Nocturnal Lives

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

Tag: NaNo

A Few More NaNo Thoughts

Well, NaNoWriMo is now three days old. It has been interesting to read the comments of writers around the interwebs as they struggle to decide whether or not to do NaNo this year. I recognize many of the comments because I’ve made them. NaNo isn’t for everyone, at least not in its “official” form. However, I do believe it can help every writer even if for different reasons.

The original purpose for NaNo was, iirc, to prove you could write a novel in a month. Note, that’s “write”. It isn’t to have a publishable novel. It isn’t even to have an edited novel. It is to put out a rough draft. That is something a lot of folks don’t seem to get. Hell, it is one of the things that kept me from doing NaNo for a long time.

Then there is the word count requirement. This is my biggest issue with NaNo. Most writers simply can’t do 50,000 words in a month. At least not consistently. Why? Because they have full-time jobs that don’t include writing a novel. They have families. In other words, they have real lives to take into consideration and, frankly, writing comes after that.

You can probably guess by all that how I look at NaNo. It is a tool to keep me on track. It isn’t all that different from what I do during the rest of the year. Normally, I don’t try to hit the 50k mark during NaNo. The reasons vary but usually because I’m mid-book when NaNo hits. The spirit of NaNo is that you work on only one title to get the 50k words.

Well, that’s a rule I’m going to break this year. Why? Because, as usual, I’m mid-book. I will finish Dagger and then get started on Victory from Ashes. In between will be a short story or novella as well. So, I’ll probably get the 50k words but they won’t all be on one novel. If the gods of NaNo don’t like it, screw ’em. I’m writing and that’s what it is all about.

What I don’t want to do is discourage writers who aren’t taking part in NaNo — and, yes, I do see some of those who are doing it criticizing those who are. Of course, conversely, there are those writers who aren’t taking part who come across as oh-so-superior in their condemnation of the process. To each his own but what everyone needs to remember is that each person’s process is different. If NaNo helps, even if you adapt it to suit your writing needs, then run with it. Take what you learn from the process and apply it once NaNo is over.

Even if you aren’t doing NaNo officially, why not make a monthly goal and track it? For those of you who are having trouble getting a new project started, don’t sweat it. Challenge yourselves to simply write for five minutes every day (or whatever you think best fits your schedule). No word count. No requirement that you write on a work in progress. The only thing you have to do is write. One of the things that helps me most when I’m in that position — something that happens too often for my peace of mind — is to free write. Just sit down at my desk and write whatever comes into my head for ten minutes. I do it longhand, pen and paper. It really does seem to open the creative channels after a few days.

Okay, so for accountability — and I promise, I’m not going to blog about NaNo every day this month — I wrote 3527 words yesterday. It was actually more because I spent the morning working on inputting character descriptions, setting notes, etc. In other words, building a story bible. Today, I’m running behind because I have yet to start the “work day”. But that will happen soon.

For those of you doing NaNo, good luck. For those who aren’t, set your own goals and do your best to meet them. You have stories to write, stories I want to read.

NaNo, work to come and Cyber Monday

That sound you heard this morning was the sound of numerous writers heaving a sigh of relief because NaNoWriMo is over. Some met their goals and others didn’t. But the stress of trying to do 59k words in one month is gone and it is time to move on. That means some will shove their NaNo projects under the bed, possibly never to see the light of day again. Others will take those projects and try to clean them up and fill them out until they are ready for publication. Yet others will be setting their NaNo projects aside for a bit while they go back and finish what they’d been working on before NaNo began.

For me, it’s a bit of the latter two options. I am only about 20k words from finishing Slay Bells Ring. That was supposed to be the NaNo project this year. Of course, me being me, I had to stop and write about 15k words or so on Skeletons in the Closet because that damned Lexie wouldn’t shut up. Then I had to finish Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2) and get it out — which included doing a re-edit of it because I trusted a new editor who fell down on the job. Many thanks to CS who stepped in and did a quick edit for me to help catch what I missed after learning of the problem.

All in all, I still managed to write more than 50k words last month. So I met my goal, sort of. I had wanted to finish Slay Bells Ring. Now, hopefully, I will have it done by the end of the week and back from a reliable editor in time to put it up around the 15th of this month.

So, what’s next in the hopper?

That’s exactly what I asked myself last night. What I came up with scares the crap out of me because, well, I am finally admitting that I am a writer and most of my income comes from writing. That means I can’t relax too long between projects. But there is another factor I’ve taken into consideration as well: sales across the board pick up whenever I bring out a new book. That’s especially true now that I link to all my books in the back matter and not just those by that particular pen name. A good example of this is Duty from Ashes. I released it on the 19th, iirc. Since then, all my sales have increased and the sales for Vengeance from Ashes just about doubled over the previous month. So, I need to make sure I have something new coming out every other month. I’d like it to be more often but I don’t see that happening.

