Archive for March, 2009



Playing Nice
by Our Guest on March 19th, 2009

I loved Sharon’s post yesterday about how a garden can be a part of a family’s living history. How cool is that? She made me wish I had a green thumb — alas, I do not. My husband does somewhat, and he reminded me about his spider plant, the one that he’s been making cuttings of and replanting for nearly 30 years now. It’s not a garden, but it has accompanied us from Rhode Island to Connecticut to Florida.

The notion of a garden also brings me to the one superstition I actually do put stock in, although it isn’t so much a superstition maybe as a guideline. It’s Karma — the notion that what you put out into the world comes back to you in some form or another, or “you reap what you sow.”

mariam-marukian2

If you’ve been watching the news lately — who hasn’t? — you might be thinking there’s a whole helluva lot of bad Karma floating around the stratosphere right now and if there’s any justice in the world…well, you get the idea.

I have absolutely come to believe we can create our own positive or negative energy through action and attitude — and Karma does include both. Now, reticent, introverted writer that I am, I’m not naturally a “joiner,” and my tendency is to hang back until I’m comfortable in a group – say, a decade or two, lol. Anyone relating to that? But while that might be my initial comfort zone, it can be a lonely place where nothing much happens. It wasn’t easy, but in prying myself out of my snug little corner, I made a startling discovery. In order to reap in this business (and any other, really), you’ve got to share – you’ve got to play nice with others. That means giving back and passing on – taking time to critique someone’s work, mentoring a first time author, volunteering for your writing chapter, doing workshops, supporting each other at booksignings, and basically sending that positive energy out into the universe with the firm belief that it’s going to come back to you.

It there are any doubts about that, take a look at the Romance Writers of America. As huge as we have grown, and occasionally we do resemble any corporate conglomerate choking on its own red tape, we still make up an incredibly tight knit community defined, in a word, by generosity. Helping each other is just what we do.

So what are the results of this collective Karma? Here’s a statistic I found on the RWA website (www.rwanational.org):

“Romance fiction became the largest share of the consumer book market in 2007 with $1.375 billion in estimated revenue (overtaking the religion/inspirational category, which was the largest share in 2006).”

If you ask me, that’s a lot of good Karma at work.

Green buddies
by Sharon Ashwood on March 17th, 2009

lavenderI’m not superstitious in the conventional sense. I have no trouble with Friday the 13th, black cats, or crones. Meanings change with time and culture. Snakes can mean widsom and healing as well as deceit. The pentacle—so often associated in Hollywood with demonic goings-on—can be found in Gawain and the Green Knight as a Christian symbol or in paganism as a sign for protective earth magic. In terms of imagery, the universe means whatever you choose.

I do get funny about the garden, though. I’ve had the same English lavender, rosemary, and bay tree for years, planting slips of them wherever I’ve lived. My home doesn’t feel, I dunno, vibrationally correct unless they’re sprouting someplace on the property. Are they protection? Good luck? Maybe, but I think they’re also an anchor. My need for them reminds me a bit of the ancient tribes who carried a burning coal from place to place, starting the new homefires from the old when they reached their destination.

I trundle out into the garden at the first sign of spring to check on my faithful herb pals and breath a sigh of relief when I see them in bud. I think they’re a symbol of continuity for me. As long as they sprout leaves, bloom, and fill the garden with their scent, something is consistent in an inconsistent world. They’re my sense of place.

About eight years ago, I added a lemon verbena (about the least practical thing to grow in a northern climactic zone) and have somehow jollied it along. Because the thing is such a miracle of survival and rewards me so lavishly, it’s starting to fall into my lucky plant category. If it can celebrate life so far from its natural climate, what have I got to complain about?

Plants don’t just mean place to me. My family also has houseplants (or their descendents) that have travelled across the continent and survived close to a century. They’re a living link to a people and past to which I have no other connection. If those two legacies—a Christmas cactus and a hoya—ever went to the big plant pot in the sky, I’d feel a thread of my history had snapped.

Maybe these aren’t superstitions in the traditional sense, but these little green friends carry a lot of meaning. As long as they’re with me, I know I’m home. Does anyone else take leafy family members with them when they move?

Perish the Thought
by Annette McCleave on March 17th, 2009

I don’t have a favorite pen or an aversion to black cats, but I am superstitious. Not to the point of mania, or anything. But if I have a negative thought, especially something tragic, I must immediately touch wood to banish the thought and make sure it doesn’t come true. Yeah, I know. The rule is actually knock on wood. But I just touch it–that seems to be enough to rid me of the bad mojo.

