Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Prayer or Mantra?

As turkey day approaches, I have made out my Thanksgiving prayer, which I will use as a mantra while the day progresses:

Dear Lord,

Grant me the strength to get up and begin boiling eggs, giblets and vegetables in broth and dunking a twelve pound bird in water in my sink because it’s still partially frozen, all before my morning coffee.

Give me the perseverance to keep from killing my dog when I discover she has hunted down something “off limits” in the family room to eat as an appetizer before she receives her morning food.

Bestow upon me the humor to laugh at myself when I overcook the bird and my husband says he thought we were having ham.

Allow me the graciousness to overlook the fact that, even as my husband eats his second plate of food he said he didn’t want to begin with, he still holds on to the remote control tightly and his eyes remain glued to college football on TV.

Control my rising temper as I try without luck to fit the leftovers in the refrigerator and am interrupted by my husband asking if he can have another plate full.

Be still my beating heart as the dog chokes on the wishbone hubby left on the side of his tray and finally coughs it up.

Grant me a few moments to myself to write madly on my computer in an attempt to quell my nerves, thereby writing at twice the speed and making half my normal sense.

Provide me with the energy to wash all the pots and pans and fill the dishwasher while my husband snores in his recliner and the dog sleeps in a curled ball in my chair.

For all in all, I should give thanks for what I have and that I am not destitute, without food, warmth, a shelter over my head and the knowledge that I am secure for tomorrow. For many do not have that.

You see, dear reader, my troubles are really few and my trials are nothing more than the normal ones of the harried married writer.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with Joseph R.G. DeMarco

Joseph R. G. DeMarco is the author of Murder on Camac. His newest work, A Body on Pine, will be published in March 2011 by Lethe Press

What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?

A Body on Pine is the second book in the Marco Fontana Mysteries series.
Titles! Ugh. That’s always a sore point. They drive me crazy! A title is probably one of the more difficult things for me to do. Of course, there’s a lot of hard work before you get to a title. But I always have the toughest time coming up with something that seems to fit, that is catchy, and that really works with the book. I keep trying them out as I write the book until something finally gives me the feeling that it fits. (Which usually leaves a long trail of unused titles.)
The first mystery in the series, Murder on Camac (www.murderoncamac.com) (Lethe Press 2009) had a few different titles along the way.

And the title I thought I’d stick with, didn’t turn out to be the one we went with. Once we settled on a title that included the name of the street (Camac) on which the murder happened, things fell into place. Now I can’t think of that book with any other title.

We weren’t sure if we’d stick with street names in future titles in the series but, at least for this second outing, it seems to work. Again, I had varying titles as I worked. At one point we thought we had the title but in testing it out, it really didn’t work. Eventually we came up with a title that both mentions a street in Philadelphia and has other meanings as well. (My best friend has a big hand in these things.)

What is A Body On Pine about?

Here’s the summary:
When Marco Fontana enters his friend’s spa on Pine, he doesn’t find the peaceful retreat he expected. Brad, the masseur, is missing. The spa is splattered with blood and a dead client lies sprawled on the floor. After a thorough search turns up more questions than answers, Marco calls the police. They find Brad’s body a short distance from the spa and before long Marco understands that what appears to be a simple case of murder is anything but. The police want Marco off the case. However, when the body of a popular journalist is added to the death toll, Brad’s case gets sidelined.

Marco refuses to allow his friend’s death to be ignored and convinces an overwhelmed young police detective to bring Marco into the hunt for the killer. He finds plenty to keep him busy. Abusive ex-boyfriends, stalker clients, politicians, scheming businessmen, and Eastern European mobsters swirl together in a dangerous mix which finds Marco in some of the most serious trouble he’s encountered so far.

Life at home doesn’t stop for Marco, either. While he searches for Brad’s killer, Marco’s stripper troupe, StripGuyz, brings him face to face with a stripper’s abusive boyfriend and, with Jean-Claude, a new member of the troupe who innocently comes between Marco and Anton, upsetting the fragile balance existing between them.

What kind of guy is Marco Fontana?