Anyway, here’s the tentative schedule for the next year:

  • Slay Bells Ring – Dec. 15th
  • Boxed set of Hunted, Hunter’s Duty and Hunter’s Home — Dec. 15th (still not quite sure about this but need to put it here to consider.)
  • Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives book 4) – late Feb/early March 2015
  • Honor and Duty novella (prequel to Vengeance from Ashes) Spring 2015
  • Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty book 3) — May/June 2015
  • Skeletons in the Closet — Summer 2015
  • Nocturnal Lives novella — October 2015 (Jael’s story)

Somewhere in there, I need to do at least a novella in the Hunter’s Moon universe as well. Does anyone have a cloning machine? I do like to sleep on occasion. It is an ambitious schedule but I already have the plot for Nocturnal Challenge down and I’ve been fighting to keep from dropping everything to write it. The Honor and Duty novella may be shoved back until Fall and that is sort of my reserve option right now. Skeletons in the Closet is going to be a short novel — more than a novella but not much. That, too, has already dictated the plot to me. So it will be a matter of just sitting down and writing it. Jael’s story isn’t one I’d planned on writing but it hit me last night and now I can’t wait to get to it. It will help explain one aspect of the Nocturnal Lives universe that I haven’t explored much to date.

The only title I don’t have completely mapped out right now is Honor from Ashes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know the basic plot. It will wrap up the major plot threads from the first two books but, right now at least, it looks like it will also lead into at least one or two more books. That said, I don’t plan on this series to go on forever. I’m looking forward to playing with other characters in the universe and see where their stories take me.

Now, since it is Cyber Monday, here’s the obligatory pitch. Right now I have three series out. Here are the links to the first books in each series as well as the link to Duty from Ashes, my latest publication.

Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1)

nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewSome things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

 

 

HuntedHunted (Hunter’s Moon Book 1)
written under pen name Ellie Ferguson

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what.

Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous

 

 


coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty)
written under the pen name of Sam Schall

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)
written under the pen name of Sam Schall

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?

 

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?

The Other NaNo Project

Before I get to the other NaNo project, I filled in for Sarah over at Mad Genius Club this morning. You can check it out here.

Now, I’ve been snippeting from the story that wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m still working on it, but have told it that it will NOT be finished by the end of the month. Editing one book and writing another during NaNo is quite enough, thank you very much. It, on the other hand, has been trying to tell me that popcorn kittens are fun and need to be loved and played with. Sigh.

Anyway, the “real” NaNo project is a novel I started and discarded a couple of years ago. Part of the problem was that I really didn’t want to get into the romantic suspense genre. I already had one book out in it and that book had driven me crazy. The main character was chatty and more than a bit of a ditz, although not (imo) too dumb to live. But the real reason was I was still operating under the old rules, as I perceived them, of publishing. You just didn’t genre hop until you had an audience established. Since I didn’t want to focus just then on the rom-sus genre, I focused on what I enjoyed writing — urban fantasy.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I’ve realized that I can and should write whatever I want to. Or whatever speaks the loudest to me. Yes, I use open pen names for the rom-sus, PNR and science fiction. That’s mainly so those who read the urban fantasy aren’t surprised if they pick up one of the other series.

Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of saying that I am back to working on the original NaNo project. It has morphed from what it started out as. There may be some cross-over with the characters from Wedding Bell Blues, but that’s not a given yet. What I do know is that this is going to be the first in a series of novellas and novels built around the holidays. The first realization I had of this change in plans was when the novel presented its new title to me: Slay Bells Ring.

Yep, “Slay” Bells Ring.

Help me. Please. I’ve been taken over by my pen name and I may not survive.  😉

And, here is the beginning Slay Bells Ring.

(For NaNo accounting purposes, the word count on this now stands at 22,253 words.)

***

Welcome to beautiful Mossy Creek!

I stared at the green and white sign, my stomach a knot of tension. Once I drove past, I’d be caught. There would be no turning back. But it wasn’t too late, not yet. I could still turn around and drive as far and as fast as possible from the small town where I’d grown up. I’d done it before. I could do it again.

Unfortunately, circumstances changed and I had grown up. That meant running didn’t come as easily as it once had.

My fingers drummed against the Mustang’s steering wheel and shook my head. Twelve years ago, I’d left Mossy Creek to attend college. I’d sworn then that I’d never return, at least not for more than a day or two at a time. There had been more to it than a high school graduate’s desire to strike out on her own. God, there had been so much more. Even then, I knew I needed to get away from the watchful eye of my parent – note the singular.

