Descriptions for heat levels in book list

------holding hands, perhaps a gentle kiss
♥♥ ---- more kisses but no tongue-- no foreplay
♥♥♥ ---kissing, tongue, caressing, foreplay & pillow talk
♥♥♥♥ --all of above, full sexual experience including climax
♥♥♥♥♥ -all of above including coarser language and sex more frequent

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the new West has some of the old West in it

To end with April and be ready to talk about the new novella, I am combining my last two stories as they really are together. One is a novel and the other a novella that is supposed to be two years later. Since the novel had no epilogue, you might consider the novella that for readers who want to know what happened to these characters.

From Here to There was an opportunity for me to explore what being 'western' means today. I liked the idea of writing a story about ranch living and set it in a state where I don't live but have often visited and love-- Montana.

The ranch world has a lot of hard work attached, but there is joy and satisfaction in finishing jobs where you can see real results. This book got into some of that along with the mythologies that are so much a part of the western ethos-- how much is real? Do western mythologies interfere with a realistic view of life? Some would say they do. I think they do not unless people don't really understand what the West was like.

To add to the reasons for this book was to start a story when the heroine has gotten married but realized at the wedding it was a mistake. The man she married wasn't a cowboy. That meant he wasn't strong, right? What did she know about what love should be or for that matter what made someone a cowboy? 

In this book, I explored two marriages, journal writing, and finding our own purpose in life. It looked at what our expectations are and how we sometimes miss out on the real deal if we aren't paying attention to what is in front of us.

I also created to have a few secondary characters, rich in the western character as I know it to be, where a lot of readers thought they were the best part of the book. I took this ranch two years into the future and wrote the novella, A Montana Christmas which was a chance to explore what important rituals can mean to a family-- ranch style.Oh and just might do a second full length novel where I give one or more of these characters their own love story. It's certainly in my mind for something down the road as a continuation of From Here to There.

Snippet of From Here to There:

Outside, as he looked at the truck more carefully, he saw that there was a missing door on the passenger side. Maybe this truck wasn’t more likely to keep going than the even older one down by the barn. He wondered how far the near antique was capable of being driven before it became a permanent part of some junk pile, and if he was driving it when that happened, would he get the blame?

 Curly climbed out the cab. "Everything you need's in back." He pointed to a reel of barbed wire, clips, tools, and metal posts. From his back pocket, Curly extracted a pair of cutting pliers. "You ever do fence afore?" he asked as he put them with the other tools.

 "No, but how much can there be to it?" Phillip asked yawning and reaching for his cigarettes.
 "Not a whole hell of a lot," Curly said with another sly grin. "You ever use a posthole driver?"
 The answer was obvious, but Phillip shook his head anyway as he lit the cigarette.
 Curly showed him roughly how the piece of modified pipe worked, then added, "Just make sure you tighten 'er up afore you call 'er done. Leave that wire loose, and you might as well of saved yourself the trouble of driving up there." He pointed to an odd metal tool in the bed of the truck. "Ever use one of those?"
 Curly snickered. "Bout what I figured. You're a dude, ain't you." It was not a question but a statement.
 "What gave me away?" Phillip asked sarcastically.
 "Heck, if you ain't a dude, you oughta to sue your face for damages and get a verdict," Curly cracked, chuckling and slapping his bony knee.
 "Very good," Phillip retorted dryly. "You think that one up all by yourself?"
 Curly snorted. "Wished I had."
 "So, if you didn't, where's your source of great Western lore? Maybe I can get in on some of these one-liners." Or at least look up their meanings.
 "Tell you the truth, I changed a word or two, made it fit better, but I got most of it from one of the greatest Western writers ever was."
 "Louis L'Amour?" Phillip guessed, naming the only Western author whose name he knew.
 "No, dangnabit. Ain't him. He was an upstart, come along later. Not that he weren't a great writer, but I'm talking about William MacLeod Raine."
 "Never heard of him."
 Curly's mouth dropped. "Never heard of him! Dangnabit, that ain't possible."
 Phillip only smiled.
 Curly shook his head with disgust. "I got near every book he wrote. He was a ranger hisself. Wrote about the Old West just about the time it was all ending, but that man... he knew his people, knew the men, the country. Maybe he did kind of sissify up the gushy parts, so's to appeal to the ladies, but he wrote dang good stories."
 Phillip snorted. Another unrealistic Westerner, dreaming of a past that was dead and gone--and a good thing too. He smoked a moment. "Isn't there anybody out here who doesn't either listen to country-western music or read Western fairy tales?"
 "Wal, I don't know why there'd be. Them books was writ about country like this, about men coming in and fighting the Injuns, building ranches, drivin' off rustlers." He shook his head, a look of regret in his eyes. "Ain't never going to see the likes of them days again."
 Rather than to say it was a good thing, that the pioneer West had offered a lot of hardships as well as adventurous times, Phillip said, "You know the pulp writers didn't always portray the west the way it really was. A lot of it was made up for Easterners."
 Curly sneered. "If even half of it was so, it'd be enough to make a man wish he'd been there. Man could make his fortune in those days." He looked slyly at Phillip. "Shoot men who got uppity with him."
 "Or end up on boot hill himself," Phillip said under his breath.
 "What'd you say?"
 "Not much." He smiled. A wisely unspoken question was how cowboys got any work done if they were constantly reading stories of the old West. Instead he commented, "I wonder if the Indians around here like those Western books so much as you cowboys."
 "I've seen plenty of them reading 'em. Like take old John Eagle. He can answer most any question about anything Zane Grey ever wrote. He knows all the books, the characters. You ask it and he's got the answer practically afore you got the question out of your mouth."
 "Why?" Phillip's question didn't pertain so much to why the man might read Zane Grey, whoever he was, but more as to why he'd take the time to learn so much about it.
 Curly shook his head. "I'll tell you this. Men were men in those days."
 "What are they today?" Phillip asked with a humorless grin. This was one question to which he already knew Curly's answer.
 "Soft. Don't know how to hammer in a nail straight, ain't never broke a horse, can't work more'n an hour without getting blisters on their soft hands." He sneered derogatorily toward Phillip's own long fingered hands. "I'll tell you this. My pap, he could've still worked rings around any young whippersnapper twenty or thirty years old." He looked derogatorily up at Phillip as he added, "Even when he was seventy."
 "Interesting. How'd he ever get work done, if he was always talking about the West?" Phillip asked sardonically.
 Curly glared at him. "You makin' fun of me?" he snapped.
 Phillip shook his head. "No, just if I'm going to get done before dark, you better tell me about this fencing business." He wasn't interested in trying to change Curly's low opinion of him--which was fortunate because he doubted it would be possible anyway.
 Curly gave him a quick demonstration on fastening up wire, then was off to his own chores, whistling Home on the Range.
 Already happy, Phillip thought wryly, at the thought of the botched job he expected from the fence repair. Probably already had the jokes thought up.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