Marco Fontana has been with me for a long time now. He seduced his way into my thoughts a few years ago and, being the hottie that he is, I allowed him to stay. I can’t resist his smile.

He’s an Italian-American born in South Philly, Philadelphia’s Little Italy. A mix of Southern Italian and Northern Italian stock, Marco is on the tall side (almost six feet), has brown eyes, and dark brown hair that he keeps short. Sometimes he “forgets” to shave and the three day stubble serves to emphasize his strong jaw line. He works out but is not over muscled. Think Paul Walker or Sebastian Spence or Matt Smith or lots of others.

Although his friends accuse him of being commitment-phobic, he’d disagree. Except, deep down, he knows that commitment is something he’s not exactly certain about. He doesn’t fear it, he’s just not sure if he wants a committed relationship. All this is dismaying to Anton, an Eastern European, blond-haired, blue-eyed hunk and Marco’s right arm in the StripGuyz business. Of course, it doesn’t bother Luke, his Chinese best bud and an elegant entrepreneur, who enjoys playing the field as much as Marco does.

Serious, focused, and intent on the job at hand are terms that describe Marco when he’s working a case. He never likes to leave things unfinished and never makes a commitment he can’t keep.

He’s got his flaws, of course. Stubborn, willing to cut a corner or break the rules here or there if he needs to. He also won’t back down easily, even when he knows it’s the better path to take. His dedication to finding the truth can cut both ways, at times, and this is not always a good thing. He doesn’t trust others easily, if at all, and this sometimes keeps him working alone against his better judgment. If he ever does place his trust in you and you give him a reason to lose that trust, you can probably never regain it.

Marco is an all around nice guy, though. Unless you get on his bad side, then you’re dogmeat.

What books have influenced your life most?

That’s very hard to say. From when I was a child I was a voracious reader. Then, as now, I enjoyed fanciful things, like the Dr. Dolittle books, fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries (and yes, mysteries can be thought to be fanciful for a lot of reasons). I didn’t limit myself to those areas of reading. Historical fiction is a favorite of mine. Some “literary” works influence me as does some comic writing. Vampires, werewolves, and time travel all influence me in some way. I also love reading plays. Drama is, for me, an important part of learning to write.

Nonfiction is another influence in my life. History especially but philosophy and political works give me a lot of insight into things.

I’ve read all the classics and then some (a rigorous Catholic school education will do that). And I believe that very little which we do or see or read gets lost. It’s all there somewhere waiting to be used, to be helpful. It all shapes and molds a person and what they produce.

Raymond Chandler, Issac Asimov, Robert B. Parker, Ray Bradbury, Tolkein, and plenty of others played and still play a significant role in my literary life.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Another tough question. I’m assuming you don’t mean an actual, sit in the chair next to me giving me guidance kind of mentor. I think some of the writers I mentioned, Chandler, Asimov, Bradbury, and others are writers who, by their style and passion, mentor me in the works they’ve produced. Janet Evanovich is another along with a host of other writers whose works created an impression and a challenge. Surprisingly there are a number of YA authors who “mentor” me with their books. The list is long but I can say that I wouldn’t be the same if I’d never read any of their work.

I think that, especially in writing, a mentor who doesn’t challenge you to do better, who doesn’t spur you on to do more isn’t really worth much. So, the people I’ve mentioned, just through their writing, do that for me. And there are others. I still read widely and I often come across a book or a new writer who challenges me. And I love it.

What are your current projects?

I’m putting the finishing touches on A Body on Pine and thinking about the next installment. (And the title for that one is already playing “hide and seek” with me and driving me to distraction.)
I’m also editing a book of Sherlock Holmes tales, A Study in Lavender, for Lethe Press.

There are the several short stories for which I have deadlines coming up.
I have two YA novels which are essentially finished but need a bit of work to get them in shape.