The truth was I needed to get away or I’d be forever lost in my mother’s shadow, and believe me, my mother casts a very wide shadow, at least metaphorically speaking.

So I’d worked hard all through high school, making sure my grades were the best they could be. I knew I’d have to get a scholarship out of state because Catherine Eugenia Metzger Grissom Anderson Carlisle had her mind set on me attending the University of Texas at Austin, THE university, and joining the Pi Beta Phi sorority is her legacy. After all, I had a duty to keep up the family tradition, didn’t I?

The only problem with that was the tradition began and ended with Mama. Not that it stopped her from trying to force the issue.

Fortunately for everyone concerned, she hadn’t been able to get my scholarship to the University of Maryland revoked. Believe me, she tried. World War III, should it ever happen, will look mild in comparison to the arguments we had those last few months before I left town. It got so bad toward the end that I’d been tempted to accept a scholarship to Texas A&M just to see the look on her face when I told her that her only daughter was going to attend UT’s most hated rival other than the University of Oklahoma. The only reason I hadn’t done just that was the simple fact that College Station was much too close to home for comfort.

Well, that and the fact that Sam Caldwell would be there, but that’s another story, one I’d closed the book on long ago.

So I packed my bags and bade a not so fond farewell to Mossy Creek, bound for College Park, Maryland instead of College Station, Texas, ready for my life to begin.

Only to find myself just shy of my thirtieth birthday staring at the city limit sign marking the edge of Mossy Creek and wondering if I could just turn around and drive off, never looking back. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t ignore this latest summons home, not if I wanted to be able to live with myself.

The sooner I slid the transmission into drive, the sooner I find out what was going on. Life would have been so much simpler if I hadn’t answered the phone that morning.


Chapter One

“Juliana, you have to come home.”

My heart stopped. No one called me Juliana anymore. Heck, no one had called me that since I was little girl. Growing up, I’d been Anne or Annie – usually Annie, at least at school. I’m still surprised that alone hadn’t landed me in therapy for the rest of my life. Try growing up in a small town as a girl with curly red hair who also happens to have a twin brother named Andrew and who, back then, was called Andy. Is it any wonder the two of us have more than a few mother issues?

Now that I’m grown, when someone calls me by my full name, I know there’s trouble. When it’s my grandmother, I know it’s bad trouble. That’s doubly true when the call comes in before six AM on a Monday just a few weeks before Christmas. The last time I’d received such a call, my grandfather had suffered a stroke. He died before I could get home.

God, what had happened now?

“What’s wrong?”

I sat at the kitchen table and looked longingly at the coffeemaker. I had just pressed the brew button when the phone rang. Instinct had me reaching for the receiver almost before my brain registered what I was doing. It didn’t matter that I’d just come off a three week capital murder trial.  If one of Austin’s movers and shakers – or, more likely, one of their kids – had managed to run afoul of the capital’s finest, there was a good chance I’d be called out to get the little darling out of jail. I’d have preferred it to this.

“Gran?” I prompted when she didn’t immediately respond.

“It’s your mother.”

What started as a general sense of dread flared and I fought down the panic that replaced it. “Is she all right?”

“Oh God, Annie, I don’t know.”

I relaxed a little. If she was back to calling me Annie, things couldn’t be too bad. Could they?

“Just tell me what’s happened, Gran.”

“Annie, she’s been arrested.”

I swear I moved to receiver away from my ear and stared at it, halfway expecting to find it had changed into a banana or something. It certainly couldn’t be a telephone and I most definitely couldn’t have heard correctly. There was no way, absolutely no way in the world that my oh-so-proper mother could have been arrested.

“Say again.”

“Your mother’s been arrested.”

“Why?”

I couldn’t fathom it. My mother’s no saint, but she certainly isn’t the sort who goes around getting into legal trouble. Man trouble? You bet. Butt heads with the family? Absolutely. She’d make that into an Olympic event if she could. But she had never done anything more serious than get a speeding ticket. The only possible explanation I could think of that would explain why she might have been arrested was that she’d had too much to drink and had been picked up for DWI. That wouldn’t surprise me, not with not with Mama’s love for a good cabernet and the current push across the state to get drunk drivers off the road. But even that didn’t feel right.

“Annie, it’s bad.” Gran choked back a sob and I waited, doing my best not to yell at her to get to the point. “Drew just called to tell me.”

Drew? Why hadn’t my twin called me?

I got to my feet and, taking the receiver with me, hurried back to my bedroom. I had to do something. I’m never my best in the morning, but dropping something like this on me before coffee and then not getting to the point. . . .

“Annie, they’re saying your mama killed Spud Buchanan.”

