. But I'm thinking along the lines of selling company secrets."

Maddox' eyes flickered. "That would qualify," he said calmly. "Are you suggesting David was involved in something like that?"

Guarini shrugged. "I can't really say. I'm just looking at the evidence and David's life and your company and thinking corporate espionage for some reason."

Maddox smiled. "Sounds glamorous."

"And expensive. You go to a lot of trouble to keep your employees quiet."

"Containing what we develop is a non-stop project in and of itself. But I take care of my employees and I trust them not to share what they know with our rivals."

"Do you?" Guarini checked his notes. "I guess that's why you have everyone sign multiple confidentiality agreements."

Maddox laughed. "It's still a business."

"Very well. Business for me is questioning every one of your employees."

Maddox nodded and stood up. "Then I'll let you get to it."

Pick up Decode from the beginning here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Decode, Chapter 6: Secrets

Chapter 6: Secrets

Seeing Jesse made Veronica feel all the import of the last day. It felt like they had talked years ago, not days. They swapped stories while walking the quiet side streets near Veronica's home. Though the sun burned, she could still see her breath blow out in white clouds.

"You're not kidding about Guarini," Jesse said, running his hands over his curly brown hair. "He brought up my arrest and inferred that I hacked into the systems at Maddox Tech and stole information to sell it."

"I'm not surprised."

Jesse shifted his gaze, looking at her suspiciously from the side.

"I mean, they would know your background and all." Veronica cursed herself for speaking so quickly. Her boyfriend knew nothing about her meetings with Maddox Felton and she couldn't tell him she was going to spy for him. Not if the spying was going to work anyway.

"I was seventeen!" Jesse shook his head. "I didn't hack into anything. And Guarini's a fool if he thinks Felton would keep anything that secret around to take in the first place."

Veronica's heart stung with that assessment of the Lieutenant. Not that she'd had the best feelings of him either, but still. "He's doing what he's paid to do. Besides, part of the process is elimination and that means asking tough questions."

Jesse scowled. "Where's the love, V? I haven't seen you in a week!"

"You haven't given me much to work with either." She gave him a sharp look out of the side of her glasses. "I did hit someone with my car if you remember."

"I know. But he was already dead."

"And that makes it okay?"

"No, but you didn't do anything wrong so what difference does it make?"

Veronica flung around. "What difference does it make? I discovered the body of a human being. That's a big difference!"

"Okay, okay. You don't have to freak out. I'm just saying everything worked out fine in your case. You're best friends with the Lieutenant now and no harm's done. But I'm not out of the hole yet."

Veronica examined him coldly. "No, you're not."

"You know, I should be mad at you. Why didn't you call me about what happened until today?"

They stopped walking and Veronica scanned through her memories, wondering how to explain without mentioning any of the real reasons. "I was just...." She sighed. "I was kind of worn out and didn't want to talk anymore."

"Well, you talked to somebody. Who?"

"You know, my brother, sister-in-law...Guarini."

"And you couldn't squeeze me in?"

Veronica licked her lips. "Honestly, no. But that's why I wanted you to come over." She could feel her ears turning red and hoped her hair covered them. "So let's stop fighting and you can tell me more about all the conspiracy whisperings at work."

Asserting it was all nonsense, Jesse still went on to relay everything he'd heard since learning about their colleague, David Moore's, death. Veronica listened more intently than she ever had to his office gossip, hoping that hiding what really happened the day before would pay off in the long-run.


If you're just joining Veronica's story, catch up with the previous five chapters right here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Decode, Chapter 5: Revelations

Chapter 5: Revelations

Maddox and Veronica huddled around his laptop on the couch. She squinted to see what books Maddox kept on the floor-to-ceiling shelves butted against the brick wall in front of her, surprised to spot a few poetry anthologies. Maddox tapped her arm, pointing to a few lines of code on the screen.

