Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Shorts - Halloween spooky story!

The screams should have stopped us. But for some reason, hearing screams in a graveyard on Halloween night only made us grin at each other like fools.

“Dare ya.” Mark’s eyes were bright, fueled by the line of coke we’d shared at the party. The skeleton paint job on his face made his face disappear into the shadows so that he really did look like the creature he pretended to be.

Another scream reached our ears. “I dunno.” I bit my lip nervously. The wind was howling, whipping my cheap Dracula cape into a frenzy of black nylon. I tasted chemical laced sweetness from the fake blood on my tongue. “Ya think it’s safe? What if it’s some weirdo doing Satanic rituals and crap?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “No way that scream is real. It’s just a CD to scare people. Geez, Jason. It’s Centerville. We haven’t had a murder in this town since my Dad was a kid.” He waited, tapping his foot on the ground. He finally threw up his hands. “Then stay, scaredy-cat. Wait’ll my friends on Facebook find out what a wuss you are.”

He braced himself and climbed the narrow iron bars like the ropes in gym class. With a flip of his hips, he was over, without even hooking his pants on the spiked tops. The moon came out from behind a cloud then and freaky shadows seemed to flow over the ground like mist. They were right behind Mark and he didn’t see them. “Mark! There’s something behind you!”

But the wind was too loud and then full darkness returned. He turned and cupped a hand to his ear but I couldn’t hear his response. He took a step backwards and . . . disappeared.

Another scream sounded and this time it was Mark’s. Crap. Had he fallen into an open grave? I should have run for help. That made perfect sense. What would have made more sense was to bring along a stupid cell phone. But nooo . . . that would spoil the costumes. Damn him anyway. We were going to get grounded for a month if he’d broken a leg.

Getting over the fence wasn’t as easy as Mark made it look. I eased forward slowly, feeling my way along the dark, leaf-covered path, feeling my heart pound and my breath turn to frost into the frigid air. If he was pulling my chain, I was going to kill him myself. “Mark? You okay?”

“Oh, God, Jason. It hurts! It hurts so bad!” I raced forward at that, because he wasn’t kidding. In a few steps, I saw him and bile rose to my throat. He was covered with what looked like invisible people. The ghostly creatures flowed in and out of his skin and with each fly-by, another chunk of flesh was removed. He couldn’t seem to get up. The ghosts were holding him down, leering at him as he screamed and then taking another bite. His wails turned to whimpers and then to rattling moans. I would have run, but I couldn’t because the invisible hands were now pulling me down too. Hands scrabbled and teeth bit until I couldn’t think anymore from the pain that made my vision go red and my mind turn to putty.

The screams should have stopped us. I could only hope it would stop the pair of girls I saw on the road. I hope they sto...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween Hunks! Who's your fav?

Ooo...those supernatural cuties! There's nothing like an otherworldly hero to get the blood pumping. I have to admit that when I was growing up, nothing made my heart beat faster than the first prime-time vamp, Barnabas Collins! He had that whole 'homely-cute' thing going that made me (and millions of other teens and women) swoon.

I admit to a fondness for vampires. Shifters come and go, but those vampires keep me coming back for more.

Of course, no hunk list would be complete without the bad boy we wanted to love to hate (and hate to love): Angel. His first appearance as Angelus on Buffy the Vampire Slayer made me drool!

I know there are a lot of Spike fans out there, but he's not really my thing. Guess I just like those brunettes. :)

A recent favorite is (pitta-pat!) Mick St. John from Moonlight. Yowzers what that guy did in a single season to grab the audience. I was really surprised when the series was canceled. I figured for sure it would last a little longer.

So how about the rest of you? Who's your favorite Halloween hunk? I just love me some bad boy vamps, but who makes you drool?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

History of the Horror Novel

There's nothing like October to make us think of things that go bump in the night. But where did it all start? When did authors start writing books and stories for the sole purpose of scaring the readers?

Books that we would most likely consider horror by today's standards were actually the "women's fiction" of the time. In the late 1700s, women wrote books for a primarily female audience that featured kick-butt heroines (of a sort) fighting off creepy creatures in a gothic setting. Vathek by William Beckford (Arabian woman who is captured by the demented, demonic Vathek and forced to marry him instead of the man she loves--shades of Phantom of the Opera!) came out in 1786 and then a series of other similar works, including The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (lovers trying to escape The Inquisition) followed throughout the rest of the century.

But what contemporary readers consider to be the first "true" horror novel is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Or the Modern Promethesus The first edition was a three book set bound in leather (and a copy sold at auction in 2007 for an estimated $125,000.)

Frankenstein, of course, was a morality play of the 'evils that men do'. But then along came Bram Stoker, who took horror into the supernatural range with Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and H.P. Lovecraft added in ancient, other-worldly evil with his Cthulhu reality.

There was a swelling of the genre when Stephen King's Carrie hit the stands and a thousand other writers from Peter Straub's psychological terror, to Robert Bleiler's grisly, gory slasher stories took center stage.

But then the genre changed. Other genres started stealing pieces of horror's homestead. "Dark Fantasy" was born that complicated the story and added romance, drama and angst. Laurell K. Hamilton was an early addition to this new genre, before it really was a genre. Her first works in the Anita Blake series were actually spine labeled as horror.

Now there's paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark fantasy taking up the space where "horror" used to reside. But I doubt it's done. The pendulum has yet to swing again. What's your favorite horror novel, the one you go back to time and again to raise the hairs on your neck?

And who wants to get back to the old style of horror, where it's just man against . . . well, against things that go bump and scream in the night? Raise your hand. Mine's up! :D

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 5 of "By Any Other Name"

At last, the ending is revealed!


A tentative knock on his office door made Dan raise his head. He smiled as Denise walked in the room. He leaned back in his chair and offered her a seat with a wave. “I hear congratulations are in order. Justin told me the Judge dismissed the Motion to Suppress yesterday.”

“Yeah. Finally, something went right on the case.” She looked down at a piece of paper in her hand. Her expression was somewhere between nervous and excited, but she was having trouble deciding what to say.

He decided to give her the chance to think. “Have the police in Burlington gotten back to you yet?”

Denise sat down on the edge of the wingback chair and smoothed her gray pinstripe skirt over her knees. She nodded. “They caught them checking in at a motel in Pueblo. You were right about the license plates. It had never occurred to me to check to make sure that I had the same plate on the back as on the front. It probably only took her a second to replace my front plate. Unless she got pulled over, and the cop actually examined the car she would be me — my license, my make and model of car, my plate number. Did I tell you that I recognized her the minute they showed me her mug shot?” At his shaking head, she nodded. “She was a grade lower than me in high school and was constantly competing with me, even in stupid little things, like who got in line for lunch.”

She shook her head with small movements that spoke of both frustration and confusion. “All her preparation — getting my birth certificate, social security card, even a duplicate driver’s license. She followed me around, stole things, practiced my signature — that’s a level of something that’s . . . eerie. I might not have ever found out if we hadn’t made the trip.”

“But what was she going to do to you? That’s the part I don’t get.”

Denise shuddered and rubbed her arms as though cold. “The police involuntarily committed her after her first interview. At times, they said she believed she was me. She was rational and clear-headed and gave my history as though she’d lived it. But then she’d flip and claim she wanted to ruin me — my name, my reputation. She wanted people to hate me as much as she did, said I needed to be punished for succeeding, when she couldn’t. She was never very good in school. She had to struggle even to get average grades, and somehow I guess she translated that into being my fault. Steve Lofgren said that the transcript is pretty weird, like she has a split personality. I don’t really care whether she winds up behind bars or in a padded cell, but I hope she’s off the street for a really long time.”

“What about the accomplice? Any story on him?”

She shrugged and tapped the roll of paper on her knee. “He was just in it for the money, I guess. He was using her to kite the checks and I guess he was picking pockets too. Steve said there were a bunch of wallets in the car with them, so they’ve got a pretty good trail of their crimes.”

There was nothing else to say, so Dan just nodded. The telephone on his desk rang right then, but he ignored it. He kept his eyes firmly on Denise, waiting. His intense gaze brought a nervous smile to her face that lasted until the final ring faded. He motioned to the phone with his head. “Is there anything else you want to tell me before I check voice mail?”

She looked down at the rolled paper in her hand and opened it, smoothing it against her skirt to straighten it. “This was the toughest puzzle I’ve ever worked. You threw me by putting in numbers and not showing the length of the words.”

His voice was teasing, and pleased. “You seem to enjoy a challenge. You’re here, so I presume you figured it out.”

Standing up with a raise of one brow and a smirk, she tossed the slightly curled anagram on his desk. “Yes, I did. I thought the roses were beautiful, and I would like to have dinner Friday at seven. I’d like it very much.”


Monday, March 26, 2012

Writing help - creating "voice"

A little while ago, I proposed a YA paranormal series to Tor based on a short story I wrote for them. One of the things my editor mentioned was that I need to plan for a "teen voice" which is apparently different from a Young Adult voice. After asking a number of people what the difference was, I'm thinking it's more a "tween" thing---that murky water between childhood and adulthood, where there are equal thoughts of playing with dolls and dressing like one. LOL!

It doesn't seem that long ago since I swam in those same murky waters, even though I know it has been. But I think I'm stuck in a sort of permanent adolescence because many of the shows I watch on television are tween and teen ones. I actually like a lot of the reality shows. I also like cartoons and nearly anything offered on Disney or Nickelodean. the Fairly Oddparents and Spongebob are just as likely to be on a set in my house as House or NCIS. Fortunately, my husband is more than happy to plop down with a plate of food and watch the Simpsons or Phineas and Ferb. (Yeah, we're sort of weird.) I like Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place and a host of others.

