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Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

A few days ago I watched a group of high school seniors struggling to write two-page essays about their lives and their plans for the years after graduation.

 

These were kids who spend untold hours sharing information—sometimes what I consider to be way too much information—in conversations and phone calls and text messages. This was a topic that required no research or attributions. The assignment seemed like a no-brainer.

 

And yet, after putting down their names and the date and the class period, most of them came to a full stop. Hung up on how to begin, they stared at that blinking cursor.

 

I felt their pain. Hoping to hook readers who happen across my books but aren’t familiar with my name, I labor long and hard on first sentences and leading paragraphs. Years ago I learned to delay the stress of crafting that opening and leapfrog into the story by leaving a blank space and writing this: Something brilliant goes in this space and I know I’ll think of it later.

 

I passed along that advice and saw a few kids catch fire and start hammering their keyboards. Others, though, sat like statues. I offered another piece of time-worn writing advice. “Don’t worry about getting your sentences and paragraphs in order. You have that cut-and-paste function. Move things around and clean up transitions later.”

 

More fingers prodded the keys, but about a third of the class was still floundering. I hit them with the ever-popular first-draft dogma. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be great or even good. It just has to be done. You’ll fix it later.”

 

Author Carolyn J. Rose

Author Carolyn J. Rose

That was enough incentive for a few to suck in deep breaths and tap hesitantly at the keys. But there were still three staring at their screens with expressions of fear, loathing, panic, and/or soul-searing anxiety. Trotting to their sides, I did a quick survey: “What are you having trouble with? What would help you?”

 

If you’re a writer, their responses won’t surprise you. They felt that what they wrote—in this first draft or any other—wouldn’t be good enough.

 

Thanks to that critical little voice in my head, I know Not-Good-Enough Territory well. In fact, I take up residence there every time I sit down to write.

 

The terrain is riddled with sinkholes and quagmires and quicksand. If a map exists, it’s not accurate. Storms swirl across the landscape and a sudden freeze is always imminent.

 

One trick to traversing this hostile land is to get moving and keep moving. If you write fast enough, you may outdistance the inner critic or develop enough momentum to leap across or plow through obstacles it throws in your path.

 

Another trick is to be your own BFF and make plenty of positive noise to drown out snarky comments that could bring you to a halt. If you can’t shut the inner critic up, then shut it down. Congratulate yourself on every simile and bit of dialogue. Cheer the completion of each paragraph. Reward yourself for every chapter.

 

I shared that philosophy and saw one boy take it to heart. In a few moments he was pounding away. Ten minutes later he had a full page. One of the others managed a paragraph before the bell rang. The third said she couldn’t work in a room filled with people, but made notes.

 

As for me, when I got to my keyboard, I took my own advice, shut the little voice down, and cranked out eight pages. They might not be good. They might be barely this side of dreadful. But they exist.

 

What are the tricks you use to get the job done? Leave a comment and share your strategy.

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), and the Catskill Mountains Mysteries (Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood). She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking. Website
www.deadlyduomysteries.com

Today the Dames are pleased to shine the spotlight on multi-genre author Joe Perrone, Jr. Hi, Joe, and welcome. Tell us about your latest book, Twice Bitten: A Matt Davis Mystery.

SmallFrontCoverTwiceBittenMy latest release is Twice Bitten: A Matt Davis Mystery, which is set in Roscoe, NY. When a local meth dealer is found murdered in the cab of his pick-up truck, it appears at first glance as if it is nothing more than a drug deal gone south. However, after the actual cause of death is determined, the investigation takes a decided turn toward the bizarre, and eventually the focus of the investigation centers on an itinerant preacher who dabbles in snake handling – the venomous kind – and his attractive assistant. Ron Trentweiler is an ex-convict who has found religion, and Winona Stepp is a young woman with a very murky past. The devil, as it is said, is in the details, and Matt’s investigation of the pair takes him as far away as the coal mining area of Pennsylvania in an effort to get to the truth about his two suspects. The ending will leave you gasping for breath.

Sounds great. I love books that leave you gasping for breath at the end. They always make meSmallFinalFrontCoverBrokenPromisesCandara want to read more so you can be sure Twice Bitten is going on my TBR list. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I am currently at work on the fourth Matt Davis Mystery called Broken Promises. In it, an 88-year old woman is found dead on the grounds of an old burned-out hotel, shot once through the heart. If that’s not mystery enough, there is no apparent motive and there are absolutely no suspects. But, as Matt’s investigation progresses, a steady drip of information from numerous sources begins to lead him in a most unlikely direction: back to the hotel itself. The action is divided between the ongoing investigation in the present, and a description of the series of events that led up to the killing, dating as far back as early in World War II. This one is a true murder mystery.

Ah, a series, that’s even better! What is a typical writing day like for you?

JoelastChristmasNo two writing days are exactly alike for me, but they all have one thing in common: they are draining. On a good day, I’ll awake around 7 a.m., traipse downstairs to my computer, check my emails, and then go back upstairs to have my breakfast. After breakfast, when I sit down to write, I will go over whatever it was that I last wrote and re-read and re-edit it until I’m fairly happy with it. Then, hopefully, I will begin to write new “stuff.” After anywhere from one to three hours, I will either stop for the day or take a break, because I am exhausted. I may do some research on the Internet or answer some emails or check my book sales. Then, I will have lunch. If the spirit moves me, I might go back to work for another half hour or hour, and then I’ll quit for the day. That’s a good day! On a bad day, I might just re-read and re-edit the work from a previous session and then just sit there praying for something to happen. If I’m lucky, I might have a publishing project that I’m doing for another author that I can put my energy into; if not, I’ll probably go to the gym.

Okay, you hit on the one thing that would probably make me force myself to write on a bad day; going to the gym. I’d much rather write—even on the hard days. When you’re re-writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

For the most part, I would say that I am in control—that is, until they start to speak. Then, I listen for their voices and write down what they say. The same is true for storyline. When it’s working right, I have a germ of an idea and then it kind of goes where it needs to go – which is not always where I had planned for it to go.

I absolutely love the times when my characters “speak to me” and wish it would happen more often. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

I am embarrassed to say that I don’t really read that much. I have some physical problems with my eyesight – andSmallGuideCover I have ADHD, which has always made it difficult for me to read at length. I also have a dread of co-opting someone else’s work subconsciously, and that keeps me from reading any murder mysteries – especially when I am at work on one of my own. As a result, I have taken to reading mostly non-fiction books about such subjects as travel, exploration, mountain climbing, and politics. I also enjoy reading biographies.

I—and I think most other authors—live with that same fear and like you, I tend to stick to nonfiction when I’m writing fiction. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

I spend at least an hour or more per day at promotion. I utilize all forms of social networking, including Facebook, Twitter, and various sites that cater to writers and readers. I also maintain an aggressive advertising campaign, both through Google AdWords and Microsoft Bing. I maintain a website, and blog about once a month on it.

I haven’t tried Google AdWords or Microsoft Bing yet, but I’ve been hearing good things from authors who have. Maybe one of these days I’ll check them out and see if I can figure out the process. How long have you been writing?

SmallFrontCoverMarch1-2013EscapingInnocencecopyI guess I have been writing since around the third grade, which would make it about 60 years. My “serious” writing career began in 1969-70, when I was a sportswriter for a major New Jersey newspaper. From there I went on to write advertising copy, free-lancing with two ad agencies. Then, in the late 70s, I wrote feature articles for local newspapers, as well as fishing articles for local magazines. I started my first book in 1987 while working three jobs, one of which was as a limousine driver, which gave me ample opportunity to write. For three years, I filled up spiral notebooks (six in all) with the memoirs of my time coming of age in the 60s. Somewhere along the line, I came to the realization that no one really gave a damn about my memoirs, so I morphed them into a novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, which I eventually published nearly twenty years later after completely re-writing it at least three times.

Wow, 60 years, that’s a long time. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t start writing seriously until about 10 years ago, although I played around with it for most of my life. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?

That would definitely have to be: “Well, bless your heart.” My mother was a native North Carolinian, and she used that phrase all her life. Since I was born in “The Capitol of the Confederacy,” I feel obliged to follow in her footsteps.

One of my favorites, too. And Southerners are very adept at using that phrase in a multitude of ways. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

My favorite authors as a child were Mark Twain and Edgar Alan Poe; one would be hard pressed to find two more diverse writers, I suppose. I loved Twain’s humor, and I loved Poe’s darkness.

I love Twain and Poe, too. In fact, when I was much younger than I am now, I went through a serious Poe fan-girl stage. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?

I would love to meet Truman Capote. He is one of my favorite authors – and one of the most fascinating individuals to ever put pen to paper. He was a true character, and his major work, In Cold Blood, is probably my favorite book.

Great choice. I, too, loved In Cold Blood. Mine would be Harper Lee who was a good friend of Capote’s. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to talk to both of them at the same time? What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?

Without a doubt, my biggest weakness when it comes to writing is my inability to create a plot; doing that is definitely the hardest part of writing for me. On the other hand, my greatest strength is my ability to write realistic dialogue, something that I take pride in doing. Perhaps I like dialogue because I love to talk to people and to tell stories. I am probably a natural born story teller.

Yeah, I’m better at dialogue than plotting, too—or maybe I should say my characters are better since I’m one of those authors who allow them to take full control when I’m writing. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know?”

I don’t know who coined the phrase, but he or she really knew what they were talking about. When I am at my best is when I am writing about something I really know, like fly fishing – and my relationship with my wife. Both of these subjects find their way into my writing with regularity.

I always enjoy hearing the answer to that last question. Unlike the plot driven or character driven question which tends to lean toward “character driven,” I think we may be about 50-50 on the answers to that one.

Thanks so much, Joe, for joining us today. I enjoyed learning more about you and hope you’ll come back to visit the Dames often!

Readers, to find out more about Joe and his books, visit his website at: www.joeperronejr.com or follow him on Twitter: @catsklgd1.

The first two books is Joe’s Matt Davis Mystery Series:

NewSmallFrontCoverAsTheTwigIsBent                        SmallFrontCoverOpeningDay

(presented by Dame Betty Dravis)

cheryl for DOD blogI was born with a passion for books that started at a young age. One day, when I was about three, my mother caught me scribbling lines under each sentence of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. She was appalled. She thought I was defacing the book. When she asked me what I was doing, I said, “I’m writing the story.” I think even then I realized how important books would become in my life.

About ten years passed and I had a book collection that was the envy of my friends. I had every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book, plus numerous Bobbsey Twins novels and others. Every word was like gold to me―something to be treasured. While my mother read her romance novels and my father read his science fiction tomes, I slipped away into the world of youthful investigations, following clues and solving mysteries―often with a flashlight under my blanket. I was captivated by these authors’ golden words and often stayed way past my bedtime.

Reading is very therapeutic and can take your mind off stress and pain, so my books became my best friends, always there when times were rough. What better way to escape the mundane life of a pre-teen and forget about chores, school and low self-esteem issues than to bury oneself in an intriguing book? These stories took me away to other worlds, to ‘live’ other lives, if only for an hour or two.

As a young teen, I collected Barbara Cartland and Harlequin romances and other adult fiction. One day I was offered a job as a journalist for a small BC newspaper. I was thrilled. Masset Meanderings became my column and I was paid about $5.00/week. Years later, I wrote a health and beauty column for another newspaper. But my deepest passion rested in fiction and books.

At fifteen, I had a growing collection of Stephen King, John Saul and Dean Koontz books and was fascinated by stories of suspense and horror. Inspired, I began to write my first novel. It took me a year to complete and I was proud of that accomplishment. Yearning for someone to tell me it was good, I brought the typewritten manuscript to school and kept it in my locker until I could show it to my language arts teacher. However, when I returned to my locker, someone had broken in and my manuscript was gone, and since this was well before home computers and laptops, it was my only copy. I was devastated. This time, they were my golden words. And someone had stolen them. That day I learned that there is a deeper connection to the words we write. We own each word. If we have written something, those words have stemmed from our thoughts and feelings.

As a bestselling author of Canadian suspense novels who went from avid reader to avid writer, I have been blessed by words. I am not only a woman who loves to read, but an author who loves to impact other readers. After growing up reading books of every genre, I have learned to appreciate and respect those golden words as gifts given by an author. Books educate, motivate, inspire and enrich, and every one you read has the power to stretch your mind and imagination in ways that challenge you. A good book can make you shake with fear and check your doors and windows, make you question ethical practices, or make you feel better about yourself. Books can make you laugh out loud…or reach for a tissue. Words have power and reading is an investment, one that I believe is worth more than gold.

~ * ~

From Cheryl Kaye Tardif, the international bestselling author that brought you CHILDREN OF THE FOG, comes a terrifying new thriller that will leave you breathless…

SUBMERGED

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Submerged reads like an approaching storm, full of darkness, dread and electricity. Prepare for your skin to crawl.”