"Someone inserted these lines and unless you're looking for something specific, you won't catch them." He leaned back, his shoulders slumping. "It took me two sleepless nights to find this, and there have to be more."

"So what does it do? I mean, is this just code for one of your programs?"

Maddox nodded.

"It's the program that put Maddox Tech on the map. The original." He half-smiled. "My baby."

Veronica leaned on her elbow and yawned.

"I don't know what these lines of code do yet," he said, his smile disappearing. "This program is in the hands of companies across the country. And there could be bits of whatever this is," he pointed at the screen, "on previous versions and we never knew."

"How did you discover it then?"

"By keeping my eyes open for anomalies. I poked around until I found something. Of course, it wasn't the something I expected."

"You expected to find someone stealing information, meaning you spied on your employees."

Maddox shrugged.

"I don't know that I can trust anybody that works for me. So I'm careful."

"How did that lead you to this?"

"When I couldn't find what I wanted by casually looking around, I started examining things more closely in programming. It took a while, but I found this planted code eventually."

Veronica rubbed her forehead, pacing around the espresso coffee table.

"How did I get mixed up in this? I don't even work for you!"

"Do you think I would trust one of my employees to help me?"


"I need an outsider, but one who can be an insider."

"That clarifies everything."

Maddox laughed.

"Look at you. Would anyone suspect you of spying?"

Veronica glared, then slumped over. "No, they wouldn't."

Maddox grinned.

"What do you want me to do?" Veronica said.

"Nothing extravagant. But you might get access to more personal information because of your boyfriend."

Veronica's eyes flashed.

"Ha! I knew you had ulterior motives for targeting me. You want me to get gossip about your workers through Jesse."

Maddox leaned back, surveying Veronica.

"That's one of the reasons."

Veronica flushed, realizing she hadn't even brushed her hair when she flew out of her apartment. Maddox lowered his eyes, swiping his hand across his mouth.

"I'm sorry about the break-in," he said. "I don't think I said that earlier."

"Me too." She smiled slightly. "You'll figure this thing out and fix it, I'm sure. That is if half the stories I've heard about you are true."

He smiled. "They're not."

Maddox walked Veronica out to her car and watched her drive away into the night, hoping he could live up to her expectations.


If you've just tuned in to Decode, catch it from the beginning right here. And stay tuned each week for more!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fun Desktop Wallpaper Downloads

I had some fun this weekend designing desktop wallpaper using my stories as inspiration. I've uploaded them for anyone to decorate their desktop with. I plan to add more in the future, including wallpaper for Decode. To download, browse what I have up so far here.

Here are snapshots of two of the wallpapers:

As a side note, Dead Locked is now also available on Amazon Kindle.

New chapter of Decode coming later this week!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Decode, Chapter 4: It Takes a Thief

Chapter 4: It Takes a Thief

The door opened and Maddox Felton stood there shirtless in track pants.

"Someone broke into my apartment!" Veronica paused, flitting over his torso. "You're not wearing a shirt."

Maddox smiled, a twinkle lighting up his hazel eyes. Veronica flushed despite the below freezing temperatures, her brown hair stuffed into a messy knot on her head.

"Did the person steal the disc?" he said, steering her to the gray couch.

"No. I scared him away. Or her."

"What do you know about the person?" he said. "Ramble, if necessary, but give me everything you saw, heard, smelled."

Veronica sighed.

"Sighing doesn't count as information."

She glared at him then closed her eyes to better visualize the scene from just a little while ago. It happened so fast and she was unprepared to pay attention. But as a designer, Veronica tended to absorb her surroundings automatically. While she concentrated, Maddox took the opportunity to admire how her face glowed in the lamplight. She was attractive even when disheveled.

"A ponytail." Veronica's eyes snapped open onto Maddox, who looked back at her intently. "I saw something swing in the moonlight and it had to be hair."

"We're looking for a woman then. That's interesting."

"Wait - you were at the scene when David Moore died. Did you see someone else?"