“What?”

I must have heard wrong. For one thing, if my mother ever decided she wanted anyone dead, she’d find someone to do the deed for her. She’d never risk getting her hands, or her designer clothes, dirty. For another, she was smart enough not to get caught, at least not by the local cops. Okay, my brother might be a member of the Mossy Creek Police Department, but they were still small town cops. Unless they caught someone standing over the body with the smoking gun or dripping knife in her hands, they’d be hard-pressed to make a case without help from an outside agency.

“They’ve charged your Mama would Spud Buchanan’s murder,” Gran repeated. “From what Drew told me, they found her dressed in her nightie, standing over his body.”

The world came to a screeching halt. There was only one explanation for what was happening. I had fallen down the rabbit hole and into some warped alternate reality. It wouldn’t be long before the Cheshire Cat showed up, followed shortly by the Queen of Hearts demanding my head.

“Back up, Gran, and tell me everything. They found Mama in her nightgown, standing over the body? Where?”

“At Spud’s house.”

I hadn’t fallen down the rabbit hole. This wasn’t even an alternate reality. There couldn’t be one warped enough that my mother would be sleeping with her worst enemy. No, some sort of bizarre cosmic ray had bombarded the Earth as I slept and transformed Mama into a black widow in human form. Mate and then kill. At least that would make some sort of sick sense given the history between her and Spud.

“Gran, I’m not trying to be dense here –” Or maybe I was. I hadn’t had my coffee yet, after all – “But are you telling me Mama has been sleeping with Spud Buchanan?”

“I don’t know, Annie. All I know is what Drew told me. The police received a disturbance call from one of Spud’s neighbors. When they got there, they found him dead and your mama standing over him. They arrested her and took her to jail.”

God, it just kept getting worse and worse. If this was a nightmare, I was ready to wake up.

“Please tell me she called an attorney.”

“Honey, this is your mama. She doesn’t think she needs an attorney.”

Crap.

That was just like my mother. She would firmly believe that her social standing and connections would see her through this.

“All right. Get one of the local attorneys over to the jail. I don’t care what you have to do to do it or how much it costs. I’ll foot the bill. Just make sure Mama doesn’t say anything to the cops. That includes Drew.” I opened my closet door and tossed a pair of jeans and a T-shirt onto the bed. Then I stopped, thinking hard. I might not be expected at work today but I was tomorrow. No way would this mess be cleared up by then. So I’d need to talk with the office, make arrangements for my docket to be covered for the next few days. Hopefully that would be enough time to take care of this latest mess Mama had gotten herself into. “I’ll get home as soon as I can, Gran, but it won’t be before noon at the earliest. Call my cell if anything else happens.”

“Thank you, Annie. I know I’m asking a lot.”

“Gran, you didn’t ask. Besides, she’s my mom. Of course I’m going to come home.”

“Come by the house when you get here.”

“All right.” I ran a hand over my face. Maybe I’d wake up and find this at all been a bad dream. After all, I had had that three day old Chinese take-out just before going to bed. That could be the reason for all this, right? “What else did Drew have to say?”

“Nothing. No, that’s not quite right. He said he had to get off the line before the DA realized he’d called me.”

That sounded ominous, but I didn’t give it much thought, not then at any rate. I knew from personal experience that most DAs wouldn’t appreciate a cop calling the suspect’s family and it wouldn’t help that the cop was part of the family as well. Hell, I’d lay into any cop working one of my cases who did that. “Try not to worry, Gran. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Be careful, Annie.” She paused and I waited. “Thank you.”

“No need, Gran. Now go find Mom an attorney. I’ll call you once I’m on the road.”

 *     *     *

That had been six hours ago. I’d spent in the next several hours rearranging my court schedule and getting other members of the office to cover for me. Then there’d been the call to my boss, the elected District Attorney for Travis County. I knew before I called what the ultimate result would be. David Carlton-Hughes had one cardinal rule: nothing took precedence over the job. As far as he was concerned, because I was leaving town without advance notice, he could no longer count on me. Funny thing is, hard as I’d worked to move up in the professional ladder, the news about Mama put things into perspective. Family would always take precedence over work. It had to. I’d miss the friends I’d made there but I wouldn’t miss the politics or the grind.

With a sense of something very near freedom, I had finally climbed into my car and started the drive from Austin to Mossy Creek, a hole-in-the-wall halfway between Dallas and the Oklahoma border.

And, for once, luck had been with me. Despite speeding – nothing new for me – no flashing red lights had appeared in my rearview mirror. Hopefully that was a good sign. So why did it feel like this was just the calm before the storm?