So I guess I'm more confused about how to write "adult" some days. In many ways, being a kid is less complex than being an adult. You get to let some decisions be made by those older and really don't WANT to be the one to make them. I know many adults who didn't have a real childhood (and I don't mean the Michael Jackson sort, but those who were missing a parent or were forced to become the parent for younger siblings.) I've always felt bad when that happens and even though I write angst in teens when I write them, I like them to have some stability, some sense of family that those reading can cling to.

I've had teens tell me they can really relate to my characters and that's probably because I know where they're coming from--even though I don't have any kids of my own. Yes, life has changed and has gotten more complicated for kids now, but it's also gotten easier in some ways. It's pretty evenly balanced from when I was their age.

My "voice" in writing wants me to create kids who struggle with the obligations of being a kid, and are thrust into situations that are scary, but always have someone strong rooting for them in the background (whether an adult family member or sibling or such) and helping them with a hand up out of a mess. Life is hard enough without having nobody to count on. Y'know?

How about you? Did you have a strong adult role model when you were growing up or were you the "adult" in your family? Would you change it if you could? I'm interested to know! :)

(BTW, regarding the YA paranormal? I'm still working on some of the edits they wanted, amongst all the other stuff I'm doing. LOL! Amazing how fast the time slips by.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday shorts - Part 4 of "By Any Other Name"

So, what is going on with Denise? Who's stalking her? More drama in Colorado!


“I wouldn’t believe this if I wasn’t staring at it myself.” Steve Lofgren shook his head as two officers wearing white vinyl gloves carefully bagged and tagged the items in the room. “That woman is the spitting image of you, Ms. Richardson. She even has your voice down pat.”

Denise just nodded, still taking in the sheer number of individual bags covering the bedspread. Her face flowed with so many emotions — anger, confusion, relief and worry. Dan could understand them all. If this had all been happening to him instead, he couldn’t even imagine what he would be thinking.

“So you agree with me that this is more than a simple case of identity theft?” Dan crossed his arms over his chest and then followed Lofgren as he stepped outside into the chilled night air.

Steve’s face glowed red for a moment as he touched a flame to the end of a cigarette and then took a deep pull. “Oh, yeah. I don’t quite know what it is, but the few cases of identity theft I’ve seen are usually just taking someone’s name and social and then getting a job or kiting a few checks. Yeah, those are here too, but this person has been making a real point of wandering around town, making friends and then burning them. Looking back, it feels very planned.”

“So, what do you—” Dan’s question was interrupted by Denise’s startled voice inside the room.

“Wait! Wait, pull that back out for a second!” Steve quickly dropped the cigarette onto the asphalt and ground it into pieces with the toe of his boot. Dan had stepped into the triangle of light from the doorway and watched Denise stare at a large black coffee table style book being held by one of the officers.

She glanced up as Steve entered, with Dan right at his heels. “This is my book.” She motioned for the officer to flip the book over and open the front cover of the volume, entitled Painted Ponies. Inside, Dan could see a bookplate with Denise’s name glued inside the cover. “It’s been missing for nearly a year. I couldn’t find it when I moved into my new place, but I figured it just got misplaced and would turn up. It’s probably got my prints all over it.”

Lofgren nodded. “And hopefully hers right alongside. Thanks, Ms. Richardson. Do you have any idea who this woman might be?”

Denise shook her head and walked to stand next to Dan. “I’ve been thinking about that. My first thought was that it must be someone that I know, but I don’t have any enemies that I’m aware of, so maybe it’s random.”

Steve nodded. “Hawk explained that you’ve got to get back to Vail for court on Monday, but I’d appreciate it if you could stay as long as possible tomorrow. We might want to talk to you again since we don’t have any leads on a vehicle. I’m certain that with all the activity in this room, the woman and her companion have probably already noticed and fled the area. I’ve got a general description out to the state patrol, but maybe we’ll find something in here that will jog your memory.”


Back at the motel, Denise paced in a tight circle in his room — from the door to the dresser and back — around and around with arms crossed. Her face was a study in concentration, from the furrowed brows to the corner of her lower lip tucked between her teeth. Dan sat just out of range of her intense movements in the room’s single cloth-covered chair, watching with amusement. He didn’t know if she’d figure out the answer, but he could tell that the mystery was intriguing her to no end. And she was intriguing him as a result.

When he spoke, it broke her concentration. She bumped into the corner of the bureau and looked up, startled. “This isn’t a puzzle you have to solve, Denise. The police will do their job. There will be fingerprints, DNA samples and probably clues to where they might have gone.” He shrugged. “Maybe you need to back off for a little while, think about something else. Sometimes your subconscious will solve it for you when you’re doing other things.” He crossed his own arms and sighed. “I just wish we’d considered watching the place to see if they showed up before going to the police, though. It would have really helped if we’d been able to provide a vehicle description or a plate number.”

The change in her was abrupt and grabbed his attention. Her jaw dropped and her face went slack, but her green eyes started moving from side to side quickly, as though she was processing something. He knew that look, because he’d been accused of having same one too often by others.

“You’ve thought of something, haven’t you?”

Denise shook her head and smiled at the floor. When she raised her eyes, the smile was all for him. “You’re brilliant! I’ve been pacing back and forth, trying to figure out where the woman might go next, what she might be driving — trying to get into her head. But you just made me realize that I don’t need to think like her. I need to think like me!”

It took a moment, but only a moment, before he understood just what she meant. “She’s trying to live your existence—”

Denise nodded and sat down on the corner of the bed, facing him. “She’s using my looks, my voice, my whole personality. So why wouldn’t she use—”

A chuckle rose from Dan’s chest. “Your car!” He reached for the telephone. “And it might even be easier than that. You already know that she’s following you, taking photos, bits and pieces of your life—” He dialed a familiar number, watching Denise try to follow his train of thought as he dialed too many numbers for the call to be local.

Justin was understandably grumpy due to the hour, and Dan’s request stopped him cold for so long that Dan wondered whether he’d hung up the phone in sheer annoyance. “Justin? Are you still there?”

The young investigator yawned, but his voice sounded thoughtful. “Yeah. Y’know, I don’t know that I’ve ever checked my own plates for that, Dan. It’s just simple enough to make sense. But can this at least wait until morning?”

Dan’s hand tightened on the phone, but he tried to think of it from the other side. “I’ll let your conscience be your guide. How far do you think they could get by then?”

A long pause, and then a sigh. “Fine. I’ll go over there now.” A dark chuckle crept into his voice. “Maybe I’ll wake Barbara and have her go along with me. She keeps complaining we don’t do things together. Driving down and breaking into a business in the middle of the night should be a real bonding experience, don’t you think?”

Dan’s voice held a bit of reproach. “That wasn’t what I had in mind, Justin. It might be easier to just call the owner and ask to be let in, you know. Or drop by the police station and get an escort.”

Justin laughed, and it sounded like old times back in New York. “Hell, Hawk — where’s the fun in that? Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”

His light growl caused a second round of laughter over the phone, but he didn’t know what it meant. “Uh-huh. Well, call me back, regardless of the time, or if you can’t get through, call the police and leave a message for Steve Lofgren. Do you need to write that down?”

Another yawn was followed by a sleepy, “No, I’ve got it. Hotel or Lofgren. I can call information for the number. But I really need to go grab a cola to wake myself up now. I’ll call you back.”

Dan turned to Denise as he hung up the phone. “There’s really no reason for you to stay, if you want to go back to your room and hit the sack. In fact, it might be a good idea. If I’m up all night, you might wind up driving us back to Vail tomorrow.”

Her eyes were shimmering with excitement, and he didn’t think it was because of his idea with the license plates. “I know where she’s going.” At his questioning look, she continued. “Remember what I said about the carousels? There’s one other town in Colorado where I’ve wanted to go. Why wouldn’t she go there too?”

He smiled in return. They were going to have a lot to discuss with the police in the morning.

...[more next week!]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Help - Want to learn to write? Then READ!

I volunteer writing advice on a number of websites. I do it to 'pay it back around' for the help I've gotten over the years from various people. One of the things I've noticed lately is a number of questions about how to get started writing. Now, these aren't questions about how to get published or writing a query or even sticky plot points, but how to start at all.

That leaves me stratching my head a little because the obvious answer is: sit down and start. But I can tell that the question is far deeper than the obvious. The phrasing gives away that the person really has no concept of how a book is created. Every one of them claims to have a great idea for a book, but can't figure out how to transform that idea into actual writing.

Several have asked whether I could recommend a good online or college course. Unfortunately, I have no idea and even after investigation of what's out there, it's nearly impossible to judge whether the teacher is appropriate for the genre the author wants. I've recommended watching for workshops from known authors, but really, it occurred to me that the answer might be much simpler than courses.

I ask if the person READS. Most of them say sure, they read. But often it turns out they don't actually read what they want to write. Nor, I discover, do they actually read for more than simple pleasure.

So, let me state outright that if someone out there reading this wants to write but has no idea how to start, I fully recommend picking up a dozen (yes, a full DOZEN) books in the genre of choice that you want to WRITE---the one that your great idea is pushing you to put down on paper---and READ them.

Read them all fully, cover to cover. Don't give up and toss one or five down as a "don't like." See, someone liked it or it wouldn't be for sale. On the other hand, if you love it, WHY? Is it the characters, or the plot or the world (secondary characters, town/city descriptions, etc.?) If you hate it, likewise: WHY? Where did the author lose you?

Then read them again and this time, take notes. Does the author do something exceptionally well, but other things not so much? Grab some sticky notes and start pasting. Was chapter 2 amazing but then the plot falls apart in chapter 8? What would you do differently? Yep, write it all down. Think about the sentence structure on books you loved. Are the words dark and moody or fast and terrifying (or even beautifully romantic or hilarious?) When did you discover the mystery and how did the author keep it a secret? Or was what was intended to be a mystery completely transparent and it annoyed you? Write it all down. Paste a hundred post-its in the three or four hundred pages.

Do that for a dozen books and you'll suddenly discover how to do it. You'll discover paced plotting and creating rich characters because you'll see it right in front of you. You don't have to know the names for the writing terminology. You'll learn that as you go, just like a lot of us did.