Maddox scratched his jaw.

"I saw a young woman - a brunette with a ponytail - walking in that area. She looked like she was out for an afternoon run."

"More like an afternoon murder."

"Not necessarily. David had a contact." He shook his head. "I saw her and didn't even know it. Or think about it for that matter."

"Yes, but the key word there is saw. You saw her. What did she look like?"

Maddox sighed.

"Sighing is not information."

He grinned, his eyes twinkling in a way that Veronica was fast getting used to.

"I deserve that," he said. "But you're right. It was only a glimpse, but that's more than we had a minute ago."

"This is all your fault, you know. I lived a simple, quiet life until you came along. Now I have people dying on top of my car and breaking into my house in the middle of the night! What is your problem?"

Maddox peeked at her slyly.

"If you worked for me, you'd find out."

Veronica crossed her arms over her chest.

"Tell me what you have that's causing all this hysteria and I might consider it."

Maddox rubbed his hands together.

"That's why I need your help. I've been suspicious for about six months now and did my own investigating. I thought we had a spy looking to steal information. But things took a turn, and I'm positive that's not what's going on."

"Then what is going on?"

Maddox pulled his glasses off, examining the lenses in the light.

"I won't agree to do anything until you give me the full story," Veronica said.

Maddox traipsed over to the kitchen.

"You'll need coffee for this one," he said. "Buckle up."


Come back next week for more Decode! If you missed the first three chapters, go here to catch up.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Finding Voice

Most writers are concerned about voice. When you write, you want to sound like you. Some people come out of the womb with their own voice while others keep writing until they find it. I was definitely in the latter category. When I was a kid, I would copy the voices of authors I loved at the time like Louisa May Alcott. As a teen, I experimented with styles and tried on many writing voices. Sometimes I didn't know if I would ever find me - my own voice and style.

Some stories prove that I wasn't always lost though. One that I wrote as a teenager proves that deep down I did know who I was. I can't remember the title but it centered around a girl whose mother was killed and she actually saw who did it, but that didn't come out until the end and it was sort of about her journey getting there. That story and another one I wrote later always stand out to me as moments when I knew what kind of writer I was. There's lots of confused moments in between, but eventually I came around again.

How did I ultimately find my own voice then? For one thing, I stopped writing what I thought I should write, and focused on what I wanted to write. Switching my focus from literary fiction to mysteries made all the difference. Even though it was terrible, I had the most fun when I wrote the first draft of The Jester's Apprentice. I felt free - and oddly confident considering I didn't know what I was doing! I had found my element and that was half the battle.

Similarly, when writing Dead Locked, I drew from things that I love and make me excited to write - pirates, hidden treasure, blending history with modern times. This combined with characters I loved meant that I pretty much had to write in my own voice because it was all very me. I couldn't force it to happen, but when everything else was right, it came.

If you're still searching for your voice, don't try to force it and don't worry if it doesn't happen over night. Just keep writing and write what interests you, and your own, original voice will follow!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Decode, Chapter 3: The Message

Chapter 3: The Message

After downing spaghetti and coke, Veronica started a comfort movie marathon and ran the beta web development program she was supposed to test for Maddox Technology. She thought about calling her boyfriend to tell him what happened, but she'd already run through the whole story with the Lieutenant, her sister-in-law, and then her brother, and she was cooked. Jesse would have to wait.

As Veronica scanned the program folder, Maddox Felton's last words to her before she left that afternoon came back to her. Don't miss a thing. So she looked closer, clicking on the only odd file she noticed. A document with lines and lines of source code opened up. Veronica adjusted the laptop screen to make sure she was seeing things correctly. She followed the code, most of it unfamiliar to her. But from what little programming she knew, she could tell it was something major.

Going back to Maddox' words, Veronica focused on the lines of code, scrolling back to the top. At first, it all looked like muck but as she concentrated, she could make sense out of some of it. And one thing that made sense was definitely a phone number. Dialing before she lost courage or came to her senses, she heard a familiar voice pick up and stuttered an introduction.