Of course, there’s Mysterical-E (http://www.mystericale.com) the quarterly online mystery magazine which I publish. It’s in its tenth or eleventh year now and doing well. It’s a lot of work but it’s also something I enjoy doing most of the time.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing is always a challenge. That’s part of the appeal. It’s work but when you hone and polish and labor over every bit of it and come up with something fine and beautiful, there’s no other feeling of satisfaction that can match it. And if someone else likes it, that’s icing on the cake.

Trying to get wonderful characters and beautiful writing and a good plot into the same mix is one of the greater challenges. Finding the right balance and making it work isn’t easy. But it’s good to remember that nothing is perfect and all you can do is your best. Then you try again with the next thing.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Advice, uh oh.

I know people are looking for rules and formulae that will make their writing sing and make publishers empty out their coffers. You won’t find that advice or those rules anywhere.

Despite all the warnings about advice and rules, here’s some I think will work:
Read, write, and submit your work. Study the basics but do your own thing.

Wow! This has been great. Thanks for stopping by today, Joe.

Friday, November 19, 2010

First Gifts Blog Hop

Learn all about my first gift from my now hubby of twenty-seven years and hop arund to see other blogs on this tour of first gifts.

What’s Better than Practical?

Christmas was just around the corner and my new boyfriend, soon to become my fiancĂ© had gotten me a present. By the glint in his eye, I knew he really liked his choice. He was forever chiding me about how much I’d love it.

Now, mind you, though he was a very loving soul, to date in our relationship he’d brought only steamed crabs, oysters, beer and wine to my apartment. It was obvious he believed the way to my heart was through my stomach. I, on the other hand, was the starry-eyed romantic, thinking of jewelry, perfume, even lingerie. What had he picked that gave him such glee?

I need to also tell the reader that my boyfriend, now husband of twenty-seven years, was a real outdoorsman. He still is, but physical issues have slowed him down. My hubby was the kind of guy who climbed poles for a living, did high-wire splicing, biked nine miles over steep hills to go to work and still wanted to play tennis when he got off. He was the kind of guy who felt at home in a muddy duck blind, hunting.

My cousin lived with me back then and knew I was curious about the gift. She’d badger hubby to tell her what it was, but he wouldn’t say. That is, until the day he was going to give it to me. She called me at work. “Don’t get real excited about your gift.”

“What’s the matter? He wasn’t cheap was he? He’s not the kind of guy’s who’s cheap.”

“Oh, no. The gift is quite expensive, but let’s just say it isn’t exactly you.”

I thought about her statement for the rest of the afternoon. I was a city girl. I wore three-inch heels to work, liked long hot bubble baths and massages. The thought of trudging through the dense woods in search of wild boar or mucking it up for the sake of one scrawny, greasy duck did not and still doesn’t appeal to me.

My thoughts went into orbit. My cuz must have overreacted--after all the gift was for me and he loved me. Although it might not be a great as what I expected, it couldn’t be that bad. Could it?

That night he presented his present, a huge wrapped box complete with bow. Staring at it, I wondered if it were one of those tricks with a box within a box within a box to look like something larger than it really is. But when I picked it up, the weight convinced me otherwise. What did he give me?

Just look below:

Identical to his so we could go into the woods matching. You know what they say: "You can't always get what you want, but you get what (he thinks) you need."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Living with Writing

Our guest today is Clark Lohr, mystery author of the book, Devil's Kitchen, soon to be released by Oak Tree Press, www.OakTreeBooks.com Welcome!

Our art won’t save us from addictions or failing brain chemistry. Get professional help for those; however, writing, like exercise, becomes its own kind of high. ~Clark Lohr

In my senior year in high school I asked a classmate what she was going to do for a living. She said she was going to be a harpist. Okay, I thought, that’s weird. There ain’t a lot of call for harpists out there. She became a harpist. They paid her to play a harp. I myself wanted to be a tough guy. I went to Vietnam. Oops. I’m still not a tough guy.

Years later, I’m reading Julia Cameron and doing what she suggests. I’m starting to write a novel. I fix on a quote from The Artist’s Way which is better known now: “Leap and the net will appear.”

So, I start, and my novel gets done and redone. Eventually, I get lucky. At least that’s what Sunny Frazier, crime writer and acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press, told me when I asked her why she picked my novel out of the slush pile. Frazier said it was luck. Kismet.