Of course, living in a city, there isn’t always a tree around when you need one … so, I’ve conveniently extended the definition of wood to include anything made from wood. Like paper. Let’s face it, the odds of me being with paper at any given moment is extremely slim.

touching-wood

I’m not exactly sure where my superstitious nature came from–my parents weren’t superstitious, as far as I know. Although, now that I think about it, my dad probably had some routine he always followed before he flew. He was a fighter pilot, and as much as jet jockeys depend on technology, they tend to leave nothing to chance. They cover all the bases, even superstition. Maybe he had a rabbit’s foot I never knew about.

I write historicals as well as contemporary paranormal romance, so I suppose it’s possible my superstitions date back to my enthrallment with medieval society. Superstition was rampant in the middle ages. And why not? It explained everything that the dearth of science and the local friar did not. Superstition wasn’t all bad–it helped medieval people feel more secure in a world where they had little or no control. Plus, the basis of many of our current paranormal tales (vampires, pixies, werewolves, etc.) is deeply rooted in those same superstitions.

Does anyone know the history of various superstitions? I think knock on wood dates back to the time of druids and their connection to the powers of nature. What about some of the others? How did they get started?

Black cat walks under ladder; knocks down mirror — Aspiring author sends queries
by Jessa Slade on March 16th, 2009

Currently working on: The revisions that will not die
Mood: Looped

Since we just missed Friday the 13th, is it bad luck to blog about superstition now?

I’ve always thought it odd that apparently major league sports stars are often superstitious.  They are adult — and usually large — men, who negotiate multi-million-dollar contracts, and work closely with the cold, hard physics of trajectories, acceleration and force impacts.  And yet they still have lucky socks.   Odd.

Some Experts consider superstition similar to the magical thinking often displayed by children.  The theory goes, because children lack a solid understanding of and control over their environment, they invent small rituals — like superstitions — to create the illusion of power. 

Lack of control?  Illusion of power?  If you think how sports greats can be abruptly injured and dumped from their contracts, and seeing how physics doesn’t always work the way you’d think (I play billiards on the quantum level), no wonder lucky socks get a starring role. 

socks1Add in a child’s rampant imagination, and no wonder writers develop superstitions.

Most superstitions seem to be negative: Breaking your mother’s back, warding off evil eyes, etc.  (This may partially be because the Experts have geared their studies of the Paranormal Belief Scale — yes, there is such a thing — toward negative superstitions.)  I’ve heard of writers who need specials pens or notebooks to write.  Some can’t work knowing the toilet needs scrubbed.   At least one was derailed by the thought of submitting a manuscript on the same day of the week he was ever rejected.  (That would leave me Sundays to mail — and only because the kindly USPS doesn’t deliver rejections on Sundays.)  We could argue whether these are superstitions, symptoms of OCD, or merely self-sabotage, but the end is usually the same — the writing only gets done when the stars align.

Pthbt.

My writerly superstitions are as follows:

  • If I don’t meet my daily goal… I will be behind tomorrow.
  • My favorite pen makes me able to… write about the same level of crap as any other pen.
  • If the period key on my keyboard sticks three times in a row… it means I used another ellipsis which I will probably have to edit out in the final draft of my manuscript.

But I’m open to the judicious development of superstitions that add POSITIVE energy to the writing process or life in general.  Any suggestions?

Crescendo
by KimLenox on March 13th, 2009

Those of you who took music, and probably even most of you who didn’t, know what a crescendo is. That’s when music builds in sound, or grows. The crescendo is usually when I get goosebumps.

I like “crescendos” of emotion or anticipation, big and small, in my books. Crescendos are great for “big entrances”. Here’s one of my hero Archer’s entrances in NIGHT FALLS DARKLY (set in 1888 London). My heroine, Elena, suffers from partial amnesia due to a traumatic injury in her past:

A shout went up from the reception area. There, servants clung to two massive carved doors. Despite their efforts and seven pairs of dragging feet, the panels groaned inward upon their hinges. A frigid gust swept the room, snuffing the life of every candle. The orchestra dwindled to silence.

Harcourt’s hand moved protectively to the small of her back. “It’s only the wind.”

Nervous laughter tittered everywhere.

The closure of the doors reverberated through the room, and the major domo held up a lantern. He shouted, “Stand aside, for the chandelier must be relit.”

Nearby, servants removed a panel from the wall, and hand cranked the enormous fixture to the ground. Dim shapes rushed forward, bearing lit tapers. Elena watched in fascination as each candle burned anew – only to perceive, on the far side of the shimmering heap, a pair of grey eyes trained intently upon her.

“Heave,” bellowed the major domo.

The crank sounded, and the chandelier jerked upward with a musical jangle.

“Heave.”

Slowly, the masterpiece of faceted crystal lurched higher and higher until the weighty mass trembled above, leaving an unoccupied expanse of carpet which no one dared yet cross.

No one but Lord Black.