So here I sat, staring at the sign welcoming everyone to beautiful Mossy Creek as the traffic reporter on the radio talked about how bad the traffic was, especially for a Monday.

Have I said how badly I hate Mondays?

NaNo Day 7

Writing was sporadic yesterday and will be for the next couple of days. Yes, I did hit the goal of 2k words for the day but most of it went into Monday Morning Blues, the novel I have to finish by the end of the month, instead of Skeletons in the Closet. Actual word count for the day was 2,107 words. So I guess I can’t complain too much — except that it is about half of what I wanted to do.

So here’s how it broke down yesterday. I did 382 words on Skeleton. I think the problem is that the scene I’m writing right now doesn’t ring right, not that anything about the story “rings right”. At least it doesn’t when compared with other things I’ve written before.

The rest of the word count went into MBB. That one is progressing nicely and I should have no problem finishing it by the end of the month. Yes, it will be a short novel, somewhere around the 70 – 80k words area.

So, because I didn’t get a complete scene done in Skeletons, no snippet today. Maybe tomorrow.

Now for the mandatory promo.  Duty from Ashes is now available for pre-order on Amazon. You can check it out here.

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?

NaNoWriMo update and something more

Yesterday was spent mainly fighting a migraine. Between the weather change, allergies, tension and who knows what else, the head hurt badly enough to lay me mow most of the day. Even so, I did manage to get some writing done. Surprisingly enough, I managed to work on both Skeletons in the Closet (you can find the first snippet of it here) and on Monday Morning Blues. But no editing happened. All tolled, I managed a little over 5,000 words. That’s pretty good but not what I was hoping for. Hopefully, today will be better.

The good news is that Duty from Ashes does seem to be doing pretty well in the pre-order department. If you like military sci-fi and space opera, I’d appreciate it if you’d consider giving it a try.

I think what I’m going to do is post what I write for NaNo here, at least the first few chapters or so. We’ll see how it goes. That means you’ll be seeing the very rough, just input without any editing version of the project. So there will be problems with spelling, the occasional word choice, grammar and punctuation — the general sort of thing that gets cleaned up during the editorial process. Of course, everything here is copyrighted 2014 by me and all legal disclaimers apply. Don’t make me send the Demon Kitten after you  😉

Skeletons in the Closet – Snippet 2

“Mama, I swear to you, I didn’t anything,” Patty whined.  Of course Patty always whined.  Except when she tried to sound sultry for whoever was the boyfriend of the day.  “I was coming out of Paulson’s Drugstore and that old woman almost ran into me.  All I said was, ‘excuse me,’ and she stared at me, Mama.  I know she was putting a curse on me.”

That was all Mama needed to forget Patty was more than an hour late coming home from school.  Nor did she notice the makeup Patty wore, makeup she hadn’t had on when she left for school that morning.  Makeup she wasn’t supposed to own, let alone wear.  I’d have bet almost anything that Patty was making it all up, just so she wouldn’t get in trouble.

Mama threw on her white sweater with its fake pearls, grabbed her handbag and marched out of the house, determined to find the town’s resident witch and have it out with her once and for all.

Now don’t go getting me wrong.  I’m not completely sure Old Serena’s a real witch.  She might be a voodoo priestess or a well-disguised BEM (that’s a bug-eyed monster for those of you who didn’t grow up on the old sci-fi movies like I did).  All I know for certain is that my mama made the mistake of getting in Serena Duchamp’s face that day and life has never been the same.

Of course, Mama hadn’t left Perfect Patty and me at home when she’d gone on her quest to defend her eldest daughter.  No, she’d piled us in her old sedan and off we’d gone, driving the streets of Misty Creek – not as daunting as it sounds.  It isn’t that big of a town – until we found Old Serena.

The moment Mama saw her coming out of the market, she’d slammed on the brakes and parked the car right there in the middle of the road.  Before Patty or I knew what was happening, she’d dragged us out after her, marching us down the street toward Old Serena as surely as she’d marched us down the aisle at church for our first communions.

“Serena Duchamp, I have a bone to pick with you!” Mama called.  “What’s this I hear about you giving my Patty the evil eye?  I’ll have the law on you if you don’t take it back.”

“Becca Smithson,” Old Serena began, her dark eyes narrowed to slits and a bony finger pointing at Mama’s nose.  “You ought to know better than to go threatening Old Serena.  Haven’t I been keeping your secrets safe all these many years?”

Mama sputtered and drew herself up to all of her five feet, two inches.  Her thin body shook and her head stuck out forward on her neck and I suddenly realized just how much like a barnyard chicken she looked.  Nervous, clucking and trying to bully everyone around her. . . .