So tell me . . . have you ever read a book for more than just pleasure? If you like to write, have you used other fav authors for research? If you don't write, have you ever thought of a book as more than just a few hour's escape, considered the structure of it? I'm interested to know!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 3 of "By Any Other Name"

Is it seeming to you like there's more between Dan and Denise than the case? Hmm...


They were just finishing dinner when the woman in blue reappeared with a small plate in each hand. She set one down in front of each of them with a flourish.

Dan looked from the heaping strawberry shortcake with whipped cream to the beaming hostess. “Excuse me, I think you’ve made a mistake. We didn’t order dessert. The menu said it didn’t come with the buffet.”

Her look was filled with pleasant conspiracy. She glanced furtively around her and then bent down closer to the table. “Well, just consider this on the house and we won’t mention it to anyone.” She winked at Denise and leaned a bit closer to her. Dan could just make out what she whispered. “This one’s quite the looker. You should keep him real happy.”

Denise flushed furiously and nearly put her hands to her face to hide a mortified expression. Dan really never thought much about his looks, but he couldn’t help but notice the whispers in the court clerk’s office every time he walked through. His dark hair and piercing black eyes above a slightly hooked nose put his ancestry somewhere in central Europe, but he had no idea where. He decided discretion would definitely be the better part of valor in this case so he pretended not to hear.

But she still flinched nervously when he touched her arm on the way out the door. When they finally made it outside, she couldn’t meet his eyes. “I am so sorry about that.”

Dan chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. I’m used to comments like that. Let’s just find your contact and get to the hotel. Did you bring a change of clothes, or should we stop in the little department store across the highway? I know I’d like to get a razor and a toothbrush. I should have followed my gut instinct and brought a bag.”

She smiled, a bit more at ease. “That would be great.”

A few minutes later, as he was waiting at the cash register of the store for Denise, he heard a deep baritone behind him.

“Hey! You’re The Hawk, aren’t you?” Dan turned around and spotted a man walking toward him with his hand held out to shake. His build and the way he carried himself screamed lifer cop, despite his casual clothing.

Dan likewise held out his hand. “That’s me. Dan McGraw. Do I know you?”

If the man was offended, he didn’t show it. He just shook his head. “Nah, I doubt it. I was a beat cop in your district in New York and saw you in court a few times. You were a legend on the street. When a case went to you, we knew another bad guy would be away for a long time. All that time, and not a single appeal succeeded on one of your convictions. Man! Are you working in Colorado now or just visiting?”

Dan chuckled. He did try very hard to only bring charges when there was sufficient evidence. Appeals on points of law weren’t acceptable in his mind and was one reason for his nickname. His appearance was the other. But only Justin had called him Hawk since he’d arrived. He found himself surprised that he sort of missed it. “I’m the D.A. up in Vail now. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you. I probably did meet you— ”

The officer waved it off. “Like I said, I was just one of many. I’m Steve Loftgren.” He stared at something down an aisle and shook his head with a deep frown. Then he bent down a bit closer and lowered his voice. “I probably shouldn’t say anything, since I’m not officially on duty, but I’m really surprised you’re here with Denise Richardson. I’d be careful of her, if I were you. Nobody has anything on her they can prove, but just between us, keep an eye on her. Word at the station is she’s bad news.”

Dan’s brows shot up. While Denise claimed she’d never been here, the waitress’s familiarity did seem odd, and now a cop was calling her by name. Why would Denise lie, and what was she hiding?

It was nearly an hour later when Dan heard a knock on his motel room door. He was just about to call Justin, but softly replaced the receiver and took a single step to look through the peephole. Denise looked furious. Her hands were clutched into tight fists and she was grinding her teeth slightly as he opened the door.

“What’s wrong?” Dan asked.

“They won’t release the evidence,” she said, storming past him into the room. Then she raised a finger in the air. “No, let me correct that — they won’t release the evidence to me. I gave them my license and my employee ID, and the cops wouldn’t trade boxes.” She pulled his keyring from her pocket and dropped it on the table next to the window. “Thanks for letting me use the car, by the way, but apparently, you’ll have to be the one to exchange the boxes.”

Dan stared at her, looking for any chink in the armor of anger and moral outrage, but he couldn’t find any. Until he got some information from Justin, he could only treat her at face value as one of his colleagues and trust her. “Did they give a reason? Why did the police have the evidence anyway? What happened to your contact at the D.A.’s office?”

Her laugh was short and bitter. “So much for confirmations! It’s the opening weekend of pheasant hunting season here, and he forgot he made plans. There’s another broken link for the defense to hammer at. He took the box to the police station with instructions to trade with me, but they wouldn’t. No reasons. The sergeant wouldn’t even come out front. But the dispatcher said he promised to wait for you if you can get over there right away. He’s off tomorrow, and we’ll be sunk for Monday’s hearing without the evidence.”

“Tell you what. Why don’t you relax for a few minutes and I’ll drive over there. I’ll help you go through the evidence when I get back — give you some tips for your first time solo in front of Judge Stone.”

She sighed and the fury seemed to leak out of her, leaving annoyance and weariness behind. “Thanks. I’m probably still too wired about the snub from the police to remember a damned thing right now, but I’ll try to calm down by the time you get back.”

Dan’s visit to the police station left him with more questions than answers, and led him to a pay phone on the side wall of a gas station a block away. The first call had been fruitless, but Justin promised to call back with more information. After half an hour of sitting in the SUV, the pay phone finally rang, but the news wasn’t what he expected to hear.

“Are you absolutely positive, Justin? There’s something really strange going on here.” Dan’s frustration was growing by the second. “There’s nothing in her background search that might place her in this town during the past few years? Shoplifting, check kiting, fraud — those are pretty serious accusations, even without formal charges, to have passed the screen with flying colors.”

Justin’s voice was firm; confident. “I did the original search myself, Hawk. I even called Tom from Human Resources down here to pull her employment file after you talked to the police sergeant. Every date is accounted for with multiple sources. She’s led a completely uneventful life and as far as I can tell, has never been further east than the Denver airport. I don’t know what to tell you. Have you asked her? She’s always been completely up front with me. She wouldn’t react badly to being asked — especially if you were the one doing the asking, if you know what I mean.” Justin’s voice took on a teasing edge that bothered him.

Dan was taken aback and pulled the receiver away from his ear to stare at it. He braced himself angrily against the brick wall of the gas station as the implication finally sunk home. His reply came out through gritted teeth. “No, I don’t know what you mean. Care to explain it to me?”

There was a long pause and Justin’s voice was filled with stammering embarrassment. “You mean she didn’t tell . . . I . . . aw, hell, she’s gonna kill me!” A nervous chuckle found its way over the wire. “But she’ll probably have to wait in line, because the whole office is going to kill me first.”

“The office?” Dan’s first instinct was to raise his voice, so he lowered it instead until it was a baritone growl. “I’m the subject of a betting pool? So this whole trip is a set-up . . .as what? — a blind date? I would have thought this sort of junior high crap was beneath you, Justin.”

Justin’s voice sounded slightly panicked. “No, no. It’s not like that! I swear to you everything I’ve told you is true, Hawk. I did plan to drive her, and the counselor did say it was a bad idea. Yeah, Denise has . . . well, a crush on you but she absolutely does not know anything about the pool. It’s just been so flamingly obvious to the rest of us since you hired on, that we wondered when you’d finally notice. One thing led to another and . . . well, you know it gets out of hand. You started the Tad/Angie pool back in New York, if I remember right. Please, though, for God’s sake, don’t tell Denise. I’m begging you, Dan. She would be humiliated, and she deserves better!”

Dan tapped his fingers on the wall in rapid staccato. Unfortunately, Justin was right about the pool he started several years before. But it was annoying to be on the other side. “We’ll talk about this when I get back. But for now, keep digging and then call me at the hotel if you come up with anything. The point will be moot if she lied on her job credentials.”

On his way back to the motel, while waiting for the light to change at one of the few signals in town, Dan happened to glance sideways. He watched Denise walk out of the office of a small motel right across the street. She didn’t notice him before turning onto a walkway that ran the length of the rooms. He quickly flipped on his blinker and turned into the lot. He slipped out of the vehicle, shut the door quietly with his hip, and shadowed her until she stopped in front of a darkened door.

“Looking for something?” he asked from a foot behind her. She jumped and then held a hand to her chest. The key dropped out of her hand and he picked it up. The room number on the door matched the key ring tag.

“God, don’t do that, Dan!” She took the ring from his hand and took a deep breath at his raised eyebrows and suspicious face. “Okay, I know I should have waited for you to get back, but I am glad you’re here. Maybe you can answer a legal question. Is it considered breaking and entering when you’re opening a door with a key and the room is registered to you?”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “What’s this about, Denise? Why did you rent a second room at a different motel?”

She held up the key until it glinted in the dull yellow beam overhead. “That’s my point. I didn’t rent the room. When you went to pick up the evidence, I stopped by the grocery to get a word search book to calm down. Two different people greeted me by name in the check-out. When I walked the couple of blocks back to the restaurant to have a cup of coffee to ponder that puzzle, the same waitress stopped me and handed me a small stack of receipts she claimed I’d left.” Denise lowered the key and then dug in her pocket with the other hand. She handed him several slips. She pulled one from the pile and held it up to the light. “This is a receipt for this room, signed with what I’d swear was my own signature. The clerk says it was me and, supposedly, I just checked out in a hurry with a tall blond man and said I’d be back to clean out the room before morning. But look at the time on the receipt — we were just passing through Denver when this happened!”

Now fully intrigued, Dan looked at each receipt and compared the times with their schedule. “You’re right. Here’s breakfast from the buffet shortly after we left Vail, and here’s gas at the corner station while we were passing Limon.”

She swung the key on the ring. “So, is it legal to search the room? I want to know what the hell is going on. If we leave it until morning, she’ll already be gone.”