a cowboy for a boyfriend-- or not?

Luck of the Draw is a story about the rodeo world that began so long ago I barely know why I wrote it. The first version was written when I was not much older than the twenty-one year old heroine. 

When I began bringing out the stories, which I'd written through the years, it was the only one that never made it onto a computer. It was in a box shoved under my bed. Unsure what I'd do with it, I pulled it out and scanned the pages. 

I am a much better writer today than when I originally wrote it, but the bones of the plot seemed solid. It was set during the Pendleton Roundup in 1974. Some of the books I wrote way back, I opted to bring up to date. 

I considered doing that but frankly I'd have had to totally research it again for how much rodeo changed in those forty years. I realized something more important. This is a coming of age story about two people, a nation and the rodeo world. It needed to stay 1974.

This was a time of change in our nation. The Vietnam War was winding down with Americans asking themselves what that had been about. So I brought the war into it along with a time of transition for rodeo. It was when the first athletic cowboys were coming into the rodeo world that had been kind of wild and woolly. They brought in a new ethos of training and not living only for the moment. This story gave me a chance to show both sides of that. 

Also my heroine had less going on in her life in the rough draft in that box. She needed to be looking for a purpose too. The hero and heroine could show two different ways of approaching life problems which made for an interesting rewrite. I like when philosophy can be in a story but subtly, of course, not like a lecture.

Snippet from Luck of the Draw:

After a breakfast she barely remembered tasting, Sara went out to her studio, determined to paint and not let upset over how it had ended with Billy ruin her day. She had arranged to have the day off from her father and was keeping that even though she would not be going to the rodeo. Definitely not. With so few customers he didn’t need her help and said he might even close early himself. She would make the most of her day with oils. She had done a few sketches which might work into something.

Mumbling to herself about irritating cowboys, she put a canvas on the easel, chose a few colors to start and began working with the brush but with no plan for her subject. Usually she had an idea or even a firm sketch but this was freewheeling with colors.

“How are you, honey?” her mother asked, knocking on the open doorjamb.

“Good.” She hoped she wasn’t letting her irritation at Billy show up in her tone of voice.

“May I come in?”
“Of course. I’m always happy when you come out here.” She put down her brush and turned to face her mother. This would be a good time to discuss something important.
“I wondered how last night had gone. You didn’t seem to want to talk after you got home. Was something wrong?”
“No problem. I was just tired, but I did have something I wanted to tell you.”
“About that young man?”
“No, about me. I need to move out.”
Her mother moved to a chair and sat down, her expression looking concerned. “I thought you were happy living with us, the studio, all of it. You can save your salary this way for the future. I...” Obviously this wasn’t what her mother wanted to hear. “Have we done something?”
“It’s not about you. It’s about me. I need to get out of the nest, get a little apartment.”
“Not to live with him, I hope?”
“Mother! I barely know him. No, this isn’t about him. It’s about me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Are you familiar with the writer Henry Miller?”
“This seems a bit of a distraction; but yes, he’s the one who wrote Tropic of something or other, that obscene book.”
“Well he wrote other things. A few years ago I wrote down something of his but didn’t quite understand it. Last night I went digging to find it. I brought it out with me to tape to my easel.
She handed it to her mother, who read it aloud. “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” She stared at the paper a moment. “I don’t get it. Drunkenly? What does that mean? This is kind of a lot all at once, dear. You want more freedom, is that it? You can have that here.”
“Mom, I didn’t get it either about that part and I don’t think it means you have to be drunk but just live without the fear of doing the wrong thing and then not living at all.”
“And that requires moving out?”
“I think it does. It’s time for me to be building my own life, be responsible for myself. It’s not just about freedom as such. It’s about the next step in life. Fledglings have to leave the nest, you know.”
Her mother sighed. “Perhaps you can think about it?”
“I have thought about it.”
“For a long time?”
“Not so long but from the time I did, I knew it was what I had to do.”
“Was this his idea?”
“This isn’t about him.”
“Oh well, if it’s what you must, we will, of course, support you in any decision you make.” She sighed and looked at her wristwatch. “I wish I had more time to talk about this, but I promised to meet some friends for lunch—on the other side of town to avoid the noise of the rodeo and all. Want to join us?”
Her mother was a practical minded woman, and Sara appreciated that more than ever right now. It would be okay with her and her parents and maybe better once she was out than it had been. “I appreciate the offer but need to work on this painting.”
Her mother looked around the studio but didn’t say anything about the canvases against the walls. Sara had never asked her what she thought of her work because she had been afraid what she’d hear. Her mother helped other artists get started but hadn’t seemed to have much interest in Sara’s work.
Finally she could stand it no longer. “See anything you like?” she asked.
Her mother turned to look at Sara. “What do you mean?”
“Do you like any of the paintings? Any at all?”
“Well they’re fine, dear.” Her tone said she was not taking a risk to go further in her analysis.
“I won’t get angry. Just what do you think? Am I really a bad painter, Mom, or is it you just don’t want me to be one?”
Her mother started for the door. “I am sorry I don’t have time for this conversation now. We can discuss it tonight.”
“I might be out tonight. Don’t worry if it’s late.” She didn’t know why she said that. She was not going to the rodeo. She would not see him. Except…
“You have a date with him?” The emphasis on him said it all.
“Nothing definite, but I do have other friends in town, you know. Just don’t wait up if I am out when you come home. I am twenty-one. I will use good judgment regarding what I do.”
Her mother sucked in a breath and left without answering.  This was pretty typical for how their conversations had always gone. No direct confrontations. Well that was good as far as Sara was concerned for now. She finally saw at least one direction for herself, and so long as her parents didn’t try to block her, she could handle not having their approval right now. She felt she would get it eventually if she proved she was right.
She set about getting the colors she wanted. She would paint and that was what she knew. The rest, well that was the iffy part. She’d start looking for a small studio apartment as soon as the rodeo was over. She would not go to the rodeo. She would stay away from Billy Stempleton. She was totally certain about the last. If she saw him again, he’d change her life, upset her shaky handle on her plans. She didn’t want that… or did she?