"Couldn't you have just told me your phone number in the elevator?"

"Believe me, I would rather run a direct operation," Maddox said. "But I can't afford to. The more you figure out on your own, the better."

"What do you want from me? I'm a small-time web designer."

"You're also intelligent and I feel I can trust you."

"And how would know this?"

"Our lengthy conversation back in the summer. At the corporate party."

"Right. So one conversation and you're entrusting me with corporate secrets."

"Not exactly. But I am entrusting you with a job I believe you can handle."

Veronica had to admit he piqued her curiosity.

"What type of job?"

She could almost feel Maddox smirking.

"I need an inconspicuous pair of eyes and ears around. A person who others will talk around or even to."

"You want me to spy on your employees?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

"And I'm cut out for this job because..."

"Because you put people at ease. And you don't exactly look threatening."

Veronica bristled.

"I can look threatening!"

Maddox laughed. "In an alternate universe perhaps."

"Fine. What about David Moore? Did he spy for you too?"

Maddox paused. "I didn't expect that."

"So you know?"

She thought she heard Maddox sigh on the other end.

"I saw what happened to you this afternoon."

"You saw what happened?" Veronica pushed her laptop aside, sitting up straight on her couch.

"Don't get excited."

"Fine. Enlighten me as to what you were doing there then."

"Soon enough. Just watch over that disc for the moment."

"What am I guarding? Is it the code?"

"You've gotten all you'll get for tonight. Just follow my instructions and you'll be fine."

"Why should I?"

"I can compensate you generously. Plus, I have connections that could help your business. Think about it."

Veronica shut down her computer for the night and snuggled up under her sheets, wishing the nightmare to end. After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, she finally dozed off only to wake up with a start to what sounded like the floor squeaking in her living room. Veronica froze, then forced her body to move, slowly opening her bedroom door. She told herself it was nothing and peeked out, then took a step into the doorway.

Veronica and a stranger stood locked on each other in the darkness of her living room. The intruder regained his senses first, darting from the coffee table to the main entrance in a few steps. Without thinking, Veronica dashed after him, running down the concrete steps in her bare feet. The person had already fled as Veronica stood on her stoop, her breath shooting out in clouds, staring out into the dark.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When You Need a Specific Idea

It may be easy to find a general idea for a story, poem, or even an article. But what about when you need a specific idea? Maybe it's an assignment or a themed contribution. Regardless, the idea well may dry up and you may not have all the time in the world to wait for a spark. What can you do?

Tell your subconscious what you need. I know this sounds silly, but I do this all the time and it really works. Right before you go to sleep (or some other time), outline the guidelines of your project. (For example, you need a modern mystery idea that will work as a short story.) Be specific about what you really want or need and your subconscious will deliver.

Do writing exercises with a purpose. Knowing what you want, choose exercises or prompts that seem to connect with your goal. Then write with what you need in mind. You may not get a finished product, but you will at least end up with potential concepts to work with. (Make it more fun and get a writing buddy or friend to do the prompts with you.)

Use classic brainstorming techniques. You probably have your favorites. I always lean towards clustering or listing. If you're really stuck, try a technique new to you. Getting out of your comfort zone may unlock of host of potential beginnings.

Relax. It's easy to stress when the ideas won't flow, but that's the worst thing you can do. So do your best to chill out so you can focus on your writing and not on the fact that you don't have any ideas. Listen to music, take a walk, work on another project for a while - whatever helps you to relax so you can think straight and be productive.

Using one of these methods or a combination will help kick start your creativity, but in a more focused way. Instead of shooting out random ideas, you will get specific ideas so you can move ahead with your project.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Decode, Chapter 2: Crash

In case you missed it, the first installment of Decode was last Sunday. Check back every week for a new chapter!