Dan took a deep breath and tapped the stack of receipts against his leg. It was a good question. He shrugged. “Boy, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a charge that would stick, considering the evidence. But let’s knock first, just to be safe.”

“I did that when I got here, but what the heck—” She raised her arm and rapped on the door with closed knuckles. They waited for a few moments but there was no sound inside the room. After a second, harder knock with no response, Denise took a deep breath and pushed the key into the lock.

Wincing at his own stupidity, Dan quickly wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her back firmly, twisting away from the door before she could turn the knob.

He could feel her frantic heartbeat against his chest as he whispered next to her ear. “Just in case someone is expecting us to open that door— let’s not help by painting on the bullseye.” She tensed with sudden understanding and nodded quickly. With both of them standing behind the solid wood of the door jamb, he turned the knob and pushed the door inward quickly.

There were no flashes of light, no explosions of sound or motion. The room remained dark and still. But Dan still used caution when he awkwardly snaked his hand around the wall to flick on the light switch without leaving his protected position.

After a few more moments of tense listening, they finally went in the room and shut the door. Even with the preparation of the receipts and witnesses, it was still a shock to see a black wig styled like Denise’s hair hanging on the corner of the headboard and snapshots of her taped to the mirror. Dan found himself comparing the casual jeans and dress shirt Denise was wearing to the revealing string bikini in one photo. He cleared his throat and quickly turned away before he could remember the scent of her shampoo or the beat of her heart against him.

Denise’s voice filled with horror. “My God! This woman is stalking me! Some of these are from last summer at the pool and this one is at last year’s office Christmas party!” She started to reach for the photo, but then pulled back her hand. “Damn! I should have thought to bring gloves. I don’t want my fingerprints all over this stuff.”

Dan took in all of the boxes and bags, filled with months of careful planning, and sighed. “Actually, I think it’s time to bring in the police. There’s more involved here than simple mistaken identity.”

...[more next week]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing Help - Writing to Proposal

Today I'm thinking about the realities of writing to proposal. For those who have never heard the term, it's when a publisher trusts your ability to write well enough that you don't have to write the book first. Instead, you turn in a proposal---usually consisting of a synopsis and a few chapters. Based on the strength of that, along with previous books they already like, they offer a deal.

This is all a wonderful part of the writing experience. Of course, there are times when it comes crashing head-on like a train in a dark tunnel. Cie and I proposed a new series, an urban fantasy totally unlike our previous worlds. The editor jumped on the idea and poof! We were under contract for the first three books of the Blood Singer series. Like most contracts, the books deadlines are evenly spaced over a year or so. But what happens when the first one (remember it wasn't written when we started) fights you? Such was the case with BLOOD SONG, the first book in the world. We wound up requesting a month extension to finish.

Now, a month, in the scheme of publishing timelines, really isn't all that big a deal. There's "padding" put in the schedule for just such things, from uncooperative muses, to cover artists who likewise juggle multiple projects, to illness of a copy editor or such. But it tends to make everything a little . . . cramped if more than one thing adds to the delay. Soon you have to make choices: do we skip a copy edit and move from style edits to galleys? Do we skip galleys altogether and hope for the best? Do we risk not having ARCs for early reviews?

But then we were faced with the situation where the delays of book one put book TWO behind---having the muse similarly be uncooperative at the same time that other delays were going on as well. But book THREE of that same series was due December 1st, which came faster than you might think, and with the delays of the first two, my esteemed co-author elected to hold her hand out of the wrestling ring. I slapped it like a good partner, and prepared to enter the fray. Instead of Cie being the lead on books one through three with me taking over four through six, she did one and two (Blood Song and Siren Song,) I took over the third and fourth (Demon Song and Isis Collar), and Cie took over five and six (Eldritch Conspiracy and one yet to be named), which put some other projects I'd been planning on hold for a bit. Then everyone took a deep breath with me as all schedules were thrown up in the air like confetti! Woo!

The question is--how do YOU keep up your strength when your schedule becomes confetti because of unexpected (no matter how much fun they are) events? I lean toward a BUNCH of extra walking to keep up my immune system, Emergen-C fizzy drinks every three days--which is far better than daily vitamins, IMO, Nutrajoint every day, and DanActive every other day (yeah, most say every day on the labels, but too many "supplements" have the same ingredients. Never good to overload the system, y'know.)

Oh, and chocolate. Never forget the chocolate! :D

How about you?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 2 of "By Any Other Name"

Will Dan agree to Justin's request? Read on!


“Do you mind if we talk about something other than work for a little while?” Denise’s melodic alto sounded weary and frustrated. “I’m starting to believe the gods of irony are punishing me for something.”

Dan smiled, but kept his eyes on the road. The hours of driving across monotonous prairie landscape was enough to make him want to change subject as well, but curiosity won out. “What do you find ironic? Didn’t you expect your first trial to be . . . well, a trial?”

“This case isn’t the sort of thing they taught in law school. The defense attorneys in mock trials didn’t try to dismiss your case because an officer didn’t check a map to see in which county the car was stopped.”

There wasn’t much he could do other than shrug in agreement. “No, but I’ve seen stranger things. It’s all part of the game. This case is probably the best learning experience you could get this early in your career. Sometimes, I wish my first few cases had been awful. But I wound up with unrealistic expectations because everything dropped neatly into place right out of the gate. That first bad case was a real shock.”

She turned her head and moved her body slightly under the seatbelt so she could look at him. “Really? That’s what I meant by ironic. Everything in my life has been absolutely smooth — the honor roll got me a scholarship and I went straight into a dream job with a D.A. on my first try. But every time I turn around on this stupid, minor drug bust, something goes wrong. I’m constantly terrified that if I step into the bathroom, the whole file will spontaneously burst into flames!”

His light laugh blended nicely with her chuckle and it made him look over at her while they waited at a stop sign at the top of the exit ramp in Burlington. Her hair was so black that it actually had the blue highlights artists add to portraits. Intense green eyes had tiny lines at the edges that said she laughed more than she frowned. He was a little surprised he’d never noticed her in the office before. He knew the name, but when Justin had given him the address to pick her up, he wouldn’t have recognized her if she hadn’t approached him first.

“So besides avoiding bathrooms, what do you do for fun?” He turned onto the overpass and drove past several motels on the way into town. “Oh, and do you want to stop for a late lunch before we visit the D.A.’s office? I presume that even though it’s Saturday, you’ve made arrangements to pick up the box?”

She nodded her head strongly, and pulled a piece of paper from the front pocket of her pants. “Oh yes. Checked, confirmed and re-confirmed. I’m supposed to call the assistant D.A. as soon as we’re ready to pick up the evidence, and he’ll meet us there with a key.” She checked her watch. “Wow! Is it already mid-afternoon? Traffic through Denver slowed us down a lot. Do you think we’ll make it home today?”

Dan waggled his head. “We could try, I suppose. But it would be after dark when we got there. It’s a full moon, so the deer will be out in force once we hit the foothills. If it’s not a problem with you, I think we should consider staying over. Do you know anywhere good to stay or eat here?”

She heaved a sigh. “Not really. I’ve always wanted to come to Burlington, but I’ve never been further east than Denver, even including college.”

What an interesting comment for her to make. “Why have you always wanted to come to Burlington? Is there something special about the town?”

She regarded him with surprise. “Only one of the finest antique carousels in the whole world! It’s featured in every book on the subject. I’d love to see it and one other that’s here in Colorado, but I read they keep them closed up except for a few weeks in summer. It’s pretty much the major claim to fame of the town, except for pretty good hunting, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

He noticed an amused shake of her head as they drove down the quiet main street. “I don’t think we’ll have much choice in either the motel or food selections from what I’m seeing. A real restaurant would be wonderful if you can find one. And as for what I do for fun,” Denise continued, “I doubt I’ll find it here, unless it’s in the magazine section of the grocery. When I’m not reading about carousels, I spend most of my time working puzzles. Jigsaw, crossword, jumble letters, word finds, sculpture puzzles — you name it, I probably have it.”

“Sculpture? You mean the ring and chain puzzles? Yeah, I’m a sucker for those too, along with the wood ones with sliding fasteners.” He flipped on his blinker and pulled into the parking lot of a small buffet-style restaurant. “Justin made the mistake of leaving one on the end table the last time he invited me to dinner. I spent all evening working it and ignored the other guests.”

She laughed brightly as she unbuckled her seat belt. “You mean that one with the criss-crossed wooden bars? Yeah, he had to take it away from me too. I didn’t know you liked puzzles, Mr. McGraw. I thought I was the only weird one in the office.”

Dan slid out of the SUV and stretched his back while Denise got out the other side and did the same. As comfortable as the seats were, it had been a very long drive and he was exhausted. He stepped toward her and offered his arm. “For the fifth time now, Denise, call me either Hawk or Dan. Only judges and defense counsel call me Mr. McGraw.”

She tried to hide it, but he noticed a blush spread across her cheeks as she tentatively slipped her arm into the crook of his.

The sun was still high over the top of the distant mountains, but night would be arriving all too soon. “Well, let’s give your contact a call and then grab an early dinner and find a hotel. Ask if he can give us an hour or so to eat.” Dan pulled a cell phone from his shirt pocket with his free hand, and sighed at the displayed message. “No service. I guess it’ll have to be the pay phone, unless you have a signal.”

He stopped to open the restaurant door and waited until she pulled a metallic blue phone from her lace-edged denim purse. “Nope. Mine’s out too, Mr . . . I mean, Dan. But I’m sure there’s one inside.” She sniffed the air as they walked through the door. “At least the food smells good. That’s something.”

They walked across low pile patterned carpet that was new and seemed clean. But Dan imagined that the swirls of burgundy, blue and green would hide most spills nicely. Denise stopped behind the sign reading, Please Wait to be Seated.