Monday, April 28, 2014

coming home to the unexpected

Sky Daughter, until recently, was my only paranormal. I debated as I began writing it whether I would make it paranormal. I had a choice. Everything that happened could be imaginary. But I opted to make it real. That is always a tough call for me as to write about the supernatural world is-- how do I make this feel like it could happen?

I thought about how it'd be for a woman to return to a mountain home where her grandfather lived and she had no idea all that her family was about. I opted to have a Jewish hero, which doesn't appear to be usual in romances but it fit this particular story as the man was branded by his heritage but something else, something going on in the Idaho mountain community. These two need to find out before they both end up dead. 

Celtic holidays, the supernatural, misuse of spirituality, and wicca are part of the story. Of course, there is a love story set in a mountain area that was fun to describe. There is even a second romance of a little older sort.

Snippet from Sky Daughter:
         In the kitchen, Maggie picked up the flats of plants she had grown from seed. The first little plants had gone outside too soon and had their leaves blackened by a late frost, but she could protect these no longer. Most likely the deer would eat them before they got settled in, but she would give them a chance, a moment in the sun.
            Planting was part of the heritage of her grandmother. The urge to continue the cycle of growth, of planting and sowing ran through her veins. After so much loss, so many aborted opportunities and lives, she had a need to see life reach fruition.
            Working in the sun-warmed soil, Maggie put everything from her mind except weeding around the lavender plants, loosening the soil by the rosemary. She hummed as she worked, then came words about planting and releasing to grow. As quickly as the words came, they were gone. She sighed. The song would’ve never satisfied her managers anyway.
            She dug a hole for one of the marigolds, threw in a bit of fertilizer and then tamped the soil back around the tender plant. Planting meant a belief in the future, a desire for improving the present, and a reaching back to the past. It encompassed all of life to sow it with the hope of someday reaping.
            She sat in the garden when she had finished, feeling the warmth of the sun on her skin, the coolness of the soil beneath her knees. Why were tears running down her cheeks?
            Maggie girl. The words seemed almost real. She closed her eyes as she again heard her grandmother’s voice, could almost smell the blend of soap and the fragrance of herbs that was so much a part of every memory she had about her. She could feel the touch of that precious hand on her shoulder, soothing and giving her subtle energy. God, she missed that woman. She remembered her grandmother’s tall form as she would walk across the mountain, calling to Maggie and taking her with her into the woods, teaching her about the woods plants, which ones healed, which ones could be used for a fever, which ones poisoned.
            When had she forgotten the names, forgotten those words? She had been taught so much and it seemed it was all gone. She remembered one of the many conversations.

            ‘Dream, Sky Daughter, dream of the future and of all that will be.’
            ‘Grandma, I don’t remember my dreams.’
            ‘You must try harder. Dreams are the spirits speaking to you. They are your power.’
            ‘Mama says they’re not.’
            ‘Your mama had to follow her path and you must follow yours. They are not the same.’
            ‘How do you know?’
            ‘I know and you will too when the time comes.’
            Her grandmother just smiled. ‘You will.’
            ‘You could tell me now.’
            ‘No one should tell another their path, Sky Daughter, but someday you will know yours.’

