ASIN: B00B1UOE7S Cover Reveal

I’m putting the finishing touches on the second e-book of the Green Crystal fantasy series, which stars Nick Andrews, a 12-year-old boy whom I featured in my previous post. The book, “Day of the Fairies,” is another short story, and it replaces the following books that I published at Amazon from 2013 to 2016:

Trespassing: The Ridgewood Chronicles, Book 2

and Trespassing: A Vree Erickson Novel

The novel moved to another series of books. (More about that in a future post.) As for the new book, I’m aiming for a Halloween release, so stay tuned for more info.

So, before I run off to put on my editor’s cap, here’s the new cover:

Day of the Fairies: A Ridgewood Chronicles Short Story

Okay, time for me to run. Peace, love, and good health, everyone!

ASIN: B00AY2K1H6

In January of 2013, I published an e-book short story at Amazon about a teenage boy who joins up with his friends and sits around a campfire and tells ghost stories. All goes well until hell hounds break up their party and chase the boy off the edge of a cliff. Spoiler: He lives.

The e-book was based on a short story I wrote in my ninth grade Creative Writing class about a teenage girl who camps on a ridge with her friends overnight and sees ghost dogs prowling the countryside.

The story went through several drafts because my English teacher wanted me to consider different points of view and gender relationships. We also studied various dramatic elements, which resulted in the girl dying and returning as a ghost in one version. In another version, a witch saves her from falling off a cliff and they become friends. I finished the course with a dozen drafts of a story that had begun with a girl and some ghost dogs and ended with a boy and some hell hounds.

”Hell hounds” became condensed to “hellhounds” during a rewrite for the 2013 Amazon book and I was happy with the plot and character results. I published more short stories that year and made them a series called “The Ridgewood Chronicles.” Then I took a long sabbatical during 2014 to plan and write a novel.

Self-publishing wasn’t new to me — I’d published several of my stories via desktop publishing, and I’d been making them available in PDF format at my website since the early 1990s. Whenever I made changes to my stories, I republished them as a new edition. But I went a step further with Amazon’s Kindle publishing program: I replaced my short story with the novel with the same title.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I learned that I should have published the novel as a separate book with a different title. But there was no manual at Amazon telling me about the ensuing difficulties of my readers getting the old book replaced by the new one on their Kindle readers. The same applied to when I changed the cover art in 2015. Past purchases stayed unchanged.

So, old readers had my short story and new readers had my novel. When people talked about Night of the Hellhounds, I didn’t know which story they referred to — the short or the long. It was confusing. So, in 2016, I changed the novel’s title to end the confusion. Or so I though, haha. I was wrong.

The book almost became Cursed. Hindsight: I wished I’d not changed my mind. Instead, I titled it Margga’s Curse — a name difficult to pronounce correctly. Margga is pronounced marj-GAH.

Margga’s Curse ran for a year before I took all my books off Amazon’s market. (It’s still available for free at Smashwords, ISBN: 9781311627582, but I plan to take it off that market next year.)

Some people who have the old Kindle versions of this book may hate me when I say this, but I’m publishing a new version of ASIN: B00AY2K1H6 — all brand-new, though it will have its old and original title: “Night of the Hell Hounds” — later this year. It’s a 3,800-word Halloween short story about 12-year-old Nick Andrews who loses his big brother to war. After the funeral, he discovers that his brother had access to magic via a computer program and a green crystal pendant that can send the wearer of the pendant to another dimension of reality. He ends up at a cemetery in Ridgewood where someone has stolen the sacred bones of its protector dogs and turned them into vicious hell hounds. He meets three others trapped with him inside the cemetery. One of those people is Vree Erickson, but she’s a minor character. This is Nick’s story and it’s the first book of the Green Crystal series, even though it’s listed as a Ridgewood Chronicles short story in the subtitle.

Because of Nick’s age and the story’s subject matter, Amazon will likely shove this in its Young Adult Fantasy section. I don’t write to an audience, so I didn’t write this to be a kid’s book. Though I don’t use profanity or explore sexual matter (a reflection of my childhood), I do explore dealing with death and the pain of loss that comes with it, the good and bad of escapism, and the desires of wanting to belong to friendships, wanting to be loved, and wanting to be happy in life.

I’m planning a Halloween release. Stay tuned for more info.

Peace and love!

Judging A Book By Cover

I am trying to understand the reasoning behind the popular talk nowadays among indie authors about how to best present our book covers. Most of the how-to info is very complicated, and most of the advice ends with “Let a professional do it.” The idea is to hook the potential reader before they look inside the book.

I’m an old-school reader and buyer of books that began in the 1960s. Many of my purchases back then were paperbacks because they were affordable. Even in the 1970s when I entered the workforce and had a weekly income, I still bought paperbacks. So did my friends. Often, we went book hunting on Saturday afternoons, hitting the malls in search of our next read.

The covers on paperback books (and hardcovers) were simple in design. It was often the title that caught my eye. If it sounded interesting, I would flip the book over and read the back cover copy. That’s what either prompted me to buy the book or return it to the shelf.

Most online bookstores today have a feature equivalent to the old back cover copy. It’s the short blurb off to the side of the book cover on display. I call it the “What is this book about?” feature. And it’s here where an author either convinces me to buy their book or prompts me to continue browsing.

Beautiful, fancy, exotic book covers and plain, two-tone, neutral ones have never prompted me to buy a book. It has always been the “What’s this book about?” feature.

Look at this Stephen King paperback of The Shining from one of its first runs.