Finally, an older woman in pale blue polyester noticed them. Her whole face lit up in seeming delight as she approached them. “Well, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed. “How are you?”

Denise glanced at Dan and shrugged a little bit, because it appeared the woman was addressing her. “Uhm . . . I’m fine, I guess.”

The woman touched her lightly on the arm in a maternal way. “Well, of course you are. I have just the table for you two. It’s nice and quiet so you two can chat. C’mon, right this way.” She picked up a pair of menus from behind the counter and set off at nearly a dead run across the wide expanse of floor, leaving Dan and Denise to stare at each other in confusion for a moment.

“Well, at least the natives are friendly— ” Dan said the words quietly, but was pleased when Denise snickered as they followed the wide blue back through the maze of tables.

... [more next week!]

Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing Help - content edits

We're about to receive our "edit letter" on our latest book. This is what some editors call the “first pass edits” and what others call the “style edits” or “content edits.” The basic concept of these edits is to do an overall look at the book.

When a lot of aspiring writers think of edits, they have in mind what are actually considered copy edits in the industry, (also called the "second pass" edits or sometimes the "line edits",) where grammar, composition, spelling and such come into play. Second pass edits are all about tense and word choice, adjectives and dangling participles. But in first pass edits, it’s all about the book as a whole. Character personalities, time lines of the world, and even the world itself (rules of the reality) are fair game. This is the kind of edits that make new authors bite their fingernails down to the quick while waiting for a reply. “Will s/he love my heroine?” “Was the ending surprising enough?” “Is the sex hot enough?” Etc., etc.

What’s a lot of fun is when the editor really likes the story and can think of all kinds of things to make it better! Ideas fly back and forth, either during a phone call, a meeting or through rapid-fire emails. Logic holes big enough to drive a truck through will make you slap your forehead with a pained, “D’oh!” and concerns about character flaws can make you either worry or defend your beloved ideas vigorously.

But what usually happens is that both the author and the editor think about the READER and what the reader wants to read, rather than what the author wants to write. This is where art meets business. Everybody tells an author “Write the best book possible.” But what does that really mean? Write it for WHO? What I, as an author, usually consider the best book is the one I sweated and struggled over for weeks, months or even years. I wrote it and I love it just as it is.

But is it the best book for the reader? How do you know? Ah, therein lies the path to madness.

Because readers are so very different, and all you have to judge on a debut book in a new series is what they’ve liked in the past. If it’s new and different, it might be that your best effort won’t meet the readers’ expectations. How many books have you picked up that’s a “wallbanger”— where you wonder what sort of drugs the author (and editor) were on to consider the book good enough to put on the shelf for money?

In fact, many aspiring authors I’ve coached have even mentioned that one of the main reasons they decided to write a book is because “I can write better than half of the stuff on the shelf.” That may or may not be true, of course, because what one reader considers utter dreck is the next person's favorite book of all time.

Authors tend to trust their editor on matters of business. After all, it’s their job to know what readers will buy, and craft their edits wisely so that the final book will appeal to the most number of readers possible. Ultimately, the "best book possible" is the one that sells the greatest number of books, rather than being a book that's desperately loved by a very few people.

I mention all of this because several of the edits I need to make are to the character’s background. “It’s too much for one person to bear,” was one comment on a heroine. “Can you remove a couple of these? The reader is going to be swimming before they’re halfway through the book.” She went on to list the burdens we’d heaped upon our poor character. There were eleven major crises in her present-day life and past that she had to deal with. Admittedly, that IS a lot to manage over the course of just a few days (the plot time line of the book.) So, Cie and I talked it over and said, yes, you’re probably right. We can probably remove #3 and #10, and oh, #11? That’ll be resolved by the end of book 3, so let’s leave it in book 1. Our editor sent a smiley face and thanked us for being willing to make the changes. She appreciated that we understood the business of . . . well, the business. We want the reader to have an enjoyable read, a fast and furious read that makes it a fun experience. So then I had to go in and actually REMOVE all mentions of #3 and #10, and restructure her responses to things that might be because of those issues. It will mean a few sleepless nights but I do agree with the editor that the book will be better for it.

What will the upcoming letter hold? Hard to say. It could be an expansion of the ending, or a change in subcharacters, or even removal of text. But again, it's all about the reader and what will make it fun for THEM!

How about the rest of you who are published (and those who aren’t.) Have you read books that you wish the author and editor had had more conversation about the plot and characters before it was released into the wild? Or do you like to read exactly what comes out of the author’s head, no matter whether it flows well? Everybody is different, after all, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts. :D

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Shorts - New Story - "By Any Other Name"

This is a part one of a fun short featuring a character I really like: Dan McGraw, called "Hawk" by his friends. Enjoy!

Cathy Clamp

“Do you still owe me a favor, Hawk?”

Dan McGraw looked up from his computer to see his chief investigator, Justin DeWit, leaning in the doorway. From bloodshot eyes to rumpled clothing, it was obvious he’d spent yet another night in the office. The multiple holes that crawled up his ears were barren of jewelry, but it appeared he’d added another tattoo to the colorful collection on his forearms.

“Oh, probably,” Dan replied and closed the screen on the brief he was writing for Monday. “C’mon in and pull up a chair. It looks like you could use a break. What’s up?” He nodded toward the file folder under Justin’s arm, already stained by splashes of coffee. “Is that Michaels case giving you fits again? Do you need some help getting ready for the evidentiary hearing?”

Justin shrugged wearily. “Nah, I’m all ready for it, and the dozen other assorted cases. No, the favor is a personal one.”

Leaning back in his chair, Dan managed to suppress his initial surprise. In the entire year they’d worked together in the Eagle County District Attorney’s office, Justin had never asked for a personal favor. He picked up an oversized, cobalt blue coffee mug emblazoned with the scales of justice in gold leaf and took a sip of slightly cool sweetened coffee. “I’ll help if I can. What’s the favor?”

Crossing the room in a few short steps, Justin flopped down in one of the leather wingback chairs across from Dan. He leaned back into the thick padding with a contented sigh. “I can’t believe you moved these all the way to Colorado from New York, but I’m sure glad you did. I missed these chairs. A person could nod off to sleep in one.”

Dan chuckled. “Is that the favor? You want to sleep in my chair over the weekend? I’d think you’d prefer your own bed.”

The reply began with a sad, nearly bitter snort of air. “Yeah, I sure would — if I could just figure out how to get Barbara out of it.”

Another sip of coffee hopefully covered a wince. “Sorry, Justin. I know you guys haven’t been getting along too well lately. If you need to crash at my place, you’re welcome. I’ll be watching the game on Sunday, but other than that, you can have the couch.”

Justin waved off the suggestion as Dan set the mug back on his desk. “No, it’s fine. We’re trying counseling. Hopefully, it’ll work. But that is part of the reason for asking for the favor.”

Dan raised his brows, rested his elbows on the chair arms, and steepled his fingers above his chest, waiting for his friend to speak. Instead, Justin tossed the file folder across his paper strewn desk so it landed perfectly in front of him. Dan opened it and scanned the summary.

“This is the Meekler drug bust,” Justin said once Dan had read the first paragraph. “Denise Richardson is the lead on the case — her first solo in front of the bar. But it’s been the case from hell so far. We nearly lost venue because the state trooper listed the wrong county on the citation, and one of the defendants we’d made a deal with backed out. This latest thing could blow us out of the water. It’s frustrating, because it was a good bust.”

Dan picked up a stapled report. “Oh, yeah. I remember this case. This looks like the chemical results on the packages the troopers found in the wheel wells of the Mercedes. What’s the problem?”

“We’ve got a Motion to Suppress the report because the defense counsel claims the chain of evidence was broken. The trouble is — he’s partially right. When the lab returned the samples, they switched boxes. We got the evidence on a case from another county, and they got ours.”

Dan shrugged. “That’s not broken. They both went to court officers. Just have her go trade the boxes with the other D.A.’s office, and you’ll be fine.”

Justin’s expression about stating the obvious wasn’t lost on Dan. But his tone remained light. “Great idea. The other box was delivered to the 12th Judicial District — in Burlington, five hours away. Denise’s car is in the shop, and the hearing on the Motion to Suppress is on Monday. I’d already offered to drive her, but—”

Dan immediately understood. “But Barbara probably threw a fit. If traffic in Denver is normal, it’s an overnight trip.”

A weary nod and a deep sigh said everything. “A trip with a gorgeous, single woman to a remote location. I mean, there’s nothing between me and Denise. We’re just friends. But the counselor felt it would be a . . . poor choice on my part this early in the process. Unfortunately, Denise was off today and I can’t reach her to have her find another ride.”

As Dan suddenly realized what the favor was, he chuckled in resignation.

“I’ll tape the game for you—” Justin offered with an apologetic half-grin.

... [more next week!]

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why I Write - Are We There Yet Blog Hop!

It's March 1st! And March means release month for THE ISIS COLLAR!

Over at my friend Diane Carlisle's site, Are We There Yet? she asked a question: Why Do You Write? She asked various people to respond and link to her blog in a blog hop. Since we're doing a blog tour, it made sense to do a hop as part of the tour. So bunny hop along with me as I explain Why I Write!

I'm not one of those writers who has to write to keep the demons in their head at bay. I love creating worlds and people to live in them, but it's not really a "calling" for me as it is for some writers. But it's an amazing amount of FUN! I love seeing a finished book in my hands. I love knowing that people read about the conversations I had in my head and like the people. I felt amazing the day someone told me how much they HATED a character I wrote! The person's words really struck home. Wow! I mean, I created a character that inspired hate! Of course, I think it's terrific when a reader loves characters too, but if I wanted you to hate the person and you did, it says I'm supposed to be doing this.

I've always loved to read and used to read 2-3 books every day. I don't read quite that much anymore (simply because life intervenes and . . . well, I'm writing now too) but I still love getting lost in a world. Whether it's thriller or mystery, romance or SF/F, the new people and new situations always amaze me. I used to wonder how in the world people could come up with these new ideas.