—Andrew Gross, New York Times bestselling author of 15 Seconds

Two strangers submerged in guilt, brought together by fate…

After a tragic car accident claims the lives of his wife, Jane, and son, Ryan, Marcus Taylor is immersed in grief. But his family isn’t the only thing he has lost. An addiction to painkillers has taken away his career as a paramedic. Working as a 911 operator is now the closest he gets to redemption—until he gets a call from a woman trapped in a car.

Rebecca Kingston yearns for a quiet weekend getaway, so she can think about her impending divorce from her abusive husband. When a mysterious truck runs her off the road, she is pinned behind the steering wheel, unable to help her two children in the back seat. Her only lifeline is a cell phone with a quickly depleting battery and a stranger’s calm voice on the other end telling her everything will be all right.

Get SUBMERGED today.

Learn more about Cheryl Kaye Tardif at http://www.cherylktardif.com and follow her on Twitter.

 

Enter Cheryl’s March Giveaway – 59 Prizes! http://www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com

cheryl Submerged Blog Tour

 

 

Author

By Laurel-Rain Snow

Today I’d like to welcome Lillian Brummet who, along with her partner, offers services through the Brummet Media Group.

Q: Tell us about your latest book.
Purple Snowflake Marketing – How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd (378 pages) is the latest release – now in the 3rd edition. This book acts like a step-by-step guide for writers, helping them see their career as a business, avoid common pitfalls, create an efficient marketing plan for each book they write, and closes with a thousand or more resources.

PSM
Q: Sounds like a valuable guide for writers!  Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I just finished revising the Jumpstart For Writers booklet (roughly 40 pages), that offers encouraging tips, inspiring quotes, and links to incredibly helpful interviews – all mixed in with an array of articles that we have written on the world of writing. Jump Start for Writers can be considered a precursor to the Purple Snowflake Marketing book.  We’ll soon have this booklet available in e-book format on our site for .99 cents, and intend to use it for contests and giveaways.
I have 3 other manuscripts on the back burner waiting for me to have the time. These are: a 2nd book of poetry, a gardening book that offers 3 generations of gardening advice, and a recipe book based on harvests from the garden.
Q: You’re going to be very busy for awhile, so what is a typical writing day like for you?

When working on a manuscript, so much of myself is poured out on to those pages that I feel absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. I need distractions to be at a minimum – so Dave will be sent to the downstairs office, both the phone and the TV are turned off (we’re not big TV people), and any demanding chores have to be done first. I can’t be working on something and thinking about the bread I have to bake next, guilt from neglecting the dogs, or piles of dishes needing to be done. At the same time, one has to find a balance and let some things go undone. I like to have some ambient music going in the background sometimes – no beat, no rhythm, or lyrics. I tend to have herbal tea or coffee beside me, but it often goes ignored as I disappear into words and has to be rewarmed in the microwave at least once. I’m definitely a morning person and tend to burn out by 2-3 in the afternoon, so I try to get my writing projects, interviews, blog posts, etc. completed before then.

Q: Your plan to achieve balance certainly takes commitment.  As for inspiration, who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

A difficult question to answer as there are so very many outstanding books in our personal library. However if I had to pick one single book it would be Shibumi, an outstanding epic novel. Friday, which had an amazing and capturing style from the first sentence on. Shadow of an Indian Star, Second Eden, Second Innocence, Lucifer’s Hammer, Let The Drum Speak, On Stranger Tides, The Sea Of Trolls, and Ovum Factor are other favorites that come to mind. Some of my all-time favorite authors are Tolkien, Trevanian, and Agatha Christi.

Q: Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

Another difficult question – since as a writer every day we’re promoting in a different way. Personally, I enjoy promotion activities except for public appearances. Generally speaking I have about a dozen social networking sites and a few writers’ online groups that I’m a member of and manage regularly. I also have a daily blog where the sidebars contain links to my work, networking opportunities and services, and I place a signature at the bottom of every post. My radio show, which airs 3 times a week, has audio ads promoting my books. I have a beautiful website with nature photos and good copywriting content that people seem to really enjoy. I’ll occasionally take out ads, appear as a featured guest on radio shows, do interviews on blogs or provide free filler content for blogs, e-zines, newsletters and the like. There are a lot of other marketing activities, but these are the standard daily ones.

Q: It looks like a very balanced marketing plan.  How long have you been writing?

I’ve always been drawn to writing since I can remember and in fact English classes were one of the reasons why I wanted to stay in school. Poetry was a tool I used to express all the shame and anger, hate and frustration that victims of violence, abuse and neglect often endure. After winning some poetry contests I started to dream of one day being good enough to be a ‘real’ writer. But it wasn’t until a life-changing accident in 1999 (3 car pileup, I was in the middle) interrupted my life and shook me up enough to make the dream a reality. However, I didn’t just want to write anything, I wanted to make a difference – to make my life have some kind of value, some reason for being.

Q: I agree that a traumatic event can be a defining moment in our journey.  Besides your life-changing accident, who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

I suppose that would be the encouraging English teachers that I had in public, private and correspondence schools. Earliest memories are when teachers would read my work out to the class, post it on the wall, send it to contests or begin to cry over something I wrote. I didn’t know how to handle that – it kind of overwhelmed me at the time and scared me too. Yet, when I was reinventing the focus of my life, these were the moments that shouted out to me saying I need to pursue writing as a career.

Q: That must have been a powerful experience.  What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

The concept of being able to make a difference is the most gratifying part of writing. I can highlight something I care about, influence people to make positive and proactive changes in their lives, I can interview people and help them leave a legacy, and create conversation about non-profits and volunteering.

Q: Sometimes, where we live can have an impact on what we write.  Tell us a little bit about where you live.

Creston, BC (Canada) a city of about 15-20,000 people (including the outskirt subdivisions) is in the heart of the Kootenay region of BC – best known for the artists, agriculture, wineries, wildlife, stunning mountain and lake views, outdoor activities, bird watching and tourism. We vacationed out here annually and always dreamed of moving to the Kootenays, but after we lost a few family members we realized that waiting for retirement could be too late. So we sold our house, packed up and moved out here a year ago… and have never regretted the decision. That move caused the office to virtually close down for about 7 months allowing us the time to settle in and start up the business again.

Q: Grabbing those dreams when you can is a great way to live.  Sometimes these experiences can fuel our creativity as well.  What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?
I love to work with the media, network, run my radio show and blog – but these activities tend to take up most of my time and then I have so little time or energy left to work on a manuscript or paying article project. I am tenacious, dedicated, determined – and this can lead to having a hard time taking time away from the office.

Q: How many hours a day do you write; where do you create; and what, if any, specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
Well, I write the blog posts about a week in advance, which takes about 4 hours to do. I also write free filler content for blogs and newsletters, etc. – totally a few a week, or 3 hours writing time. When I am able to break away and work on a manuscript I can go all day if there aren’t any obligations interrupting me. Being a morning person, I am in the office between 7-8 AM and tend to leave by 3PM.

Q: What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Well it is a good place to start, but the real joy of writing is being able to research new topics, cultures, era’s, personalities and create something inspiring to you and the reader. I love interviewing people and spent many years as a staff writer having discussions with people I would have never thought to speak to before; everything from wild pig farmers and wolf rehabilitation centers to mushroom growers and artists. I learned so much from this, and I suppose that led to my passion for the radio show that I host and produce.

Q: Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?

Outside of writing, which is my full time career, I am the host and producer of the Conscious Discussions Talk Radio show, the manager and writer of the Brummet’s Conscious Blog, housewife, assistant to my drum teacher husband and dog companion. I love gardening – especially composting, saving seed and sharing produce.

Q: Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.

There are a number of things I look into when writing a book is: First – what do I know that can help others with their issues in that genre, and what can I offer that is unique? The second thing I will look at is determining the individuals or organizations that I can utilize from our existing contact list for both marketing and as resources. One must write for an intended audience and knowing exactly what you can provide those readers is the key. Being clear about the initial marketing efforts for each project and having a general marketing plan outline, makes all the difference as to whether a publication or publisher will be interested in a project. It will also help determine the type of publisher or magazine that is best for that project, and save lots of pitfalls in things like designing book covers, choosing images, and what format to publish in.
Q: Many authors describe how they find their characters and plots from the world around them.  Where do you get your ideas?

I look for a need in the marketplace, and also what inspires me – if I don’t feel excited about the topic then it will read as a dry and dead piece of work.

Q: Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

Although I grew up in a broken home environment, often spending time away and was on my own at 13 ½… I do recall that books were very important in the home. I certainly saw the passion my mother had for her books – she cherished them like treasures. I have early memories of going to the library with her and leaving with stacks of books.

Q: Print books and libraries are part of a changing world lately.  Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

No, but I would certainly love to have one, one day. Right now I have so many books sent to me in print and e-book format from people who want to be guests on the radio show or blog, and contacts who drop off their used books for us to read that I haven’t found a need for going out to look for something else. Once I’ve read the print books I receive, they are added to the donations we send over to the local literacy organization. However I think the idea of being able to take those e-books that I am sent along when camping or spending time by the lake would be an amazing experience.

Q: At one point or another, many of us face that bugaboo of writer’s block.  Any good suggestions for overcoming this challenge?

Sometimes we have to grow as writers to be able to finish a story or manuscript, so I think it is OK to set it aside while we work on something else until we are ready to step into that project again. Getting some fresh air, do a work out, walk the dog, go to the lake or hike in the park to clear the mind of the office. Find someone you can talk to and sometimes, just by talking it out we can find the answer.

***

Bio:

Award winning author and marketing guru Lillian Brummet is the author of 5 books, she also produces and hosts the Conscious Discussions Talk Radio show, and manages the Brummet’s Conscious Blog. Although it seems like a lifetime of scribbles and notes have led up to this, Lillian has been professionally involved in the realm of writing since 1999. She began writing poetry as a teenager, which allowed her to express the issues and emotions from a broken home, abusive childhood and being on her own at 13-years old. Through poetry she learned how to see beyond these hurts and discover a world outside of herself, where she learned that her life really did have value and that she had a purpose to fulfill.

Lillian has fond memories of an early childhood in  California and Nevada (USA) and grew up in the south-central region of BC, Canada. Dave was born and raised in Kelowna (BC) where he met up with Lillian in 1990 and they have been together ever since. Their favorite activities involve gardening, photography, and modifying their home. Whenever the mood strikes them the pair can be found enjoying low-impact outdoor activities (hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, snowshoeing) or playing with and training their two dogs.

Dave and Lillian have been recognized as Community Heroes by the LiveSmart BC program. They have also been presented with an award for “outstanding use of various media in ongoing outreach work to reduce waste in our environment” by the Recycling Council of British Columbia. Seeds of Diversity awarded them with a Certificate of Appreciation for volunteer contributions and Boundary Family Read Columbia Basin Alliance For Literacy recognized them for their support. Dave won an award for his nature photography through Cottage Magazine; his photos grace the cover of both Towards Understanding and Purple Snowflake Marketing. His work also appears on the graphic design work for the Place in Time CD. In 2010 the Canadian Wildlife Federation acknowledged the Brummets with Backyard Habitat Certification for their efforts on their property, and both the Brighter Planet and the Green Providers Directory organizationshave also recognized their work.

The main focus of everything the Brummets do is to inspire hope in individuals, helping them realize the value of their efforts and encouraging them to become more positive, proactive in life. –

Website:  http://brummet.ca/index.html

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Thanks for joining us today, Lillian, and I enjoyed our chat.

Welcome author Carol Kilgore.

Carol Kilgore is a Texas native who has lived in locations across the U.S. as the wife of a Coast Guard officer. Back under the hot Texas sun in San Antonio, Carol writes a blend of mystery, suspense, and romance she calls Crime Fiction with a Kiss. She and her husband share their home and patio with two active herding dogs, and every so often the dogs let them sit on the sofa.

Learn more about Carol and follow her here:
Blog:  http://www.underthetikihut.blogspot.com
Website:  http://www.carolkilgore.net
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/carolkilgore.author
Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/#!/carol_kilgore
Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6094110.Carol_Kilgore
Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/author/ckilgore

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Tell us about your latest book, In Name Only. How did the characters and plot line come to you?
First I’d like to thank you for having me here on your blog. I’m looking forward to blogging with all of you.
In Name Only is about Summer Newcombe, a woman caught up in the Federal Witness Security Program, and how she fights back. She’s just been relocated to Padre Island and has no real home, no family or friends, and no place to hide from those seeking to do her harm.
Summer was a character from a previous short story titled “Never Say My Name.” I wanted to pick up her life five years later inside WitSec and plop her down near where I was living at the time, which was on the South Texas Coast. Padre Island seemed the perfect place for her to land.

Plot was a different story. When I started writing I was a total pantser. I’ve progressed to having a full timeline, turning points and plot points on the plotting side. And knowing more about my main and secondary characters than I know about myself, including goals, motivation, and some of the conflicts for the main characters before I ever begin to write.
In Name Only was written somewhere between those extremes. I knew Summer fairly well. I knew basics about most of the other characters. A few didn’t show up until I was writing. I knew I wanted Summer to meet a firefighter. I knew a few of the plot points. And I knew how the story would end. The rest grew organically as I wrote and rewrote.

Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
My next novel, Solomon’s Compass, will release in March or April. In it, U.S. Coast Guard Commander Taylor Campbell returns to the Texas Coast to handle her uncle’s estate and becomes his killer’s next target. When she learns the mysterious Jake Solomon is not the man he’s portrayed himself to be, Taylor takes matters into her own hands to find her uncle’s killer. Jake Solomon has other plans.
Secrets of Honor will release after Solomon’s Compass, hopefully in fall or winter of 2013. It’s written but not yet edited. Following Secrets of Honor will be my current WIP, Amazing Gracie.

What is a typical writing day like for you?
Maniacal laughter followed my reading this question. The only thing I can count as typical in my life is that I never know what each day will bring. Ever. I continually adjust and readjust plans in order to fit things in. So this year I’ve begun writing first thing in the morning. Since I’m not a morning person, I set the alarm to get up somewhere around seven. I use a timer and write for one hour. Then I walk for about a half hour. When I return, I write for another hour. To be fair, it sometimes takes me two hours to get that second hour of writing in because by that time, the interruptions have begun. The walking break lets me process where I am and where I need to go when I return to the manuscript. My daily goal is 2000 words. I usually hit between 1500-2000 words in this two-hour span, but I’m striving to bump my goal to 2500 words. I have different goals if I’m editing, and they vary depending on where I am in the process. The rest of the day, I work on other writing-related tasks.

When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
When I start writing, I’m firmly in control. That lasts maybe through the first sentence. Once the characters begin to interact, the power shifts. But when the editing begins, I wrest it back.

Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
Lisa Scottoline. I love her humor and how she weaves the whole family into the story.
Books by my blog friends. Many of these are in genres I wouldn’t normally read, and none are cookie-cutter books. I love them all!

Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
I promote a little through groups either I or my husband belong to. Face-to-face interaction is always good. I’ve been blogging at Under the Tiki Hut for three and a half years, so I promote there. I ran contests for three weeks before my book came out and did book giveaways. And I’m winding up a six-week blog tour that averaged two guest posts each week. I’ve had fun meeting a lot of great new people. Other social networking—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads—has been and still is a huge learning curve for me. I’m not consistent in knowing what will connect with readers. Something that works one day may tank the next. I post things that have some connection to me as a writer or to some aspect of my current novel or the ones I know will come after. I also promote other writers, which is much easier!

How long have you been writing?
I started writing in 1999. I had a little success with short fiction. I freelanced. Then I tried my hand at a novel. Due to some family issues, I had little time for writing anything at all from about 2004-2007. When I again had the time to write, it was almost like starting over. I dove straight into writing novels.

Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
The biggest influence in my writing career is my husband. He encouraged me to write, and has been my rock and my cheerleader since Day One. He’s adept at helping me with plotting problems, and he always provides support and reassurance when I need them. He usually sees when I need recharging before I realize I do and drags my butt out of my chair and gets me into real world activities.

Tell us a little bit about where you live. I see you’ve lived in a variety of places, and San Antonio looks like a fascinating place.
I love San Antonio! It’s a dynamic city with a unique history and friendly people. The Riverwalk is fun, especially at Christmas. The missions are a don’t-miss for anyone, especially history buffs. Two theme parks. Excellent shopping. Lots of music and nearby festivals. The coast and the Hill Country are day trips. And much more. Winters are mild, and summers are HOT! But we have the longest and best springs and falls ever. There’s an email thingie that goes around periodically that says, in part, Texas has Spring, Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer, and Fall. We have about six to eight weeks of mild winter weather and maybe a few cold, nasty days in between fall and spring.
We’re a Coast Guard family and have spent much of our time stationed at the ocean. I love the coast and thought I would miss it. But we’re only two to three hours away, depending on traffic, and we visit often enough that I only miss it a little. I think that’s because I love San Antonio so much.

What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
I’m a firm believer in “write what you know” up to a point. This includes the emotional side of a novel. We have to take the emotions we know and translate those into what our characters would feel in their situations. I know Texas well, and I love it, warts and all. One of the reasons I set most of my stories at least partially here is because I want to share that love with readers. But I write crime fiction. In novels that means writing about things like murder and other crimes. I’ve never killed a person or burglarized a house or run a con or committed any other felony. But I’m a great researcher. So I write what I know, learn what I can by researching, and use my imagination for the rest.

Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
Currently I have two critique partners, and the only rule is to be honest. I have been in several critique groups. All but one of these groups was very good. In the groups I was part of, and still with my critique partners, I learn as much or more from critiquing their work as I do from the critiques I receive in return. In my experience, if you find yourself in a critique group that doesn’t work for you, exit gracefully as soon as possible. Sticking around will only make you miserable.

Can you tell us a little about your pets? We love animals.
Well, I could go on and on here, but I’ve probably gone on and on too much already. I’ve had an animal in my life for most of my life. Unfortunately I developed an allergy to cats during the time we had a Siamese, so since she crossed the Rainbow Bridge several years ago, I’ve had to enjoy cats on videos and LOLCats. Right now we have two dogs. The oldest is a rescue Border Collie. The youngest is a Blue Heeler, also called an Australian Cattle Dog. Both are amazingly smart dogs. Both are extremely vocal and have large, but different, repertoires. It’s like having two chatty toddlers in the house and underfoot 24/7.

***

Buy on Amazon

Back Cover Text:  No home. No family. No place to hide. For Summer Newcombe, that’s only the beginning.

The night Summer escapes from a burning Padre Island eatery and discovers the arsonist is stalking her, is the same night she meets Fire Captain Gabriel Duran. As much as she’s attracted to Gabe, five years in the Federal Witness Security Program because of her father’s testimony against a mob boss have taught her the importance of being alone and invisible.

No matter how much she yearns for a real home, Summer relinquished that option the night she killed the man who murdered her father. But Gabe breaks down her guard and places both of them in danger. Summer has vowed never to kill again, but she’s frantic she’ll cost Gabe his life unless she stops running and fights for the future she wants with the man she loves.

***

Thanks so much for joining us today, Carol. 

Join me in welcoming Karen Spears Zacharias, who has a powerful story to share with us today.

1.  Karen, thanks for joining us at Dames of Dialogue.  We are always curious about a writer’s creative process.  What can you tell us about how you came to write A Silence of Mockingbirds?

Thank you for this opportunity to share A Silence of Mockingbirds, a story that I will never be able to extricate myself from. If you come at writing from a journalist background, as I do, and someone you know
is murdered, how can you not tell that story?

Writing is how I process my life’s moments, whether I’m writing about marriage or a murder. In the case of A Silence of Mockingbirds, it was the June 2005 murder of Karly Sheehan, the daughter of a close family
friend, which compelled me.

2.  I can totally relate to the need to tell a story.  As a journalist, you have a lot of experience interviewing subjects.  But since you knew Sarah, the mother in this story, how was this process different for you?

The long answer to that question would require a bottle of wine and a late-night talk on a deck overlooking Mobile Bay or the Pacific Ocean.

I began my reporting career in the same Oregon community—Pendleton—where I had lived for over a decade, so it was not unusual for me to interview people I knew well. In many ways it gave me insights and an
institutional knowledge that others lacked. That knowledge cultivated fearlessness in me. I wasn’t afraid to tread into the intimate places, yet, I was always respectful about it. These, after all, were my neighbors, too.

Even so, Sarah was like a daughter to me. I purposely avoided her at first, knowing that our emotional entanglement would lead me astray, away from the facts of the case, if I wasn’t careful.

3.  What, if anything, did you bring away from that experience that might inform future projects?

Every book I’ve written has taught me something about how to write the next book better. I’m not far enough removed from this project yet—I am still touring—to know how it will inform future works. But I’m confident that it will.

4.  Your focus for this story was child abuse, and since April was Child Abuse Prevention month, do you have other projects along these same lines in your future?

My focus was on telling the truth. That is always my starting and ending point. I write books that educate and advocate. Those books cover a gamut of issues: women’s rights, veterans’ rights, and children’s rights. My next book, a novel titled MOTHER OF RAIN, addresses the issue of post-partum psychosis, the sort that Andrea Yates displayed. But even the novel is designed to educate and advocate.

5.  That sounds like an intriguing story.  And since your goal is to educate and advocate, what, if anything, have you been able to accomplish that will impact future legislation to prevent tragedies such as Karly’s?  


By myself nothing, but as I’ve traveled around the nation, telling Karly’s story, others have taken up the cause and are working to get a law like Karly’s Law passed in their own states.

In Oregon, Karly’s Law requires that a child who has been abused will have those injuries documented via photographs within 48-hours of the report of injury. Then, that child must be seen by a medical professional trained in child abuse within that same time period.  Common sense would tell you that such laws ought to already be on the books, but they are not. In many cases, those suspected of causing the injuries are allowed to determine what medical professional will assess the child, which happened with Karly. Her mother picked the doctor—her own—to do the assessment on Karly.

6.  As a retired social worker, I could relate so completely with your story.  I could point to a number of cases that evoked a similar emotion in our community.  How did your involvement in this story affect you personally?

I am a person of resolve. We cannot change that which we don’t talk about, and child abuse repulses us. We draw back from it. I have noticed a significant silence among those who typically correspond with me. I know it’s because of this book. They don’t want to tell me that they haven’t read it, so they avoid me. I suspect it’s much like what anyone who works in this field experiences at a dinner party. All of sudden the person who asked the question sees someone else they must go speak to.

I am intentional about how I live my life. I am trying to do important things. I am trying to make the world a better place. I’ve no tolerance for those who simply want to be entertained. We have a real-life Hunger Games situation underway, where children are being led to their slaughter, while adults stand about gap-mouthed.

Abused children don’t need our tears. They need our voices. They need our votes. Speak up.

For pity’s sake don’t tell me you can’t read this book because it might make you weep. If I write a book about child abuse that doesn’t make you weep, doesn’t make you mad, doesn’t compel you to take action, then I need to quit writing and get a job at Dairy Queen.

7.  Oh, I couldn’t agree more!  And because we often tackle difficult topics, we do need to take care of ourselves.  As writers, we often have rituals and routines that nourish our writing journey.  Do you have a special writing space, or a routine you follow?

Much to my own chagrin, I am not a person of routine.  I am a person of passion and, thus, obsessions. I work off a laptop that I carry with me from room to room, depending upon the weather, my mood, what the dogs—Portia and Poe—need at the moment.

I can most often be found in my office upstairs, overlooking fields of sagebrush and Russian Olives. Or downstairs in the red chair, next to a stained glass window of a garden scene that a local artist made. I
surround myself with bright art because the creativity of others inspires me.

8.  What lovely views you have!  Art and beauty do nourish the soul.   What can you tell us about how you first decided to become a journalist?

It was not a profession I chose. It chose me. I majored in communications and education because I liked to talk and I liked kids.  I made the choice to stay home and raise our family. But as a mother of four young children, I became engaged in the issues that concerned children. I became that woman—I am sure you have one in your community—who wrote letters to the editor all the time. I wrote well enough that the editor, who was a friend of mine, asked me to write for the newspaper. I started my first journalism job on my 40th
birthday. It seems all very surreal to me at times.

9.  What were some of the defining moments along the way for you?  Who or what inspired you?

Lewis Grizzard. I live in Oregon but was raised in Georgia. Every true Georgian adored Grizzard for his wit and wisdom. When I wrote my first book I tracked down Grizzard’s former agent, Tony Privett, and asked for his help. Tony and I struck up a delightful friendship. Bob Steed, another writing wit and dear friend of Lewis, also helped me get my first book published with Mercer University Press.

10.  What can you tell us about your family life?

I stayed in Oregon primarily because I married a wonderful Yankee. Tim and I met at Oregon State University. He’s a teacher, former coach and current law school student (the reason he’s a former coach). We have been married for 33 years and have four grown children, all who live in the Pacific Northwest. We are expecting our first grandchild, a boy, later this summer. And, yes, we are over the moon about it.

11.  Congratulations!  You are in for some wonderful experiences as a grandparent.  We also love to learn about the settings where a writer lives and writes.  What can you tell us about yours?

I travel a great deal. I actually wrote the first draft of A Silence of Mockingbirds while serving as writer-in-resident at the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts in Fairhope, Alabama. It was the perfect place to write this book because at the end of a long day of writing, I would walk down to the pier and watch the sun set over Mobile Bay.  Surrounded by the beauty of Creator’s hand, I always felt a cleansing, a renewing, strength for the day and bright hope for tomorrow sort of thing.

12.  We love animals…do you have any pets?  If so, what can you share about them?

I have two pets. Poe, an AKC registered Beagle, yes, named for Edgar.  He’s really my husband’s dog. The one the kids gave Tim to keep him company whenever I’m away on some writing jaunt. Poe bit me in 2010
and nearly took my entire nose off. I’m not kidding. It was a horrifying and very painful experience, but makes for a great dinner party entertainment. That Poe lives after that is only further proof that in this household we practice grace.