The book’s title attracted me because I asked, “What does the title mean?” The back cover copy gave me a clue and whetted my curiosity. Until then, I had never read a book by King. Neither had my friends. I ended up liking the story so much, I bought his two prior releases, ’Salem’s Lot and Carrie, on a gamble that I would like them too. I did. So did a million other readers.

Compared to today’s indie writing market, if King was an unknown author selling his books at Amazon, and he used the above cover, would you buy it?

Look at the replacement cover of The Shining a few years later during the movie release.

Would you still want to buy it?

I don’t think it’s wise to worry about eye-catching book cover design. I think we should continue to strive at writing as well as we can and to write a compelling “What’s this book about?” feature. If your story is captivating and entertaining, then people will notice, even if you’ve wrapped it in a brown paper bag.

Free Book Offer

My short story e-book “A Night of Hellhounds” is free at Amazon until midnight Pacific time. (Click this link.) It’s a fantasy tale because I enjoy writing fantasy stories. It’s at the top of my list of favorite things to do. Writing fantasy has been a passion for many years because it involves world building. I can get engaged in the creative development until the worlds appear in my dreams. The same is true about my characters. I have even dreamed new ones into my stories.

Over the years, people have asked me about my process of writing a story. I answer with: “I get an idea for a story, it festers in my mind with all sorts of situations, I dwell on my favorites and begin scheming a plot with a look on my face equal to the Grinch ready to steal Christmas from Whoville, and then start writing.” That’s it. No magic. Just an idea that I put into words that become a story.

In all its simplicity, I structure my stories no different than most other writers. I divide my stories into four parts as Act 1, Act 2 first half, Act 2 second half, and Act 3. Each story has a beginning event, an ending event, and a series of high and low events in between the two. Writing those in-between events is the adventure I enjoy the most, though staying on track to reach a good ending can add difficulty to the process. An ending should come naturally—a final piece to the story puzzle that fits nicely with the rest of the pieces, giving us an aesthetic composite. Some writers call this a “perfect ending” and stress over getting it “right.” Writing a “perfect ending” is not something I let ruin the joy I get from writing, though I do take it more seriously than the other parts of story writing.

All story writing involves getting the words written, editing them, and revising the parts until they work together as a whole. I love marrying those parts into a finished story. And I like calling the process a marriage instead of that old military standby: polishing. Polishing is some drill sergeant’s way of saying, “Write, write, write, every day, over and over ad nauseum until you can do it blindfolded, standing on your head.” I don’t do that. And I don’t “polish” my stories as if they were a pair of leather dress shoes. But I do write several drafts—sometimes as many as 10 or more—marrying my story elements into an enjoyable read.

Of course, not only am I marrying the elements to each other, I’m marrying me to the story. I do the same when I read stories by other writers and find I can’t put the stories down until I reach the end. There are others like me—we call ourselves “book lovers” and “author fans.” We love libraries and bookstores, and we collect our favorite stories and hold our favorite writers in high regard. And we dream of someday being a favorite writer to other writers, book lovers, and author fans.

If you read my stories, drop me a line. Tell me what you like and don’t like about my stories. I’d love hearing from you.

My Return To KDP

After a lengthy absence from Amazon’s publishing outfit Kindle Direct Publishing, I took the first Vree Erickson short story “A Night of Hellhounds” from mothballs and made it available again at Amazon.com as a new ebook.

The ebook is 3,000 words and approximately 16 pages long. It is priced at 0.99 US dollars at the US Amazon site and sports a new cover that I had too much fun creating. For this cover, I took away all hellhound and other canine references and concentrated on location—specifically Vree’s fall from the cliffs into Alice Lake.

The book is a quick read, hence the 99-cent price, and is available as an ebook only. I do not plan to publish paperbacks of my single short stories.

Go to amazon.com/dp/B09BFLJ563 for your copy.

Macroscopic Death [poetry reblog]

Faces fading like new literature,
soft and pale,
sink into the quicksand of poverty.
Their government turned their dollars into pennies.
One hundred George Washingtons won’t buy a fistfight today.
But a hundred Ben Franklins can get you murdered…
Franklin kicks Washington’s ass every time.

But whose city park does big Ben stand in?
Philadelphia?
Tiananmen Square?
DC, where the crackle of old flesh inside the White House
grows loud above the vomiting whispers from a Chinese whorehouse
fronting the CCP,
UN,
and WTO?

Oblivious,
Washington’s carved face remains proud and noble
in his green erection
where he stands alone in the town park I sit at.
Alabaster pigeon poop covers his broad shoulders.
Cell phones twitter at his feet with news that does not educate;
a horror brought about by the theft of a billion gold Franklins
when our infected financiers sold America at the First World War
for a hero’s seat at Versailles.

Washington died the day Franklin was fitted as bridegroom
for the multiple marriage of our country to the World Bank,
to OPEC,
to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
to the World Economic Forum,
to the World Council of Churches,
to the World Health Organization,
for unity by assimilation
for control by one government worldwide.

Revisiting Characters

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. ― Ray Bradbury

I was absent from my blog during May and most of June while I buckled down and continued preparations for the new and updated books I have planned for my Amazon KDP library. Part of those preparations is making sure my characters come across as people.

My stories happen in a place called Ridgewood, loosely based on places I have lived. Overall, the place is a straightforward small town in America where odd things happen to a select few. There is a plethora of history and information about Ridgewood at this blog, so go ahead and browse the archives.