If getting published all depends on luck, why write? One answer: Because we have to write. We have to express ourselves.

The authors of The Artists Way note few persons getting college art degrees continue to make art after graduation. Not many of your college art friends kept at it after graduation, either. You can bet it’s about the same with those who receive creative writing degrees.

Another gem from Art and Fear is a story about perfectionism stalling the work. A pottery teacher told one section of his class that their grade depended on one perfect pot. He told another section of students that their grade depended on the number of pots they made—on quantity, not quality. At the end of the course the quantity people had learned to make great pots. The quality people were still living in fear. Stories like that illuminate our predicaments. They help show us what to do to cope, to keep on, to see the scope of the task all artists experience.

If you’re considering college and thinking about a creative writing degree, I’d say go for a journalism degree instead. Journalism teaches fluency. Journalism teaches you how to write fast. You’ll also have company, and more likely will be writing in a classroom with a lot of other people who will instill you with energy.

I have a creative writing degree. It taught me neither true fluency in writing nor how to cope with the problems of being a writer while surviving the challenges of ordinary life. Most of the working writer friends I know and know about have either journalism degrees or degrees in something else altogether. My author friend Susan Cummins Miller is a geologist. Rocks. Well, she’s also written a string of crime fiction novels using her heroine, Frankie McFarlane, who is both a geologist and a detective.

About writing workshops: I’d say use them. Even if you’re still in high school, pay for workshops and go to them. Adult learners want information that’s to the point. Good writing workshops tend to be intense and focused. They’re also short. You learn a lot in one weekend. Your college creative writing professor has to string it all out over a semester. The people who teach writing workshops don’t.

I started my crime novel (Devil’s Kitchen, soon to be published by Oak Tree Press) in a writing workshop taught at a YMCA by Paul Fouliard, an ex-Marine and a novelist. He told us to, effectively, take the hill. He said he wanted us to have a novel underway by the next class meeting and he was talking about writing whole chapters. I just started writing.

Along the way, Fouliard mentioned that comparatively few people under forty years of age write a novel successfully. He cited lack of life experience, not ability.

If you’re under forty, don’t worry about it. Google legendary young novelists on the internet. You’ll find that literary fiction writers tend to be in their thirties and they have MFAs. Not every young writer goes that route. Google Susan Eloise Hinton or Arthur Rimbaud.

How do you piece a novel together? William Faulkner said that writing a novel is like trying to build a chicken coop in a hurricane. What does the structure of a successful story look like? It’s damn sure more complicated than Acts I, II and III.

Syd Field, in his book on Screenplay (cited below this article) gave us a model, step-by-step, for making a story that works. Today, writers will tell you there can be a problem with that: Everyone tries to write to Syd’s model and the writing lacks originality. Yes, but originality happens. You can veer off in the right direction and come up with a unique structure that works.

I suggest you look at Fields’ book, then play some films, use your pause button, and start watching how the writer makes it work, bit by bit. For example: In White Heat (classic noir, 1949, stars James Cagney) there’s a plot point where the good guy gets outed as an undercover cop by a gang member who has just come on the scene. The gang leader, James Cagney, a sociopath who’s already killed a couple of people in this movie, points a 12-gauge shotgun at the good guy. Hit the pause button. Ask yourself: What’s going to save the good guy? Hit the play button and find out. Then start thinking how you’ll adapt it to your own writing. Maybe you’ll decide to write a screenplay instead of a novel. Why not?

Good luck.

Clark Lohr

My Books for Learning About and Crafting Your Writing:

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. This novelist and writing teacher published her book in the 1930’s. She has a strong writing voice and good ideas. I came to believe that, if I put a picture of Dorothea Brande on my wall, her eyes would follow me around the room. She’s decisive. She’s tough. She knows who writers are. You don’t want Dorothea Brande chasing you down the street. She’s faced the blank page and won. She’s viable today. She lives through her words. Hear and act on Dorothea Brande’s advice. Things will get better.