Well, Old Serena was having none of it.  Instead of cowering like most folk would, she turned to Patty, jabbing a finger in her direction.  Patty might be many things, but brave she’s not.  Her blue eyes went wide and she quickly hid behind our mother’s skirts, just like she was three years old, not fifteen.

“Mama, see!  She’s trying to put the evil eye on me again!”

I’ll admit, the look in Old Serena’s eyes was anything but kind.  But I didn’t think she’d try the evil eye here, in the middle of Main Street.  Would she?

“Becca Smithson, you and that chit of a daughter of yours have done gone and insulted Old Serena.  You’d best be apologizing before I decide to take offense.”

Most folks living in Misty Creek know better than to upset Old Serena.  Word around town was that she’d been there almost as long as the town itself.  Now, even at eleven, I knew that probably wasn’t true.  No one, no matter how mean they might be, lived to be nearly two hundred even if, like Serena, they looked that old.  Still, it never hurt to be careful.

Unfortunately, my mama wasn’t “most folk”.  No indeed.  In fact, faced with Old Serena’s anger, Mama proceeded to act all high and mighty – which was mighty funny considering we did not live on the right side of the tracks.  Never had and probably never would.  Not that that had ever stopped Mama from putting on airs.

“Serena Duchamp, not only will my Patty Ann not apologize to you, but you’ll apologize to her or I swear I’ll talk to Sheriff Metzinger.  You can’t be going around threatening our youngsters just because it suits you.”

I swear, in that moment, the world stood still.  The birds stopped singing. Traffic, what little there is in Misty Creek, came to a standstill. The few folks on the street seemed to magically disappear, only to reappear not only far down the street but on the opposite side as well.  They knew, as my mama should have, that you just don’t threaten Old Serena.  Not if you want to continue living a peaceful life.

Old Serena, her features granite hard, pointed the first two fingers of her right hand at my mama, almost as if each was aiming at one of Mama’s eyes.  Her lips moved and soft words emerged.  I couldn’t hear them, not really.  But I swear I saw a black cloud settle over both Mama and Perfect Patty.  Now, all these years later, I try to convince myself I imagined it.  But then those skeletons in the closet start raising a ruckus and I have to wonder.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mama, pale as ice, her hands so cold you’d have thought she must be suffering from frostbite, grabbed Patty and me by the arm and dragged us off.  The moment we were safe in the car, the doors shut and locked behind us, she made the sign of the cross.  This always struck me as strange since Mama is a died-in-the-wool Southern Baptist.  Just then, however, it seemed like a pretty good idea and both Patty and I did the same.

By the time we got home, Mama had gotten over her fear and was in a fine temper.  She railed on poor Papa, demanding he do something.  After all, if he loved her and Patty, he’d stand up for them and make that old witch pay.  Nothing Papa said made any difference.  The only way there’d be peace in the house would be if he had it out with Old Serena.

So, promising Mama he’d take care of it, Papa told me to get into the pickup.  Why I had to go, I didn’t know.  Frankly, I didn’t care.  The last thing I wanted was to see Old Serena again so soon.  But I could tell this wasn’t the time to say anything.  Besides, with Mama in one of her moods, it was probably safer to face Old Serena than to stay home.

Papa surprised me that afternoon.  Instead of going to confront Old Serena and demand not only an apology but also a jar of her finest honey – she did have a way with the bees no one could duplicate – he took me to the Custer farm.  There he bought two of their finest hens.  We made another stop at Crandalls’ Smokehouse.  Soon we were on our way to Old Serena’s the hens and a large smoked ham in the bed of the pickup.  We were, according to my papa, going to “make amends”.

Mind you, Old Serena never was and never will be that mad old woman you see in the movies.  Unless you upset her, she looked like y our favorite aunt or teacher – your very old favorite aunt or teacher.  Nor did she live in some tumbled down shack at the back of a swamp.  For one thing, there aren’t any swamps anywhere near Misty Creek.  For another, Old Serena comes from old money.  Her house sat at the edge of town and consisted of almost 200 acres of pasture land.  And the only sacrifice those hens in the back of our pickup weren’t about to be sacrificed, not unless you call frying them up for dinner sacrificing them.

Papa drove our battered truck down the tree-lined drive and parked.  Before he switched off the engine, the double white doors opened and there stood Old Serena, a smile on her face.

“Welcome, Jacob, and you too, Lexie.”  She took Papa’s hands and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you, ma’am.”  My father’s always been a man of few words.  That’s especially true when having to deal with trouble Mama’s caused.  “Lexie and I brought you some nice hens and a real fine smoked ham, Miss Serena.  We hope you’ll accept them and our apologies for the unpleasantness this afternoon.”