And now I'm doing it too! How cool is that?!

Obviously, since we're introducing THE ISIS COLLAR this month, it makes sense that I should talk about why I wrote about zombies in Celia's world. Okay, yes--zombies are hot news right now but that's not why. I actually am a huge fan of medical mysteries. Love Robin Cook, Michael Palmer, Kathy Reichs and the like. I watch Mystery Diagnosis, House and Dr. G: Medical Examiner on television.

And I wanted to make a medical mystery. What could be a better mystery than Celia catching a zombie plague? Yes, you read that right. A zombie "plague". It's a bacteria, like Ebola or Leprosy, that's magical in nature (because it can be in her world). The bacteria kills the host, like many deadly bacteria do. But this is no ordinary bug. Once the person dies, the bacteria colony takes over the body! It can walk and interact and scratch and bite. Just like classic zombie movies except how do you kill not just the one body, but a million-billion bacteria causing the body to move? It's VERY fun!

Here's a little sample of what my lovely bacteria, M.Necrose does:


Nobody knows me better than Bruno. He gets me. We have the same sense of humor, share most of the same attitudes. When it works with us it’s so very good. I took the moment of solace he offered and let my mind and body be whisked away to a better place.

Until the screaming started.

We both reacted as if cattle prods had been shoved into our spines. We sprang away from each other and turned, both searching for the danger. It was interesting seeing which people ran toward the danger and which ran away. The doctors and nurses, by and large, went toward. The clerks and orderlies, away. I would have thought at least the orderlies would stay. They’re usually stuck with the strong-arm stuff when it came to violent patients. But the looks on their faces as they passed by the waiting room said they wanted no part of whatever was down the hall.

There are laws about what you can bring into a hospital, so all I had were charm disks. I came on such short notice to comfort Molly that I didn’t even think about bringing my knives. Well, I wasn’t totally unarmed. I had a level-nine mage by my side.

And who needed more than that?

We rounded the corner and got our first look at the future of the city, and possibly the world, if we didn’t stop this disease. The man was big, tall, and bulky like a construction worker or pro boxer. He filled the hallway, standing still but sensing around him, searching for something to attack. His skin was black—and I don’t mean like an African-American’s, but black like something from the back of the refrigerator, where you would rather throw away the bowl rather than risk taking off the plastic wrap. What remained of his clothing was stuck to the goo—oozing out of the lesions that covered his skin. Doctors and nurses surrounded him, completely baffled about what to do with him.

Bruno skidded to a stop beside me. I wondered what our options were. “Jesus. Is that the endgame of M. necrose. I’ve never seen it.”

“Yeah. But he’s way worse than Principal Sanchez was. This guy’s eyeballs are missing. That is, except for what’s left dangling on his cheek. And for the record, eww. But he’s tracking the people around him.” One arm made a grab for a nearby nurse and managed to catch the fabric of her scrub top. She was quick;, I’d give her that. She stripped out of that thing so fast you’d think it was burning. Her bra was snow-white, matching her widened eyes.

I could smell the death on him, but he sure was active for a corpse.

Bruno said, “I might not be able to pack the body-binding spell into a charm like Creede, but I sure can cast it directly.” I felt the hairs all over my body rise in unison as he raised power without half trying He whispered the words and I felt the energy leave his outstretched hands and fly toward the zombie in the hallway. “Corpus bidim.”

The spell should have frozen the man’s muscles, causing him to fall straight over and hit his nose on the linoleum.

Note I say, should. Because that’s not what happened. The power struck him all right, but, like a movie said when a nuclear bomb exploded uselessly against an alien ship, the target remains.. Bruno got a shocked look on his face. One of the doctors looked at him and said, “Whatever spell you tried to cast . . . do it again. He’s still moving.”

Bruno cast a second time and the power used not only raised my hair but also brought on a sudden bout of my hypervision. I really should have had a nutrition shake before leaving home. While I enjoyed drinking fruit or vegetable juice, they didn’t satisfy my hunger. I had to have either broth or a shake to keep the vampire down.

But the second spell likewise had no effect. I tapped his arm and he noticed my glowing skin and reddened eyes. Nobody else did because everyone was too busy watching the zombie, who was baring sharp-looking teeth and clawlike fingernails, all the better to spread the infection with.

“What the hell?” Bruno’s voice held equal parts disbelief and anger. He’d probably never failed at casting before, but I knew why as I stared at the zombie with different sight.

I tapped Bruno’s arm a second time. “I know what’s wrong—why the spell isn’t working.”

A doctor looked at me and his eyes widened. He reached for the cross around his neck as Bruno said, “Why? What can you see that I can’t?”

I pointed toward the zombie. “You’re casting one spell, against a single individual. But that is a million billion individuals, working together. He’s glowing with tiny dots of energy.” It was bizarre, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Each dot seemed to have the same bands of energy I’d see in a living person. “What else can you try?”

“Freeze, cut him apart . . . a thousand things. What do you think will work?”

I had an idea.


What's the idea? Well, you'll just have to go out and buy the book to find out.

That's why I write. Because how fun is it to create something like this? :D

Now, obviously, since this is one of the first legs of our blog tour, we're giving PRIZES! Comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of THE ISIS COLLAR hot off the press. We'll pick one lucky person (yes, international addresses are okay!) at the end of the full tour so make sure you include your contact email so we can get in touch with you.

Oh, and if you’re intrigued (and you know you are) go out and buy THE ISIS COLLAR by Cat Adams right away! And if you’ve never heard of Celia Graves’ earlier adventures in BLOOD SONG, SIREN SONG and DEMON SONG, they’re on sale until the release of ISIS! It’s a really good sale, too: only $2.99 for a Kindle download. Heck, that’s three for the price of one! And if you’re a print fanatic, they’re also on sale at Amazon on a 4-for-3 special. But lots of other retailers have them on sale too, so go to our publisher’s website, scroll all the way to the bottom and choose your favorite store.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing Help - Cover Copy

Once you've published a few books, your editor will probably contact you while you're still finishing a book to say, "I need a brief synopsis of the plot to give to sales." Encapsulating a whole plot in a few lines is a real challenge and it takes a lot of practice to do it effectively. One of the best ways I've learned how to do this (which is the same thing an agent/editor wants to see in a QUERY---take note, new writers!) is to make a visit to the library or bookstore and start to read the backs of books.

What the sales department often wants to see is the "hook" of the book. Short, snappy and filled with vague details that make you want to pick up the book to find out more. It's how they're going to sell it to the distributors and book buyers (who also want short and snappy---because that salesperson is only one of a dozen they might see in a day.)

But what should be included and what should be EXCLUDED? Here's what I've learned so far and I would love other authors, as well as readers, to share what you like to see in back cover copy:

1. The names of the primary protagonist(s.) At least first names. If a romance, give me BOTH names so I at least know what variety of book it is (M/F, F/F, M/M/F, etc.) If a UF or other genre, just the main person.

2. Tell me what's at stake in the broadest possible view. Will the world end if they fail? Will someone die? Will the ranch be lost and cut up for development? Will the person go bankrupt, wind up in jail or lose a child? Remember to be BROAD and use the worst case scenario. If the worst case isn't "worst enough" in your copy it's harder to sell it to someone who knows nothing about your people or world.

3. What does the person have to lose EMOTIONALLY? Will they have to compromise their values (or morals?) Will they have to disown someone, or be disowned? Will they wind up hated or feared or even fall in love? Remember--short and snappy.

4. Make sure your blurb doesn't require knowledge of any prior books. Sure, it's terrific if the sales people (or agent) already know your work, but really---you should give enough information for someone to pick it up as a FIRST book, even if it's the tenth in a series. Because people change jobs frequently in a city the size of NY. The salesperson assigned for your last book might not be the same person for this one, and might never have even heard of you.

5. Leave them with a question. Not necessarily with a punctuation mark, but with a "will they succeed? will they fail?" concept that is grabbing.

Here's what I came up with for the "rough copy" for Demon Song.


Celia Graves believed she'd severed the ties between herself and a demon who had plagued her but all the exorcism really did is delay the inevitable. For the unholy entity raised by the siren Eirene has found a new home---in a prison for the magically insane. A rift has opened between the dimensions, unseen since the destruction of Atlantis. It threatens to set loose all the demons of hell upon humanity. Celia has the tools to close the rift, if she can only discover how to use them in time. But to overcome the death curse which nearly guarantees her failure, she'll have to join forces with people she never wanted to trust again, along with those she fears getting closer to.


Obviously, the editor made some . . . well, edits. But a lot of it remained as I wrote it. This is only six sentences (even if a couple are compound), which fills the bill of "short" for an editor. Did I succeed or fail in implementing my own rules? Would you want to read more? Let me hear you!


Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part Two of Story!

What happens next between Dan and Meg? Read on!


Dan’s face dropped into serious lines and he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He took a deep breath and said what everyone said lately. “We didn’t know about your diagnosis until last week or we would have come sooner. Sally wanted to come with me today, but she was afraid she’d get ‘all weepy-washy on you,’ as she puts it. She doesn’t remember her mother, and always thought of you as—” He let the sentence trail off and reached over to grasp her left hand.

She patted his wrist lightly and smiled. “Really, it’s okay. They were able to do a simple lumpectomy, and I just finished chemo. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if we got it all.” Meg wished Dan didn’t look so stricken. But at the same time she felt flattered he would care at all. For herself, she was long past tears. They’d come often at first, but soon the doctors settled her into a treatment routine that left little time for self-pity.

He nodded and took a shaky breath. “Yeah, Dr. Brugetti said things looked good.”

The way he said it sounded odd to Meg. “Was Sally back in for more testing? Is everything okay?”

Pale red flowed into his cheeks and he pulled his hand away from hers a little sheepishly. “Actually . . . I went to the hospital to look for . . . well, you. But, of course, you’re on medical leave. That’s when Dr. Brugetti told me.”