Portia is a chocolate-lab rescue dog. She is actually my son’s dog but he is spending his third summer working at Denali Park in Alaska so I informed him before he left that from this point forward Portia is mine. Portia seems delighted by the arrangement. She loves to go for rides and is quite content running errands with me. She often sleeps right under my feet, as she is now, while I write.

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity to share my stories with your readers.

***

Karen’s Website: http://karenzach.com/

A Silence of Mockingbirds on Amazon.com

Karen blogs here:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/karenspearszacharias/

You Tube Video Herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNSu82y8Iek

Today, Andrew C. Hudson is joining us to talk about his novel, his anthologies, and the world he is creating through his books and short stories.

 

1.    Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Andrew.  I’m fascinated that you’re already doing revisions of your recently published book “Drift.”  What led to that project, and what can you share about why you’re doing it now?

A major revision was not something I was expecting to do. I had done a few drafts and had my editor go through it before I published it. However, I did make the  naïve mistake of publishing the novel right after I approved/disapproved the editor‘s changes. Looking back on it, I definitely should’ve marked up that manuscript and done another draft before publishing it.

Unfortunately, it was a lesson that had cost me a few stars from the reviewers. Most of them really liked my novel but felt it was a little too rough for them. So I’m going back and revising it with everything I’ve learned in the past few months. It’s a bit frustrating having to go back but it is also very exciting to be revising it. I have faith that the new edition is going to be light-years ahead of the first edition in terms of grammar and prose.

 

 
2.    What would you like to tell us about your anthologies?  

There are two anthologies I’m doing.

Strange Happenings is the first anthology coming out soon. All of the short stories in that one are done by me. It’s going to be quasi science-fiction. Science definitely has an impact on all of the short stories but it’s not the typical science-fiction that most people expect (outer space, ray guns, futuristic, etc.). Hopefully this one will be out by early July (or perhaps a little earlier).

The second anthology is going to be a horror anthology done by multiple authors. So far there are thirteen of us on the project. It’s very democratic in the sense that we split the responsibilities and royalties evenly. If anyone is interested in contributing, feel free to ask me about it.

Also, I have a short story (The Porcelain Man) in Saffina Desforges Presents… (The Kindle Coffee-Break Collection Vol. 2)
3.    As an indie author, how would you describe your journey to publication?  What have you learned from that process that you can share with us?

It’s  been a very educational journey to say the least. Many of the aspects outside of writing (mainly marketing) are completely up to you. I’d imagine that would be very frustrating for some people but for myself, I find it all to be fun (for the most part). I try to treat the whole thing like a game and enjoy the process of learning.

As far as what I’ve learned from the process,  there are so many lessons that have been learned post-Drift that I could write a series of articles on them. If I could only give three important lessons, it would be these…

a. Build a platform: Don’t just wait until your book comes out. Connect with writers/readers, grow your twitter account, and do everything else you can to promote yourself as a writer. A bigger following and presence will help take care of the legwork from the get-go and help you start your novel’s debut off with a bang.

b. Be careful when stating your influences: This may sound silly but if you casually and constantly state an influence, you might get pigeonholed. I often told critics that Stephen King was my greatest influence as a way to break the ice. Unfortunately, this has led both Drift and me being compared to Stephen King. Which is frustrating at times because even though Stephen King is a huge influence, I also have a lot more influences.

c. Do another final draft after the editor hands it to you: This will save you the headache of going back and revising it. However, if people complain about (insert typo) or you feel the novel could use a little nip and tuck post-publication, there’s nothing wrong with going back to the drawing board and improving it.

4.    I see that you have a new novel coming out.  What can you tell us about this story?

The novel is Poem for the Wolves and it’s different than Drift in several ways. It’s a science-fiction novel set in a very close future (2023), the writing style is more external than internal, and it’s much bigger in length (both story and page length). However, there are some key elements that remain the same. The biggest similarity is the fact that I try to make it very much human and heartfelt, especially towards the end.

PftW is kind of about an alien invasion but not the kind of alien invasion you‘d expect. It’s much closer to something like Saving Private Ryan or The Oregon Trail and almost polar opposite of something like Battle: Los Angeles or Skyline. The plot is about a young twenty-something named HC Diego, the “world’s worst poet” (at least in his own words) and a bulls eye with his M1 Carbine, who journeys with an 8-year-old named Aimée Dumont from Buffalo, NY to Dulce, NM. The journey starts off simple but along the way they run into danger, battles, friends, and newfound lessons. There’s going to be action, adventure, and plenty of poetry as well.

5.    When did you decide you wanted to write?

Here’s the short version. I’ve always daydreamed about being some type of story teller. But I took the idea of writing seriously when I was twenty and began actually writing when I was about twenty-one. What set everything into motion was when I was a PA for The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I thought to myself, “Hey, I might enjoy being a writer.” And after trying different mediums, I eventually wound up loving prose writing.

6.    In your writing day, do you have special routines, rituals, or processes you experience?

There’s no special thing I do. Usually I start writing about an hour after I wake up and don’t allow myself to write an hour before I sleep (basically, I don’t allow myself to write when I’m too tired). For me it’s pretty sporadic but I do give myself a goal to write for x amount of minutes on each project by the end of the day.

7.    Tell us about your writing space.  Do you have a special room where you create?

For my second and later drafts, I write on a computer. It’s a desktop which is on a desk cluttered with papers (not having to do with the project), CDs, and a bunch of other random stuff.

If it’s the first draft, I write it long hand. Rather than writing in a “space,” I walk around the house while writing. This is probably because I’m one of those people who hate sitting down for far too long. Not to mention that walking around makes for great, simple exercise.

8.    That sounds like a great idea.  I should try that!  What are some of your favorite books and authors?

My favorite books are Christine (Stephen King), The Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison), Neuromancer (William Gibson), American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis), All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren), Bright Lights, Big City (Jay McInerney), Selected Short Stories of Philip K Dick (Philip K Dick), Class Reunion (Rona Jaffe), Dune (Frank Herbert), and I am Legend (Richard Matheson).

My favorite authors are Stephen King, Bret Easton Ellis, Philip K Dick, Neil Gaiman, Mickey Spillane, William Gibson, Elmore Leonard, Jay McInerney, Ira Levin, and Robert E. Howard

Movies, video games, and comic books have also influenced me a great deal.

9.    Of all the books you’ve read over the years, are there any special quotes that have stayed with you?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

Yes, I know that some people might consider this to be the most overused quote. But I think it’s one of the best quotes of all time. It can capture so many moments and eras. Not to mention that it’s still popular even though it’s over one hundred fifty years old, which proves how powerful it is.

10.   I like that one, too.  I notice that you also review books on several sites.  What are your favorite genres to review?

I’m pretty much open to any genre. I don’t have any specific tastes and I don’t understand people who only read one or two types of books. With that being said, my favorite genres are John Hughes styled films, heroic bloodshed, and horror. What I ultimately look for in a book, though, are memorable characters and interesting relationships.

11.    What can you share about where you live?

I live in the north-west side of the San Fernando Valley (California), close to Calabasas. The Valley is an odd mixture of people from the lower middle-class to the rich. It would be almost impossible to describe the social aspect of it, since it’s not one of those “Anytown, USA” communities.  I guess the closest thing to describe The Valley would be Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero and many Judd Apatow films (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Knocked Up, etc.). The Valley also has a lot of people from the movie industry. I thought about writing a book that takes place in The Valley and deals with the movie industry (since my family is a part of it). And perhaps one day I will…

12.    We love pets.  Do you have any?

I have two dogs. One is a two-year-old mix of Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, and Shih-Tzu and the other is a fifteen-year-old mix of Cocker Spaniel and Wheaten Terrier.

Thanks for joining us today, Andrew, and we all wish you success in your creative endeavors.

Andrew’s Website:  http://andrewcyrushudson.com/

presented by Betty Dravis

Author Betty Dravis

I recently met two fantastic authors, Brian Bianco and Dr. Niamh Clune, who belong to Author Central, a group of “authors helping authors” founded by Daniel L. Carter. Bianco and Clune are also co-founders of Orangeberry Group which promises to be an invaluable marketing site for up-and-coming authors. I thought our Dames of Dialogue readers would enjoy meeting them, so I asked Niamh if I could share the following story she recently wrote about Brian. (To balance the slate, I hope to interview Niamh for a future issue of DOD.)

Meet and Greet Brian Bianco

by Niamh Clune

When Brian Bianco puts pen to paper, he begins a marvelous journey into creating a story of make believe. He becomes completely involved with the lives of his characters. Creating them and weaving a story that brings them to life is as magical and fulfilling to him as Disneyland is to kids. Writing is Brian’s passion. So when I asked him what makes a good novel, he answered immediately: realism. He believes passionately that a writer must win the hearts and minds of his readers. The only way to do that is for the reader to believe in what they are reading. They must believe that the events in the story could happen; that they are real.

When he first started reading John Grisham’s book, The Pelican Brief, the story instantly engaged him because Grisham wrote about characters and a story-line that was completely plausible. Brian was present with Grisham inside the conference room listening to FBI Director Denton Voyles. Brian was with Gray Grantham in the newsroom of the Washington Post. Brian was in the lecture hall when Darby first appeared in the story. And Brian was sitting next to Grantham’s buddy taking camera shot after camera shot of the victim. The point is, Brian was there because John Grisham put him there. Grisham’s ability to convey realism through his writing style made Brian Bianco believe.

As far as Brian is concerned, writing style is the make or break point where a writer either engages a reader or loses them. Brian offers an example of this. Recently, he started reading a novel, but put it down after the first chapter. The writer lost him because the dialogue was smothered in over-description. The characters had so many internal feelings clamoring for attention all at once, that as a reader, Brian lost contact with them. He found himself continuously trying to pick up the dialogue, but failing and remaining lost in the hole into which the author had put him.

As far as Brian is concerned, dialogue is what moves the story along. It tells the reader about the true feelings behind a character. Descriptive wording, when used rightly, paints images of the visual aspects of a story. From the words they have chosen, we should be able to see who the characters truly are. Once a point has been made through the use of descriptive narrative, the writer needs to move on. Otherwise, Brian fears, a reader will find the story boring. He thinks it far better to write a shorter novel than to write a longer one filled with unnecessary descriptive wording that ultimately drives the reader to search for another book.

When Brian started writing Dressed for a Kill, the three main points to which he tried to adhere were: realism, dialogue and not being overly descriptive. He wanted the dialogue to tell the story and not have the characters interact with unrelated conversation. He wanted the descriptive wording to fill in the blanks and make certain the story was a real possibility in time—that it could happen. He also wanted his characters to be human, with real flaws just like the rest of us, and not make them like those seen on movie screens who are neither plausible nor real.

Brian thought hard about what kind of a story he wanted to write. To which genre did he belong? What kinds of stories did he personally enjoy reading? What attracted him as a reader? Most importantly, would he be a story-smith, able to tell it well? Brian questioned himself on all of these issues; not for him to start writing without a clear direction.

Murder/mysteries intrigue him. As a reader moves through a book, he or she must always keep an eye open for the one little clue, the one tell-tale sign that might lead to the right conclusion before the author has had a chance to tell us. Brian loves being able to outsmart the author. To Brian, writing is a challenge. The scent of the challenge is what inspired him to write Dressed for a Kill.

He labored at his task, as first impressions are lasting impressions. It took him a year to write and longer to edit; until finally, he was pleased with his labor of love. Brian knows it is good. He trusts what his gut tells him. And his positive reviews reinforce his belief in himself. Some of these can be read on his website, some on Amazon.

He wanted a unique storyline that incorporated twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Even at the end, he wanted to leave the reader unsure as to whether the real killer was caught, or if others were involved.

Brian believes that those who like John Grisham will like him, also. And John Grisham had to start somewhere. Readers must always take a punt. As a new writer, all that Brian asks is that readers do likewise for him. It might be a risk. But Brian is a risk-taker and believes the price of discovering a new author is well worth it. After all, there is nothing better in life than discovering something new. And he guarantees, readers won’t be disappointed

http://www.amazon.com/Dressed-Kill-Brian-Bianco/dp/1439258880

www.bbianco.ca

www.orangeberrybooks.com

Endnote by Betty Dravis: Dr. Niamh Clune resides in the UK and is best known for her metaphysical book Orange Petals in a Storm. She can be found at:

ttp://www.niamhclune.co.uk

http://facebook.com/niamh.clune

www.orangeberrybooks.com



Author Betty Dravis

Being as publicity conscious as the next author, it always delights me when I see a stranger reading one of my books. The publishing industry has changed drastically since my first novel was published in 2000. I’ve been pleased to see how creative authors have gotten in finding unusual places to hold book-signings…or actually, the places have probably found us (since we are normally invited to give signings). :-)

Since I asked a number of authors to share a story about an unusual book-signing location, it’s only fair that I start this session off. And by unusual, I mean any signing not held within the hallowed walls of a bookstore. Well, here goes…

I must say, I got a rush when I saw a man reading my first book, Millennium Babe: The Prophecy, on the Capitola beach. It was all my friends could do to restrain me from trudging through the hot, burning sand, offering to sign it. But I didn’t…

That would have been a bit unusual, but looking back, I think the most unusual place where I held a signing was at a Trinity Networks Team (TNT) Christian luncheon in Modesto, about a half-hour from my current residence. I was invited to be guest speaker at the luncheon by TNT founder J.P. Hurlbert whom I met through Stan Countz who is a promoter, poet, publisher, etc. Countz is another high achiever featured in our book Dream Reachers II.