Chapter 2: Crash

Veronica cut through a side street to get home faster after her meeting with David Moore at Maddox Technology. All she could think about was that insolent Craig/Maddox person and spaghetti. She picked up speed passing the gingerbread houses she coveted, when something slammed into the side of her car, rolling across the hood.

Veronica screamed, her brakes squealing as she came to a stop, a man's body sliding onto the street. She fumbled out, peering at the body on the ground.

"Sir," she said, gripping his shirt sleeve. "Sir!" The man didn't move or so much as grunt and he felt rigid.

Veronica's whole body shook as she flung her purse upside down to get to her phone. She could barely articulate what happened and tried to focus on the trees, the house in front of her, or the mound of receipts now piled in her seat. Anything but the body frozen on the ground in front of her car.

What felt like hours later, she sat frozen to a metal chair, awaiting her execution judgment. She had never seen the inside of the police station. And as she looked around, not actually seeing anything, she wished she wasn't there at that moment either. Veronica replayed the scene in her mind over and over, wondering how she hadn't seen the man coming. Had she been that distracted? Veronica always considered herself a careful driver, but a careful driver wouldn't kill someone with her car.

A man in his fifties with a long, thick face and olive skin sat down at the desk in front of her. The name on the plaque read Lieutenant Stanley Guarini.

"Did I...did I kill him?" Veronica gripped her bag, which was still empty except for her wallet and cell phone. "I know it sounds crazy but I could swear he fell out of the sky. I didn't see anyone on the road until...until I hit him."

Guarini puckered his lips in what Veronica supposed was a smile. The young woman in front of him looked a mess with tangled pieces of chestnut hair coming loose from the twist on her head, her glasses askew on the bridge of her nose.

"Good news," he said in a not so good news type of voice. "You didn't kill our John Doe."

Veronica started to smile. But then she saw his facial expression.

"He was already dead when you hit him."

Veronica's jaw dropped. Lt. Guarini flipped open a folder and handed her a photo of the victim. Veronica clasped a hand over her mouth.

"Do you know him?"

Veronica nodded, pushing the photo back to the Lieutenant.

"I just met him today." She fought a lump rising in her throat and wrapped an arm around her stomach. "David Moore. Maddox Technology."

Guarini smiled sympathetically and handed her a box of tissues.

"You work there?"

Veronica wiped her nose. "No. I'm a web designer and I'm supposed to beta test some software. My boyfriend is a programmer there though."

Guarini nodded. "I suggest you stay put until the investigation closes then. That means no Florida getaway."

Veronica nodded vigorously.

"I hate Florida."

"Good." He pointed to an officer. "Take this young woman back to her car and see she gets home safely."

Veronica stood stiffly, following the officer back out into the icy January wind. She drove home, her eyes darting to make sure no one stepped foot on the street as she passed. As Veronica kept her eyes forward, a black coupe traced her movements from behind, all the way back to her apartment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Decode, Chapter 1: Craig from Marketing

And here begins my web serial, Decode! Veronica Wood is a small-time web designer who lands in the middle of some big time corporate intrigue. Check back each week for a new installment. For now, let's get rolling with chapter one. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Craig from Marketing

It all started when Veronica began consulting with Maddox Technology.

She stuck change into a vending machine inside the Maddox Technology building, her mouth drying up just thinking about the forthcoming meeting. She worked as a freelance web designer and usually met with some small business owner at an office or a coffee shop. The moment she walked through the glass doors of Maddox Technology and clipped on the glossy visitor's badge, she knew she'd left small business association world.

Veronica pressed the button again when no water came out, making a fist at the machine. A man with rectangular glasses and neatly parted brown hair smiled at her from the corner. He strode over to the machine, gave it a hard kick, and plucked the water bottle out of the receptacle. Veronica turned, embarrassed. She studied his sculpted cheekbones and beak nose, her brown eyes widening as she flashed back to the corporate party Jesse had brought her to in the summer.