When the man touched Elena – claimed her so presumptuously for all the world to see, Archer’s vision went unexpectedly black. The urge to destroy, an instinct imbedded deeply within him, snarled up from within.

“Lord Black,” Elena blurted, her eyes growing wider with each step he took toward her.

Suddenly, an overabundance of thoughts, sounds and expectations reeled toward him, turning the moment into something ugly and surreal. Voices whispered, murmured and even shouted his name. Not out loud of course, but in the minds of those who took note of his presence.

“Lord Black?” A woman in green led the pack of mortals who suddenly thronged about him. Her cheeks flushed bright with excitement. “Forgive my bold introduction, but we are neighbors after all, are we not? I am Lady Kerrigan. What an unexpected pleasure, to have you grace my little birthday soiree.”

“The pleasure is … all mine.” Archer did his best to smile, when inside he could only curse himself for having brought this attention upon himself, when he had wanted none. A sudden, searing pain shot through his left eye. He had never done well in crowds when all the attention was focused upon him. Seeking surcease from the cacophony inside his head, he stared at Elena’s lips, and saw her form the words, No Charles, I am not mistaken. That is my guardian, Lord Black.

Charles. Why did she not refer to him by Lord So-and-So, or Mr. Someone? Why so familiar? Charles’ hand still pressed against her back.

With due effort, he kept the growl from his voice. “If everyone would excuse us, I would like to dance with Miss Whitney.”

The dancing floor was the only place he could think of where no one would follow them, and talk, and talk, and talk.

Lady Kerrigan’s eyes widened, as if slightly shocked. She glanced to Elena. “Certainly.”

“Miss Whitney?” Archer extended his hand.

Elena bit her lower lip, but after a moment, said, “Of course.”
She placed her hand into his larger one. As etiquette dictated, she wore gloves. Archer did not.

Charles protested, “But you don’t know how.”

Archer removed his top hat, and handed it to him. “Would you mind?”

Without waiting for an answer, he shouldered his way through the crowd, drawing Elena behind, his thumb pressed against the underside of her wrist. Their heels sounded against the parquet. Feeling more ferocious with each passing moment, he took the printed card from her hand and released it to fall in a zig-zag descent to the carpet. The members of the orchestra ogled them, their various instruments poised in hand.

He drew Elena to his side, deliberately placing his hand in the exact spot where Charles’s had been, over the row of tiny buttons which traced the length of her spine. He glanced down, only to find himself entangled in her gaze. He had expected anger, confusion or fear. He deserved any one of those reactions. Yet she peered back as calmly as an Egyptian caryatid.

“I understand,” she said plainly. “But I don’t know how to dance.”

“Yes, you do.”

Her breasts crushed alluringly against her bodice with a sharp intake of breath. Her eyes flared with sudden challenge. Three couples eagerly took the spaces beside them, and the orchestra leapt into a lively quadrille.

He bent his head low, and murmured, “Le Pantalon.”

With one hand, he guided her off to the right. Together they walked the circle, weaving in and out of the other couples, touching each hand as they passed. Soon, they had returned to the place where they’d started, and once again stood side by side. She threw him a look of wide-eyed astonishment.

He quietly announced the next stage of the dance. “L’Eté.”

Always, his attention remained fixed upon her – her hair, her face, her lovely neck. By concentrating on her, he filtered out the rest. There was only the music, and Elena. The pain in his head subsided. Soon enough, they touched again.

Eyes bright with tears, she whispered, “La Poule.”

They carried on through trenise, and eventually, finale. The orchestra paused, and the other couples separated. Archer stood beside Elena. Cards flashed, and partners changed. The gathered assemblage hovered along the edge of the floor, watching. Waiting. Charles stood amongst them, his eyes dark and his jaw set. Once again, the orchestra raised their instruments, signaling the onset of the next dance.

He heard Elena say, “Thank you, my lord.”

She took a step as if to walk away. The first strains of a waltz, softly ardent, drifted over the ballroom. Archer caught her hand, and brought her back against him. Gasps sounded all around. Despite the layers of wool and silk between them, he felt her rapid heartbeat against his chest.

Tentatively, she rested her hand against his shoulder, her fingers curling into his hair.

Already, he led her into the first steps. She moved against him, sylph-like and sweet. Only then did Archer concede to himself what a grave mistake he had made in coming here tonight.

Living Dangerously, Sort of
by Our Guest on March 12th, 2009

I have to admit, my favorite scenes are where I get to address my personal phobias and vicariously live out the wildest scenarios from the comfort of my desk chair. For example, In DARK OBSESSION, the heroine has to gallop through a forest during a rainstorm at night to save her family. Now, I did a bit of riding as a kid but never anything approaching that, and frankly the thought of it terrifies me. So where does Nora find her family? Way out on a rocky, drenched headland, just feet from the edge. Have I mentioned my irrational fear of heights? Since I live in Florida I can pretty much ignore it most of the time, but lift me more than a few feet off the ground and my spine becomes a gelatinous river of chills.