“Why thank you, Jacob.”  She peered into the bed of the truck and smiled even wider.  “You and Lexie have always been real good to me, just like your dear mama.  The two of you have nothing to apologize for.”

“My mama remembers all you and yours have done for us, ma’am, unlike some other members of my family.  I truly am sorry for how they’ve behaved.”

“Your mama’s a good woman, Jacob, and she raised you right.”  She looked at me, her head cocked to one side, her expression thoughtful.  I fought the urge to fidget under that intense gaze.   “And you, young miss, you remind me very much of your grandma.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”  I beamed.  As far as I was concerned, there’s no higher praise than being like my granny, the woman whose name I bore.

“Lexie, you be sure to tell her not to worry.  I know she’s been doing poorly.  But she’ll be around for a long time, making sure certain members of your family don’t cause too much trouble.”  Now Old Serena smiled and a cold chill ran through me.  “In fact, I’d say certain members of your family will be hanging around much longer than expected just to be sure Becca and those two brats of her – ” another smile and I knew she didn’t mean me – “don’t cause you and your papa here any trouble.”

Papa thanked Old Serena – what else could he do – unleaded the chickens and ham and off we went.  Mama’s anger was terrible that night as she called him all kinds of names for not being a man and doing as he was told.  He’d simply sat there.  I’d be tempted to say he ignored her, except there’d been a strange little smile on his lips.  It was as if he knew something was going to happen and couldn’t wait to see it.

Old Serena had been right about one thing.  My grandma was “doing poorly”.  She had been for a long time and nothing the doctors did seemed to help.  We all knew it was only a matter of time before Granny passed.  I’d hoped Old Serena was right when she said Granny would be around for a long time, but I didn’t believe.  Young as I was, I knew Death would soon come for her.

Two weeks later, Granny passed.  Mama tried not to show how glad she was that Granny was finally gone, but I knew.  She’d never liked Granny.  She was always saying how Granny never thought she was good enough for my papa and how Granny was always trying to run their lives.  It wasn’t true, but it had been Mama’s mantra for so many years she actually believed it.

My mama might not have liked my granny, but the church ladies sure did and they came out in force to make sure everything was perfect for the funeral.  More food than I’d ever seen filled the tables of the meeting hall and practically the whole town turned out for the service.  After we watched her coffin be lowered into the ground, Brother Billy invited everyone back to the church for lunch.  For a few hours at least, I was able to listen to those who’d known my granny best talk about her and share their memories of their old friend.

That night, missing Granny more and more with each passing minute, I did my best to ignore Bubba’s teasing and Perfect Patty’s demands for more of the chocolate cake Mama brought home from the church.  My feet felt like they weighed a million pounds as I slowly climbed the narrow stairs to my bedroom.  The house felt so empty without Granny and nothing would ever be the same.  Gone was my protector and the one person besides Papa I knew I could always rely upon.

With Barney Bear in my arms, I cried myself to sleep.

And woke early the next morning to the sounds of someone moving around in the kitchen below my bedroom.  For a moment, it was as though the clock had rolled back more than a year.  Until Granny’s stroke, every morning started with her in the kitchen, busy cooking our breakfasts and getting bread on to bake.  Mama used to complain about it, saying how it was just another way Granny kept her from being the “woman of the house”.  Of course, she really complained once Granny got sick and couldn’t do it any longer.  Mama cooking breakfast lasted all of a week before she decided it was time for us kids to feed ourselves.

A smile touched my lips as the good memories temporarily kept the sadness at bay.  I lay there, listening to the clank of the iron skillet as it was placed on the stove. The sounds of a spoon striking the sides of a mixing bowl as eggs were beaten followed.  Soon, the tantalizing smell of bacon frying made its way upstairs.  A door opened.  Impatient steps, the unmistakable clip-clop of my mother’s mules, on the staircase.  A scream!

Mama’s scream.

The wooden floor was cold under my bare feet.  Somehow, I’d gotten out of my bed and stood in the hallway outside my room.  Bubba and Patty stood in their doorways, looking like scared little mice.  Papa raced downstairs, his old plaid robe flapping, his feet bare.

Mama screeched again and I rushed downstairs, just ahead of Bubba and Patty.  Papa stood in the doorway, shaking his head, a look on his face I couldn’t identify.  Mama stood a few feet away, hands over her face and shaking like a leaf.  And there, at the stove just as she’d been almost every day of my life, stood my granny.  She wore her best dress, the one we’d buried her in.  Her snow white hair was mussed a bit.  For once, she was barefoot and I wondered if she’d been buried that way.  That was just wrong.  Why bury someone in their best go-to-church outfit but not their shoes?