I enjoy writing my own kind of fantasy fiction. My ensemble of characters is wholly my own creation loosely based on archetypes that attracted me as a reader. Again, there is a plethora of history and information about them at this blog, but there have been three significant changes I want to address.

  1. I have renamed Owen to Lenny and given the name to his kid brother. Lenny has taken on his old role and has the old persona of teenager Dave. He has a twin sister, Gaylene, who is Amy with a different name and family.
  2. Vree’s hometown is New Cambridge. She lives in Ridgewood when she stays with her paternal grandparents. Her parents are archeologists at New Cambridge University and are away from home often. Vree has no interest in archeology. Her paternal grandparents have the names Dave and Amy now and are not retired and living in Florida.
  3. Amy’s grandparents are Ben and Vera, the couple killed by a witch named Margga who has become Gianna. Ben and Vera’s last name is Russell, and Myers Ridge is now Russell Ridge.

My renamed cast has been a joy to place on stage and see them rehearse while I put them through the rigors of developing plot. As always, I let my characters develop the plot while I pay attention to the three main factors of characterization: the physical, sociological, and psychological. That’s all any writer needs to know to create characters that have personalities. Once you have that, then you understand how your characters approach and resolve conflict. And that means living with your characters, observing them while you put them through mock scenarios, and noting the results.

Vree is one of my star characters. She has been with me since I was fourteen years old. She has always been a shy, humble teenager.

vree-13-pencil-9x12-v6
Vree

No matter how much I try to change her personality, it stays relatively the same. I suppose this flies in the face of teachers of fiction who say that our characters must be different people after departing Act 1 and arriving at the conclusion of Act 3. How much change is rarely specified, but I cannot see her becoming an entirely different character when she rides her story’s denouement. I think any person whose personality changes that much during their story should be under psychiatric observation by the time it ends. That was a problem I had with many horror novels. The characters we got to know did not ring true when they became monsters.

Realism is an important aspect of good fiction. And just as in life, a person’s mode of thinking can change dramatically under the right circumstances. But a person with a healthy brain is not going to become someone with a different personality just because a book publisher wants it for mass market appeal and sensationalism. Abrupt change of character isn’t normal.

Every good story I have ever read has one major real aspect: Desire. The goal is to acquire something. The more unreachable it is, the difficult the task. The comedian George Carlin described acquisition as a football game. The goal is to acquire yardage to the end zone and score points to be ahead of the opponent when time runs out. Smart players achieve this by fooling their opponent, making them second guess their game plan, getting them to trip over their weaknesses. Everyone has desires/goals and we all have flaws to overcome in our efforts to get what we want.

All in all, a deep understanding of character is the key to creating better plots.

Thanks for reading.

Peace and love, everyone.

Apple Orchard [poetry repost]

Apple Orchard
Apple Orchard, Oil Painting

In small acreage on a hilly clearing,
Sunny morning shines golden on chalky-pink blossoms;
I pause and prolong my hike to watch sunbeams lick away dewdrops
Soaking in shaded greenery of an apple orchard.

Craggy, crabby branches nod jaggedly at a breeze dashing across the way;
Wasps complain from gray papery hives swaying above me;
A hummingbird pauses and peeks inside a blossom—
Perhaps she smells the jellies, pies and cider clearly on my mind.

I head away on journey once more,
Longing to return and sample ripe fruit from the trees.

© 2006

New WIP Installment 4 [fiction]

In this final installment, Abigail and Quinn butt heads, and then Abigail goes to the hospital’s breakroom to cool off. It is still Monday and four days before Halloween. I have a feeling that the holiday is going to pair up Vree and Abigail before the novel ends.

Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone.

Enjoy the installment. Thanks for the likes and comments on the previous posts. And again, please don’t shy from letting me know what you think about this story so far.

4

Abigail was lost in thought as she walked down the sapphire colored hall with its highly polished light green tiled floors. Quinn was a few feet in front of her, his heels clicking sharply. He stopped at the elevator bay. “That was a hell of a surprise,” he said.

“I’m still stunned,” Abigail said. Her belly rumbled—almost as loud as the rumble coming from the elevator shaft. She stood next to him, swayed for a moment, and then said, “For a moment I was worried I was going to lose my job.”

Quinn pressed the only button there, the square one marked DOWN. “He’s crazy,” he said steely, “picking you to work in the OR. But that’s okay. I like the idea of you working for me.” Embers flared at the rims of his eyes as he smiled. “I’ll make you a deal. Sell me the lake house and I’ll back off and give you no hassles.”

And there it was … again, ever since the divorce. The log house at Alice Lake and its thirty acres her grandfather had left her when he died. Quinn had taken a special liking to the place during the marriage, but Abigail had been wise to keep Quinn’s name off the deed.

“Not for sale,” she said. “And what do you mean by giving me no hassles? This isn’t kindergarten. I expect you to behave professionally.”

“I should think you would want to make things easy on yourself,” he growled. “Keep the head surgeon happy, if you know what I mean.”

“Are you threatening me?” She could feel embers heating around her own eyes.

“Here’s some advice,” he said as the elevator car stopped and the stainless steel doors rumbled open and revealed an empty car. “Don’t try to play in the big leagues, Abby.” He stepped inside, turned and flicked his hand at the air as though he was brushing away a fly. “You wouldn’t be working here if your grandfather hadn’t been on the board of directors. And if it was up to me, you’d be nothing more than an admissions clerk.”

The doors began to close. Abigail lunged at the panel and pressed the DOWN button. The doors rumbled open again. “You don’t own this hospital,” she said through a clenched jaw. “And you don’t own me. Not anymore.”