            Maggie felt tears running down her cheeks and wiped the back of her hands across her eyes, to brush them away. “I miss you so. I thought you’d be here to teach me, to always tell me. Why did you have to go?”
            A hummingbird buzzed her, warning her off from the area, letting her know she was intruding on protected ground. Somewhere nearby was its nest. It was operating by instinct as she had found herself doing with Reuben.
            She looked toward the forest. She tried to force a change in reality, to go back in time, to see those, who had gone, come walking toward her. They would be laughing and talking about how much fun they would have had on a picnic at the falls. Her childish voice would be raised in excitement as it had been in those days of feeling so protected and loved.
            She waited, but all she could hear was the sound of a raven calling from higher up the mountain, the angry scream of a hawk, and the soothing tweets of smaller birds in nearby bushes. Never again would her loved ones be with her, and she had to face that reality.
            The air seemed to grow cold around her, a wind picked up and she felt as though someone or something was watching her. She looked around but saw nothing. She shuddered. There was no reason to be afraid. She had never been afraid up here, but she felt a need to get back to the cabin.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

book begins from a dream

 Her Dark Angel is one of my rare books, and there have only been a couple, that began from one of my dreams. The dream was the kind I call movie dreams. I don't feel I am in them but watch them unfold. Even though I have a recent one also that became a novella, most of my movie dreams don't end up books. Even when the images and elements are strong, usually they don't seem like my kind of book. 

To take a movie dream and make it into a book requires taking one key scene and using it as a keystone. I had that with Her Dark Angel. A young man was in an office with other people. Clearly violence was about to unfold. The young man threw himself in front of another to save his life and was shot. When I woke up, I liked what that young man looked like and decided he would make a good hero.

Sometimes a book begins from a plot element. Sometimes it comes from a key character and Dillon Delaney was for me a character that deserved a story. His name wasn't in the dream but that name perfectly fit the guy who was. Dill is a tough guy who has earned his own way through the kind of life that would have had many giving up. He has the kind of nobility that doesn't seek others to praise him. He does what is right best he knows it and suffers inside for the way life has often betrayed him.

He needed a heroine. I realized I not only had her as a secondary character in an earlier book, but it gave me more of what might have gotten Dill into the situation he found himself when Her Dark Angel opens.

The plot does deal with some difficult subjects including suicidal thoughts. It has an underlying theme from Beauty and the Beast as Dill has been living the life of a beast while the heroine is definitely the beauty.

The story begins in Reno, goes to Portland, then back to Reno and Tahoe before concluding in Portland. Some of the characters from Hidden Pearl are secondary in this one.

Snippet from Her Dark Angel:
        Dill strode into his hot and stuffy apartment ready to kick the cat or anything else that got in his way. Fortunately for McGee, she was nowhere to be seen, not that the pampered alley cat would've tolerated mistreatment if she had been. The quality of food Dill bought for her would have proven, as much as the regular visits to the vet, that she led a good life, which as a gray-striped alley cat, she had no reason to expect, but that she had taken to with great gusto.
Lighting a cigarette, Dill stood in the darkness staring out his kitchen window at Reno's night life. His apartment wasn't quiet, but it was cheap and convenient to everything-- if everything meant gambling and entertainment.
McGee, evidently having decided he was home and alone, came out from wherever she'd hidden and rubbed around his legs. He reached down and absentmindedly petted her as he thought about the evening at Johnny's-- more accurately about Johnny's beautiful niece.
He'd heard Johnny brag about his niece, of course. Heard the praise for her niceness, her mothering, then sadness of the tragic death of her husband, but he'd never dreamt Katherine Brown would also be beautiful. Black hair, flashing dark eyes and porcelain skin. Her features were evenly spaced, perfectly placed and gave her an ethereal, almost a madonna kind of look that a man rarely saw in a woman but that always stopped him his tracks. Beautiful wasn’t a big enough word for what he’d seen in Katy Brown’s face. There was an underlying fire, an intelligence, a caring that left Dill wanting. It didn't do much good to want, not for a woman like Katy Brown. Money, class, education. You name it, she had it, and he didn't.
He opened the window and stepped out onto the fire escape, McGee happily followed sniffing the night air. He wondered if she sometimes wished for her freedom or did she appreciate the security she now had? It didn't matter because if he let her go, he'd never see her again. Life was that way.
Dragging smoke deep in his lungs, he exhaled, his thoughts dark as he considered the dangerous situation he was in, a situation made worse now by Katy Brown's sudden appearance.
Writers always like their characters or at least I do mine. I am not about to spend a month or more writing a story about people I dislike or don't respect, but Dill is one of my favorites.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

what draws us in?

Hidden Pearl came about because of my interest in the appeal of cults. Oregon has had more than a few. I didn't base my book though any specific one. It's an imaginary cult set in the middle of Oregon. What I was more interested in exploring with this book was how someone gets into such a group. I think it's when they feel there is something missing in their lives and they want what will fill that hole-- the hidden pearl.

My research got into what are the dynamics of cult beliefs? What separates it from religions that might have funny beliefs (to some people) but don't brainwash? There have been many highly successful people who joined cults. It offers them something they aren't finding elsewhere. In this story neither my hero nor heroine are in the cult; thus are looking at it from the outside.

Having had a personal period of time in religion-- two versions of Christianity, I had some life experiences to bring to this story, but basically it's not about religion as such. It's about those who run cults to manipulate and use mind techniques to control their members.

The added appeal of this book was having my hero have a Navajo mother, who he didn't know very well. My interest there was to have a character with something in his DNA, not his upbringing but was it still calling to him? How important is our DNA to our identity?

To have my hero be a successful builder/architect let me explore how buildings can influence the dynamics of groups and how we see things. Having been a sculptor, an interest in geomancy worked right into this story. 

Having a heroine be a photojournalist gave me a chance to use my interest in photography. I like writing about career women and especially when I can give them something to do that I know a bit about. She has a pal who is also a photographer. A secondary character gets her own romance in 'Her Dark Angel' that comes two years later. Her husband was murdered in this one.

Again I set the book in Portland, down the valley out of Roseburg and up the Umpqua River. Setting is always a consideration for where a story should be and makes for part of the fun of writing.