“Becca Smithson, quit your caterwauling,” Granny scolded, waving her wooden spoon before her like a wand.  “You’d think you’d never seen me in this kitchen before.”

Mama moved her fingers apart just a fraction.  She opened her an even smaller fraction.  Screeched and hit the floor with a resounding thud.

Granny stood at the stove and shook her head.  No doubt about it, she sure didn’t approve of Mama fainting.  Dead or alive, Granny expected you to behave and dropping to the floor like a felled tree just wasn’t done in her books.

“Jacob, you’d best be picking her up,” Granny said as she turned back to the stove long enough to move the frying pan off the burner.  “And you, Patty Ann.” A glance over her should had Perfect Patty trying to hide behind Bubba, which was really funny considering how he was doing his best to disappear into the wall.  “You can quit that sniveling and set the table.”

“B-b-but you’re dead!” Patty stammered, ignoring Bubba as he tried to free himself from her death grip around his neck.  I guess Patty figured if she couldn’t hide behind him, she’d just try to be as close to a second skin on him as she could.  Not a bad idea really, considering he’d do just about anything to save his skin, especially from one of Granny’s thrashings.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t sit down to eat like civilized folk.”  Granny flipped the crisp strips of bacon onto a paper towel on the countertop next to the stove. “And didn’t Miss Serena tell you all that I’d be around for a long time?”  She pinned each of us with a look we knew meant we’d best be agreeing and nothing else.

That was just the beginning.  No matter what Mama did, Granny was there.  Now I’ll admit, we used more than our fair share of candles, and Granny didn’t quite keep her looks.  Fortunately Mister Perez knew a few renewal tricks.  Once a month or so he’d come out to the house to give Granny her treatments.  After a while, we sort of got used to having her around.  Although Mama never stayed for long in the same room with her, which meant Granny once more reigned supreme over the kitchen.

Now, don’t go thinking things got any easier for Mama.  Since Granny’s return, four more family members have passed on – and come back home to stay.  The first was Uncle Matt, my papa’s older brother.  Uncle Matt had gone out hunting one day with his favorite hound and his favorite beer and, well, he enjoyed his beer a little too much. Mr. Perez did his best, but Uncle Matt will never look the same after taking that shotgun blast to his face.  When he showed up in the kitchen the morning after his funeral, coffee sort of dribbling from what had been his lower lip, Mama had repeated her performance from the morning of Granny’s return and hit the kitchen floor with a thud.

For awhile, the town did look at us kind of strangely.  After all, not everyone has their relatives rising from the graves and taking up residence back at the old homestead.  But no one had any cattle mutilated and no small children disappeared.  There weren’t even any corpses found with their brains missing.  So our friends and neighbors slowly started coming around again, especially once they realized Old Serena was a regular visitor.

This past year, Granny and Uncle Matt have been joined by Aunt Minnie, my second cousin Annabelle and my great-uncle Homer.  When Annabelle, who before she died at the ripe old age of ninety two insisted on wearing pink dresses with lots of lace and bows and wearing enough lilac water you smelled her five minutes before she arrived, appeared at the breakfast table, Bubba simply walked out the door.  He hasn’t been back since.  Not that it’s any great loss, although Mama laments his going.  She’s convinced Patty will be next and that she’ll never see her babies again.  You notice, she has no such concerns about me.  But then, I take too much after Papa’s side of the family, all of whom seem to be taking up residence with us after they pass.

“You’re looking might thoughtful, Lexie,” Granny commented as she poured me a cup of coffee.  “Is something eating at you?”

I smiled, doing my best to ignore the fact it was past time for Mr. Perez to come give her another treatment.  Come to think of it, Uncle Matt’s nose was more crooked than usual and the lilac water wasn’t quite covering the aroma that was Cousin Annabelle.  There were definite downsides to having five walking corpses living – er, residing – with you.  The smell is just one of them.

“Sorry, Granny, just thinking,”

And thinking hard.  Old Serena was due in less than an hour for her weekly game of dominos with Granny.  Uncle Leroy joined them sometimes, if they could convince Papa to sit and play.  I think Papa did it just to get back at Mama.  She’d never liked Leroy and now that he lived in our front closet and refused Mr. Perez’s treatments unless Granny made him, she absolutely detested him.  Of course, the fact his nose had fallen right off and into the gravy boat during Sunday dinner hadn’t helped.  Now Mama mainly took her meals in her room, refusing to eat with the rest of the family except when absolutely necessary.

Not that Granny and the others really at.  Oh, they went through the motions, but it was more habit I think than anything else.  They’re dead, after all, so they don’t need sustenance.  Still, it’s mighty disconcerting sitting at the kitchen table with folks who ought to be six feet under.

They’d passed, but not passed on.

 

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