“Is that so?” Quinn grinned, exposing large teeth at her. “You’re part of the OR staff now. My OR. So consider yourself owned, babe.”

Abigail stared at him, hoping to see him fade away like a bad dream. He remained postured in his stance, smirking at her. She swiped at the tears pooling in her eyes.

Quinn laughed.

“You’re nothing more than a bully,” Abigail said.

“And you’re a slut who slept with Tommy. I can never forgive you for that.”

“Forgive me?” She slapped the wall above the panel. In her mind, she had struck that supercilious smirk from his face. “You cheated on me!”

“And who did I find you with in our bed?”

“It wasn’t like that. Tommy was drunk—”

“Keep telling yourself that.” He stepped back, folded his arms over his chest, and shook his head three times. “Good luck carrying this baby to term.”

“I will. I don’t have a jackass for a husband who’ll hit a utility pole and make me lose our baby!”

Quinn shrugged. “Now you just have a jackass who calls himself an artist but paints houses for a living.”

“Well, at least—”

The doors began to close. Abigail waited with her hands balled into fists for her comeback—the one that would hurt him most. But it stayed in her throat as the doors closed. She took in a deep breath, and then let it out with a growl.

“This will never work,” she said. She marched to Wentworth’s outer office. The door was closed and locked. He had left, likely taken the rear stairwell next to his outer office to the administration parking lot. She wondered if he had seen and heard her fighting with Quinn.

Her stomach rumbled. This time for chocolate.

She entered the stairwell and followed it down three flights of cerulean and light-green concrete stairs to the nurse’s break room. There, she charged into the cozy room and halted in front of the candy machine.

“Damn it.” The Kit Kat bars were sold out. She pressed her forehead against the candy machine’s Plexiglas window. She did not see the reflection of the white-haired nurse who stood at the coffee maker next to the sink behind her. Her mind busily played more highlights of her angry moments with Quinn.

When her mind settled from its Quinn attack—and it did, quicker now that Daniel was a part of her life—she spied the last chocolate truffle waiting inside the machine. The money slot refused the crumpled dollar from her skirt pocket. After three tries, she gave up, feeling defeated. Turning, she halted with a yelp as she faced a white Styrofoam cup that seemed to hover in front of her face.

“Hot and fresh,” Emily Frewin said.

Emily’s cinnamon breath wafted over the nutty coffee aroma. The plump woman always chewed Big Red gum. Neither smell alleviated her frustration or her nausea.

She took the cup by its top and bottom and almost dropped it from the heat, then hurried it to the nearest table and blew on her stinging fingers.

Emily sat across from her and eyed her suspiciously. The older nurse’s brown eyes were red and puffy.

“Allergies,” she said when Abigail commented on them. “Every October.” She shook her head. Her short hair held its place above a narrow brown forehead, and where it fell short and straight in the back, caressing a slender neck and resting unmoving on the back collar of her white blouse. Nurses her age were well familiar with hair spray.

“What happened upstairs?” she asked. “I heard you were in Wentworth’s office. It has to be important if it involves Wentworth.”

“I turned in my leave of absence papers.”

“To Wentworth? Why should he care about your leave?”

“I think I did something I’m going to regret.” She watched steam rise from her cup. “In fact, I know I am.”

Emily cocked her head. “You’re going to make me play Twenty Questions, aren’t you?”

“You have to promise to keep this news to yourself until I’m back from leave.”

“Listen, I’m old enough to be your grandmother. I have secrets even my husband doesn’t know, and he thinks he knows everything about me. Now tell me what’s eating you.”

“Wentworth offered me Linda’s job and I accepted.”

A smile filled Emily’s face. “Congratulations.” Moments later, she returned to studying Abigail’s face. “This is where you smile,” she said.

“I know it sounds good, but I’m having second thoughts of working with Dr. Quinn, medicine jerk.”

“You’ll do just fine working in the same room with your ex-husband. You have spunk, Abigail Mae Gentry. You won’t let the sonofabitch push you around.”

“He blamed me again for our divorce. And he wants me to sell him the lake house.”

Emily shook her head. “He owns enough property in and around Ridgewood. Don’t you sell him anything.” She looked down at her coffee. “Don’t ever give in to him. Never.”

Two chattering Radiology nurses entered the room and took turns ordering from the candy machine. Abigail and Emily were silent. After they got their candy and left, Emily said, “I got laid off. Just found out a half-hour ago. But don’t you feel sorry for me. This was a job, not a profession. I can always go back to being a Walmart cashier … anything to keep me busy.” Emily returned to staring at her coffee. “And if that doesn’t pan out, my oldest, Larry, said he can get me a job at the plastics plant, so there’s always that.”

“Well, if you need anything, call me,” Abigail said. An awkward silence fell between them. She was certain there was more Emily wanted to tell her.

“What is it? she asked.

“It’s a bit awkward, but I know you have an interest in the unordinary. So, I’m going to be frank. At first I thought our new patient was either talking to herself or the lightning that struck her may have harmed her brain.”

Abigail leaned forward. “Are you talking about the girl with the unusual name?”

“That’s the one.” Emily lowered her voice. “Or she’s neither and I either saw something real and extraordinary or there’s something wrong with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Earlier today I answered her bell and just before I entered her room, I heard her telling someone that she wanted them to leave her room … to leave her alone. She even told me that she wanted them out of her room, but no one was there.”

“Fascinating.” Abigail leaned closer. “And?”