Snippet from Hidden Pearl:

        "Hey Chris," the tall, balding man said as he pulled open the door. "I wondered when you'd be back." When he looked behind her and saw S.T. his homely face broke into a broad grin. "Who's your friend? Hey, I already know you. Glad to meet you in the flesh so to speak." Brannigan struck out his hand.
“We met before?” S.T. asked taking Hank’s hand for a firm shake.
“In the photos Chris took. Beautiful shots." He tilted his head, studying S.T.'s face, then scanning down his body. "I wouldn’t mind shooting some studies of you myself. Gratis, of course."
        Before S.T. could get past his surprise, Christine said, "You do remember I told you he doesn't take kindly to cameras? Where’s Jerry?"
        "He’s out but should be back.” He glanced at his wrist watch. “In an hour or so. Why don’t you like having your picture taken? With a face like that, you owe it to the world." Hank barely seemed to blink as he studied S.T.’s face. "All those sharp bones and angles. I don't suppose you'd let me photograph you in buckskin maybe with a feather."
        "You've got to be joking," S.T. shot back.
Hank laughed. “I do? Chris told me about you and the camera. Just like to joke around a little… Of course, if you’re open to no clothes on a river bank, I’m your guy. Anybody ever catch you buck naked?”
“Not with a camera." S.T began to recognize Hank's offbeat sense of humor and found at least a modicum of appreciation for it. He gave Christine a telling look. "At least I don't think so." She smiled innocently and said nothing.
        "So what'd you do to your ankle?" Hank asked.
        "Wrenched it," S.T. said.
        "Or broke it," Christine put in. "He won't go to a doctor."
        "Want me to look at it?"
        "You a doctor as well as photographer?" S.T. asked. "Or do you just like looking at-- swollen flesh?"
        Hank laughed loudly. "I was a medic in 'nam. Did a lot of quick patch-ups. Come on back to my kitchen. I'll take a look." Hank led the way down a narrow corridor to his private quarters, then glanced back. "You think about that modeling thing though. You could make good money at it."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Getting a second chance

As often happens, a secondary character in one book pops up in another. I'd had the psychologist Barrett Schaeffer in two other books (Moon Dust and Evening Star) when I opted to give her her own romance in Second Chance. The question was who would be her hero. He turned out to have also been in Moon Dust. Perfect.

Not only because I liked writing a story about a single mom, dealing with an ex-husband, working in a demanding career as a therapist, this book gave me a chance to write about another kind of place that gives second chances-- wildlife rehabilitation centers.

Since I had seen how they operate and respect very much the work of these places, where they operate from donations most of the time, having a hero who ran one was perfect.

Another reason for writing it was that hero. He was not a man the heroine would normally have ever chosen. Much too young for her. More seriously he had another major problem-- he was a caretaker type. So it was fun to write a story about a man who took on the problems of others with a heroine who wanted to be tough and avoid that kind of thing for her own life. No way would she let herself fall in love with such a guy.

The story was set again in the Portland area and areas where I have lived or spent a lot of time. When I write books there, I get to choose neighborhoods I have liked-- not usually ones in which I have lived but have spent time.

Secondary characters showed up in this book from Moon Dust since Barrett was best friends with that heroine. I set this one eight years after it, which meant change had come to these people's lives. I like to carry forth characters and would have done more of it if I had been thinking series when I was writing all these books. So many are set in Portland that they'd be naturals for a Portland series, but the years didn't always work; and so they just live in the same place but don't all know each other. Except sometimes.

Snippet from Second Chance:
          Judd reached into the steel cage, grabbed the water container from where it had fallen, but not quickly enough before the razor sharp beak slashed down across his right hand. He cursed as he withdrew his bleeding hand, still holding the dish.
          "I told you that would happen," Barry Kuntz told him.
          Judd glared down at his friend but handed him the dish. "If you hadn't lost my gloves it wouldn't have."
          "I'm sorry, Judd. You could have worn mine." He looked at Judd's much larger hand. "I guess you couldn't. I just..."
          "Never mind. He barely nicked me.” He studied his hand to see if that was true. He’d had enough stitches over the years since he’d opened Second Chance that he was pretty good at assessing when it was required. “This is shallow and my own fault.” He had known the hawk was recovering, had known he wouldn't appreciate a human hand in his cage, but Judd had been in a hurry, his mind distracted. Those kinds of mistakes usually ended up with blood being spilled, too often his.
          Barry looked at the blood welling up, and his face blanched.
          "You’re not going to faint are you?” Judd asked with a laugh.
          “You should go to ER.”     
          "Not on a bet." He reached into the cabinet for the antiseptic bottle and poured a liberal dose over his hand, hissing as pain seared across the cut. "It's not that bad. See, the bleeding's slowed already." He hoped it was true. A hawk had a beak like a knife. If his wrist had been turned upward, the wound would likely have required a visit to have it stitched.
          In a hurry to pick up Barrett Shaeffer, and knowing he was already running late, Judd grabbed a gauze pad and held it firmly over the wound. "How about taping it?" he asked Barry.
          Barry cut off strips of tape, securing the pad crudely in place. "I think--"
          "Look, Barry,” Judd interrupted. “It’s going to be fine. Right now I really have to get out of here. You finish up, okay?"
          Barry coughed. "Sure. Where you going?"
          "I'm bringing a friend back to tour the place."
          Barry looked around and Judd knew he was seeing the ramshackle buildings, the conglomeration of cages and assorted sheds and wondering who was interested in them this time.  Second Chance didn't look like much, but it had saved hundreds of raptors and other wild birds and an assortment of domestic animals that had suffered from mistreatment.
       Most recently they had successfully treated, then released, a cougar who'd been peppered with buckshot. There had been numerous deer hit by cars. As word had gotten out about their operation--a few newspaper articles and one interview with a local television reporter--they had been assured a constant supply of abused animals, mostly birds; unfortunately, the money to treat them was not so easy to come by. Luckily one of the local veterinarians had been supportive of their operation.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

to bring about change

For me, it's enjoyable to write stories where the characters overcome adversity. I mean if it's all working great, where's the story? Since I have known more than a few people who experienced childhood abuse, this was a subject I thought I could use for a romance. It is possible to take something that difficult and use it as a vehicle to illustrate how we overcome what happened.