In DARK TEMPTATION, I took that fear one step further in a scene where emotion, action, danger, sexual chemistry and touches of paranormal all come together with an energy that propels the hero and heroine into each other’s arms at Edgecombe, Chad’s isolated, haunted estate – but you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens then!

Anyway, in the scene, Chad, my hero, is in a small sailboat exploring the coastline for a hidden harbor. The heroine, Sophie, is doing the same thing, but she has gone on foot, picking her way along a ledge at the foot of a cliff. What she doesn’t realize is that the tide is racing in and will soon submerge the ledge. The way being too rocky to permit the boat access to the cliff, Chad is forced to dive in.
Half drowned, bleeding from being battered against boulders and reeling from an encounter with a ghostly face in the water, Chad has managed to reach Sophie, and had just driven home the point that the tide has cut off all means of escape but one:

(condensed version)
His shoulders fell to their full breadth, giving Sophie the giddy impression of yet another cliff face, tall and rugged and powerful. She felt rescued. She felt safe. Until he spoke again.

“We’re both trapped now. There is no way in hell I’ll ever be able to swim back to the boat, much less bring you with me.”

“We’ll return the way I came, then.” She turned in that direction and immediately comprehended the impossibility of the suggestion. The rocks were already submerged, the cliff face gleaming and slick. “The other way, then.”

But that proved no better. A wave slapped their ankles. Her skirts were sodden from the knees down, already heavy and cumbersome.

“What can we do?” She shoving strands of hair out of her eyes and prayed the earl had an answer.

“Up.”

“What?” Perhaps she hadn’t heard him correctly. He was still shivering, panting, gasping past the water he had so recently swallowed.

“We’ll have to climb. There’s no other way.”

Alarm bells clanged inside her. “No. Oh, no, no, no. I’ve never…I couldn’t—”

He seized her shoulders. “We have no choice. The boat can’t get to us and we can’t get to it. Within minutes the tide will devour this ledge and we’ll be swept away. We’ll both drown, Sophie, unless we climb to safety.”

“I…oh…all right.” Her teeth were clacking now. She looked up again. Up and up and up.

He regarded her with a faint frown. “You’ll need to take this off.”

“My dress?”

“It’s soaked. It’ll weigh you down.”

Lord Wycliffe spun her about, gripped her bodice and yanked. The top button popped free, then the next two, and then all the rest in a torrent, pattering around her feet and into the water.

Yards of green muslin puddled onto the wet rocks, leaving her little option but to kick her legs free. A wave swept the ledge. When the water receded her dress coursed with it, blending with the vivid blue-greens of the sea.

“We haven’t much time.” Reaching over his head he wedged his fingers into grooves in the rock, lifted a foot to a ridge, balanced with his toes and stepped up. “Like this. Slow and steady, all the way up. Oh, and Sophie?”

The somber rumble of his voice made her go still.

“Whatever you do, don’t look down.”

She gulped and placed the fingers of her right hand into a crack in the stone. She did the same with her other hand, before looking down to find her first foothold. One step up, then another. Not so bad. With luck, she might even make it to the top.

He waited for her to repeat the process, raising herself a foot or two higher on the wall before climbing up beside her. “That’s all there is to it. Just keep at it until we reach the top. So, how about it? You game?”

“You make it sound like a dare, as if I have a choice.” Yes, she even detected a twinkle of enjoyment in his eye.

“It is a dare, Sophie. I dare you to show me you aren’t afraid of a little climb. That you are every bit as capable as I am of tackling this scrap of a challenge. Unless, of course, you truly aren’t up to it.”

“Excuse me?” She experienced a stab of indignation before realizing his purpose. Yes, of course. The appreciative grin she flashed him quivered a little – she couldn’t help that – but she hoped it convinced him, as he had almost convinced her, that she could manage this feat.

“Right, then,” he said briskly. “Remember, slow and steady. We won’t stop again until we reach the top. Ready?”

(Now, since these are the main characters, we’ll assume they live and skip ahead just a bit…)

He disappeared over the rim of the cliff, and she experienced an instant’s panic at being without him, left alone between the distant, snarling water and the garishly bright sky. Then his head and shoulders reappeared. His hand dangled above her.

“Catch hold. I’ll pull you up.”

Her eyes squeezed shut and didn’t open until her chin smacked the turf of the headland. Relief poured through her in weakening torrents. She lay flat against the ground, cheek to the grass, arms outstretched as if to embrace the earth and thank it…simply thank it for being there beneath her.

