Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: Duty from Ashes (Page 1 of 2)

When a book becomes a series — Honor and Duty

Now to series number three — Honor and Duty. This is the one set of books I knew would be a series. The initial plan was that it would be two books, maybe three. I wanted to do a story arc that took the main character, Ashlyn Shaw, from betrayal to redemption. I wanted it to be a mix of space opera and military science fiction. What I didn’t expect was that it, too, in many ways would take on a life of its own.

The first inklings of the plot for Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) took root some time ago. A hint of a plot here, a glimpse of a character there. When I finally decided it was time to sit down and see if I could get it all to gel together, I had the basic premise firmly in mind. What I hadn’t expected was that this would be a book that resisted all attempts to outline, basic or in detail. It had a way it wanted to be written and nothing else would do.

So, after fighting it for a while, I gave in and let the muse — I have mentioned before she is not only evil but stubborn, or maybe evilly stubborn or stubbornly evil — have her way. What came out is a novel I’m proud of. It is also one I had fun writing, once I quit fighting it. More importantly, Vengeance does exactly what I wanted it to do. It is peopled by characters who aren’t perfect. They are flawed and know it. Sometimes they fight those flaws and other times they give in to it. The heroes make mistakes and have “bad thoughts”. The villains might enjoy what they are doing but they do, on the whole, have some redeeming qualities. Not all of them mind you. After all, there needs to be at least one sociopath in any evil scheme, right?

Ashlyn Shaw has been betrayed by the Corps she devoted much of her life to. Worse, that betrayal led to the deaths of some of the men and women who had been under her command. The result was that she had been court martialed and, along with the survivors from her team, sent to a penal colony where brutal conditions would be an improvement most days. When she is returned to the capital without warning, the last thing she’s willing to do is trust those who now ask for her help. That changes when the capital is attacked and she slowly begins to understand that things have changed and those who turned a blind eye to the way she and her people had been betrayed were no longer in power. Not that she is willing to put aside all her doubts and suspicions, even when her people are freed and every one of them receives not only a pardon but full exoneration of all charges against them.

After all, she has a duty not only to the Corps or her homeworld but to those who had looked to her for leadership and protection. She would discover who had betrayed them and that person (or persons) would face justice, even if it came at her hand. Especially if it could come at her hand.

Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) picks up where Vengeance left off. Ash is starting to settle back in to her role as a Marine. She watches closely as the investigation into the events leading up to her court martial continues. Trust is slowly returning but that niggling voice of doubt is still there. It is something she fights on a daily basis, except when she is with her son. He is her anchor and her reason for not doing anything foolish. They had been separated during her time at the penal colony and she would not let that happen again. Duty might take her away from him for extended periods of time but, short of death, she would always return home.

War is now a way of life for Ash’s homeworld and its allies. The enemy is one they know well, one they have fought before. But there is something different this time. Tactics and strategies have changed. More importantly, the enemy now has ships and weaponry it hadn’t had just a few years ago, before a ceasefire had been agreed upon. That bothers Ash as well as some of her superiors. Is the enemy receiving aid — or more — from a third party they have yet to identify? Or is this simply a case of them putting to use material gained as a part of the renewed hostilities?

In spite or, or maybe because of, her time at the penal colony, Ash and her Marines are sent on a mission to help liberate one of the systems seized by the enemy. Finding allied prisoners being held in conditions similar to those she had endured almost sends her over the edge. The only thing that keeps her from killing the commandant of the camp were her own people stepping in. That, and seeing how they understood and agreed with her but how they were also determined not to let her do anything foolish, causes her to step back. It is hard and she knows how close she came to breaking. More importantly, she is ready to face the consequences when she returns home, not that she wouldn’t do it all over again because it helped get them the information they needed to not only save more POWs but because of the possible intelligence it led to.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is currently available for pre-order. In this book, the war is in full swing. As the intelligence Ash and her people found, as well as that being sent from other units, is reviewed, it becomes clear that their suspicions were correct. There is a third party involved in the battle, one no one suspected. Add to that the fact the third party has operatives on-planet who are determined to make sure those who set up Ash and her people never reveal what they know.

Because it is war, people die. Ash is going to face the loss of not only some of those under her command but of people close to her. The first is expected. They are Marines and their unit is the one often sent into the worst possible situations, the unit expected to do the impossible. The latter is something she has always known to be possible but never something easy to take.

Here’s the blurb:

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Honor won’t be the last book in the series. There will be one more to complete this story arc. However, my evil muse is already telling me that there will be more stories written in this universe. Some will have Ash and company as supporting characters. Others will focus on some of the characters we’ve met but who didn’t play major roles in this series.

Or, my muse could fool me again and decide that there will be another two books in the series. I just have to remember to remind her that there comes a time when all series, no matter how much she loves them, must come to an end.

Honor from Ashes Pre-Order

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is now available for pre-order. Release is set for April 18th.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Once Amazon lets me, I will update the product page to reflect both my name and the Sam Schall pen name. I really should remember not to do anything that requires attention to detail when I don’t feel well.

In the meantime, you can catch up on the first two books in the series. All are available for download through Amazon or as “real” books.

 

Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

 

Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2)

Duty calls. Honor demands action.