The thing is-- some subjects are hard for readers to want to think about especially when it's fiction and a romance. I would say Moon Dust has been one of those. I also though believe it's a book that deals with very real issues that too many have had to face. 

To cover this subject, I read books, relied on stories I'd been told to delve into a topic that isn't often addressed for what it is-- what about when the victim is a boy? It has not been taken as seriously for many years-- as if a boy child would not be as impacted by being abused.

Abuse of a child is about the child losing control. It is maybe even worse for a boy where men are supposed to be strong or even how they might see any sex as good. Abuse has ramifications emotionally for years later. I wanted to take a very successful looking man, at a difficult time in his career, when he was facing divorce, trouble in the school where he was a principal, and show how he could overcome it all-- in a romance.

The topic that interested me beyond abuse was divorce. Why marriages break up and maybe should. But then how can such a relationship be healed in a way that doesn't ignore what led to the break. 

The story touches on a lot of other issues, but at its heart is abuse both in the past but ongoing for three teen-age boys who don't even know it's happening to them. 

I gave the story a villain who demanded his way was the only way as he tried to control others and fought to keep schools from teaching anything that went against his own white supremacist code. 

So ongoing abuse, results of having been abused, and a relationship that has been impacted by those long ago events. I guess it's not surprising it has been one of those books a lot of romance readers skip over.

Because I could put ideas about education, about healing, about overcoming into this love story, it's one I feel proud of having written-- popular or not. It definitely was a challenge to write since when you deal with hard topics, you often learn more about them than you'd want to know. I think though, surprising as this might be to some about a romance, it is a healing book for those who have suffered abuse of one type or another as they see solutions for today. Someone might have been victimized, but this book is about not staying a victim.

It also was a vehicle to show how we can get through traumas, which could be divorce or accepting that what seemed in the past is still impacting today. I also wanted to write it as a way to show the challenges we face as a culture regarding what education for our children should mean.

The doorway image was in the trailer and a photo taken at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Northwest Portland. My characters don't visit this garden in the book, but I thought this view through a round door was apropos for what it sometimes takes to move forward in our lives.

Snippet from Moon Dust:

      As Susan flicked the stop button on the remote control, the television screen darkened. She looked over at Dane, who was sprawled beside her on the couch, a picture of virile masculinity with rugged, battered face, a faint beard shadowing his jaw, jeans, the top snap undone, his only garment.
      "Why," he asked with a glare, "did you pick that particular film?"
      "Well, I certainly had no idea it was a movie about the war between the sexes," she said defensively.
      "You didn't?"
      "I did not. A friend recommended it to me. I had no idea it would be so..."
      "I couldn't agree with that interpretation. I thought it did rather well at exploring the problems in relationships."
      "From a female perspective at least," he agreed cynically raising his eyebrows.
      "It was not as biased as you're making out. Sure, the author of the screenplay was a woman but..."
      "There is no but. That says it all right there."
      "I don't agree. She was exploring legitimate problems between the men and women."
      "Like male unfaithfulness, male undependability, male obtuseness, male shallowness-- Problems like that?" he asked, grimacing as he shifted his position on the sofa.
      "That wasn't all it was about. It was about the need for communication, mutual trust and the harm that follows when those needs aren't met."
      "Aren't met by a man, you mean? Where were the female failures?"
      "Well, in this particular case, but it could have been different. I mean it could have been a woman who was unfaithful... and undependable and..."
      Dane shook his head. "But it wasn't. So we watch this movie, and you get mad at me all over again."
      "I didn't do that."
      "You didn't? Then how come you moved away part way through the picture. How come you shook my arm off when I tried to put it around you?"
      "I didn't... well, I guess I did. I suppose the picture did stir up just a tiny bit of resentment." She walked into her kitchen and came back with the wine bottle, refilling their glasses.
      "A tiny bit," he repeated, reaching into the popcorn bowl and finding a few pieces well coated with melted butter. "A tiny bit, huh? I caught the glares you sent my way and if I hadn't been a stoic, I would have left the room with my head hanging or sat in a corner until it was over."
      She smiled. "You seemed to me to be getting as irritated as I was."
      "Well, there were a few little things."
      "For instances?"
      "All right, since you asked for it. That woman let the man dig himself a hole so deep not even a gopher could have dug his way out. Why didn't she warn the poor schmuck what was happening--how she was feeling? Why let him make such a fool out of himself that there was no way out but suicide?"
      "He didn't kill himself," she corrected. "In fact, he seemed decidedly smug at the end, taking off with that pretty little tootsie roll."
      "He was killing himself by going to that other woman, being what she was, as surely as if he'd taken a gun to his head.”
      "So what else didn't you like?" she asked, sipping her wine and watching him combatively over the rim of the glass.
      "Well, how about the woman's friends? They were doing everything they could to put an end to the relationship."
      "They were trying to help her."
      "Hah! Women like that aren't helping anybody but themselves. They were miserable old biddies and weren't going to be satisfied until she was too. Something they had likely achieved by the end of the film."
      "That's not a fair assessment."
      "Maybe not, but it was accurate."
      "You are a male chauvinist," she accused, turning the charges from impersonal to personal.
      "And you are a female chauvinist," he retorted, sending the ball volleying back to her court. "The trouble is since the women's movement, men have been on the run with no idea where to run to."
      "That's ridiculous."
      "Ridiculous? Then why do men need writers like Robert Bly to get themselves back on their feet? Women have been using film and books to beat men into submission, to take away all their confidence. This movie is a good example. The worthless male again whacked out of the playing field by the noble female and her cohorts in character assassination and for all the women who watch it to nod their heads and agree."
      She pursed her lips, jutting her jaw contentiously. "So what you are telling me is that when women get together it's always to plot against a male." She raised her eyebrows in mock amazement. "But when males do it, it's for self-defense. Circle the wagons, boys."
      "Actually men don’t tend to go to each other but they should—especially when you see a story like that one out to geld all the males in the neighborhood."
      He saw her work to suppress her grin. "I'm not sure women would want to go that far," she said, glancing down at the evidence of his masculinity, her eyes beginning to show her amusement.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Randy O'Brian (yes a descendent of that O'Brian family and cousin of Rachel), the hero of Evening Star, is the only hero I've ever written for a full length novel who doesn't get his own point of view-- ever. I thought about this but needed the story to be told all from the heroine and villain's points of view. Randy shows up only as others see him. I had a reason for this. I wanted the reader to be uncertain of his character-- as the heroine had to be.