“We made it…oh, good heavens, we made it. I can’t believe we did it…that I did it.” Tears welled in her eyes, rolling off the bridge of her nose and trickling into the grass. She fisted her hands around clumps of weeds, half unable to accept that she was safe. “Thank you, Chad. Thank you. If it weren’t for your faith in me, I could never have—”

“It’s Chad now, is it?”

Something in his tone, a cold edge she had not heard previously, made her lift her face from the ground. At the sight of him standing over her, she sat up in alarm. His eyes were fierce, fever bright in a face gone deathly pale. His nose was pinched, his lips a thin, grim line. Blood from the cut on his forehead had caked in his eyebrow and smeared across his cheek. Sophie’s gaze dropped to his side, to the scarlet streaks staining his white linen shirt.

“Good heavens, you’re hurt. We had better—”

In a blur of movement he was on his knees before her. He seized her face between shaking hands and shoved his own face close.

“Faith in you?” he bellowed. “Do you have any idea how many small deaths I died watching you struggle up that cliff? What the bloody blazes did you think you were doing, strolling along that ledge?”

Before her startled wits could recover sufficiently to form an answer, he crushed his lips to hers in a savage, bruising kiss.

The ghost of prose past
by Sharon Ashwood on March 11th, 2009

Picking out favourite scenes is a tough job because if a chunk o’ prose is working, it carries impact. If it doesn’t, chances are it hits the cutting room floor. Until you’ve tried to stuff you personal War and Peace into a 100,000 word length, you have no idea how cruel an author can be to those lesser scenes. I write long, so usually something gets taken out before all is said and done.

That’s not to say all the surviving scenes are created equal. Some are character development, some action, some purely there for the romance. Others change the entire universe of the story with a single phrase. I really think those moments are what stick with us – Luke Skywalker finding out Darth is Dad, Sam figuring out Frodo’s not going to drop the Ring into Mount Doom, or Elizabeth Bennett figuring out what Darcy was really thinking. Often these scenes reveal deep truths about the characters involved. They’re unexpected, but contain a perfect logic when they’re revealed.

Where do these moments come from? Darned if I know.

I’m what you might call a misty plotter—never quite flying into the mist, but never clear on a lot of significant detail. In other words, I know where I’m headed, but the scenery is always a surprise and I’ll stumble on a lot of the universe-changing stuff when I least expect it. In Ravenous, the answer to one of the major story questions smacked me in the face before I knew it was there. I felt pretty dumb. I mean, I’m supposed to know what’s going in my own book, right?

Some days we’re just the office help.

Going back to the “stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor” – RAVENOUS went through a lot of changes before it made it to its final form. Just for interest’s sake, this is the original, very first scene that I wrote four or five years ago. Most of the characters are different and this is told in first person, which my editor asked me to change. Those who have read the novel will see it bears only a passing similarity to what got published–but I still like it, and this will probably end up somewhere in some form in one of the books–but hopefully with the benefit of a few more years of writing experience!

**

Everyone has days when their job sucks. I just have a lot of them. Unfortunately, my job not only sucks, but also might squish you with its tentacles. Demons are such fun.

I stood in my green gumboots–I had bought green on a whim because they matched my eyes–wishing I had become a tax accountant, a veterinarian, or an encyclopedia sales associate. Instead, I was sniffing for Hellspawn with evil designs on suburban decor.

“Ms. Carver, I don’t think this can be classified as an Act of God,” said Brian Foxford, the insurance adjuster.
He never called me by my first name, Holly, and never came within two feet of me. He was terrified of me more, I think, because I was a fertile female than because I demon-wrangled for a living.

He’d hired me for my expert opinion only because he had to. Insurance industry policy demanded that all demonic activity be verified by two certified phenomenological investigators. I had the board qualifications and the low bid on the contract.

Foxford pushed his glasses up his nose and poised his pen over the clipboard he was clutching. He looked at me narrowly, as if expecting disagreement. “What is your assessment, Ms. Carver?”

I watched the goop slide down the walls, weariness washing over me. It was quite beautiful, for slime: thick, sparkling, blue-green with subtle rainbows. Too bad the Hendersons had a white carpet, though. Ectoplasm tends to stain.

“I dunno,” I mused. I hated to dismiss the possibility of Divine whimsy. Most homeowner policies covered Acts of God but no underwriter touched demonic possession. “It doesn’t smell evil. It’s more like bleach.”
Mrs. Henderson twitched. She and her husband, all wide-eyed and forlorn, huddled by the entrance to the living room. “It started when I sprayed tile cleaner on the shower stall,” the woman said in a frail voice. “This looks like the Scumaway only–bigger.”