I truly enjoyed the luncheon meeting/signing because J.P. led the guests in opening prayer and Stan Countz sang and played a little Gospel music. It was, indeed, an unusual venue for a book-signing, but it was tons of fun. My joy was made complete by David Sings who videotaped my presentation for a lengthy YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=bettydravis#p/f/4/HQ9eF0VR87w

http://www.bettydravis.com

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Dr. Niamh Clune Has ‘Hit & Run’ Signing in the Irish Dail

When Betty Dravis asked me if I had any amusing book-signing stories to share, one immediately sprang to mind. In my capacity as an environmental campaigner, I was meeting the Minister for the Environment in the Irish Dail (equivalent to the Houses of Parliament). I was in serious mood, fired up for the challenges of the day, poised and ready to fight my corner.

Prior to the meeting, I sat in the Private Member’s bar, drinking tea with some friends. A little wrinkled, toothless man shuffled up to me and said, “Are you the Niamh Clune…” and trailed off, leaving the question suspended between us, a paused moment of seemingly tremendous importance.

He doffed his cap. I couldn’t help but notice his appearance. His trousers were folded over his belt. The legs of them were too short and riding up his calves.  He looked incongruent in such a lofty place as the hallowed ancient building that housed the Irish Parliament.

But I was used to such things in Ireland. And nobody else seemed to think his appearance strange, so I answered, “I am Niamh Clune, but depends on who is looking for me!”

He looked up, nodded his head and remarked how that had been a wise response. He shuffled from one foot to the other. He placed his cap on the table, and like an Irish version of Columbo, scratched the side of his forehead slowly, then pulled on his earlobe and asked gently, “Are you the Niamh Clune from Co. Clare?”

“I am,” I said.

“And do you write books?”

“I do,” I answered.

“Now I have ya,” he grinned, and produced a scrunched-up serviette from deep within his trouser pocket. “Put it there,” he said, handing me the napkin and a chewed pencil.

I must have looked clueless. He urged, “Go on, go on… Put your signature there! Sure I’ll keep it as a memento.”

I did as I was bidden whilst struggling with the thick-leaded pencil on the flimsy serviette.  I gave it to him. He looked very pleased, picked up his hat and wandered off. I called after him, “Which book have you read?”

He paused, turned slowly and said, ”Now I didn’t say I had read any of them, now did I? But I did know your mother, and very fine she was too!”

http://niamhclunewrites.blogspot.com/

http://orangeberrybooks.co

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Slushie, Hot-dog…and Shane Moore’s book, please…

 One of my publishers was friends with the owners of the 7-11 chain in Saint Louis. They were testing the market, so they asked if they could schedule a signing of his best-selling writer at their stores.

He volunteered my services, so there I sat in a 7-11 store, signing books from 11am to 4pm. These books were sold with slushies and hot-dogs… (laughs) I was pleased, though, because I sold ninety-six books. That has proven to be a retail record; no bookstore in my career has ever topped that. http://www.abysswalker.com

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Auto Dealer ‘Parties Hardy’ for Collette Scott’s Books

Okay, my most unusual book-signing was at an automobile dealership, Camelback Toyota in my town of Phoenix, Arizona. They were kind enough to have me out there with a DJ and a local restaurant to serve their customers. It was a huge PR blast for the customers. I signed forty books, with donations taken for a local children’s safe-house charity. It was so much fun. There are pictures on my website and Facebook page.

http://www.collettescot.com

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Author Chris Thrall Surprised by Success…

 I’ve got my upcoming launch in a nightclub. I often go to this club, but I never thought for a minute I would be signing my book in it! As for signing, it’s just a weird experience full-stop– signing a book for anyone! Perhaps the strangest place so far is in my workplace for colleagues… Sorry I haven’t got a funnier story!

http://www.christhrall.com

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Jodie Brownlee Finds Fan While Traveling

 You asked where was the most unusual place I signed a book. It was on a train in my hometown on my way to visit a friend. I hadn’t lived there for over twenty years and was unknown in the area so it was a surprise to see a nearby passenger reading my book. For a few moments I just enjoyed the sensation that comes when you see someone reading your book. Then I plucked up the courage to tell her that I was the author. She couldn’t believe it. I told her I grew up in her town (a small semi-rural suburb of Australia) and I signed her book. Then we arrived at the station and went our separate ways, both beaming. It was a lovely encounter.

http://facebook.com/jodie.brownlee

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Children’s Pirate Books Author Signs in 1874 Lighthouse

The St. Augustine lighthouse is the most unusual location where I hold book-signings. It’s an active lighthouse on the north end of Anastasia Island, within the current city limits of St. Augustine, Florida and was built in 1874. I also wrote a fair amount of the first draft of my first book in the shadow of that lighthouse in a grove of live oaks on the grounds. Also two chapters of Bad Latitude take place in that lighthouse and my books sell like crazy in their gift shop.

Re: another blog you wrote, Mark LaFlamme’s answer to your question about what authors wear while writing was pretty much what I would have expected. He’s a nut… (For the record, I wear t-shirts, cargo shorts and flip-flops most of the times, especially when I write.)

Now there’s a picture of me on my blog with my grandson that you might get a kick out of. He thinks I’m a pirate and tells his classmates that I’m famous, so in anticipation of his visit, I let my beard grow long…for the sake of the picture. Naturally, my wife Deb was happy to see it trimmed hours after the photo was taken. (Endnote from Dravis: I decided to use the photo that Dave’s referring to in the following montage. He does make a convincing pirate, doesn’t he?)

http://jaxpop.blogspot.com/

http://jackrackhamadventures.blogspot.com/

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Summertime is hot and dull in the Central Valley of California and four teenage girls from very different families are determined to spice it up. With a single-mindedness that foretells disaster, they push aside all the rules and explore the underbelly of valley life. Drugs, sex, alcohol, adventure, anything to challenge the norm, yet all experienced without the benefit of maturity. As the girls become increasingly uncontrollable, their mothers-from dramatically diverse social castes-are forced to work together to save their daughters. Like a tornado moving across the landscape, lives are wrenched from their foundations.

Here is Chapter One of An Accidental Life.

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CHAPTER ONE
Once upon a time, Karin Larson had believed in endless possibilities.  In her childhood, all the adults had asked her the same question: What do you want to be when you grow up?   Picturing a giant list from which she could choose, Karin had played with the task, picking out one thing or another, while watching the reaction of the grownups to help her know if her choices were right or wrong.

Much later, Karin had come to realize that selecting one thing meant giving up something else.  A possibility lost…perhaps forever.  Sometimes, not making any choice at all was just a different way of choosing.

Karin often wondered about those alternate paths.  As a single mother and a social worker for the past fourteen years, she was a responsible and professional person.  She had achieved some expertise in her field.  On the surface, an observer might see her as a calm, reasonably attractive woman in her mid-to-late thirties.
So why did she wake up every morning of her life wishing she were somewhere else and anyone else?

Today was no different from any other.  Karin heard the alarm and cringed.  Then, to stave off the inevitable, she pretended to be on vacation in some tropical island.  She could almost feel the breeze off the ocean, and the scent of suntan lotion wafted toward her.  She could feel her body relaxing into the chaise lounge, while a handsome man approached with a tall, cold drink with one of those little umbrellas on top.  “Mom!” Bridget’s voice interrupted her reverie with its irritatingly teenage quality, that tone that demanded immediate attention.  As she pushed open the bedroom door, she continued.  “I can’t find that book I’m supposed to take back today!  Have you put it somewhere?”  Her tone, almost accusing, brought Karin rudely back to reality.

“No, Bridget,” she replied, forcing an appropriately calm and maternal tone into her own voice, refusing to resort to exchanging irritable words with her daughter.  “Why don’t you check the desk?  I think I saw it there last night.  And, good morning to you, too!”  She aimed a curving smile in her daughter’s direction.

Completely back in reality, Karin reluctantly sat up.  As she looked around to gather her bearings, her gaze swept over the room, with its four-poster mahogany bed and matching dresser, crammed into the small space along with an armoire at the foot of the bed and a wicker chair next to it.  Sighing, she acknowledged that her room had not metamorphosed into a luxurious bedroom/sitting room while she slept.  And as she pushed open the swinging doors separating the bedroom from her bath, she noticed that the tiny cramped space with the shower/tub combination had not mysteriously turned into a luxurious spa while her eyes were closed.  Laughing at her own fantasies, she turned on the hot water.  Under the showerhead, the steady stream forced her body awake.

Toweling off afterwards, she moved quickly and within minutes had dressed in lilac colored lightweight pants and a matching sleeveless camisole, over which she planned to throw a purple and green floral printed tunic top.   She glanced in the mirror before leaving the bedroom, pulling her ash blond hair back into a knot at the nape of her neck.  She applied some eye shadow above her hazel eyes and blush to her high cheekbones.  She lightly dusted powder on her pert, slightly upturned nose and with her finger, smoothed some lip-gloss on her full lips.  Satisfied that she would pass inspection, she hurried from the room.

In the kitchen, Bridget had made coffee and now set a mug in front of her at the breakfast bar.  Thankful for small favors, Karin smiled gratefully at her daughter as she slowly sipped.  Carefully scrutinizing her mother, Bridget poured juice for the two of them and sat down on the opposite side of the bar.  Her green eyes set in that fragile, porcelain-like face conveyed her apology.  At fifteen, Bridget’s moods were all over the place, but just now she had proved that underneath all the whining and irritating behavior, a sweet girl still lurked.

“Thanks, Bridget,” Karin reached out and lightly clasped her daughter’s hand.  “Did you find the book?”

Nodding, Bridget grinned.  “It was right where you said it would be.  I don’t know what gets into me, sometimes.  But, anyway, I have to go pretty soon.  What time will you be home tonight?”

“Oh,” Karin reflected, frowning as she mentally pictured her day.  “I think I should be here by six tonight.  Would you like me to pick up take-out on the way home?”

“Sure, Mom,” Bridget replied, while stashing her books and papers into her backpack.  “That sounds great.  Surprise me,” she added, anticipating her mother’s next query as to whether or not she preferred Chinese food or pizza.  Then kissing her mother lightly on the cheek, she headed out the door.

Left alone in the now yawning quiet of the apartment, Karin carried her mug into the living room, where she sat on the edge of the green and white checked slip covered sofa and placed it on the glass-topped coffee table.  From this vantage point, she could see the kitchen and adjacent dining room and down the hall to the two bedrooms.

A small round pine table painted green, with mismatched chairs, stood in the little nook.  Karin had laid out woven place mats on the bare tabletop; reddish orange napkins secured with pewter napkin rings offset the neutrals of the mats…compliments of the local Pier I store.  Her gaze swept down the hall toward Bridget’s room, and she mentally conjured up the black wrought iron daybed her daughter had had since she was ten years old, now covered with bright pillows in red, green, purple, and yellow.  Her red dresser and chest, along with a wicker side chair, had been picked up in thrift stores years before and painted anew to fit Bridget’s current fads.  Bridget’s walls were covered with posters and her shelves were crammed with books, teddy bears and dolls, reminiscent of her younger years.  Karin could also visualize the floor with its mass of clothing, both clean and dirty; Bridget had a tendency to throw things down after wearing them or even after just trying them on.

She and Bridget had lived in this tiny apartment since Bridget’s father had left in 1985, when Bridget was only nine.  She shuddered and forced herself back into the present.  Small though this apartment was, it had certain homey touches she had brought to it over the years with the addition of interesting pieces purchased at flea markets.  Against the inner wall, just before the room veered off into the hallway, she had placed her latest purchase, a reproduction rolltop desk.  Its pigeonholes were crammed with every imaginable item, but its top held photos placed in lovingly selected frames.  A picture of Bridget as a baby, with her reddish gold hair secured by a ribbon, sat beside a photo of herself and Bridget, taken when the little girl was four years old; and next to them stood a framed version of her daughter, taken just last year, her dimpled smile beaming at the camera, while her strawberry blond hair fell around her face in waves and her green eyes crinkled under the sweep of dark eyelashes.

On the wall above the desk, more framed photos were arranged asymmetrically, and included several of Karin as a child; one photo showed her grandmother, Olga Peterson, with her twinkling dark eyes and that gray hair on top of her head in its neat little bun.  Her eyeglasses hung from a chain around her neck.   Karin felt a slight pang as she thought about Olga, who, at seventy-seven, was becoming more fragile and seemed to shrink visibly between their infrequent visits.

Finishing her coffee, Karin forced herself to face the day.