“For me? Why?” A deep breath and then a rush of words made a fine trembling begin in Meg’s chest. “A week ago, I found Sal alone in her room, looking through her hospital box. You remember, the one with toys and games and photos to keep her busy. I saw your picture in there—that day when you played dress-up after her hair fell out. You were both so wrapped up in ribbons and feather boas you wouldn’t know if you had hair or not.” He laughed and she joined him. But when the laugh was done, his smile was warmer, more . . . personal.

“Dan, I—” she began nervously, but he stopped her with a raised hand.

“I realized that moment I missed you. Not the nice nurse who kept my little girl happy and safe while she was sick, but the beautiful, smart woman who kept me sane.”

Meg touched the turban again. “Hardly beautiful.”

He shook his head in mixed amusement and frustration. “You have no idea how beautiful you are, hair or no.” He shrugged like he didn’t know what else to do. “I went to the hospital last week to ask you out to dinner, and I’m asking now.” He reached out, picked up the box and held it out to her. “But before you answer, Sally insisted she wanted to do this, even though I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Meg took the box curiously and allowed her fingers to rest on his for a long moment. He noticed and smiled. She could only stare at the contents in disbelief. She still remembered Sally’s soft blonde waves, so very like her father’s—so very like her own when she still had hair. She took the wig off the foam head and held it up.

“Sally still remembers the day you cut your own hair short and sewed curls on the bottom of the turban I bought her, to make her feel better. She wanted to return the favor.”

Meg only thought her tears were long gone. Dan didn’t seem to mind them as he gently helped her take off the turban and put on the blonde wig. When they walked over to the mirror, she was taken back in time, and then propelled into an unknown future when he leaned over and pressed his lips to her cheek. His fingers tightened around her shoulders, making her shiver with something she didn't expect.

The whisper in her ear turned the shivering into trembling. “I want to be here for you, Meg. You’ve always been there for others, and what goes around, comes around.”


Monday, February 20, 2012

Writing Help True Confessions - I write long

Hi, my name is Cathy and I have a secret...

I write too long.

Whether it's a blog post, a magazine article, a short story or a novel, I write until I'm done writing and it's always long. Every time. Now, most published writers, along with editors and agents will tell you to 'write until you're done' but that's only somewhat true. See, there are times when it's not in your best interests---especially when you're starting out.

I started writing for newspapers and magazines before I turned to novels and when a newspaper says "one column inch" they MEAN one column inch. When you sell a magazine article of 1,500 words, 1,499 should be your goal. A short story anthology that wants 7,000 words won't want 10,000. A category romance which needs 85,000 to fit the pre-cut cover stock simply can't squish in 120,000. Can't be done, no matter how much you shrink the font and narrow the gutters (margins).

So what to do? How do you go about trimming your masterpiece? Fortunately, it's easier than you think. Here are some of the tricks I use when I'm a thousand or even ten thousand words too long:

1. The word "that" is evil. EVIL, I say. Nearly everybody does this because it's proper grammar and we all learned it in school. But few people actually SAY the word, so it can be pulled out of nearly every bit of dialogue you have without effect (you'll be surprised how many there are!) What do I mean? Here's an example:

"I think that we should go to the mall today."

"I think we should go to the mall today."

Which sounds more like what people would say? The second one is more natural. The first one sounds stilted. Unless your character has a very formal personality, you can safely eliminate most of the 'that's. If you have the nerve, do a global search for "that" you'll be both surprised and slightly horrified how many there are.

2. Does the reader REALLY need to know that cute little bit of backstory about the time the heroine fell out of the tree? Does it really matter to the plot, or is it just a nice bit of chit-chat while she and the hero are on their first date (or while in the hospital waiting room, or whatever.) Slash and burn, baby. When you're over word count, the editor is depending on you to make hard choices.

3. Sometimes, the literary metaphor can be trimmed. Do you REALLY need to say that her eyes are "shining emerald orbs" or would "green" work just as well? It's two words down and over a hundred instances that adds up.

4. People speak in contractions. They just do. Use won't, don't, isn't (and even ain't, depending on your character) plus can't, doesn't, wouldn't, couldn't and shouldn't. Again, unless your character is a very formal speaker, a typical American really does use contractions more often than not. Do a global search for "will not", "do not", "is not" etc., to see if you can shorten.

Those are a few of my quick tips that won't require you to cut important scenes. What do YOU do to trim word count? Or have you never considered the possibility you might have to? I'm interested to know!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Now at ConDFW!

I arrived in Dallas yesterday for the first day of ConDFW. ConDFW is:

•A literary-focused science fiction convention.
•Happening February 17-19, 2012. (Our 11th year!)
•Brought to you by the Texas Speculative Fiction Association (TSFA).
•Run by a team of volunteers with varied years of experience.

There are dealer rooms and fan tables, readings, signings and lots of panels for both readers of science fiction/fantasy, but also writers of the genre.

You'd be surprised just how many of your favorite SF/F writers are based in and around Dallas who attend every year (including ME! Well, not every year, but when I can.)

Drop by to say HI! or tell me if you have ever been to a con. I'm interested to know what you think about book conventions. :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Shorts - New story!

This is a little quickie that I did for a romance magazine. It wasn't quite what they were looking for, and was really too short to put anywhere else. Enjoy!

What Goes Around...

by Cathy Clamp

The doorbell rang just as Meg started a kettle for tea. She turned off the stove and automatically raised her hand to the floral turban to make sure it was straight as she walked to the door.

Soon. The doctor said I should start seeing hair again in a few months, now that the chemo’s done.

A glance through the window made her check her appearance in the nearby mirror once more in surprise and delight.

She opened the door with a smile. “Well, for heaven’s sake! What a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Baldwin. I didn’t even know you knew where I lived.”

He flashed the same white teeth and dimples that had made her heart skip while on rounds. She fought not to blush as he stared into her eyes with both nervousness and intensity. “I hope it’s okay, Nurse Chapman. I asked Dr. Brugetti for your address. I wanted to deliver this in person. Do you mind if I come inside?”

That’s when she noticed the white box. It was about the size of a cake box, but didn’t look very heavy. Her curiosity overcame
her nervousness and she stepped back, opening the door wider. “Of course. Please come in.” She waved him into the living room, thankful now that she’d had enough energy this morning to dust.

He carefully placed the box on the coffee table and sat down on the couch with arms folded across his broad chest. The thick cushions molded around him as though the couch was custom made. Meg fought not to stare at his muscled bare arms. He’d always visited the hospital in a suit and tie.

When she cleared her throat she realized her mouth had been open, nearly drooling. How embarrassing! Abruptly she sat down in the chair across from him and asked the obvious question. “So, how is Sally, Mr. Baldwin? I so seldom get to hear updates on my patients after they leave the children’s ward.”

He smiled, his face filled with love and happiness. “Please, call me Dan. You’ve earned that right.”

“Then I’m Meg.”

He nodded and continued. “Sally turned eight last week and just joined a Red Cross class at the pool. She wants to be a lifeguard.” He shrugged and chuckled. “Well, this week, anyway. As for next week, we’ll see.” His eyes took on a faraway look that Meg knew well. They’d nearly lost Sally to the cancer that had attacked her bones as a toddler. But she’d been one of the lucky ones. After many months of treatment, she’d been proclaimed

Sally tried to laugh off the comparison, not even sure Dan knew the truth. "I hope one day they’ll say the same about me."

(to be continued!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today is Valentine's, the day when lovers everywhere express their feelings for the one they love. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it EVERY day, of course, but if you've been shy or forgetful of that special person, today's the day!

And speaking of that special person, which one of Celia Graves' potential boyfriends should she end up with? Come over to Coffeetime Romance and vote for your favorite. One lucky commenter will be picked to win a special Valentine's suprise package!

You should also visit our second Poll at Coffeetime: Who is your favorite Sazi of all time? Again, prizes galore to one lucky winner!

Finally, over at Absolute Write, we're going to be talking about what is the BEST thing that ever happened to you on Valentine's Day. Come join in the fun!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing Help - Avoiding scams!

Today is a good time for me to touch on one important aspect of agent hunting that is often only briefly touched on in loops and groups: SCAM AVOIDANCE.

This post is for all of those aspiring authors who are seeking representation. It's a sad fact of life that there are people out there who make their money by scamming aspiring authors. The most unfortunate part is that a scammer can give every appearance of being a legitimate agent. They might have a great website, have advertising and even appear at conferences to listen to pitches. But there are no entrance exams necessary, no state or federal regulatory bodies overseeing literary and artistic agents, so they operate with general success unless revealed. But even after revealed, how does the word get out to authors? Well, you're in luck, because there are a number of ways to educate yourself about the scams out there so you can look for solid representation to get your book sold!

Our first stop is the Writer Beware website. Writer Beware is a free service of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Run by literary watchdogs and multi-published, bestselling fantasy authors A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, they regularly expose the incompetent, dishonest and outright bad agents in the writing world. Here you'll learn what makes a bad agent . . . well, bad. There's a vast difference between an agent who is unable to sell a manuscript and one who has NO INTENTION of selling the manuscript.

"But wait!", you say. Why would an agent accept a manuscript with no intention to sell it? How would they earn any money? Often, it's with fees to the author. As a society, we're accustomed to fees---per page copy costs, postage, processing, handling, shipping, etc. It's logical and even acceptable to us to expect to pay out of pocket costs to a service provider. The confusion comes because many legitimate, selling agents also want to be reimbursed for certain expenses. The difference between scammers and legitimate agents is that the legitimate agents (if they charge expenses at all, and many don't)take these reimbursements out of COMMISSIONS . . . AFTER THE BOOK IS SOLD. Scammers, on the other hand, take the expenses out of the author's pocket by billing them or requesting advance "reading fees" or "escrows against expenses."