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron with Mark Bryan. This is a workbook for “discovering and recovering your creative self.” Published in the 1990’s, this book is about transforming yourself into someone who can and will create. Cameron inventories the expectations the world puts on us. Did your parents encourage you to make fiction writing your first priority in life? No? Neither did mine. Cameron gives us strategies for beating our own sloth, apathy and despair.

Art and Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. This is a thin but deep book about making art of all kinds. Although it’s concerned primarily with the visual arts, writers will recognize the problems and gain perspective.

In Film: Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. We all want our book to go to movie. Syd Field wrote the granddaddy of how-to books about screenwriting. What does this have to do with novel writing? Syd Field teaches story and story structure. I don’t know any creative writers who don’t watch a lot of films. Films and books run together. They feed each other. We feed on them both.

On Crime: How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript. James N. Frey is the author. He favors a Five-Act story structure. Frey claims that using the tools he explains and writing full time can get you a finished mystery novel in three to five months. I don’t doubt it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interview with Jack Everett

Jack Everett is an author who writes in several genres including historical thrillers, medieval mysteries, WW2 stories and Fantasy and Sci-Fi. He lives in rural Yorkshire in England with his wife and pet cat, Meaow.

His newest work ‘1/1:Jihad-Britain’-a modern day thriller- is available from (AcclaimedBooks.com). www.JihadUK.info tells all about it.

What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?

1/1:Jihad-Britain tells of a possible outcome to a happening several times larger than 9/11. Starting with bombs going off in St.Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square in London, large football stadiums in Scotland and Wales and aboard the world’s largest cruise liner just berthing in Southampton docks. All on or around midnight one New Years Eve. Thus the 1/1 is the 1st day of the new year, Jihad is what it is all about and Britain is where it mainly takes place.

What is (1/1:Jihad-Britain) about?

As the story progresses from its explosive start we find that most of the ruling socialist party died in the cathedral and a new government has to be formed. The man appointed to be the leader of the UK is Francis Raike an MP who was injured in the bombings. The book is written so that the reader follows the day to day happenings of the Prime Minister(the first divorcee ever to be elected) the bombers, members of the security forces, Muslim prisoners sent to a prison island off the coast of Scotland and ordinary members of the public who have been affected by the happenings.

What books have influenced your life most?

Probably the hardest question I will ever be asked because from an early age I was a vociferous reader and read anywhere and at any time. But in each of the genres I enjoyed I suppose I had favorites; in Sci Fi and Fantasy the works of Jack Vance affected me most. In crime fiction it had to be Peter Cheney and Raymond Chandler in my early days and latterly, William Diehl and John Sandford.

I could go on at length but the list is endless and I have to say I cannot choose a particular book rather my leanings have come as the result of many varieties.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I would have to say Jack Vance; I liked him that much that I wrote two novels currently available as e-books; ‘The Faces of Immortality’ and ‘To Rule the Universe’ as a homage to him.

What are your current projects?

A thriller set in the UK and Austria about a retired MI5 cryptologist whose wife and son have died in a car crash being approached by someone purporting to be his son. This is in final copy editing phase. A murder mystery set in York in the old snickelways and a werewolf story entitled ‘Silverlands.’

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Every book for me is a challenge because each so far has been in a different genre there is no time to grow accustomed to the same hero or heroine, therefore all research is totally fresh and can’t grow stale.

In other words I could never grow sick of my characters because they are as new to me as to you.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Only that if you want be a writer go for it but do not give up your day job. Only around one in a thousand authors make enough money to live on and most of them find it costs them money. I say this because there is a commonly held belief that writers earn a fortune. Oh if it were only true.


‘You’re right to be concerned, Foreign Minister, absolutely. It is going to land in your back yard; you will have to deal with the home states of deportees. As far as the EU goes, we intend to repeal the Human Rights Act – I said that in several of the interviews I’ve given to news channels, there’s nothing secret about it.’

‘Not every country is going to take their citizens back.’

‘No,’ said Raike and then nodded. ‘We shall have to find other places to take them. Those countries, those states that don’t co-operate will find that we reciprocate their attitudes; their citizens will no longer be welcome here.’