Major Ashlyn Shaw has survived false accusations and a brutal military prison. Now free, she finds her homeworld once again at war with an enemy that will stop at nothing to destroy everything she holds dear. Duty has Ashlyn once again answering the call to serve. She has seen what the enemy is capable of and will do everything she can to prevent it from happening to the home she loves and the people she took an oath to protect.

But something has changed. It goes beyond the fact that the enemy has changed tactics they never wavered from during the previous war. It even goes beyond the fact that there is still a nagging doubt in the back of Ashlyn’s mind that those who betrayed her once before might do so again. No, there is more to the resumption of hostilities, something that seems to point at a new player in the game. But who and what are they playing at?

Will Ashlyn be able to unmask the real enemy before it is too late?

Update

I’ve been head down at the keyboard, doing my best to catch up on not only my writing but the editing projects that have been backlogged for much too long. The writing is back on track, fortunately, and the editing is getting there. I’m hopeful that everything will be caught up within the next two weeks.

In the meantime, Slay Bells Ring will be going live for purchase later this week as an e-book. Print copies of it and Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4) should be available for purchase near the first of the month. The link will take you to the e-book.

Also, the third book of the Honor and Duty series will be winging its way off to Amazon later today for approval for pre-orders. As soon as it goes live, I will post and update. I have a working copy of the cover and, yes, it will be finalized during the pre-order time frame.  But it will work for the pre-orders.

What I discovered writing this draft was that my thoughts at the end of Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) were right. It was going to take at least two more books to tie up this story arc. I foresee one more book in the immediate story arc. After that, well, there are more stories with these characters and others that want to be written.

Anyway, here is the draft version of the cover for Honor from Ashes. Text about the series, etc., still needs to be added and the lettering needs some work. But this will give you the general idea.

honor from ashes draft 3

The original image can be found here and and is © by NextMars.

To write or not to write

duty from ashesWell, once again we woke to rain in the DFW area. If this keeps up, by the time the weekend is over, we will have had as much rain so far this year as we had all of last year. The upside of all this is that it is helping our lawns and, even more important, is filling bringing the drought to an end. The bad part is, when you have had as many knee So,surgeries as I have had — not to mention the shoulder that has been rebuilt — there comes a time when all this humidity and weather change gets to be more than a bit painful. When the knee, and even the hip, hurts, it can be dealt with and I can still write. But when the shoulder starts acting up, writing becomes more problematical, especially since I’m at the start of a project and tend to spend more time at the keyboard at any one stretch.

However, it is forcing me to tackle something I have been putting off. There is some part of the writing process or business each of us tends to avoid as long as possible. With me, it is putting together the print files for my books. I know I shouldn’t. Heck, I have it pretty much down to a science any more. But it is still tedious and i would rather be writing. Still, this is a good time to push the new print editions out so I have them for LibertyCon next month.

Of course, making things a bit more challenging is the fact my beloved ROG laptop is on the fritz. I’ve already had Square Trade approve my claim and send me the box to send it in. My problem — and something that is making me wonder if I really want to do it this way or if I want to go ahead and find someone local to look at it — is that ST requires me to send recovery discs with the laptop when I send it in. Now, just how many computer manufacturers supply recovery discs these days? Asus sure as hell doesn’t. Like so many others, they have a recovery partition on the HD. So, I’ll be touching base with Square Trade later this morning to see if that is sufficient or if I have to actually make recovery discs and, if so, are we talking just the OS or full file and driver recovery as well.

So today is looking more and more like one of those days where I have to be the responsible writer instead of the creative one. Still, I do have a new cover for Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) that will be going live on Amazon later today/tomorrow and will be used as the cover for the print version of the book. Many thanks to friend, mentor and sister from another mother, Sarah A. Hoyt, for the design.

TGIF

Man, this has been a long week. Long but productive on a number of different fronts. While no writing has gotten done but I had the pleasure of editing — not that much was needed — Cedar Sanderson’s next novel, Dragon Noir. More on that in a bit. I also have been re-reading both Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) and Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2), building not only character profiles (and OMG there are a lot of them if you count the minor characters and walk-ons) and making notes about things I need to be sure to cover in Honor from Ashes. That should be done by the first of next week, fingers crossed.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I truly detest reading my own work. Usually, as soon as I put the book up for sale, it gets filed away and only pulled out if I need a snippet or someone contacts me with a major issue I need to look at and maybe correct. However, writing a series, especially if you have several going on at one time like I do, the facts and faces get confused and I, for one, have to go back and reacquaint myself with what has gone on and who did what.

That is important. I know I need to tie up all the major plot threads. But the problem is I also see the problems with the novel, be it a typo I missed here or a poorly phrased sentence there. My internal editor wants to come out in full-force and fix, well, everything. Yes, I do tend to correct the spelling errors and, if it is only a word or two, that might get changed as well. But major re-writes? Not a chance.

So, I’ve done a lot of talking to myself and a lot of reaching out to my inner circle of alpha readers to keep from doing just that. VfA doesn’t need major revision — and DfA won’t either, although I do know there are more minor issues with it that may get polished some when I get to it.

The good thing about this process is it has awakened the plot for Honor from Ashes and, yes, it has let me see that three books won’t wrap up this particular story arc. It will be four books (fingers crossed that is all). However, I don’t think I will leave the universe. There are other characters that want their stories told. We’ll see.