“Just that it was so cold in there … colder than usual. I got her a blanket and got her calmed down … she seemed so frightened. But the really weird part was when I was at her bedside, I swear I saw a flash of white at the door, like a camera flash, only not as bright. And in the light—”

Two more nurses—Lab, by their blue name badges—entered the room and headed to a table in the back.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” Emily whispered, “but I saw something in the light … a woman … a big woman.”

“That’s Mrs. Radcliffe,” Abigail whispered. “You’re not crazy. I’ve seen her too. She’s a ghost.”

“I’ve never believed in that stuff. But…” Emily swallowed down her coffee. “But I’ve been a nurse long enough to know there’s more to life after this one is over.”

Abigail sat back. “So it seems our young patient may have been talking to one of our resident ghosts. That is definitely intriguing.”

“And spooky to hear you say there’s more than one ghost in our hospital.”

“All harmless.” Abigail stood. “I’m heading back to the floor before people think I was fired.”

Emily went to the machine and bought another coffee. “Since they’re laying me off after today, then I’m taking a longer break.” She sat and said, “What are they going to do? Fire me?”

End of installments

New WIP Installment 3 [fiction]

We leave Vree in this installment and learn more about one of her nurses, Abigail Gentry. I based her looks on the illustration below. The hair in the illustration is curlier than how I described Abigail’s. I may need to add a new description when I sit down for my final draft. Oh well. Anyway, the day is still Monday and four days before Halloween in the story.

Enjoy. Thanks for the likes on the previous posts. Please don’t shy from leaving likes and/or comments on this one.

3

Storms had a way of looking worse through windows.

It was a thought that Abigail Gentry would have turned into poetry a year ago, perhaps even a song played on her old Fender guitar. But thirty-three-year-old Abigail didn’t write or sing anymore. A lot had changed in her life this year. A lot for the better. But not all.

The Monday afternoon rain outside the three-story hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the plate glass windows to Abigail’s left. The stormy October skylight over Ridgewood had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of William Wentworth’s office, which made Abigail’s white uniform glow almost ghostlike against the black plush leather chair in which she sat.

She tapped trimmed and painted fingernails—glossy pink—against the large manila folder on her lap, the folder that contained her unsigned maternity leave papers. Betty Howard at personnel had sent her to the medical building’s third and top floor, saying that Mister Wentworth wanted to see her about her maternity leave.

But why?

Betty said she didn’t know.

Nurses didn’t get called to Wentworth’s office unless it was something big. Something bad, perhaps.

Layoffs—some of them permanent—had struck the hospital’s nursing staff last month, but Abigail knew the CEO didn’t personally hand out pink slips.

Her belly rumbled with hunger. She needed to eat more than tossed salad for lunch. But anything else brought bouts of nausea because of her pregnancy.

She tugged the hem of her skirt over her knees, crossed her short legs, picked a piece of lint from her white pantyhose, tugged her skirt’s hem again, and waited. Alone. In front of her CEO’s black, liver shaped, glass-topped desk. Except for a stack of manila folders at one end, Wentworth’s desk was spotless—unlike the desk in his inner office … or so she had heard.

At her right, Wentworth’s outer door opened and stirred her attention to her ex-husband Quinn Bettencourt entering the room. He paused upon seeing her, then crossed in front of her and plopped his gangly body in the matching chair between her and the stormy windows. He had changed out of his earlier attire of green surgeon’s scrubs and was now sharply dressed in a dark blue suit and solid green tie—the official colors of Ridgewood Mercy Hospital.

She scowled at Quinn’s boyish face easily masking his true age of forty-five. On the surface, it was a pleasant face, filled most of the time with a kindly expression until one looked deep into his ultramarine eyes where cynicism bubbled behind them.

“You here to see Wentworth?” he asked.

She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. Then, “Uh-huh. You?”

“It’s my three o’clock.” Quinn splayed his long legs and sighed. “Every Monday through Friday, like clockwork.”

“Are you always late for your meetings?”

His eyes traveled down her shapely calves, then darted to the closed door where Wentworth’s muffled voice drifted from the other side.

“Is he on the phone?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“So, why does he have you here during our three o’clock?”

“I’m hoping it’s about my maternity leave.”

“That’s right. I hear congratulations are in order.” Quinn grinned wider on the left side of his face, which made him look like he was smirking. He pointed at her trim stomach, not yet showing her pregnancy.

“I’m happy for you and Dick,” he said.

“Daniel. His name is Daniel and you know it, you—” Abigail repressed the derogatory word from entering their CEO’s pristine meeting place. She folded her arms over her chest and waited for Wentworth’s entrance.

“My bad,” Quinn said. He brushed a hand along the side of his short and neatly trimmed brown hair—dyed, of course. “I don’t know why I get his name wrong. Must be he reminds me of a Dick.”

Abigail’s scowl fixed on his steely gaze and she hoped he saw the fire behind her green eyes.

He glanced at her stomach and said, “So, how long has the pudding been in the fridge?”

Abigail turned from him. “God, you’re disgusting.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Fine. How long has the bun been in the oven?”

“You’re a….” She bit her lip.

“I’d guess six weeks, which would explain that nauseas look on your face.” He glanced over her folded arms, at her breasts that pressed against her uniform top. “Feeling tender there, I bet.”

“You’re such an ass.” The derogatory word escaped her mouth easily this time.

She took her arms away from where her breasts were definitely tender and glanced down at her watch. Eleven minutes after three o’clock. Her workday was almost over, so she made mental notes of whether to cook tonight or have send out for dinner. Probably neither since the smells of food had been unkind to her lately. Babies can make such a fuss during pregnancy.