It–the phenomenon–was manifesting all over the little Burdon Street bungalow, but was worst in the L-shaped living/dining room. As in other gunk-fests I had known, the ectoplasm stuck pretty much to the walls and windows. One could stand in the center of the rooms and stay clean. But where it slimed, it poured. Blue-green streamers dripped off the rubber-backed curtains, virtually burying the baseboard heaters below. Mercifully, someone had turned off the thermostat. The stuff fumed something awful if it got hot.

Not everyone can do my job. We who do battle against mucasoid entities born of enchanted Scumaway are the few, the brave, and the strong of stomach.

A man I had not seen before walked in from the bedroom area. Like me, he was wearing rubber boots. Unlike me, he was dressed immaculately. He had a European-cut suit over a black turtleneck, as if he had stopped in on his way to a swanky nightclub. “The bedrooms are in much the same condition as the room here,” he said in confident, no-nonsense tones.

The second demon expert? I wondered. He could have passed for a cover model who had wandered away from a photo shoot.

The man spotted me, smiled suavely, and gave Foxford an inquiring look. The latter impatiently cleared his throat and waved one hand back and forth between us. “Mr. Garamond, Ms. Carver.”

Garamond repeated the dimpled smile and walked across to shake my hand. I thought about my gumboots and cat-hair encrusted sweater. I felt like trash.

Garamond was dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned, graceful and compact. His grip was politically correct: firm but not aggressive. “We are in the same profession, I believe,” he said with just a trace of an accent, something foreign. “I have just recently arrived in Fairview.” He proffered a business card.

I took it. It read simply, “Lucien Garamond,” followed by a cell phone number. It was one of those do-it-yourself business cards for the home computer, a slapdash job out of keeping with the rest of his polished presentation. It was obviously something to hand out until he could get new ones printed.

“You’re a phenomenological investigator?” I asked, offering a card of my own in return. Mine was nicely printed, with a little embossed logo. I clung to that smidgen of superiority. Delightful as it was to meet a colleague, Fairview was my turf.

He gave an elaborate, unintelligible hand gesture and shrugged. “Yes and no,” he replied, glancing down at my name, evidently curious. “A psychic. Interesting.” He looked up, measuring me with his dark, liquid eyes. “I am not as gifted as you are, but I can diagnose something such as this,” he waved at the walls, and then granted me a thousand-watt smile with white, even teeth. “It is not hard to tell something has, shall we say, run a-muck, yes?”

Great. The competition is a Euro-trash punster.

A particularly big wodge of slime fell from the curtain with an expressive plop.

Ick. I turned my attention to the man standing next to Foxford. “Father Armstrong?”

Thoughout our conversation, the priest had been standing in the middle of the living room, thumbing through a fishing magazine he had picked up from the coffee table. His briefcase was already open on the floor. Kneeling, Father Armstrong pulled out a plastic sports bottle and flipped up the cap. Moving his lips in silent prayer, he squirted a stream of holy water at the wall.

Bad idea. I felt it before it hit, a low vibration through the floorboards. The holy water had reacted with whatever was causing the manifestation. As if there were an approaching earthquake, the world began to rumble, a sound almost inaudibly low. Then the goo rippled, its coruscating rainbows shivering like jelly. I cringed, my skin crawling with the mounting parelectric charge.

The floor seemed to shift sideways. Garamond staggered to catch his balance, his fine, dark brows drawing together in furrows of alarm. The earth bucked and we grabbed each other for balance, my fingers digging into the fine wool of his suit jacket. The trembling was getting worse, rattling my teeth together. Garamond’s eyes were wide, his lips draining of color. He looked scared. I doubted I looked one bit better. We clung together like terrified children.

Then the floor heaved beneath my feet. I fell on my backside, with Garamond landing on top of me. He scrambled away with what I took to be an apology but I couldn’t really hear the words. Like a rattle shaken by a hundred-foot infant, the house bounced relentlessly. I grabbed his arm again, hoping our combined weight would keep us earthbound.

With a surge of pain in my sinuses, I felt the air pressure begin to build. Curled on the ground, I covered my ears and clenched my teeth. I really, really hated this part. In my mind’s eye, I could see the thunderclap of reacting gasses race toward us, approximating a great psychic airbag. With a loud whump, a final jolt hit the house, sending lamps and humans flying. A geyser of steam shot from the wall where Father Armstrong had blessed it. Then there was stillness. Suddenly the place smelled of rot and burnt feathers. For a long moment, I stayed curled up in my best imitation of a terrified squirrel.

Ever the eager adjuster, Foxford picked himself up off the carpet and hunted for his pen beneath the chrome and glass coffee table. Kneeling over his clipboard, he pulled the cap off his pen with his teeth and spit it out. “Definitely not an Act of God,” he said, scribbling furiously.

Mrs. Henderson started to cry.