So that is where I am on the writing front. Now to the exciting part of my week — Dragon Noir. This is the third book in Cedar’s Pixie for Hire series. Don’t let the series title fool you. These aren’t your children’s bedtime stories. These books are an homage to the noir detective novels of old with a healthy dose of urban fantasy thrown in. I once said they are what you would get if you mixed Dashiell Hammett and Larry Correia.

Pixie Noir (Pixie for Hire Book 1)

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

Trickster Noir (Pixie for Hire Book 2)

After the battle of Tower Baelfire ended, Lom lay dying. Bella was tasked with not only the job she never wanted, but the one she did. Could she keep Lom alive long enough for him to come to the rescue when their kingdom needed them? And what did Raven, mysterious trickster spirit and honorary uncle to Bella, want with them? If the threat was big enough to have the trickster worried, Bella knew she needed to have Lom at her side. Underhill might look like a soap-bubble kingdom, but Bella and Lom knew there was a gritty underside. Why else would fairyland need a dark man willing to carry a big gun and be the Pixie for Hire?

Dragon Noir is due to be released next month. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when it is “live”.

What I’m up to now

coverforvfaAs you guys know, I got bitten by a book I hadn’t planned on writing. In a way, that’s a bad thing because I really needed to be working on something else. In another way, it was good because the other project just wasn’t happening for me. So I put it to one side for several weeks and the fantasy novel came pouring out. That is a good thing, not because I wrote something I hadn’t planned on but because I wrote. There is something to be said for the feeling you get when you can see the words streaming across your screen and know that the block, or whatever it was, is now gone.

So, with the rough — very rough — draft finished and printed out, it’s been put in the drawer to wait several weeks to a month before I look at it again. But that doesn’t mean I’m not working because I am. In fact, I sat down this morning and put together my to-do list. Part of the list is focused on getting ready for LibertyCon. Another part is looking at what projects I have on the back burner that need to be brought forward and finished.

First, for the LibertyCon stuff. I am taking a fresh look at Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). There are two reasons for this. One is to make sure the print version of it matches the soon to be released print version of Duty from Ashes when it comes to layout and look. The other reason relates back to the projects I need to get working on. I’ve decided to do Honor from Ashes next, as I noted in yesterday’s post, and let Nocturnal Challenge percolate on the back burner. It will be my next major project after Honor.

The other thing relating to LibertyCon that has to be done posthaste is a new read through of Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2). I knew I rushed that one but I had not realized how much I had missed, much less my editor. So I am cleaning up the e-book, getting a new cover and when it comes out in print it will be a new edition. I want those two books to be in print and available in time for LC.

So, Honor from Ashes is up next. After that comes Nocturnal Challenge. I also have a couple of short stories or novellas to write around a Halloween theme for an anthology the Twisted Writers group is going to put out. I already have ideas for those. Then there is Slay Bells Ring. I would like to have it done in time for the Christmas holidays. As if that’s not enough, there’s a novella set in the Hunter’s Moon universe (written as Ellie Ferguson). So, that’s what, three novels and thee short stories/novellas? I will also need to go back to Sword of Arelion, edit it, send it to my alpha and beta readers, edit it again if necessary and the put it up for sale. Oh, and then there is Skeletons in the Closet that AJ Prince just might kill me over if I don’t finish it soon.

No, I’m not going crazy. I’ve already made it there.  😉

So, it is time to put the butt down and focus on work. Hopefully, real life will move on and pester someone else for awhile. I’ve done my duty by it this year. It’s someone else’s turn now.

Review of Duty from Ashes

(I don’t usually do this but this review by Cedar Sanderson of Duty from Ashes has me smiling this morning. Second books in a series are always hard — at least for me. You have to keep the action going, making sure you pick up the threads from the first book but you can’t finish the story line because there is another book planned. That means you push the threads forward, maybe adding another one or two. Any way, here is Cedar’s review.)

Review: Duty from Ashes

duty from ashesI had been looking forward to this book, had pre-ordered it as soon as I could, and then on the day it downloaded to my Kindle I was too busy to be able to read it. I did manage to find time over Thanksgiving Break to take it in, and was rewarded for my time.

Duty from Ashes is a space opera, military-themed, and a sequel. However, it was easy to pick back up and find the threads of the old story arc as well as the new threads. Yes, there are multiple plot threads, but this isn’t a book with Byzantine complexity, you will be able to follow the threads and keep all the characters straight, Schall has done an excellent job of creating and fleshing out unique characters.

I really enjoyed all the effort in this book, and I’m not referring to the author now. The main character, Ashlyn Shaw, is struggling with trust, not only her own of the people who are trying to prove that she really does belong in charge of her new regiment, but the trust of those people in their new commander. She’s not a superhero, and it takes a lot of effort to gain that trust, something I as a reader appreciated. Sometimes it’s fun to see a hero get all befuddled, and then work it through.

One of the subplots in this book rang really true to me, the dealings with the prisoner’s of war. I’ve done a lot of reading about POW camps in WWII, in particular the ones administered by the Japanese, and that feeling of hopeless defiance has been captured nicely by Schall. It makes for a heart-wrenching scene, and I won’t spoiler the whole thing for you.