The appeal of writing this romantic suspense was having a career woman heroine. I like the idea of mixing up the types of women I write about. I am not a business woman myself, but I know them. Writers have the advantage of being able to study others and use what they observe in their stories. Otherwise every story would be about ourselves.

So Marla Jamison was one of the appeals as she was a lawyer which meant her observations about the hero and others should be pretty good. Then I added into the mix her obliviousness to herself. Isn't it interesting how often we can look at others and be intuitive but avoid doing the same for ourselves? So I wanted that kind of heroine. I got criticized in a few reviews other places that she was whiny and obnoxious to start. Agreed-- she was. If a character starts out perfect, how do you show growth? Marla had to realize she was bringing on a lot of her own problems due to unhealthy attitudes.

So the appeal of this book was showing a woman grow. She finally opted to do that through getting professional help. I know that's not usual, but I wanted to show how people can benefit from admitting their problem and looking for someone trained to help them find its origin. 

Randy is a Portland city cop, which made him an interesting character for what he was facing every day. I have felt the police are too often criticized whatever they do. I tried to present the problems they face where a split second decision can mean life or death. Also how when most of us are living peaceful lives, someone else is facing a life and death situation. I've had this awareness many times when I read about a violent happening and I remember what I was doing at that exact moment. It is life.

I set a lot of this story in Northwest Portland, a neighborhood I enjoy each time I visit. If I wanted to live in a town, I'd like it. One of my very favorite cities is Portland, Oregon. I've lived there, still get up when I can, and it's fun to write stories set there. This one though also used Tahoe and a ranch outside of Medford, Oregon. I only set books in places I know and have spent time. 

The big thing though that led me to want to write this story is Marla and her need to overcome her own self-destructive behavior. 

Snippet from Evening Star:

The moon rose high, providing enough light for them to walk along the edge of the lake along the sandy beach, holding hands. Randy pointed to the southwest. "See that?"
"The star?" she asked, more aware of the warmth of his large hand than the star to which he was pointing.
"It's the evening star."
"You don't need to tell me. You never cared much for astronomy."
"Did you ever say--star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight?"
"Actually," she said with a little laugh, "I don't think I did."
"Well, you missed a lot. First star of the night is important, but this one, it's special because it's not really a star at all. It's Venus. One time of the year it's the evening star. At another, you see it in the morning--the morning star. Look how bright it is, like a little sun, except it's actually reflected light."
"How interesting," she said, trying to show enthusiasm. The truth was whenever anyone pointed out a constellation to her, even one so simple as the Big or Little Dipper, she was never able to see the images, could never locate the same stars again, even a few minutes later. To her the sky was filled with points of light, none of which had names, and none of which made pictures.
She couldn't see his face but by his voice, she knew he was smiling. "You can chart a course by stars, figure where you are in the woods, but the evening or morning star is more than that. It's a beacon."
"There is a moral to this," she guessed.
He squeezed her hand. "When you look up and see something as bright as Venus, something that stands out even when the sky lightens in the morning or before it darkens at night, when you can see that, you can chart a course by it. No matter where you are. You can't do that when you look at the ground, the trees, the brush, the darkness. You look down and you lose sight of where you are or where you've been."
She smiled. "Irish, are you saying I'm not looking up enough?"
He put his arm around her waist. "That and a little more."
"Looking up is easier for some people than others."
"One day at a time, sugar."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

when one book grows another

Bannister's Way grew from Desert Inferno, and I might as well write about it next. David Bannister was the antithesis of Jake Donovan. David could be manipulative, extremely good looking, was very slick, and worked undercover a lot. I often have a secondary character that just calls out to have their own story. That was David.

His story began, as they all do-- with a big question for me. Who was his partner to be? You might have a hero or heroine in mind but what will make their story interesting, what will present obstacles. What about a marriage that had ended twelve years earlier, in divorce-- but where the feelings had never died?