Wonderful, I thought bitterly. Another day, another demon. I got to my knees, looking around. I did a head count, and we were one short. Without a word or sound or flicker of motion, Garamond had gone. Vanished. Great, I thought. He cut out. There must have been a fashion emergency. Now I was stuck with all the paperwork.

Scenes and scenery
by Annette McCleave on March 10th, 2009

Sigh. Jessa shouldn’t have mentioned Viggo/Aragorn in her post yesterday … I fought an almost unbearable urge all day to sneak away from my writing to watch my LOR movies.

It was actually therapeutic to revisit scenes from my first novel, trying to find the right one to share.

My upcoming release, DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, involves angels, demons and and the battle for human souls. My hero, an immortal Soul Gatherer, lives among the human race disguised as a priest. My heroine, Rachel, doesn’t know the outfit is a disguise, nor does she know her daughter is mixed up with something far worse than a bunch of teenage hoodlums, but she does know Lachlan MacGregor isn’t like any other priest she’s ever met…

***

Hackles up, Rachel stepped around the tree trunk, only to have her path blocked by a very big and very formidable . . . Lachlan MacGregor.

“Don’t,” he said quietly.

His sudden appearance in the dark should have frightened her. Instead, the sight of his handsome face, etched with obvious resolve, filled her with a feeling of deliverance so intense she was tempted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him. Of course, she didn’t. Despite the ease flooding her chest, she huffed her disagreement and attempted to dodge around him. Someone had to stop that creep from kissing Em.

He blocked her advance. “He knows you’re here. He’s just doing it to goad you.”

“How do you know that? She’s only fourteen.”

“Trust me.”

He took a firm step toward her, forcing her to back up, but also conveniently occluding her view with his large body, protecting her from a sight he knew would upset her. Constrained by darkness, with only a few visual elements to focus on, her senses clung to other things such as his scent, subtle and free of cologne. It was a breathtaking swirl of warm wool and spice—very sexy . . . and damned inappropriate for a priest.

“He looked right at you,” Lachlan pointed out. “And it’s pretty obvious he’s never kissed her before. It’s just a show.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I can’t,” he admitted. He took another step, again encouraging her to retreat. “But I’ve learned to trust my gut.”

Rachel dug her heels in, refusing to let him herd her any farther away from Em. He closed the gap in one decisive stride, his broad shoulders towering over her, crowding her. But if his intent was to intimidate, he failed. Despite his size, she felt no fear. “I can’t leave her here. Not with them.”

“I suspect they won’t hang about much longer, but just to be certain, I’ll go back and watch them.” He stared into her eyes with an oddly intimate look, as if they shared more than just a common goal to protect Emily. It made Rachel’s heart pound. “I need you to go home, Rachel.”

“But—”

“You’ll want to be home when she gets back.”

Or face the consequences of Em finding out she’d followed her out here. Valid point. Still, she squirmed. “If he—”

“If he goes further than a kiss, I’ll take care of it.” He brushed a lock of hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “I promise.”

Before she could point out there were seven of them and only one of him, he was gone.

Welcome to Beyond Her Book readers!
by Jessa Slade on March 9th, 2009

If you’ve followed us over here this week from Barbara Vey’s 2nd anniversary party, we’re psyched to have you!  Please take a look around, make yourself comfortable, and stick a bookmark in us :)

We’re running a second giveaway here in addition to our prize at Barbara’s shindig, so please leave a comment on one — or all! — of the posts this week to let us know you were here and you’ll be entered to win.  Our regular readers are welcome to win too, of course.  And y’all go check out Barbara’s page for more chances to win great stuff from hundreds of authors of all sorts.

Here’s her schedule:

  • Monday:         Paranormal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror/Urban Fantasy
  • Tuesday:        Thriller/Suspense/Mystery/Adventure
  • Wednesday:  Publishers/Agents/Publicists/Editors/Bloggers/Booksellers/Librarians
  • Thursday:     Inspirational/YA/Graphic Novels/Nonfiction
  • Friday:             Contemporary/Historical/Erotica/E-books/Audio
  • Saturday:       Romance Blow Out (Everyone Welcome!)

Here at Silk And Shadows all week, we’re talking about the favorite scenes we wrote, so we hope you’ll check back for more of our samples.  And hey, every comment is another chance to win so type away!

Thanks for stopping by!

These are a few of my favorite things…
by Jessa Slade on March 9th, 2009

Currently working in: Revision Hell
Mood: Rather toasty

I’m a big picture person.  I like overarching themes and intricate through-lines.  Writing on that level is like flying with the angels — bright and cerebral, accompanied by the soothing sounds of harps and catered by cupids with Nectar of the Gods.