I think if anything, this book is stronger than the first book; oh, and it ends nicely. You can see the story arc coming for the sequel that Schall tells you is there, but you aren’t figuratively left hanging by your fingernails at cliff’s edge wondering what the hell happens next. Well done.

If I have to compare it to another writer, it would be Weber, but the early Weber, where Honor Harrington is still uncertain, groping her way along, supported by her staff and family. Also, those books were slimmer, and offered more action, more momentum, just as Duty from Ashes does. I stopped reading the Harrington series a while back, when it slipped off into the weeds of massive political info-dumps and ever slower and more convoluted plots. I’m very pleased that this series takes me back to the space opera I most enjoy, character, action, and fun!

More publishing news

I want to start by thanking everyone who has purchased a copy of Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2). It has been out approximately two weeks and I am more than pleased with the sales. So thanks to everyone who has bought the book and to those who have helped spread the word about it. Special thanks to CS for helping me clean up the editing fiasco caused by the new — and no longer on my list — editor.

wbbebookcoverNow, for those of you who aren’t SF fans, Wedding Bell Blues is once again available in digital format. WBB is the first novel I published and it came out under the pen name Ellie Ferguson. It was written on a dare from Sarah Hoyt and is one of those books every author has. You’re proud of it and of how well it did when it was released but you also look at it and wonder where in the world it came from because it is so different from what you are used to. WBB is a romantic suspense with a touch of humor in it. This is a re-release of the title.

Here is a snippet from the novel.

 *   *   *

“. . . and while the official police statement is that they are pursuing a number of leads in the recent string of burglaries, unnamed sources within the department confirm that they have very little to go on. Detective Colton Dougherty, the detective in charge of the investigation, has refused comment, referring all questions to the public affairs officer for the Dallas Police Department. . . .”

The image on the television screen across the room changed from the studio shot to the exterior of one of the local strip malls. Police cars with their light bars flashing acted like beacons in the night, drawing a number of gawkers. Uniformed officers stood nearby to prevent the onlookers from getting too close. Detectives in dark slacks and white shirts, badges hanging from shirt pockets or chains around their necks, moved in and out of one of the stores. Normally, I’d not pay much attention to such film clips, but one of the detectives was familiar – too familiar, and I started in surprise before I could control it.

“Stand still!” my mother hissed around a mouthful of pins as she desperately held onto the hem of my dress.

I barely heard her. Instead, my attention was focused on the newscast. Colton turned to face the camera, his contempt for the reporters shouting questions clear. For a moment, he stood there, his expression hard, the fingers of his right hand drumming impatiently against his thigh. Another shouted question and he took a step forward. As he did, I leaned forward a bit, forgetting that I stood precariously balanced on a three-legged stool while my mother tried to pin the hem of the dress I’d be wearing in my sister’s wedding in less than a week.

“Jessica, stand still! Do you want me to stick you?”

Mother gave the skirt a little jerk and I shook myself. The last thing I needed was for her to know I’d been watching the news story – No, the last thing I needed was for her to know I’d been watching Colton.

Then I realized what she’d said and actually considered it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like pain. Under most circumstances, I go out of my way to avoid it. However, it was possible that if she stuck me, I’d awaken from this nightmare and discover that pink and purple taffeta hadn’t taken over my life. That had to be worth something, didn’t it? At least it was only for another week or so. Once my sister was married, the maid of honor dress from Hell could be relegated to the back of my closet where it belonged, never to be seen again.

Problem solved.

At least until the glow of seeing her youngest daughter married dimmed and my mother once more embarked upon her campaign to get me married. That was yet another reason why I didn’t want her to know I’d been watching Colton on the TV. Still, I’d enjoyed three months of peace and I didn’t look forward to it ending. Maybe, before that happened, the gypsies would finally come steal me away. A girl can hope, can’t she?

“Sorry,” I mumbled, teetering slightly on the stool. As if looking like a harlequin wasn’t bad enough, now I had to worry about keeping my balance.

“I don’t know why you can’t just stand there like the other girls, Jessica.” As she pinned the hem of my dress, Mom’s fingers worked with the precision of a surgeon. Probably because she was one. “You’d think you weren’t happy your sister is getting married.”

“I am too happy!”

And I was, on a lot of different levels. Maryanne had been in love with Brett Boudreaux from the moment she first laid eyes on him in second grade. She’d made it her life’s mission to win him over. There had been times when she’d almost despaired of it ever happening. But my sister is both determined and resilient. Despite that, it had taken a pregnancy scare and the threat that she’d cut him out of her life and their baby’s before he finally came to his senses. Six weeks and a lot of convincing later, he asked her to marry him. Now she was getting her big wedding, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

“You’d never prove it by me, not the way you’ve done your best to avoid your duties as maid of honor.”

I rolled my eyes and said a quick prayer for patience – or at least for the wisdom to keep my mouth shut. There’s one thing you can say about Dr. Faith Marie Jones. She always knows she’s right, no matter what the truth might actually be. For some reason, she’d convinced herself I was jealous of Maryanne and nothing I’d say would change her mind. All I could do was ignore her and hope she’d change the subject.

Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t wrong about me trying to avoid my “duties”. I had, and I felt guilty about it. Work had kept me busy, and Maryanne had chosen to get married the week before finals. Still, I could have made time for the different shopping trips and girls’ nights out she’d arranged for the bridesmaids. But, in my mind at least, begging out of those things had kept the peace because it meant I hadn’t been too tempted to kill one of the other bridesmaids.

“Oh, Jessie, you look absolutely adorable in your dress,” Janie Bickerstaff drawled from the doorway as she quickly snapped three photos of me teetering on the stool. Wonderful. By the time I got home, everyone on her email list some would have copies. See, this was why I had begged out of so many of the things Maryanne had planned. Janie and I had never gotten along. I still remembered with regret that grade school field trip to Burgers Lake when I’d talked myself out of drowning her because I knew it would upset my sister. I’d have done the world a favor if I’d acted on my impulse back then. Really I would have.

A sharp prick just above my right ankle cut off my quick retort. Just as well. This was Maryanne’s day and I wouldn’t spoil it by killing Janie where she stood in the doorway smirking at me. Besides, my mother would never forgive me for staining her new carpet.

However, there are other ways of dealing with persistent pests besides mashing them underfoot.

“I can’t wait to see you coming down the aisle, Janie. The pink and purple will look wonderful with your hair.” Her fire-engine-red hair straight from the bottle. She paled, gulped once and dashed back into the kitchen. Mom chuckled softly and shook her head. That pinprick might have kept me from giving Janie a verbal lobotomy, but the truth of the matter was Mom had no more use for her than did I.

“Mama, are you about through?” Maryanne called from the kitchen.

“In a minute, dear. I’m just finishing up your sister’s dress.”

For a moment, relief filled me. Janie and the other bridesmaids were going to do some last minute shopping and then go out for drinks and, maybe, dinner. That meant I could slip out and escape the crazy ladies before they moved from wedding talk to dissecting my love life – or lack thereof.

“Jessie.” Maryanne’s pretty face appeared around the door frame and my heart sank. Before they left, she wanted us all to have a drink together to toast the upcoming wedding. “What do you want to drink?” She looked so excited. I couldn’t leave, not yet. I was her big sister and her maid of honor. I’d spent my life being there for her. I couldn’t leave her now simply because wedding preparations scared the hell out of me. Besides, it was just a drink. How bad could it be?

“Iced tea, Tink.” I grinned as she glared at me. “I still have papers to grade.”

“Jessica, don’t call me that!”

“Sorry.” I winked and she grinned even as our mother gave my skirt a tug, reminding me to behave. Maryanne had been “Tink” or “Tinkerbell” since she’d been a baby.

“Jessie, you don’t hate the dress, do you?” Maryanne’s blue eyes were worried as she hurried to stand before me. Damn that Janie Bickerstaff. I’d lay odds she’d said something like that to Maryanne just to upset her.

“Of course not. You know all I care about is you being happy.” I meant it, too. She’d waited a long time for this day – well for a week from today – and I wasn’t about to ruin it by telling her she’d taken leave of her fashion sense. “Besides, your dress is so gorgeous no one is going to be looking at anyone else.”

“It is, isn’t it?”

Her smile seemed to light up the room and, ignoring our mother’s protests, I leaned down to give Maryanne a hug. “Now go make sure the others aren’t making too big of a mess in the kitchen. Or worse, getting into the wine you picked out for your dinner with Brett’s family tomorrow.”

Maryanne gave a soft squeak of concern and hurried back into the kitchen, the robe she’d put on after her own fitting fluttering behind her. Mom’s chuckle surprised me as did her look of approval when I glanced down. She placed one last pin in the hem and helped me off the stool. A moment later, she carefully eased the dress over my head and stepped back, spreading it across the back of the sofa until she could hang it up.

“Go keep those girls from destroying my kitchen, Jessie. You know what they can be like,” she commented as I slipped into jeans and tee shirt. “I’ll be along shortly.”

I breathed deeply and steeled myself for a return to the foolishness I’d hoped I’d left behind when I graduated from high school and did as she asked. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.

Yeah, sure it wouldn’t. It would be about as much fun as a root canal without Novocain.

Needless to say, I was wrong. A root canal without Novocain would have been so much more fun than the gossip-fest I sat through. Oh, the gossip wasn’t that bad, even though there is no more vicious animal on the face of the Earth than a bunch of women with time on their hands and other people’s business to discuss. At least as long as I was there, they didn’t try – too hard – to dissect everything they believed was wrong with my life. Of course, the fact most of them remembered how, at different times, I’d threatened to pound them into dust for being empty-headed little idiots might account for that.

So, for another hour I sat through wedding plans, honeymoon speculations and none-too-subtle hints about what married life and married sex would be like. Most was all good-natured fun. But some, mainly from Janie, who’d once gone after Brett herself, was more than a bit snide. Only Mom’s warning glances – and a sharp kick to my shin under the table – kept me from saying anything. At least Maryanne seemed oblivious to her friend’s intent. Still, if Janie kept it up, I’d be forced to say something. There was no way I would let her, or anyone, spoil Maryanne’s happiness.