The setting for a lot of this book was on the Tualatin River south of Portland, Oregon. I have never lived on that river but have spent time along it. Once an uncle of mine rented this terrific old house down on the river for a summer. I got to spend a week there with my cousins. Such fun as we could swim right off the dock. The attic where we slept had bats. It probably was a house deteriorating with age, but such a fun place for a book to be set.

So I wrote it in a place I liked to spend time. I set it into an art college for the fun of having other artists as his ex-wife's colleagues, which led to art conversations. Then she was a sculptor, which I have also done over many years. Her current commission brought in Greek mythology. I wrote about the process of sculpture with the fun of nude models for art classes.

To give the story action and David a reason to be there undercover, I needed a murder mystery, which led to more research for the motive as well as a very interesting villain if I do say so myself.

It was fun to write about a heroine who had changed her name (I could relate to that one) and made a life for herself that if it wasn't all she wanted, was definitely successful. This engaged the art world, a lovely setting, and to add to it four old ladies, in different places throughout the book, to add flavor--depicting old ladies I had known. Having gotten to know David when writing Desert Inferno, it was fun to give him his own book. I liked David who got flak for being manipulative. It wasn't his fault-- just the way he thought and worked well in investigation-- if not relationships.

The digital painting at the top was one I did for the first eBook cover... Boy, did it get dinged. Amateur work was the most common accusation. So I had to change the cover. Covers are one area where readers do know best. I mean if you can't get them to look inside the book, you can bet you won't sell many copies no matter how interesting the story might be. 

Snippet from Bannister's Way:

It seemed he had something else he was supposed to do, but then it came to him that there had always been something somewhere that took precedent over what he wanted. She was right. At this moment, there was nothing. The mystery of the professor's death wasn't going to get settled this week-end. He wasn’t anxious to talk to Vance, but knew, sooner than he’d want, his partner would track him down. It wouldn’t be heard this time.

      Grinning, he looked up at her. "You're right. I don't have to do a damned thing."
      Smiling, she settled in a chair with her own iced tea. She gestured toward the river. "If you just let that rhythm get hold of you, you can convince yourself you never have to do anything."
      "I could believe that."
      "When I first found this place, it needed a lot of work. The foundation was sinking, the house had been a rental without much love for a lot of years." She smiled at the memory. "The renovation was good for me as well as the house. Then it was done, and I began to tighten up again, but I learned I could come out here and sit, smell the air, listen to the ducks, hear the birds, the sound of the water going past, and let my mind go blank. Sometimes I sit down on the dock for hours and just imagine myself part of the river."
      "You've made it into a retreat."
      "That is what it is. It's not that I've got a handle on everything now, obviously, or that I always relax when I should, but this place soothes me when nothing else..." She smiled again at him. "Well, at that time nothing else could."
      He lay back, enjoying the sun that was slowly moving across the deck to bathe everything on it in its warmth. "I guess," he drawled, "you're determined to coddle me. Since I'm not strong enough to fight it, I might as well give in."
      She laughed huskily. "It's a wise man who knows when he's been defeated."
      "Since my ankle is injured, and you've got my clothes in your washer, I'm at your mercy--aren't I?" he suggested, his eyes heavily lidded.
      "You are," she agreed, meeting his gaze with a smile, "and we both know I'm merciless."
      "Yeah, we know that. So--uh, what did you have in mind?"
      "I thought I might cook us dinner."
      "Raven!" He abruptly sat up on the chaise lounge. "I don't think that's necessary."
      "I'm tired of these jokes about my cooking," she protested, stretching long, tanned legs as she savored the warmth. She wore only a halter top and shorts. Indian summer, the last real sunshine they would see for months, had come to linger over the valley, and she planned to take full advantage of these last golden days. "I'm going to end once and for all the myth I cannot cook--with a meal you will never forget."
      He subsided back onto the lounge, looking up at the blue sky overhead. "I think you already fixed that one."
      She glared at him with mock outrage. "Are you still holding a grudge about that Chicken Kiev I prepared when we first got married?"
      He rolled his eyes innocently skyward. "I wouldn't exactly call it a grudge, but I do still remember it--vividly. How could a man forget a dinner like that?"
      "It was not my fault that I didn't exactly understand everything about a recipe. I mean who could expect me to know that little t's and big T's meant different things--or that when it called for a dried spice, it might require different amounts than a powdered one of the same name!"
      "Those were natural confusions," he agreed, laughing, "and so was not understanding that for Chicken Kiev you had to remove the bones and skin from the chicken first. I can also see how you might not have realized that if something was frozen... the cooking time would be different, if you didn't thaw it first. Hey, I understood all of that."
      "You have way too good a memory.”
He sent her a sensual smile. “Not just for your cooking.”
“I think it wasn’t very kind of you to refuse to eat anything after the first bite. I mean I know the rice was a little raw but..."
      "Actually, I took several bites. I tried again, honest I did, baby, but tough as I thought I was back then, I just couldn’t do it."
      She snorted with disgust. "Wimp! Well, it's water under the bridge now. Today I can follow a recipe, and I understand what the letters mean."
      "Can't I just take your word for it?" he questioned ungallantly.
      She glared at him; and he cringed back, putting up his hands in a mock defense. "All right! I'll eat it--whatever it is."
      "That's better," she retorted, smiling to herself. "I will keep it simple this time though. No rolled meats or anything complicated."
      "That reassures my stomach somewhat. Only why did everyone last night cringe when you suggested coming to your house for dinner?"
      "There might have been a few--tiny, almost insignificant, little accidents when they've come here for dinner," she admitted, signifying with her fingers how truly minor they were, "but you know how artists are—finicky beasts."