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.