Cramming papers into her briefcase, she glanced around to make sure she had turned off the coffeepot and adequately straightened the kitchen.  Sighing, she closed and locked the door behind her.
*     *     *
On the city bus, Bridget sat with her backpack at her feet.  Seeing the unfamiliar faces, that ever-present anxiety hovered in the form of a lump in her throat.  A quiet girl, Bridget had a small group of acquaintances, and only one really close friend.  That friend, Fawn Holleran, also fifteen, was now spending the whole summer with her father who lived in LA.   When Fawn had announced her summer plans, Bridget had felt the beginnings of the now-familiar anxiety.  Even though she was attending summer school everyday, that only used up the mornings; every afternoon, she would be all on her own for the first summer for as far back as she could remember.

She and Fawn, who lived in an adjacent apartment within the same complex, had always hung out at the mall, trying on clothes and sipping slurpees or sodas.  Their days had been crammed with lazy activities and they had usually ended up in one or the other’s apartment, watching TV or listening to the latest tunes.  So now what was Bridget to do?  She couldn’t think of any of her acquaintances to share such moments with, and couldn’t imagine that same closeness with any of them.  Of course, she could go to the mall alone and see what happened.  Maybe she could pretend she was waiting for someone and then none of the other kids would realize that she had nobody.  She tried to take some kind of inspiration from her mother, who was used to being alone.  Karin often went off to the movies or the mall, completely solo, and seemed so blasé about it.  Maybe she was only pretending too!

As she tentatively planned out her afternoon, Bridget closed her eyes.  She felt her body thrown slightly forward as the bus lurched over the potholes in the road, and when she breathed, she smelled the noxious fumes mixed with the body sweat of the passengers.  The temperature was already at 90 degrees, very hot for so early in the morning.

Trying to imagine she was at the beach, Bridget could almost feel the ocean’s breezes and smiled to herself.  It would be so great to have a beach house.  She sometimes watched those entertainment channels on cable, the ones portraying the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  She pictured herself walking down the beach in front of her own elegant home, calling out to neighbors whose lives were equally glamorous.  Maybe someday.  She was jolted back to reality by the grinding brakes of the bus.  When she opened her eyes, she realized that they had reached the campus.  Struggling to a standing position, she collected her backpack and moved to the front of the bus.
*     *     *

Bree Taylor thought that her life had finally turned a corner.   Awake before eight o’clock on that hot and balmy day in June, she hugged herself with excitement.  Here it was only two months after her sixteenth birthday, and she had already met the man of her dreams.  Stretching her arms above her head, she planned out the day and the rest of the summer.  No school to worry about.  No parental interference!  Her mother, Sara, had her own set of problems, and even though Bree felt a little guilty that Sara’s misfortune made her own life easier, she just couldn’t deal with her mother right now.  Not when she could have the best summer ever!
Bree threw her covers on the floor in a pile and pulled on her faded jeans.  She slipped a tank top over her blond head, and after she had splashed cold water on her face, she stared in the cracked mirror, checking out her skin for pimples.  Finding none, she grinned at the face reflected there, grateful that her perfectly ordinary features added up to pretty with a little help from makeup.  She brushed her hair slowly, watching the slightly wavy hair fall around her slender face and imagining how she would look dressed up in a beautiful, flowing gown…like the ones she saw on TV in her favorite soap opera.  She could picture the way the gown would sweep across the floor when she danced while her partner, who would be gorgeous, held her close in his strong arms.

Someday, she vowed, she would have magic in her life.  Now that she had met him, her magical moments might happen any day!
At twenty, Jason McKenna sure knew how to strut his stuff.  Bree had first glimpsed him last night at the lake.  With his dark hair falling across his forehead and that wild and reckless grin flashing for everyone to see, there was something so sexy about him.  Especially when he unwrapped his legs from around the Harley.   And as he sauntered toward her in his snug T-shirt and denim cut-offs, Bree had noticed the muscles in his tanned arms and legs, and when he paused before her, grinning, she had thought her heart would thump right out of her chest.

She had somehow managed to find her voice and they had talked.  She couldn’t remember much about the words, except that he had told her he was working on a construction crew and liked to relax at the lake.   Mostly, she remembered that when he looked at her, his intensely blue gaze and the flash of that smile had stunned her.  They had shared a couple of beers and a few passionate kisses, and he had asked for her phone number just before he roared off on his bike.  Bree hoped she would hear from him!  You could never be sure with guys.

Satisfied that she was ready to face the day, Bree tiptoed down the short hall to the tiny kitchen of the apartment she shared with her mother.  No sign of Sara.  Opening the refrigerator, she peered inside hoping to find something substantial enough to get her through the day.  She only had a few dollars…baby-sitting money.  She really had to do something to earn some cash.  Finding a box of cereal on the counter, she poured the remaining morsels into a chipped bowl and trickled the last bit of milk over it.  She filled a glass with water from the tap and sat down to eat her breakfast.
As she ate, she looked around, picturing the place through Jason’s eyes.  In the living room, which was really just a continuation of the kitchen with a short counter separating the space, a dumpy brown sofa from the thrift store sat against the back wall.  In front of it, a glass-topped coffee table was strewn with newspapers and magazines, while a nightstand from the bedroom held a black and white TV.  In the corner huddled a rump-sprung armchair in a tweedy orange fabric.  Sara’s finishing touch was a cheap print on the wall above the sofa.

Deciding to ignore her surroundings and focus on Jason, Bree spun her fantasy of the two of them riding on the back of his motorcycle, hurtling around the lake, and finally ending up in a secluded spot.  That’s where they would make love.  Then she would ride with him back to his place, a real bachelor pad.  He would hand her a beer and they would eat a pizza while they watched TV.  They would make love again on a giant bed, cuddling for awhile afterwards, with Jason whispering softly in her ear.  When he took her home, he would kiss her under the stars.  He would promise to call her again real soon.

Bree carefully rinsed the bowl and placed it in the dishwasher.  Making sure she had straightened everything up, she grabbed her bag and headed out the door.  She skipped down the stairs, and as she reached the bottom, she looked around to see if her friend Wendy was anywhere about.  Not up yet, she guessed.

Most of her friends would be sleeping in on this first day of summer vacation.  She knew that Wendy had watched her two younger brothers last night while her mother worked.  She felt sorry for Wendy, who had less freedom and more responsibilities than most of their friends.  Joshua and Jeremy, at six and five, were really cute.  But Bree knew that Wendy longed for the day when she would no longer have to worry about them.  She had been baby-sitting them for a couple of years now, ever since Wendy’s mom, Donna Fremont, started working nights at a bar in downtown Clovis.   Their father, Chuck, a long distance truck driver, had sprinted out the door right after Jeremy was born.

Speaking of fathers, Bree often wondered about hers.  She knew very little about him, since he had “taken a powder”…Sara’s description…right after he found out that Sara was pregnant.  Bree knew that his name was Michael Ferguson and that he and Sara had been together just a short time.  They had met on the road in the seventies, right after Sara had run away from home.   Sara didn’t like to talk about that time in her life.  Whenever Bree brought it up, Sara got a pained expression on her face and abruptly changed the subject.

Bree took off through the iron gate surrounding the apartment complex, and walked toward the bus stop.  She had decided to make the rounds of the fast food restaurants, filling out applications.  Anything would be better than baby-sitting and she really needed some cash.  Afterwards, she would head to the mall.  Wendy had agreed to meet her there around noon.  If she got there first, she could keep herself busy checking out all the new clothes.

*     *    *

Sara Taylor felt the sun on her face and turned over grumpily.  She didn’t see much point in getting up, but now that she was awake, she could feel the familiar craving; she reached for the almost empty pack of cigarettes on the nightstand.  Leaning over, she pulled one out, searching around for her lighter. It was tucked under her pillow.  When she lit the cigarette, inhaling deeply; she slid into a half-sitting position and glanced around the room for clues, trying to piece together the previous night’s scene.  She could see an empty wine bottle on the floor under the chair, and she noticed her pants and shirt lying in a heap on the floor near the edge of the bed.

She felt a momentary flash of memory involving a guy she had met in the bar.  Shuddering, she clutched the sheet around her nude body and headed to the doorway.  Glancing toward her daughter’s room, she could tell that she was already long gone.  Grateful not to have to face her in her present state, she leaned over the bathroom sink and quickly scrubbed yesterday’s makeup from her face.  She stared at herself in the mirror in horror.

She would be thirty-four on her birthday near the end of the month, but today, she looked much older.  Her thin face had the beginning of crow’s feet around the eyes and her sallow complexion reminded her of long days and nights with too much to drink and not enough sleep.  When she tried, she could still look presentable, with enough makeup and some sexy clothes.  She relied on her slender body to help her attract men and earn tips from her customers.  When she had a job!

Remembering that her downward spiral had started right after she lost the last job, she almost slid back under the covers.  But she had to do something.  She had applied for welfare and food stamps again right after the job ended and had put in her application for unemployment.  She thought she might start getting benefits soon.  In the meantime, she needed to do something fast!  Without looking, she knew that her refrigerator and cabinets were almost bare.

In the kitchen, she saw that Bree had finished the last of the cereal and milk.  She found a few slices of bread and popped one into the toaster.  She had a few grounds of coffee, enough to make a couple of cups, which she really needed in order to jumpstart her day.  She measured the grounds into the filter and while the coffee dripped, she smoked her second cigarette.

She stared straight ahead, remembering the past few years, which had started out so great, back when she first left her parents’ home…Even when Michael had taken off on his Harley right after he’d found out she was pregnant, she’d refused to let her spirits drop.  She had started receiving welfare back then and had shared an apartment with another girl.  Between the two of them, they had managed.  Later, after Bree had been born, there had been a time of depression.  Then everything had started to get better…for awhile.  Bree had been a sweet baby and an agreeable child.  And there had been new men and lots of parties.

But a teenage Bree was a different story.  She sighed as she remembered something her own mother had said to her many years before:  “You’re going to reap what you sow,” she had warned with a stern look on her face.  Sara’s parents, Vivian and Joseph Taylor, had been strict and very religious.  They hadn’t known what to do with her, and whenever Sara thought about them, she saw those disappointed faces and heard those harsh predictions.  “You’ll be punished at Judgment Day,” they had shouted at her.
So now Sara thought she might be getting payback for her own teenage years.  In defeat, Sara poured her cup of coffee and tried to think of a way she could somehow turn her life around.
*     *     *

Waiting impatiently for her friend Bree, Wendy Fremont twisted one of the short dark curls framing her face.  Glancing nervously at her wristwatch, she saw that it was nearly twelve-thirty and Bree was late.  Trying not to feel annoyed, she stood up from the little bistro table in the mall and paced.  She had already studied all the latest cassettes in the Sam Goody shop nearby, and had even tried on a few outfits in the little boutique down the way.  But nothing was as much fun when you were alone.

Deciding that she wasn’t helping the situation by stalking back and forth, she sat down again.  She remembered watching her mother this morning, before Donna had been aware of her presence.  Wendy hadn’t been sneaking around, but she guessed she must have approached pretty quietly…because her mom hadn’t seen her.  And there she was, her face in her hands, sobbing soundlessly.   Stepping back quickly, Wendy had then resumed her approach to the kitchen, mumbling loudly in order to announce her presence; when she had entered the room again, Donna smiled and greeted her warmly.

“Hey, Wendy,” she had spoken in that fake cheery voice adults sometimes had, her lips curving upward and her eyes crinkling.  “What are you up to today?”  While she had waited for her daughter’s response, Donna had ducked her head and appeared to be wiping something off her shirt.

Knowing that questioning her mother would do no good, Wendy had pretended not to notice anything wrong.  Quickly pouring her juice and getting the cereal box down from the top of the fridge, she replied:  “Meeting Bree at the mall.” She sat down at the small round table in one of the old wicker chairs and started eating quickly.  “What about you?”

Donna had shrugged and smiled.  “I have tonight off,” she had reminded her daughter, knowing that this piece of news would normally be of interest.  Wendy would be free, with no baby-sitting required, and on a Friday night.   Her daughter should be ecstatic.
But Wendy had pretended nonchalance, pushing her hair back from her face.  She had fallen into a sullen silence, staring fixedly at the back of the cereal box while she finished her breakfast.  Within minutes, she had gathered up her things and left.

Now Wendy again wondered about her mother’s mood.  She knew that her mother often fought off depression, having struggled for years to support her three children.  Her job at the bar couldn’t be a picnic, Wendy decided, but she had been working there for awhile now.  Had something happened last night?  Or was there some big bill on the horizon?  Feeling the familiar resentment surge, creating knots in her stomach, Wendy cursed her father and his irresponsibility.  In all the years since he had left, right after Jeremy was born, he hadn’t once picked up the phone to see how they were doing.  Wendy knew that every once in awhile a child support check arrived, but those occasions were few and far between.