"Craig from marketing!" She wagged a finger in his direction.

"You working for us now?" Craig surveyed her body still wrapped in a wool coat, and dug his hands into his pants' pockets. Veronica admired his sharp-fitting suit.

"I'm consulting." She glanced at the elevator. "I can't really say more than that."

Craig shrugged. "Confidentiality agreements. A Maddox Tech hallmark." He lowered his voice and peeked behind him. "We can't talk about anything either." He flashed her a conspiratorial smile.

Veronica stepped into the elevator, smiling back at him tentatively.

"See you around then," he said. The elevator doors closed, amusement lighting up Craig's face.

Veronica only had a moment to wonder what that was about as she sat next to David Moore at an oval table, scribbling notes as he described the new web development software program and what they wanted from her. The door opened, Moore's pale eyebrows rising as Craig entered the room. Veronica paused to acknowledge him.

"Maddox," Moore said, shaking his hand. "Didn't expect you to show up for this."

Maddox clapped him on the back, setting his eyes on the paling face of Veronica Wood. He smiled, his hazel eyes sparkling in amusement like they had a few minutes earlier. Veronica gulped, her pen rolling across the table as she accepted his hand automatically.

"I wanted to deliver the beta program to you personally." Maddox winked at Veronica, whose face was still frozen in surprise. Maddox slipped his fingers into his inside coat pocket, clasping a clear jewel case. "I'm confident you'll provide us with helpful insight."

Veronica accepted the CD-ROM, gaining enough of her wits to glare into his twinkling eyes. He grinned even wider, setting all of Veronica's nerves on fire. The meeting over, Maddox walked Veronica to the elevator while Moore hurried back to his office. Maddox watched him scuttle down the hallway.

"Going down?" he said, ushering Veronica into the elevator, his eyes still directed toward David.

Veronica's soft features hardened ever so slightly. She adjusted her glasses, brushing a piece of chestnut hair from her eyes and smiled.

"Sure thing, Craig."

He wanted to laugh but only smiled and followed her into the elevator, standing too close in Veronica's opinion. The doors shut and Maddox' smile evaporated.

"I want you to look at the contents of that disc carefully," he said once the doors closed. "Don't miss a thing."

He sounded a tad serious for beta program testing and Veronica promised she would do her best. She stepped out with Maddox gripping her elbow.

"Not a thing," he whispered, pulling her close.

Veronica could feel his breath on her neck and she wrenched away from him. His whole countenance darkened and no spark lit up his eyes.

"What's your deal anyway?" Veronica said, taking a step back.

"Just follow my instructions and you'll know soon enough."

With that, Maddox rushed off, leaving Veronica with nothing more than the echo of his footsteps in the white lobby.

After his meeting with Veronica Wood, David slipped out of work, glancing at his watch as he speed-walked to his car. Maddox started his engine as his employee raced out of the parking lot, keeping a safe distance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Revising a Nano Novel, Pt. 2: Evaluating

Last week, we explored getting perspective on a Nano novel and why you should revise it. Today, we're going to look into evaluating your book first so the revision process is not so overwhelming.

Evaluate First
Before you start hacking away at your book, take some advice from a writer who's made big mistakes in that department: evaluate before you edit. Why? Because in your zeal to make your novel the best ever, you may throw out passages or even whole scenes that don't deserve it.

When revising Dead Locked, I went on a rampage and cut all kinds of material. Most of it, however, crept back into the book because it served the story well, even amidst drastic changes. So I urge you to view your rough draft as a foundation to build upon, not a building in need of demolition. This is the approach I've taken with The Jester's Apprentice and things have gone much smoother! If you chip away at the story (versus taking a sledgehammer to it), what the story needs will become clear.

Therefore, read with a lighter touch and focus on the structure of your novel first before you start fretting over wording. Examine the overall story and make note of holes or gaps in the main plot and subplots as well as the pacing. Is the story tight and believable? Do you explain how and why things happen as they do? Do you have too much happening in some spots and not enough in others?