The inner office door opened and a portly but brisk William Wentworth entered.

Quinn sat up and Abigail sat at rigid attention as their CEO plopped into a large swivel chair behind the desk, cleared his throat and apologized for keeping them waiting. Sharply dressed in a beige suit, black shirt and silver tie, he peered eagerly at Abigail’s folder before meeting her gaze and bobbing his balding round head.

“Maternity leave. An early one at that, I hear.” He held out a pudgy hand and waited for Abigail to hand him the folder.

“Dan and I want to make sure there are no complications with this pregnancy,” she said when he opened her folder.

The room stilled. Quinn coughed. Abigail almost looked pleased to see her ex pull at the Windsor knot of his tie.

“Well, naturally I would like to see you back, healthy, as soon as possible,” Wentworth said. His brown eyes danced nervously at Quinn for a moment before he settled again on Abigail. “But considering our recent layoffs…”

“If that’s going to be a problem, sir, I understand should you want me to wait.”

“Layoffs,” he said, as though the word troubled him. He squinted at her for a moment. Then he pulled a manila folder from atop his pile, opened it, and turned to the last page of the papers inside.

Abigail swallowed. Her stomach rumbled and she wished she hadn’t passed on the grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Whatever she was here for, this was it. She took in a breath and held it.

“Linda Thomas is retiring,” Wentworth said briskly. “Are you aware of this?”

“Yes, sir.” Her attention snapped back to him. “At the end of the year.”

“Sooner. She and her husband are packing this very minute. I tried to get her to stay longer, but her husband found a place in Fayetteville, Arkansas, their dream home. They had to act fast or chance losing it.”

He patted the papers with his left hand. “I’m losing nurses left and right,” he said. He bobbed his head three times at Quinn before he looked again at Abigail.

“You’re an excellent nurse,” he said, “and an outstanding team player. And despite the irreconcilable differences you listed between you and Quinn when you divorced, you have always been professional here at the hospital.”

He paused and Quinn sat forward, suddenly interested.

He’s going to lay me off, she thought. Once the baby is born, I’ll be recovering while standing in the unemployment line.

“You’re young,” Wentworth continued, “but that isn’t a limitation for the job.” He slid the folder and its small stack of papers in her direction. “Should you be so willing, Abigail, I think you’re the best candidate to fill Linda’s shoes in the OR.”

Quinn made a whooshing sound, as though he too had been holding his breath. Abigail was speechless.

“I’ll give you all the time you need,” Wentworth said, “including three months’ vacation after the baby’s delivery … completely paid, of course.”

There was a moment of rain swashing the windows. Abigail finally said, “The OR? Me?” She sat forward, took the folder to her lap, and skimmed the paperwork of her promotion. There were twenty-five pages of legalese. Contract agreements bound nurses all through their careers, but this contract seemed to contain more pages than necessary.

As though he had read her mind, Wentworth said, “It’s a bit wordy, but the standard employment agreement for all nurses hired to an upper staff position: Everything that will transpire during the term of employment, the start date, a description of your duties, who you’ll directly report to.” He looked at Quinn. “Treat her well, Dr. Bettencourt. Leave the divorce outside the hospital.”

“Yes, sir,” Quinn said. He looked and sounded stunned. He shifted his body away from Abigail, crossed his legs, and added, “Of course.”

“You too,” Wentworth said to Abigail. He produced a fountain pen from his desk. “If you’ll just sign and date on the last page, you can begin your new job as soon as you’re back from your leave of absence.”

For a moment, Abigail could not picture herself part of the OR staff. This only happened to intelligent, quick-to-learn nurses.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Wentworth said, as though he had read her mind. “You’re a topnotch nurse, Abigail.”

She nodded. He was right. She opened Wentworth’s pen and signed and dated the last page. Then she returned the contract and pen and sat back in her chair. A fog filled her mind—a good fog filled with visions of her future.

Wentworth slid the contract to Quinn, who frowned at it for a moment before he signed below Abigail’s name. The CEO followed their signatures with his before he stood, looking pleased.

Abigail stumbled upright, shook Wentworth’s awaiting hand and thanked him.

“The first year will be probation,” he said, bursting her visions of success. “But I know you’ll do us proud.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll certainly do my best,” she said.

Wentworth turned to Quinn. “No three o’clock today. I have some errands to run.”

“Of course.” Quinn stood and addressed Abigail. “Congratulations. I look forward to working with you.”

She didn’t miss the faintest flicker of distress that appeared for a moment in his eyes. Then it was gone.

“Three o’clock tomorrow?” he asked as he turned to Wentworth.

“Yes.” Wentworth turned and retreated to his inner office. When the door closed, Quinn headed for the exit.

Abigail resided in her thoughts for a moment before she stumbled past her chair and followed Quinn into the hallway. There, she paused at a corridor window that mirrored her image back to her, the rain behind it washing down with a constant certainty. She straightened her skirt and ignored the weight of a new obligation upon her, coupled by the sour sickness caused by being pregnant. After all, she reasoned, reflections have a way of looking worse through stormy windows.

To be continued

New WIP Installment 2 [fiction]

Here’s more of the novel I have worked on for the past four years. It features 15-year-old Vree Erikson who wakes up in the hospital after lightning struck her and her neighbor Owen Avery. It is Monday and four days before Halloween when Vree awakens.

Enjoy. And again, please don’t shy from leaving comments.

2

Vree floated, buoyant in the dark.

She struggled to move, to rise out of the dark around her.

An unknown but pleasant voice spoke her name.