Why is this significant? Well, think about it. If you charge a small fee to read a manuscript or $10 or $20 a month for "postage" to a whole list of authors, but never actually do the work involved---how much free money can a scammer earn in a year? Yeah, you guessed it: a surprising amount. And it might not be until YEARS later that an author learns of the deception. They can say all the right things, and an author might already have had a history of rejection, so it's no surprise if a scammer tells the author the very same thing.

So, after you've read through the Writer Beware website, your next stop should be the Association of Author Representatives (AAR) The AAR is an organization of selling agents. In fact, in order to become a member, an applicant must have sold 10 different "literary properties" in an 18 month period. Since an author's whole purpose for hiring an agent is to sell the book, starting the search with agents who have already demonstrated sales is a good first step. The link above is to the AAR's Frequently Asked Questions page, which is a really good introduction to agencies and even gives a list of questions to talk to your agent about after you've been offered representation. It should be mentioned that not all selling agents belong to AAR. It is, after all, like any other organization. But many do, and many others subscribe to the Canon of Ethics that forbid cheating authors and artists.

You can also learn about which agents have sold what (thereby knowing if the agent you're approaching has actually ever sold a book in your genre, despite requesting them in guidelines) at Publisher's Marketplace. The only trick with this particular link is that the "Deals" section of the site is a paid-only site. It costs $20 per month to belong (billed to a credit card), but even a single month is well worth the price, IMO, because you have unlimited search abilities for multiple years and agents.

Our final stop (in the interest of blog space) is Preditors & Editors . The founder of this site has exhaustively researched and exposed scammers---to the point that he's been sued by negatively reported agents and publishers for various reasons. But that hasn't stopped him from doing is best to help YOU, the aspiring author, discover who is a good, selling agent and who isn't. You can search by company or individual name and also read up on his rating scale at this link.

Remember that just like publishers, the golden rule of hiring an agent is simple: Gold flows TO the author.

I hope this little primer will be useful to all you out there. You know those old sayings: "Forewarned is forearmed" and "Knowledge is Power." Here's your chance for both!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 2 of story!

What happens next to Barbara? Will she get the tattoo and will it be more than she planned? Read on...

Becoming Alive (part 2)

At last, Barbara found a small shop, tucked between two apartment buildings on a narrow street. A dim light shone through the plate window, where a painted sign read, ‘Tattoos’. She moved closer to the pale shaft of light. Photos of exquisite tattoos stared back at her--multi-colored exotic birds; stylized flaming skulls and all manner of wildlife. Several of the animal tattoos looked nearly alive. The eyes glowered, followed her movements. One photo caught her attention, and she instantly decided. It was a griffin; half lion, half eagle. The guardians of kings and castles. The photograph showed the griffin in traditional posture, one taloned foot raised, its beak opened in defiance. The art was superb; Barbara could see each feather, see a glint of life in the amber eye.

An old, frail man greeted her inside the door. “Welcome!” he said quietly. “I have been expecting you!”

His phrasing made her smile. He made her feel as though she was arriving for a scheduled appointment. She told him what she wanted; complimented his exceptional work. He nodded graciously, and asked her to sit in an old, heavily cushioned chair in the tidy little shop.

“This is your first tattoo?” he asked, as he prepared the needles. Barbara had decided not to watch the process. She was nervous around needles, and wasn’t terribly fond of blood--especially her own.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’ve always wanted one.”

He cocked his head, a bird-like gesture, and asked, “Why wait until now? Why begin life at this time?”

She pondered the question. He made it seem important, not at all casual. “I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I guess it’s time for a new beginning. I don’t really feel alive anymore.”

The old man nodded his head, as though she had said something very wise. He smiled secretively, and began his work. Barbara winced as the needle first punctured her skin, injecting the dye, but soon the muted buzzing lulled her. Her already drugged mind edged toward sleep, and she dozed in the chair. Dreams slid through her mind, filled with buzzing insects and thick jungle scents. In the corner of her mind, she heard the old man telling her stories of the Mayan culture. About great kings, and conquests, and treasure.

She woke to the old man shaking her shoulder lightly. Her arm ached under the thick cotton dressing. She started to remove the bandage, to see the beautiful art, but the old man stopped her.

“Wait,” he said. “One more day, and you will see it as it was meant to be seen. It would only disappoint you now. Tomorrow you will understand.” She believed him, not knowing why. Barbara opened her purse to pay, only now realizing that she had never asked the price. Nor had he offered one. She removed a hundred dollar bill, but he pushed it away.

“Art is meant to be shared,” he said with that secret smile. “It cannot be sold. This is my gift to you. For your new beginning.”

Barbara insisted, but the old man stood firm. He would not take money for his art. Then he tilted his head again, looking for all the world like a curious jungle bird, and raised one trembling finger. “But wait,” he said, moving further back into his shop. “If you insist on payment, perhaps you would be interested in this.”

When he returned, he placed an object into her hand and closed her fingers around it. The item was smooth and cool, and she opened her hand to see a large jade stone. It was exquisitely carved with lines and spirals in an oval, slightly elongated shape.

“It’s beautiful!” she breathed softly, but then shook her head and offered it back. “But it’s too much. I could never afford it.”

The old man smiled again. “It was passed down to me by my father, and by his father before him. It would please me to see you use it. It is very lucky. You must keep it with you always. I would take for it the money you offered for my art.”

Barbara was stunned. A carved jade stone like this was worth far more than one hundred dollars, but the man would not be swayed. No, she must have it, and that was the price. No more, no less. She finally relented and left the tiny shop with her lucky charm and her new tattoo.

The next morning she woke and again boarded the bus. She was actually excited, for today the guide told them that they would visit a Mayan temple. Her head was still filled with the dream-like remembrances from the old man. Soon she saw the temple soaring out of the verdant jungle, a masterpiece of stone. As they approached it, the skin under the dressing began to tingle. No matter, she thought, that’s probably normal. As they edged closer on the winding path, the tattoo started to itch. Soon it was as though a thousand ants were crawling on her skin; biting and clawing.

She could stand it no more by the time they reached the parking lot. She raised her sleeve and gingerly untaped the dressing. One glowering green eye greeted her gaze. Her jaw dropped. For there, on her arm, was not the anticipated griffin, boldly screaming to the sky. In its place was a great spotted cat, its tail lashing each time her skin moved. It was beautiful, incredibly detailed. She could see individual hairs rising from its tail. A tiny slitted pupil stared out of the gold-flecked emerald eye, and white teeth gleamed from the open jaw.

No matter how beautiful it was, she was furious! He had done this deliberately. He could never have mistaken a cat for her beloved griffin! She climbed the stone stairs with rising outrage, the “lucky” stone digging into her hip with each step. It probably wasn’t even jade, she thought angrily.

The inside of the temple was cool and dimly lit. She walked around with the others, forcibly turning her mind to the walls carved with glyphs, bright paint still evident here and there. As she approached the altar, one carved figure made her stop and stare. In front of her was a great cat, its spots permanently carved in stone. It was a mirror of the creature on her arm, except that the cat on the wall was missing its eye. A round dent in the wall showed where the eye should be. She lifted her foot to the top step, and the stone in her pocket again pressed on a nerve. She removed the stone and looked at it. A thought struck her and she held it up before her, lined it up with the carving on the wall. It might just fit! Her mind remembered the artist’s words, “his father and his father before him.” How many generations had the stone passed down?

Barbara wedged herself between the altar and the wall, stretching on her tiptoes to place the stone in the hole.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” called the guide. “You can’t touch . . .”

His words came too late, for the stone slid into place with an audible click. Barbara gasped as stones began grinding open. She shared the others’ wide-eyed stares as the heavy slab altar top slid aside, revealing gold objects, jade carvings, and multi-colored stones of every description.

Barbara tried to answer the questions posed by the police and the man from the ministry of antiquities. It was clear they didn’t believe her story. She explained where she got the rock, and showed them the tattoo. Finally, she agreed to lead them to the shop, and let them talk to the artist. When they arrived, she stared in shock. It was vacant! The glass was old and the paint faded. There were no photos in the window. Dust coated everything. A young man approached the police and asked what their business was with his property. Barbara explained why they were there, and about meeting the old tattoo artist.

The man’s eyes grew wide. This had been his grandfather’s shop, he said. It was left to him after the old man died. Poppy had been a master artist; his work was unmatched. But he had been dead for many years. How could she have met him? Barbara didn’t know. She only knew what had happened. She told the young man about the griffin, and how angry she had been that the artist had tattooed a great cat instead.

The young man’s face paled, and he raised his sleeve. There was the griffin! Barbara gasped, but then reached out and touched it gently; reverently. The man asked to see the jaguar, his Grandfather’s favorite subject, and Barbara raised her sleeve. He studied the tattoo, turning her arm to catch the light. Yes, he said, his voice filled with wonder, this was created by my grandfather. You can tell his art, because he used powdered Mayan gold in his ink.

“Gold?” asked Barbara, alarmed. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

The young man raised his brows. “For anyone but Poppy, yes! It makes the process risky, but no work of Poppy’s ever was rejected,” he claimed. “He never told his secret.”

After a moment’s thought, she voiced the question that resonated through her mind. “But why!?!”

The grandson understood the meaning the question, and smiled. “Poppy said gold and life were both created in the fires of the earth, two halves of a whole. He couldn’t replicate one without the other. It’s why El Gato seems so real. Only living skin can make Poppy’s art exist.”

A sudden realization staggered Barbara She didn’t just animate the cat, it had changed her, too. She was becoming more aware; more truly alive.

The officials were frustrated. No one could explain how Barbara got her tattoo or jade eye. Still, in gratitude, they offered to let Barbara take home one item from the altar. She chose the jaguar’s eye over all of the treasures.

The next morning, bags packed, jade tucked in a small leather bag around her neck, she boared the bus to the airport. Raising her sleeve, she spoke to the great cat on her arm. “Well, Gato, shall we go . . . live?”

The cat’s emerald eye sparkled in return.