Pay attention to your characters, marking the ones that need fleshing out. Do all of your characters come to life on the page? Do you have enough characters? Or too many? Do all of the characters have a reason for being there? Think about setting too. Are your characters anchored in a place and time? Don't forget to list any information you need to research to be accurate and/or believable.

But don't just focus on what's wrong with the story. Also be aware of what's right. It's easy to read your own work and hate everything, but it's more productive to be fair and also see what you like in the story, even small things. When I read The Jester's Apprentice, I marked everything I like or loved, including images and dialogue. At the end, I had a lot more things I liked about the story than I thought I would.

Revising a NaNoWriMo novel may take patience and time, but that's the case with any novel. Don't just give up because it takes work. As I said last week, you've already tackled one of the hardest parts - writing a complete first draft! So keep going and finish that book!

On another note, I just wanted to mention that the Read an Ebook Week sale at Smashwords ends Saturday. Dead Locked is 1/2 price until then! Just use the coupon code RAE50 at checkout.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Read an E-Book Week Sale!

Today (March 6) until March 12, lots of ebooks will be on sale for Read an E-Book Week. Smashwords is a partner in this annual initiative. As such, Dead Locked is on sale all this week for 50% off! Just enter code RAE50 at checkout. Dead Locked is available for Kindle and other popular e-reader formats.

While you're there, be sure to check out other participating Smashwords authors!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Revising a Nano Novel, Pt. 1: Perspective

Revising a novel can be daunting no matter what. Never mind when it's a bit...messy. And writing a novel-in-a-month often means a messy first draft. But don't despair. Just because your book may look like a wreck doesn't mean it's unsalvageable.

Reading with Perspective
I wrote The Jester's Apprentice in January 2009 (originally it was titled Philippa's Neverending Series of Pointless Conversations). I got wrapped up writing Dead Locked that same year and forgot all about Jester's for a while. Months later, I read the draft for the first time and felt sorry for the two people who had read it.

Well, while I worked on DL, Jester's kept nagging me. There was at least one good thing about the story so I imagined I would just scrap everything else and start with that. I had all these ideas, which totally changed the story, when I read the draft again (over a year later). This time I saw things with a new set of eyes. For one thing, I had learned a lot about novel writing since then so I read with more experience. Second, the physical and emotional distance from the novel helped me read with more optimism. I saw the book's potential, not just its pitfalls.

First drafts always need breathing time. Or, rather, you do. You won't necessarily make the right decisions when you're too close. If you wrote a novel-in-a-month last November, you've had about three months to leave it alone. Maybe this is enough time. Maybe it isn't. I needed more space from Jester's, but I also had another project in full swing to finish. If you're unsure if you're ready, pull out your manuscript and read it. Your reaction may gauge if you're ready to start revising.

Now, you may ask, 'Should I even bother?' You may think that meandering, padded, confusing manuscript is more trouble than it's worth. But look at it this way: you wrote a complete first draft of a novel! It's not an undeveloped concept in your notebook. It's not an outline. It's not a series of false starts. It's a complete first draft of a novel!

Do you know how hard it is to write a book? Yes, you do! Because you just did it in November. Or January. Or some other month. You wrote a whole book. A whole book that just needs a little TLC and it's ready to go out into the world. You already did one of the hardest parts of the process and you made it to the end. Why quit now? You have something this close to being done. So now I ask, should you bother?

I'm going to assume you said yes to that last question because I tell you that it is worth revising. Whatever the problems, your novel also has all the energy and excitement that you felt when you wrote it. You can always make technical improvements, but you only write with your heart once.

So you've got perspective, now you want to revise. Where do you start? Next week we'll uncover the secret first step to a successful revision. Well, not really. But I will show you how to evaluate your novel so the revision process starts out smoothly and doesn't overwhelm you. Stay tuned!

Photo by Cory Doctorow
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