Finally I was freed from the insanity when Maryanne and the other bridesmaids left to go shopping, never one of my favorite pastimes. Not that I didn’t feel a bit guilty for choosing not to go, but I really did have a stack of papers to grade. With peace once more filling the house, I helped Mom load the dishwasher before heading home.

“You were really good with your sister today, Jessie.”

“Huh?” I know. I’m a brilliant conversationalist.

“Janie,” she said simply.

“Mom, we both know that little bitch would like nothing more than to cause trouble. I won’t give her the satisfaction.” However, once the wedding was over, I planned to have a little chat with Ms. Bickerstaff about exactly what might happen if she tried any of her little tricks where Maryanne and Brett were concerned. I’d seen her destroy too many other relationships to sit still and let her have a go at Brett and Maryanne.

Bitch.

“So, Jessie, when are you going to quit waiting for Mr. Perfect?”

If I hadn’t just swallowed the last of my iced tea, I’d have sprayed it across the kitchen. Talk about being blind-sided. Now Mom watched me, a shrewd look in her light blue eyes. Crap. I’d expected the peace to last at least a couple of weeks after the wedding.

“Mom – “

“Jessie, it’s just that I worry about you.” She turned to face me, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “You haven’t been serious about anyone since Colton Dougherty, and that’s been, what, nine years?” Crap! Had she seen him on TV too? That would certainly explain this sudden change of topic.

Ten years, three months and twelve days. But who’s counting? Not me. No, siree. He wasn’t worth it.

“Mom, you don’t have to worry. Really. One day, the right guy will come along and then I’ll marry and give you a ton of grandkids to spoil.” I smiled, praying she’d take the hint and drop it.

“Jessica, you’re thirty-three. It’s time you quit waiting for Prince Charming. He doesn’t exist.” She cocked her head to one side, examining me as she might a patient just before opening him up on the operating table. “Unless you don’t like guys….”

For a moment, I stared at her, torn between the desire to laugh and the more perverse desire to confirm her greatest fear that her daughter might be gay. It was so ludicrous. All she had to do was look at the evidence and she’d see just how ridiculous it was. While I might not have had any serious these last ten years, I’d certainly enjoyed my fair share of men, and I do mean enjoy.

Part of me wanted to say, “Yes, Mom, I’m gay,” just to see her reaction. But I’m not into matricide, no matter how much she gets on my nerves. And there was no question how she’d react to such an announcement. She’d drop dead from shock and then, with my luck, she’d come back to haunt me, making it the goal of her unnatural life to find me a nice man to spend the rest of my so-called natural life with.

“Mama, I love you and I know you’re worried. But you don’t have to be. I promise I’m not gay. I like guys just fine. I simply haven’t found one I want to spend the rest of my life with.” I reached over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Now, I really do need to get home and get those papers graded. See you tomorrow for mass.”

“All right.” She smiled and, to my surprise, gave me a quick hug. “Will you stop by Manny’s on your way home and pick up the order for Thursday’s dinner? It should be ready.”

I’d forgotten about dinner Thursday. Dinner with both families and Brett’s best man, his college roommate. The frat boy I’d have to walk down the aisle with after the wedding and who was, according to my sister, a self-described lady’s man. Wonderful. Oh well, if I could put up with the bridesmaid dress from Hell, I could handle one overgrown boy for an evening.

“Of course.”

Ten minutes later, I sped away from my parents’ house, thinking of little except how much I wanted a nice bottle of wine. Better yet, a bottle of really good single malt. I deserved it after resisting the impulse to strangle Maryanne with her veil for making me wear that monstrosity of a dress. Not to mention wanting to lock Mom in the basement, never to be heard from until she gave up on the notion of trying to manage my life. And I didn’t even want to think about what I’d like to do with the oh-so-perfect Janie Bickerstaff.

Of course, the main reason Janie was being such a bitch, besides that being her natural state, was that she was supremely pissed Maryanne had the audacity to have a sister. Worse, that sister was me and Maryanne had asked me to be her maid of honor. I really should have drowned Janie when I’d had the chance. No one would have minded. After all, it would have strengthened the gene pool, and several marriages would have been saved.

The neon sign over Manny’s Fine Wine and Spirits called to me like a beacon as I pulled off the freeway. Seemingly on its own, my battered Mustang turned into the parking lot. Not that I objected. Manny’s is on the way home and it’s cheap. Besides, I intended to treat myself this once.

Or, better yet, I might just let him put the bottle on my parents’ account.

I parked the Mustang near the door and got out. Looking around, I frowned slightly. Usually by this late on a Saturday, the parking lot is full to overflowing. But not today. Besides my Mustang, there were only four other cars visible.

My frown deepened. The red “CLOSED” sign hung from the top of the door. That most definitely wasn’t right. Was possible the insanity of the fitting had carried over for a full day and it was now Sunday? It could have driven me into a short catatonic state. No. A quick check of my watch confirmed not only that it was almost five thirty but also that it was still Saturday. So why wasn’t Manny open?

I ignored the warning bells going off in my head – heck, they’d been going full force during the fitting as Maryanne’s friends became more and more excited over our harlequin dresses. Somehow, the insanity of the wedding plans had either rendered them colorblind or fashion-sense deprived or both. This was just the residual warning. Besides, it was possible Manny had simply forgotten to flip the sign when he opened up this afternoon.