“Can you hear me, Verawenda?” a woman asked.

Vree plummeted deeper into darkness for a moment, then rode an invisible wave that lifted her to a small, lighted square white room. She was on her back, on a bed, and covered to her chest by a white blanket. A bank of computerized machines flanked the head of her bed. Clear liquid in a rectangular plastic bag hung above her head on a metal pole. A plastic tube ran from the bag to the top of her right hand, its metal needle held in place by three pieces of clear, plastic tape.

Her voice croaked from the worst sore throat ever as she asked where she was.

“You’re in the hospital.” The woman with the pleasant voice leaned over from the left and smiled down from an oval face surrounded by coils of red hair. Kind, mocha eyes gazed at Vree. “How are you feeling?” She wore a white starchy blouse and a gold nametag with ABIGAIL GENTRY, RN stenciled on it.

Vree tried to swallow away the fire in her throat, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“Thir-thty.” She licked her swollen, sandpapery tongue across parched lips.

The head of her bed rose until she sat upright. A white plastic cup came from the left and hovered in front of her face for a moment before she took it from Abigail’s offering hand. The water was warm but tasted good and soothed her throat, clearing it so she could ask the nurse why she was in the hospital.

“You were struck by lightning,” Abigail said matter-of-factly as she looked up at one of the monitors. She swept a curly lock of hair from her brow. “You were unconscious and unresponsive when the emergency medical team arrived at your home. We treated you for dehydration and ran some scans, but it looks like you’re doing fine now.”

Vree handed Abigail her empty cup and groaned, recalling Owen on his back and dead. The white flash must have been the lightning striking him. Tears rolled down her cheeks and a sob broke free from her throat.

“Where are my parents?” she asked, sniffling at her tears.

“Your mom stepped out for some coffee. She’s been with you this whole time. She’ll be happy to see that you’re awake.” Abigail tucked the blanket tighter around Vree’s narrow hips before she said, “I need to ask you some questions, so I need to know if you’re feeling dizzy, feeling nauseous, or having any pain.”

Vree shook her head. Several other questions followed, including if she knew who the president of the country was. She answered each one, but then asked, “Why did you look surprised when I said that today is Sunday?”

“You rest,” Abigail said. She took the pillow from behind Vree’s head and replaced it with a fresh one from a closet in the room. “Dr. Fuller will talk to you later. Meanwhile, I’ll be back later to check on you. The call buttons are on both bed railings if you need anything.”

Vree sank into the fresh pillow. As soon as she closed her eyes, darkness grabbed her and pulled her down into a swirling chaos that stopped when she opened her eyes.

A cool breeze fell on her as though someone had turned on a ceiling fan. A white crow sat perched on the foot of her bed.

Was it the same crow from earlier?

It had to be. After all, how many white crows existed in Ridgewood?

The crow cawed and spoke to her.

“You are not hallucinating, Verawenda Erikson,” it said with a deep, masculine voice.

Vree reached out to press the call button then stopped when the crow spoke again.

“You see and hear me because your magic has awakened inside you, brought to life by the lightning that struck you.”

“This can’t be real,” Vree said.

The crow seemed to stand straighter, taller. “I am Lucian.” It arched its back and flapped its wings as an obese woman entered the doorway and stopped. Her blue hospital gown was tight against her rolls of flesh.

“Why is this girl in my bed?” she bellowed.

“You need to leave, spirit,” Lucian said, turning to face her. “Your time here has expired.”

“It’s my bed. She needs to get out of it. NOW.”

Icy wind whipped across Vree. She pressed the call button.

“Go,” Lucian said. “Leave this plane of existence.”

“But this is my room.”

“Stop it,” Vree said. “Both of you get out of here and leave me alone.”

An older, plump, white-haired nurse entered and passed through the woman as she hurried to Vree’s side. She said, “It’s always so cold in this room. Can I get you another blanket, sweetheart?”

“No. I just want them out of my room.” Vree brought her trembling hands to the sides of her face and pressed them against her cheeks, despite their coldness.

“You want who out of your room?” the nurse asked.

The angry woman vanished like vapor. So did Lucian.

“I want my mom,” Vree said. Her throat had tightened and her voice was barely audible. She peered up at the nurse’s concerned face and said, “I want to go home.”

To be continued

New WIP Installment 1 [fiction]

This is just a taste of the novel I have worked on for the past four years. I’m not a speedy writer since I only have a few hours each day to write.

Okay, a fewer more since my surgery and sick leave from work.

The intro of my novel is lengthy, so I’m putting it here in four installments spread over four days.

Below is the first installment. It features 15-year-old Vree Erikson and her neighbor Owen Avery. The story opens on a Sunday and five days before Halloween.

Enjoy. And please don’t shy from leaving comments.

1

Vree Erikson yanked the steering wheel of her dad’s John Deere riding lawnmower and sent it across several surface roots of the old oak tree in the backyard. She and the mower pitched left, right, left again, then … BAM. The deck slammed down, the blade stopped, and the motor whined for a moment before the engine stalled.

“No, Mom, listen,” Vree said into the microphone of her pink and black Bluetooth headphones, “I need acrylic ultramarine blue. It has to be acrylic paint. I want to finish my painting tonight so it’s ready to take to school tomorrow.” She sighed. “Have Tina help you. She works there every Sunday.”

She was quiet and chewed at her bottom lip until her mom said she had found the correct paint.

“Thank you.” Vree whipped off the headphones and flung them over the steering wheel.