And Wendy resented her mother, too.  She hated herself for feeling this way, but she was only sixteen; she shouldn’t have to be worrying about Donna!  And she certainly shouldn’t have to be spending so much time taking care of her little brothers.  But she smiled to herself, remembering that at least she had tonight off.  And as soon as Bree got here, they could plan some adventure.  Maybe they could drive out to the lake.  Neither of them had a car, but Bree was pretty good at finding rides and she would definitely want to go back out there.  Wendy had talked to her on the phone late last night, and could tell from Bree’s voice how much she liked that guy Jason.

Suddenly she spotted Bree racing toward her, her eyes bright and her blond hair flying around her face.  With every movement, her body signaled that she was ready to have some fun.  Wendy stood up, grinning back, and walked quickly in Bree’s direction, waving her hand.
*     *     *

After the long drive to the downtown Fresno offices of the child welfare agency, Karin longed for a few quiet moments to reflect about her day, which was why she almost always allowed herself extra time in the mornings.   She checked her wristwatch, and calculating that she could afford at least fifteen minutes in the employees’ lounge, she headed in that direction.  Before she even reached the room she could smell the coffee brewing.  Thankfully, some other early bird had had the same agenda and had already made the coffee.  Removing her mug from her tote bag, Karin poured a cup.  Sitting down at one of the round tables, she closed her eyes, enjoying the silence.

On the drive, her thoughts had inexplicably been drawn toward her childhood.  Maybe because summers always reminded her of those lazy days in her grandmother’s old farmhouse.  Olga had long since sold off the farmland, not having the inclination any longer to work the land or hire others to do it.  But Karin still loved looking out the windows of the old house toward the stretch of land around it, even though that land now belonged to others.  Olga and her husband Gustav had bought this land back in the early thirties, eager to own their slice of the American dream.  Immigrants from Sweden, they had toiled in factories and saved until they could purchase the property.  Even later, after Gustav had been stomped to death by one of their horses, Olga had resolutely struggled on, hiring others to help out.  But eventually she had acknowledged that she needed to bow out, and placed the land for sale.

Now Karin realized that her grandmother had probably sold the land in order to finance her education.

But on school vacations, Karin had been blissful and unknowing.  Glad to be on break, Karin would sleep a little later and her grandmother indulged her.  Thinking she would sleep until at least nine or ten in the morning, Karin would curl up under the covers.  But then she would smell the bacon and eggs and the pungent aroma of coffee would seep into the room.  She would picture Olga bustling about, a few straggling gray hairs in wispy strands around her pink cheeks, and she would feel drawn toward the homey kitchen and the security of her grandmother’s presence.   So she would toss the covers aside, get dressed, and hurry out to join her, greeting her with a big hug.  Olga would hold her tightly in a warm embrace and she would feel so loved.  Soon afterwards, though, she would again feel that familiar pang of loss.

Her grandmother’s presence was a constant reminder that her parents were gone.  Even though she had never actually known them…They had been killed in a car accident before she was even a year old…Karin still felt their absence every day of her life.  When she saw the parents of her friends.  When she saw TV shows depicting families.  Feeling this way seemed like a betrayal to Olga, who had been more than a grandmother.  She had been mother, father, and grandmother all rolled up into one.  Nobody could have done more for her than Olga.  So why did she feel so bereft?

 

Karin decided that this particular journey into the psyche would best be postponed until another time.  She had work to do and a day to plan.  She finished the coffee and rinsed out her mug, stowing it away in her handy tote.  Slipping the tote over her shoulder and picking up her briefcase, she headed toward the stairway which led to her second floor office.   Others were arriving even as she negotiated the stairs and she smiled and greeted coworkers, engaging in pleasantries.  Everyone seemed exuberant and Karin realized that, since it was Friday, the anticipation of the weekend hung in the air.

Quickly moving across the room and winding through the maze-like cubicles, Karin appeared purposeful.  When she reached her own workstation, she glanced around the room, taking in the scene for a moment before sitting down.   Joyce Mason, a senior social worker who had been particularly helpful over the years, sat in the next cubicle.  A couple of years older than Karin, she had been working for the agency for almost seventeen years; in fact, she had signed on right after she had graduated college.  Turning toward Karin, she gifted her with a welcoming smile which completely spread across her round face, while her dark eyes twinkled mischievously.  She reached up and attempted to tame her frizzy dark hair going gray around the edges, but it sprang right back into its semi-Afro, a style reminiscent of the seventies.  “It’s already hot today, isn’t it?” she moaned slightly.  “And, of course, the air conditioning is on the fritz again!”

Karin smiled and they both commiserated about the ancient building with its less than adequate accouterments.  In the past fourteen years, Karin had seen all kinds of buildings forced into service.  She still fondly remembered her first office which had been in an old dormitory style building adjacent to the county hospital.  Antiquated though it had been, each office had boasted a window and Karin’s had looked out upon green grass; sometimes while reflecting on a case, she had observed all kinds of interesting drama played out before her eyes.

This building, on the other hand, had become too cramped almost immediately.  At first the old gray metal desks had stood bullpen style in the yawning room.  Later, cubicles had brought some order to the space and even some measure of privacy.   Not much, of course, Karin thought, as she listened to the social worker whose station abutted hers.  Speaking on the phone, her voice boomed loudly, seemingly bouncing up and over the barrier.  Either her client was somewhat deaf, or she was attempting to emphasize some point.  These kinds of interactions dominated the days, but with practice, Karin had learned to tune out most of the distracting elements.  She searched through her pink message slips, deciding who needed immediate attention, and began making her own calls.
Next on the agenda:  planning for the juvenile court hearing for the Manning family, scheduled for next month.  Vicki and Greg Manning had come to the attention of the agency and the court when the police had arrested them for possession of drugs for sale.  Exposing their three children to the drugs and paraphernalia had resulted in their removal from the home by the authorities.  Now, six months later, a review hearing would decide when the children might be reunited with the parents.

Karin reviewed the file carefully, noting that all the therapist’s reports were available.  She also reread her own notes on her contacts with the family, and even though this particular hearing would be the first review, the level of compliance was not what she had hoped.  Normally a family had twelve months in which to complete all court-ordered tasks, but significant progress at the six-month review signaled a better prognosis.  She sighed as she considered the therapist’s recommendation.  A consultation seemed to be in order and as she completed reviewing the file, she punched in the therapist’s number.  Within minutes, she had scheduled what the agency called a “staffing”, during which family members and service providers would discuss the family’s progress and arrive at a consensus as to the recommendations for the court.

Moving on to the next task, Karin soon forgot everything else as she concentrated.
*     *     *

Bridget stepped off the bus and headed toward the entrance to the mall.   Completely absorbed in her class that morning, she had temporarily forgotten that she was on her own this afternoon.  Now she was brought back to reality by the sight of all the others hanging out, paired and grouped off.  But reminding herself of her plan, she forced a purposeful expression on her face and marched quickly toward the bookstore, always a good place to start because she could lose herself checking out all the latest books.  And magazines.  Tuning everything else out, she had almost forgotten her predicament when she heard a voice.  “Bridget!  Hey, aren’t you Bridget Carlton?”

Turning, she saw two girls approaching, one with short dark hair and the other with long blond waves.  She recognized them from school, but they had never actually spoken to her…And they were both going into their junior year, while she was only a sophomore.  Puzzled, she smiled and moved slowly in their direction.  “Yeah, I’m Bridget.  Wendy?  Bree?”  She frowned as she struggled to remember their names, still curious as to why they would even be talking to her.  She had nothing they would want.  She had always been a loner, with her one true friend Fawn.

Wendy spoke first.  “You’re in the band, aren’t you?  I saw you at the last game.  You play the drums.”

Amazed, Bridget nodded.  “Yeah… just started last year.  But I thought nobody noticed…”

Bree managed to hide her own doubts about including this girl as she watched Bridget’s expression change from suspicion to curiosity and finally to relief.  Just like a loser, Bree thought.  But Bridget’s musical talent might be useful, she and Wendy had decided when they first spotted her going into that bookstore.  What a nerd she probably was, but with drums…Well, who knew what could happen?  They could drag her and her drums along to whatever party they set up over the next couple of months.  Of course, it would’ve been even more useful if she had been old enough to drive and had a car…Well, that job would have to fall to somebody else.

“Want to hang with us for awhile?”  Wendy offered, standing there in her faded jeans and T-shirt.  Bridget studied her, noticing the way her hair was brushed back, exposing her ears; she had three studs on her left ear and one dangling earring in the right one.  Her clothes were not designer labels, but she had a way of putting things together so that she seemed cool.  Bridget glanced down at her own plain pants and shirt, and wished for a little style sense.  Maybe she could learn something from these two.

Bridget then glanced over at Bree, whose tank top fit snugly and clearly defined her curves.  Her tight jeans clung to her body and openly advertised her best points.  Yeah, Bridget thought, I could use a little help in this department.  So she nodded and flashed her dimples.

Heading toward a clothing store across the way, Bridget felt the knot in her stomach begin to disappear.
*     *     *

Donna Fremont had been jolted awake that morning by a gripping nightmare in which hot lava poured through her body, and then when it reached her gut, it turned into a wriggling snake slithering upward until it grabbed her throat, clutching tightly.  Gasping for air, she sat up in her bed, forcing herself toward the open window.  She had inhaled several times, but the air outside was hot even at six a.m.

Groaning, she had sunk back into the bed, her heavily perspiring body sticking to the tangled sheets.  She had just gotten to bed at four this morning, after finishing work at three.  Normally, she was able to sleep until nine, with Wendy’s help with the boys.  Thank God for summer school!  Jeremy and Josh spent mornings in school, allowing her to sleep…usually.

Well, she thought as she lit a cigarette. I’ll never be able to get back to sleep now.  Since she was awake, she might as well get up.  Early waking hours were usually when her thoughts careened backwards to her childhood and a time when she’d dreamed of the kind of life she wanted.  She was nowhere near that life yet.  She had thought she was there when she had met and married Chuck.

After all those years in foster homes, she had fantasized about a normal family life.  Of course, her pictured version had changed constantly, depending on the family she was living with.  After awhile, though, she decided that none of those families were anything like the one she wanted someday.  While none had crossed the line into actual child abuse, they were not anything like the loving parents she hoped to give her own children someday.
She had often stared at the TV screen, following the family dramas pictured there…She really had liked that show in the seventies, called Family.  The mother was kind and understanding and the father, a lawyer, arrived home every night after a busy day, ready to turn his attention to each of the children.  Kristy MacNichol and Meredith Baxter played the girls.  She couldn’t remember who played the boy.  The parents had long talks with the kids.  And when the children acted out, either the father or the mother, or sometimes both of them together, would all sit down and sort everything out together.

Donna’s own mother, Norma Sanders, was not someone she really remembered and she had never known her father.  Before Donna was even five years old, her mother had started her series of hospitalizations.  In and out of mental institutions over the years, Norma had barely noticed Donna’s routine visits, accompanied by one social worker or another; frustrated, Donna finally refused to go anymore.  She could still visualize her mom, her eyes glazed over as she shuffled down a hospital corridor or sometimes, curled up in a ball on the bed, her eyes vacant.  Someone had tried to explain it all to Donna once…That her mother was in a state of complete withdrawal from reality…”catatonic”, they said.  Nobody seemed to know why this had happened to her.  She noticed that the nurses seemed relieved that her mother, heavily medicated, was pretty manageable.

Donna had come to accept her nightmares over the years, knowing that in some way they were probably connected to her childhood.  She didn’t really want to look at any of it too closely…it interfered with the fantasy picture of the life she wanted.   For awhile, she had believed in that image; she and Chuck had stayed together for almost twelve years.  Chuck had worked hard, brought home the paycheck, and while he wasn’t really into the family communication she had pictured, nothing is perfect.  Then one day right after Jeremy’s birth, he had taken off.   She hadn’t seen it coming.  Dazed and in a fog, she had dragged herself around for months afterward.  Sometimes she still felt dizzy and disoriented in the early morning hours, almost like she had whiplash…

 

Never one to give up on her dreams, Donna had plowed ahead, finally finding work.  She liked working in the bar because she was around people and excitement…sometimes  too much excitement…but if there was a lull in the activity, she could spin her daydreams while she worked.  She studied the people who came into the bar and imagined what their lives were like.  She had long since given up on that TV family image.  She now laughed at herself and the naiveté she must have had to believe in all that.  But she still knew she could make something better of her life.  She had to believe that or she would just curl up in a ball and die…Like Norma  Sanders had.

She had been sitting in the kitchen, drinking cup after cup of coffee and smoking her cigarettes, when she had heard Wendy coming down the hall that morning.  So she had forced a cheerful expression on her face.  She believed it was important to keep up a positive front.

Now as the afternoon wound down, Donna thought about her friend and neighbor, Sara Taylor, who lived in an apartment upstairs.  They had first met when Sara had moved in about three years ago.  Donna and her kids had lived here for almost five years, since right after Chuck left.  These apartments were pretty cheap, but they were also ugly, with paper-thin walls scarcely concealing the noise or even the smells between apartments.  Donna often laughed as she told everyone she knew that there was really no point in trying to stop smoking, because she would still get her nicotine high through the neighbors’ walls.