The door swung open under my touch. The bell hanging from the top of the door jangled loudly. I paused. Why hadn’t Manny or one of his sons called out a greeting?

“Manny?” The bell jangled again as the door closed behind me.

Sound exploded. I smelled cordite. Shit. Someone had just shot a gun. At me. I dove for cover, hitting my elbow on the corner of a display shelf. What the hell?

Glass shattered and I slid on my belly farther down the aisle, looking for cover. Why was someone shooting at me?

It’s a dream. That’s it. I’ll wake up soon and none of this will have happened. No harlequin dress, no one shooting at me.

Another shot rang out and I did my best infantryman-crawling-through-the-trenches impression as I slithered even farther from the door. Part of me wanted to close my eyes and make-believe I wasn’t there. No, when someone’s shooting at you, closing your eyes tends to have a very permanent result, and I’d be damned if I didn’t look the bastard in the eyes before he killed me.

Footsteps raced toward the front of the store. At least I thought they did. Of course, the way my heart pounded made it hard to tell. I hunkered down behind a stack of boxes. Surely at any moment, I’d hear the bell at the front door. The fact my ears were still ringing from the gunshots wouldn’t prevent that, would it?

I climbed to my knees. One corner of my mind registered that I was hiding behind boxes of my favorite single malt. Well, at least I wouldn’t have far to go to pick up a bottle. Hell, at this point, I might just make it a case.

Lungs straining for air, I forced myself to take a quick look. . . . .

Great, just great. Bad enough I have to put up with the bridesmaid dress from Hell, now the Devil himself has decided to pay me a visit.

I backpedaled in fear as a red-faced monster stared back at me.

I didn’t move fast enough. The devil cursed and lashed out.

There was pain. Of course there was pain. The devil’s not the sort to ask you to tea or speak nicely.

Everything went dark.

*   *   *

Wedding Bell Blues is available DRM-free.

A new book, NaNo and more

I didn’t blog yesterday because real life interfered. Part of it simply boiled down to still de-stressing after the upset of Friday. Part was because a large part of the morning and then early afternoon was spent doing one of my least favorite things on earth — shopping. At least no malls were involved. But much money is now gone as I finally gave up trying to breathe new life into the dishwasher and bought a new one. Then there was the new coffeemaker to buy — and that will go back in a few days because Keurig has taken a page out of the old Apple handbook. Their new 2.0 coffeemakers will only work with Keurig approve k-cups. You can’t use the reusable cups. So, since I drink more than one cup of coffee a day, it goes back and another model has already been ordered from Amazon.

As a result, no writing got done yesterday or today. But I did get a little time in plotting out the rest of Slay Bells Rings. While I was doing so, I checked my word count. SBR comes in just shy of 47,200 words right now. Skeletons in the Closet sits just shy of 10,000 words. So, with days to spare, I have made my 50,000 words for NaNo. That’s cool but I have yet to do what I set out to — finish SBR. So that is what I will be working on for the next week or so. With luck, I will be able to get it done.

Now, for the promotion I should have been doing for the last two days but didn’t because of real life. Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) is now live on Amazon as an e-book and will soon be available in print. DfA is the second book in the Honor & Duty series. The initial plan for the series was that it would be threes books and out. However, like so many of my plans for my books (Nocturnal Origins was supposed to be a one and done and it is now three books and one novella with the fourth book scheduled to come out later in the Spring) that is changing. I have the vague outline for another three books that will come after Honor from Ashes. Then there is at least one novella that will be a prequel of sorts that will deal with exactly how Ash wound up in the military prison on Tarsus to begin with.

coverforvfaIn case you haven’t read Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1), the first book in the series, it is available on Amazon in both digital and print formats.

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) picks up where Vengeance left off.

Duty calls. Honor demands action.

Major Ashlyn Shaw has survived false accusations and a brutal military prison. Now free, she finds her homeworld once again at war with an enemy that will stop at nothing to destroy everything she holds dear. Duty has Ashlyn once again answering the call to serve. She has seen what the enemy is capable of and will do everything she can to prevent it from happening to the home she loves and the people she took an oath to protect.

But something has changed. It goes beyond the fact that the enemy has changed tactics they never wavered from during the previous war. It even goes beyond the fact that there is still a nagging doubt in the back of Ashlyn’s mind that those who betrayed her once before might do so again. No, there is more to the resumption of hostilities, something that seems to point at a new player in the game. But who and what are they playing at?

Will Ashlyn be able to unmask the real enemy before it is too late?

This should be a good day

By all rights, I should be enjoying today, at least as much as any writer can when a book finally hits the digital shelves. Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) is finally live on Amazon. I want to thank everyone who pre-ordered a copy and hope you enjoy it. I’ll admit that I always have doubts about my work. Is it good enough? Will they like it as much as the previous book? That’s especially true when it is the second book in a series. Second books are, in my eyes at least, more difficult to write because they are the bridge books. You have the basic set up for the series in the first book. The third book will be the bringing together of all the loose ends and then tying them off. But the second book is where you delve a bit more deeply into the events of the first book and, at the same time, add a few more characters, a bit more conflict and more red herrings for the reader to contemplate. So, being the usual insecure writer, I worry if I’ve done a good enough job. Hopefully, I have and you will enjoy Duty and will buy Honor from Ashes when it comes out later this year.