A chilly October wind blew grass and leaf clippings at her back, rippled her white shirt and green palazzo pants, and blew her long blonde hair around her face. She hunched in her seat and sputtered, pulling strands of hair from her mouth.

The sky over Ridgewood had darkened as thunderheads rolled in and dimmed the afternoon sunlight. She needed to hurry if she wanted to finish mowing the backyard before the rain came.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Go away, Owen. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Her neighbor Owen Avery peered at her from the brown picket fence that separated their yards.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “It sounded like the lawnmower’s blade struck one of those tree roots.”

“I’m still mad at you.” Vree leapt from the mower and fell to her hands and knees when she tripped over a root.

Owen vaulted the fence and hurried to pull her by an arm from the ground. She pulled from his grasp and stumbled over another root. Owen reached for her but she slapped away his hands.

“I told you I don’t want to see you anymore,” she said.

“I know. But listen.” Owen peered at her with anxious brown eyes. The hair on his chin and upper lip made him look older than fifteen. Grass and dirt marked his cheeks and stained his T-shirt and jeans. Had he been in his mom’s pumpkin patch, picking out the best ones for jack-o-lanterns on Friday night?

“This is all Skye’s fault,” he said. “She saw me kiss you at the hayride last night and wanted to know how serious we were. She’s been stalking me at school, driving me crazy, so I told her we, uh…” He combed a hand through his bushy auburn hair, lifting the locks from his forehead. “I told her that we—”

“You told her that we were all the way serious.” Vree scowled at him. “And when she asked me about it after the hayride, my mom overheard her. I spent all night convincing my parents that I’m … you know … that you and I haven’t had sex.”

“I’m really sorry about all this. But if Skye wants to think that we had sex, then that’s her business. Now she can’t play me like I’m someone she needs to score with.”

Vree stepped away from him and leaned her back against the lawnmower’s hood. The conversation had plowed into the one thing she did not want to discuss. And it was all Owen’s fault.

“When two people are in love, they should cherish their love and not say stupid things,” she said. “You need to remember that.”

The pained look left Owen’s face. “Does that mean you still love me?”

Vree pushed her windblown hair away from her face again. “It means you need to make things right with Skye and my parents if you think I’m ever going to talk to you again.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I really hate myself for hurting you.”

His apology softened Vree’s anger and eased her frown. She gave him the smallest smile she could muster and said, “For the record, I had a good time at the hayride.” Then she rolled from the hood and grabbed the lawnmower’s steering wheel before Owen could open his mouth and ruin the good moment they had just shared. “Help me get this thing off those roots,” she said. “Okay?”

She steered the mower away from the roots while Owen pushed at the back of the seat. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it.

Thunder boomed from the bruise-colored sky as a sudden cold downpour rushed through the bare oak branches above them. Vree shrieked at the icy rain drenching the back of her shirt.

She hurried back to her seat and tried to start the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life.

“Dad’s going to ground me for a year if I broke anything.” She jumped to the ground. “He’ll be home from his office any minute,” she said to Owen who swiped away rainwater from his eyes. “Come on. We need to get the mower out of the rain.” She pushed against the steering wheel and steered toward the little white shed behind the garage thirty yards away.

Owen pushed from behind again but he slipped several times as his beat up tennis shoes lost traction on the wet grass.

A flash of bright light dazzled the space around them as thunder cracked again. Heat hit them like a giant fist that knocked them off their feet. Vree landed on her back, rolled to her stomach, and rubbed at her eyes with cold, wet fingers. Her body ached everywhere and she spat away an acid taste in her mouth.

When she got to her knees, the rain had stopped. Owen lay on his back a few feet away. He did not move.

Vree forgot her pain and scrambled to his side. He looked asleep but he was not breathing.

His heart made no sound when she put an ear against his chest.

Two EMTs had demonstrated CPR on a rubber mannequin in her Human Health class last month. Was it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the person was not breathing and external cardiac massage if their heart stopped beating?

She was unable to remember.

Panic kicked in. She cried for help, alone in her backyard. Where were Mr. and Mrs. Avery and Gaylene? Someone needed to call an ambulance, but she had left her phone charging in her bedroom.

She cried out again, almost screaming for help. No one came.

She had to save Owen.

She blew air into his mouth with hers, remembering to pinch his nose closed.

Then she pressed her palms against his sternum for ten quick jabs, but it did not revive him. She called out for help again until a painful sob erupted from her throat. How long had Owen gone without breathing? More than five minutes? Could the human brain live without oxygen for more than five minutes?

She continued CPR, calling for help, and begging Owen to live. She almost screamed when strong hands pulled her to her feet.

Her well-groomed blond-haired father in a gray Brooks Brothers suit towered over her for a moment before he dropped to his knees at Owen’s side. He performed chest compressions with the skill and ease of someone who had done it many times before.

Her dad knew CPR. She stumbled backwards. Did lawyers have to know CPR to be lawyers?

Vree jumped when he shouted, “Did you call nine-one-one?”

“I don’t have my phone.” The words caught in her throat and choked her. She staggered backward. A heavy weight pressed away her breath. She needed to get away from Owen’s lifeless body.

Her dad pulled his iPhone from inside his suit jacket and dropped it in the grass. He snatched it from the ground, swiped away the grass clippings stuck to the screen, and dialed 911.

A white crow cawed from the lawnmower as Vree backed away. It was perched on the seat, and it cocked its head at her, looking with black, beady eyes.

“Not dead,” it cawed before it vanished like a ghost.

Vree stumbled across the tree roots and fell into warm darkness.

To be continued