But a story is really told in the guts.  As in blood and guts, and gutsy decisions.  Scenes are the guts of the story.  You get waaaay dirtier there.  Scenes are slippery and don’t always fit tidily where you put them, and you’re not — according to AMA (Association of Manuscript Assassins) ethics — supposed to use duct tape or a staple gun.  But messy as they are, scenes are where the story is.

Scenes hold the emotion, the action, the energy.  Here are a few of my favorite scenes:

From Raiders of the Lost Ark:

scene-raiders

Always bring a gun to a scimitar fight.  The story goes, a strenuous physical fight scene had been scripted between the scimitar-wielding bad guy and Indy and his whip, but Harrison Ford was feeling ill that day.  As a joke, he pulled out his gun and “shot” the bad guy.  Everybody thought it was great, so it stayed.

Whether the story is true or not, the scene is wonderful.  Watching it, I felt my heart race as Indy stood with his coiled whip and the bad guy swirled his scimitar.  Then out came the gun and blam!  The tension was perfectly released with a laugh and a wry thought that, ‘Well, yeah, that sure was smarter. I’d follow this hero anywhere.’

scene-ladyhawke

 From Ladyhawke:

I couldn’t find a picture, but remember the pre-dawn scene where Isabeau has bedded down for a night on the frozen tundra with the weary wolf-Navarre?  The sun has not quite risen, but the man is beginning to return from the wolf.  As his dark fur morphs to rumpled hair, she reaches out to touch him.  He lifts his hand to hers…  Then the first rays of the sun shine upon them.  Her fingers become feathers and she burst from their lovenest in a blur of hawk’s wings.

 Oh, the heartbreak.  That suspended moment — without a word said — captures their longing and the hopelessness of their situation.  I perfectly understood the desperation that drove them into their final harrowing battle. 

From The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers:

scene-helmsdeep1 For epic battle scenes (with plenty of guts, of both the figurative and strewing kind) I think nobody beats Tolkien, and Peter Jackson’s vision was a technical marvel (yes, I watched the days of bonus material on the DVDs) and a masterful manipulation of the viewers’ hearts and minds: With such vast forces of evil raised against our heroes, how can they possibly prevail? 

With awesome CG and Viggo’s twisty locks, that’s how!  Bliss!

All of the above, of course, is just a transparent attempt to avoid the real topic this week which is the favorite scene I wrote.  I can’t even tell you why I like this scene, because that would be cheating, since it doesn’t matter why I like it.  Not anymore.  Those guts I mentioned before must now come together to give life to a breathing, lusting, struggling entity quite separate from me.

So here goes…  Unlike the scenes above, I chose a quieter scene from early in the story, where the heroine, Sera, confronts the hero about her new life as an immortal warrior acolyte possessed by a repentant demon fighting the never-ending battle against evil.

From Seduced By Shadows:

 “Do you really expect me to believe any of this?  That I’ve been possessed by a… a demon?”

“Belief is beside the point.  It is true.”

It was like being told she would soon be killed by a falling piano.  Of course she didn’t believe him.  And yet she couldn’t help looking up.  “Demons don’t exist.” 

“Not corporeally, not in this world.  Which is why it has clothed itself in your flesh.”

The lake wind swirled, and an inadvertent shudder ripped through her.  She wrapped her arms around her waist.  As if she might feel different.  “And what if I’m not interested in sharing my flesh?”

A muscle in his jaw tensed.  “You can cast it out, before it ascends, before it sets roots in your soul and its mark on your skin.”

He twitched back the edge of his trench coat and from the folds of supple leather released a blackened club the size of her forearm.  With a snap of his wrist and the menacing schick of sliding metal, the club telescoped to double in length.  He flicked it outward, and from the thickened, studded end, a blade cascaded out in a series of glittering steel segments, like a cardsharp’s precisely fanned hand almost twice as wide as her spread fingers.

From primitive club to switchblade battle-axe quicker than her stuttering heart could find its beat.

“Oh God.”  She cringed back against the wall. 

“I never got around to naming it.”  He gripped the weapon just below the wickedly recurved blade and tugged up the sleeves of his coat and shirt.

The razor edge carved the cold light, sharper than the look he threw her as he laid the gleaming blade against the inside of his right arm between the inky lines of his tattoo.

“No.”  A sickening beat of horror skipped through her, like when she’d seen the SUV hurtling toward her, about to change her life forever.

The tattoo, not Celtic nor tribal but even more primitive, swirled over his knuckles and spiked halfway up his arm.  Against the black, the skin of his wrist looked tender, veins and tendons standing out in marbled relief.

He stilled, and despite the dread-full thump of her heart, she found her gaze drawn to his.

“Unforgivably melodramatic,” he said, “but effectively convincing.”

He sliced the blade down his inner arm.

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