Unfortunately, my attention — and excitement — over the new book has dimmed by quantum amounts this morning. The family had to face a difficult situation head-on today, one that is no-win no matter how you look at it. It sucks and it makes me sad and it has me worrying about my mom and how she is going to handle things in the long term.

The basic situation is simple. Every year at Christmas for almost as long as I can remember, we’ve had a family friend spend Christmas with us. When she still lived in the DFW area, she would come Christmas Eve and then spend the night and maybe Christmas night as well. Later, when she moved out of state, she would come spend a week to ten days with us over the holidays. She watched my son grow up during these visits and has been a part of our “family”.

A few years ago, she received the diagnosis that confirmed the suspicion Mom and I had had for some time. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In some ways, the diagnosis came as a relief because we knew she could get help for at least some of her symptoms. The only problem was, like so many when they first received the terrifying news, she denied it. Then, once she accepted the diagnosis, she then denied that she might have bouts of depression that would require medication.

The Christmas visits continued but became more and more strained as she became less flexible and less able to adapt to changes in her routine. It all culminated last your when she lost it simply because some friends of ours dropped by unexpectedly and dinner was delayed. I found her in the kitchen with my mother after the friends left, ripping Mom a new one because she hadn’t demanded the friends leave so we could eat. That was just one of a number of incidents that had been blown completely out of proportion by our friend during the visit but it was the final straw where my son and I were concerned. We sat Mom down later and told her in no uncertain terms that we would not let what happened then happen again. It was too hard on my Mom, who is actually several years older than our friend, and too disruptive of the rest of the household.

The problem is that we love our friend. As I said, she has been part of our family for years. So, a few days ago, Mom and I sat down and discussed what to do. We finally decided that Mom needed to call and find out what the friend’s plans were. Neither of us liked the thought of her being by herself on Christmas. Yes, we are soft touches at times. Fast forward to yesterday and call number one. Long story short, our friend had focused on a conversation we’d had last year where we’d told her we weren’t planning a year in advance for the holidays because we knew my son would be shipping out shortly and we might be going to wherever he was stationed. However, after that, we decided to wait to visit him since he will be coming home on leave in a month or so. We had told our friend this but she didn’t register it. So, there was an argument with Mom about whether or not we’d told her.

Call number two. She was looking at flying out for five days but she didn’t have enough miles and wasn’t sure she wanted to pay the money. But she was going to talk to another friend in the area before making her decision.

Call number three came in this morning. More discussion between her and Mom about what to do or not do. I’m at my desk in another part of the house trying to work but I’m keeping an ear on the conversation. Apparently when Mom tried to gently dissuade the friend from extending her visit several more days, the friend wanted to know why. Mom, gently at first, tried to remind B. about how stressed she gets during the visits and how that impacts everyone. When our friend kept pressing the issue, Mom finally got specific. She reminded B about how B yelled when Mom was driving, almost causing an accident. This happened more than once. There were other instances but the impact was B got upset and Mom thought the line went dead.

This is where things got really dicey. I went in to check on Mom and Mom thought she had hung up the phone since it appeared the line was dead — actually, we both figured B had hung up. So we talked about the situation. We weren’t mean, far from it, but we were honest. Unfortunately, Mom hadn’t hit the off button and B hadn’t hung up. Instead, she was listening in on everything we said. Now, the good news is she is hard of hearing so I know she didn’t hear most of what went on. However, she heard, or thought she heard, enough to make her believe we didn’t want her.

Cue the Keystone Cops. My last comment to Mom before realizing the line was still open was that she needed to give B time to calm down and if we hadn’t heard back from her by afternoon, Mom needed to call. Then we realized the line was open. Mom tried to re-establish the conversation. B cut in and out — nothing unusual. Her phone service sucks — and then hung up. Six or seven attempts on her part and two on Mom’s to get a good connection, and they are talking again.

Of course, I’m the bad guy because of what she thought she’d heard me say. Now — and this is the really scary part — she is thinking about driving here from several states away. She won’t drive much outside her own neighborhood and she is thinking about driving close to 1000 miles. Color me petrified. But at least she is not going to do it this winter. She is thinking about doing it this summer.

Now, as Mom pointed out, she may call tomorrow and give us her flight information for next month. I doubt it. I also doubt that she will come in the summer. There will be diminishing phone calls between her and my mother and I hate that. Even though she gets frustrated with B, they have been friends for more than 50 years. To lose her to this disease is hard enough. To lose her because of ego combined with the disease is even worse.

Somehow, I will figure out a way to make Christmas, our first without my son since he is overseas, memorable. I don’t want Mom mourning for her friend, at least not too much. But the death of a friendship, no matter what the means, is hard. Knowing it is because of a damned disease we can do nothing about is worse.

So this is what is on my mind today. I can’t motivate myself right now to do the sort of promotion I should be doing for Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2). So I’ll just ask you to consider picking up a copy if you liked Vengeance from Ashes or if you like space opera or military sf. Maybe I’ll be back later today with a real promo post. Right now, I just want to have a little cry and then figure out how to help my mother deal with what happened.
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