Last night, pulling into her parking space, she had noticed the pickup in Sara’s spot.  She had hoped that the truck hadn’t belonged to who she thought it did.  Worried, she now bravely walked up the stairs and knocked on Sara’s door.  If Sara was getting involved with Zeke, she was getting in over her head.

To Donna, Sara seemed very fragile, with her extremely thin build and her pale complexion.  Her blond hair was her best feature, but it often framed a pinched face with dark circles under her eyes.  Today was no exception, Donna observed, as Sara threw open the door.  She stood there, unsmiling, every muscle tensed as if for flight.  Her eyes seemed to recede into their sockets while her skin stretched tightly over her bones.

Maybe I should have left well enough alone, Donna thought, taken aback by the expression on her friend’s face.  But Sara motioned for her to enter and led the way into the living room.  Glancing around, Donna could see that Sara was alone.  She relaxed.  If Zeke had been there, he was long gone.  Donna certainly was in no position to judge anyone else, but she had also learned a few things the hard way.  Working in a bar was like a rude awakening sometimes.

Donna knew that Sara was depressed about losing her restaurant job.  “How’s it going?”  Donna sat facing Sara, leaning toward her slightly.  Then, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her bag, she offered one to her friend, lighting Sara’s and then her own.  Inhaling gratefully, Sara relaxed slightly.

“About what you’d expect,” Sara replied grudgingly.  “I’ve been putting in applications everywhere, not to mention unemployment and welfare.   I did get some temporary food stamps today, so I can do something about that empty fridge over there,” she gestured toward the kitchen.  “I was feeling pretty desperate this morning.  We were down to the bare minimum and I was thinking of doing something crazy.”   She laughed mirthlessly.   She stood up and paced while she smoked.  Glancing toward Donna, she continued:  “Do you think you could get something for me at the bar?  I could cocktail waitress.”

Donna frowned, shaking her head.  “I could ask the boss, but I know he doesn’t have anything right now.  Maybe something will open up later.”  Scrutinizing Sara closely, she added:  “I guess Zeke came over here last night?  I thought I saw his truck.”

Sara’s face flushed in embarrassment.  “Yeah, but it was a one-time thing.  I went out last night, drank too much, and the next thing I knew, we were here.  And we drank some more.  That’s about it.”
Donna knew Zeke’s reputation and she worried about Sara’s involvement.  He was a known drug dealer, mainly crank.  If  Sara spent time with him, she could easily be drawn into his scene.  Especially if she was depressed.  But Donna also knew how stubborn Sara could be and that once she set her mind to something, there was no turning her around.  Zeke was bad news, but nothing Donna could say would convince her.

They talked for awhile, about how hard it was raising their kids, especially now that the girls were in their teens.  They slammed their old men until they got some of the resentment out of their system.  They smoked.  After awhile, Donna invited Sara to join her for dinner and a beer.  Smiling gratefully, Sara agreed to come on over later.

After Donna left, Sara sat quietly, flipping through the channels and feeling nervous about Donna’s mention of Zeke.  He had tried to get her to snort crank last night. She knew that’s what Donna was worried about.  When Sara had first awakened this morning, her mind had drawn a blank about the evening.  Later, some of it had come back in bits and pieces.  She hadn’t snorted with him, but if he’d tried just a little harder, she probably would’ve gone along with it.  What was happening to her?

Sara knew the answer to that question.  Her whole life had been one crazy thing after another, starting with running away from home all those years ago, hitch-hiking along the freeway, until Michael Ferguson had sped by on his cycle.  When he’d seen her there, he’d come to a stop, and through a haze of dust stirred up by his bike, he’d sauntered over with that cocky grin…And she’d been swept away.   She had turned over control of her life to him.  It had been great for awhile, but when he found out she was pregnant with Bree, it was hasta la vista, baby!  She’d never heard another word from him.

When Bree was a baby, she had gotten welfare for awhile, sharing apartments with other welfare mothers.  At one time, she had heard that Michael was in LA.  But so far, nobody had been able to catch up with him and she had never seen a dime of child support.  What did she expect?  She had fallen for him because of his free and easy ways.  Guys like Michael hated responsibility and ties.  Like her mother had said,  you reap what you sow.  Sara hated to think her mother was right about anything, but she was sure she would have sized Michael up in an instant.

After all these years, Sara had never gone home again.  She knew her parents were still living up in Modesto because she heard from her brother Sam once in awhile.  Three years older, he kept in touch with their parents and also with Sara.  Last time he had called her, he had tried to get her to come home for a visit.  But she hadn’t been up to it.  Home was not a place filled with good memories.
Noticing the time, Sara wondered where Bree had gone.  Probably the mall.  She knew she should keep better track of her daughter and vowed that she would make more of an effort.  As soon as she saw her next.  Brushing the hair out of her eyes, Sara padded across the floor in her bare feet and studied herself in the mirror.  She scrounged around in the drawer until she found a little foundation makeup and sparingly applied some, hoping to erase some of the lines and dark shadows.  Not entirely satisfied with the results, she next fished around until she found the blush, which she swept on with the big brush.  She used the eyelash curler on her lashes and finally, brushed out her hair until it fell into natural waves.  She was grateful for small favors and her hair had always been one of her best features.

She finished getting ready to go to Donna’s and scrawled a note for Bree.  She placed it on the breakfast table.  She wouldn’t be able to miss it.
*     *     *

Bree, Wendy and Bridget sat around a bonfire at Lost Lake, ogling some of the cute guys who had just pulled up on their bikes.  When they had first arrived a few hours ago, they had hung out with whoever seemed to have cigarettes and beer.  Bridget had held back at first, wary of the whole scene.

After the mall, Wendy and Bree had egged her on until she had gone home to leave her mom a note.  She had never done anything this big without permission, and she had reservations about the whole thing.  But she had also felt a thrill which carried her along even while her doubts were hovering in the back of her mind.  Then she had decided that even if she got grounded for a whole month, it would be worth it to have something fun and exciting happen to her!

They had hitched a ride with Jake and Connor, who were both seniors, and who also had happened to be hanging out at the mall.  Not sure about how to handle all this, Bridget worried that the others would think she was a geek if she didn’t go along with them.
Now, as Jake handed her another beer, Bridget glanced around and on the edge of the circle, she spotted another girl she recognized from school…Savannah.  She, too, was a sophomore, and seemed to hang out with the tough kids.  Savannah lived in some apartments near the railroad tracks, which meant that her mom was probably single and struggling.

Bridget often wondered what made people hang out together.  How did the kids who wanted to do dope know when they had met someone who might be ripe for the experience?  Did she and the others have signs on their foreheads, announcing to everyone else that they were suckers for fun and thrills?  That must have been what had really drawn Wendy and Bree to her in the mall:  all three of them were thrill-seekers.  She couldn’t think of anything else that would have made them give her a second glance.   Or maybe they wanted to try and corrupt someone they thought was totally pathetic.

Suddenly Savannah caught her glance, grinned, and sauntered over.  She was tall and slender, with red hair and freckles; her tight jeans and tank top advertised her body.  She was smoking a joint, which she offered to Bridget.  Hesitating for only a minute, she tried to inhale.  She coughed and the others laughed, knowing they had a “virgin” on their hands. Then she took another hit.  Within seconds, she sat down hard, giggling.

Bree and Wendy started laughing and clapping, but then Bree stopped abruptly.  A guy had just roared in on his Harley; dismounting slowly, his glance circled the group until he found his target.  Even as Bree was whispering  “It’s Jason,” he was on his way toward her.   He grabbed her around the waist and lifted her off the ground, planting a big kiss on her lips.

Just watching the two of them, the others knew that before the evening was over, their summer would be off to a fabulous start.

*     *     *

Karin lay in her bed with her ear half-cocked for the sound of Bridget’s key in the lock.  When she had first arrived home with the take-out Chinese food, she had fumed at the note lying in full sight on the dining room table.  Bridget’s words had been vague:

Sorry, Mom.  Ran into some friends from school and I’m hanging out at their place.  We might go to the lake.  I’ll call you later.  Bridget
Fawn was the only friend Bridget had ever stayed with, and Karin knew that Fawn was in LA.  So whoever these mysterious friends were, they were not anyone she knew.   Frantic, she had scrounged around in Bridget’s room, looking for a name or phone number, but came up empty.  What had happened to her normally compliant daughter?

She tried to reassure herself that because Bridget  was usually very responsible, she probably wasn’t doing anything even remotely like the scenes playing out in Karin’s head right now.  She pictured her drinking, doing drugs, and experimenting in wild sex.  Because she had imagined the worst case scenario, she told herself, the reality must be much less fearful.  Nice, normal girls, even though they were going through occasional mood swings, didn’t suddenly disappear on an ordinary summer day to experiment with everything wild and crazy.  It just didn’t happen!

Karin tried to busy herself with chores around the house.  She ate half of the Chinese food, saving the rest for Bridget, who would no doubt be walking through that door any minute, expressing remorse, and pleading forgiveness for her thoughtless behavior.
Even though Karin herself had occasionally experienced rebellious feelings as a teenager, she hadn’t really done anything drastic.  She hadn’t needed to, since Olga had pretty much granted her free rein.  Olga’s rules had been very simple.  Karin just needed to tell her when she’d be back home and where she’d be going.  Simple.  Olga had expected Karin to behave with responsibility and had treated her accordingly.  Thinking back, Karin could never recall Olga as anything but loving and supportive.  As a result, Karin had desperately wanted to please her.

Sometimes, though, Karin thought that she probably had toed the line because, having been abandoned by her parents, albeit inadvertently when they had died in that accident, she didn’t want to risk losing the last person she had.

Even when Karin had married Brett Carlton right after college graduation and become pregnant almost immediately, Olga had remained unfazed.  She could have expressed disappointment that her hard work paying for Karin’s education might be wasted…but she had expressed joy instead.  Of course, as it turned out, Karin had had to fall back on that education rather quickly after the marriage.  Brett, even with his college degree, had very little inclination to work at any job for any length of time.  Several years after college, and after Bridget’s birth, he was still trying to “find himself”.  Karin had been glad she had a means of support.

Caught up in the memories, Karin curled up on the sofa.  She often wondered how her life might have turned out if she hadn’t met Brett.  She hadn’t been that social during college, hanging out in the library and studiously avoiding distractions.  She could still picture herself scurrying across campus with armloads of books, her brow furrowed while she planned out every moment of her day.

 

She had loved her classes and thought she might major in journalism, but the counselors discouraged her.  They depicted that field as hard and competitive, not for nice young women.  So she had dabbled in other classes, finally settling on psychology.
She had been fascinated by the subject matter, and while she wasn’t sure of her career goals, she had plunged ahead.  Then, almost by accident, she had happened on some students who were working toward teaching credentials, which at the time, could be obtained with any academic major… She had been drawn to that idea, and had formalized her plan to become a teacher.  That was practical.  And she would be able to parlay the psychology major into that career goal.

Meeting Brett had changed everything.  A junior when they had first met in one of her English classes, she had been swept away by his dark good looks and those intense eyes.  His aggressive approach impressed the shy and retiring Karin.  And when he had turned that gaze upon her, she had thought she would die from wanting him.  Inexperienced and naïve, she had believed everything he said and did.  It didn’t take much for her to fall hopelessly in love with him.

Grudgingly, Karin had to admit now that even though things had not turned out the way she wanted, she still wouldn’t change any of it.  Maybe her life had taken some unexpected twists and turns, including her marriage to Brett.  And even though Bridget drove her crazy half the time lately, not having her daughter was unimaginable.

On the other hand, she sometimes wondered about that particularly strange twist of fate that had brought her to a career in social work.   Right after Bridget’s first birthday, she had briefly explored finishing up her credential; unfortunately, she had found instead that all the requirements had changed while her back was turned.

Stuck, she had cast about for something else to do that would bring in some extra money, since Brett was still not working.  She had skimmed the job announcements listed on the board at County Personnel, and that’s when she had seen the notice announcing a test for social worker.  Reading the job description and the educational requirements, she had taken the leap.  And now the rest was history.

She had serendipitously fallen into this career, desperate for a professional job that would bring in enough money to support the family.  She had thought she would try it out for a little while…and fourteen years later, she was still at it.  When she had been working at the job for a couple of years, and while Brett was still there to baby-sit, she had gone back to school at night to work on her master’s degree.  She had finished it four years later, but before she had had a chance to celebrate her success, her marriage fizzled out for good.

By the time Brett had left to pursue his own dreams, Karin had become accustomed to handling most of the load alone anyway.   She had been there for it all:  the bouts with asthma; the first days of school, with all the teacher’s conferences; the plays, and later, the band concerts as Bridget tried one musical instrument after the other.  And now she was here alone, worried sick and waiting for her daughter to come home.

Finally concluding that stewing over Bridget’s whereabouts was doing no good, Karin cleaned up the kitchen, turned out the lights in the living room, and climbed into bed.  She would read that suspense thriller she had picked up on her lunch break today and try not to borrow trouble.  And she would deal with Bridget later.

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