Florence pursed her lips and let Thomas Eddington in.

‘What of the illegal immigrants?’ He asked.

‘They’re going to face a much harsher regime. There will be what I’ll call a Charter of Intent that will list what we require of future immigrants. Any who come from countries who will not agree to repatriation will be shipped back to the state from which they entered Britain, immediately.’ Raike grinned, as engagingly as he could manage. ‘Florence is going to spend many happy hours with her French counterpart.’

‘It’s going to take an army of guards or whatever to do that.’ Eddington said.

‘I don’t think so. There will be far fewer coming in, in the first place. Our borders are going to be far more secure than they have ever been and since one of our tenets is going to be “charity begins at home” there will be no more free accommodation, free hospital treatment, free education, no more cash and clothing handouts to anyone who hasn’t contributed to taxes and NI. You should see my mail sack every morning; it’s always filled with complaints from my constituents about this sort of thing. Is there any coffee left in that jug?’

Bill Winterbottom reached over and lifted it. ‘Sure. Pass your cup Francis – sorry, pass your cup Prime Minister.’ Most of the gathering laughed but Raike got his coffee.

‘Refill your cups, anybody who wants some,’ said Raike, ‘but call me Prime Minister first.’

‘There are a lot here already though.’ Venables said as they all sat down again. ‘Illegals.’

Raike pulled his chair forward and steepled his fingers together, elbows on the table. ‘Those who want to go home, can. We’ll pay their fare. Those who don’t can stay if they’re holding down a job, if they speak English and if they’ve no criminal record and no ties to terrorists or terrorism.’

‘Does that policy hold for Muslims?’ Malachi Owumbi asked, putting his coffee down with a slight chatter of cup against saucer.

‘Now that’s an interesting point, Malachi.’ Raike sat back and tapped the table lightly with the coaster his cup and saucer had been resting on. ‘What do the Muslims want? Does any of us know? There’s a lot of talk about turning Britain into a Sharia state, do they really want that and if so, why did they come here instead of staying where they already had one? Hmm? Do they want their children educated to be British or to be Asian, African, Middle Eastern?’

He threw the mat down in a gesture of disgust. ‘We don’t know, do we? We’re guessing. The only thing that I know,’ he tapped himself on the chest, ‘is that Britain is presently at war with various Muslim groups. There are British cities being ruled over by Ayatollahs, not the British Government, by tin-pot little upstarts who don’t even share a common heritage or viewpoint among themselves.’

‘It’s time we took control back.’ Said Keith Broadhead quietly. ‘It’s either that or start immediate wholesale enforced repatriation for the sake of the real British people.’

‘I am a real British person.’ Said Owumbi.

‘Of course you are.’ Broadhead replied immediately. ‘British is not a skin colour or an accent or a religious creed.’

‘Hear, hear.’ Added Raike followed by several of the others.

‘So, taking back our cities,’ said Robert Carey. ‘How?’

‘Putting it simply, we need our troops back here,’ Florence Levin answered. ‘We must start that process today, now.’

‘The Foreign Minister has it,’ said Raike. ‘Florence, one of your early tasks will be to inform NATO that we shall be cancelling our commitments to the Middle East with immediate effect. Our troops are required here, in fact…’ Raike frowned. ‘In fact, Florence, you are so right that you have my permission to leave this meeting and put that into immediate effect.’

Florence left to find an office with a computer link and a telephone.

Robert Carey put a tentative finger in the air.


‘These extra measures are going to cost, PM. Any ideas where it’s going to come from?

‘Now why do you think I appointed you Chancellor, Robert? It depends on the outcome of the referendum; I have to admit that – depends on the British Citizen himself. However, let us assume that the results are as we expect them to be. In that case, we shall have billions to play with – that’s flippant, I’m sorry. We shall have billions to work with. Or you can always put ten pence on the tax rate.’

Everyone laughed nervously at that one. Raike took the opportunity to lean behind Broadhead’s chair. ‘What would our payments to the EU be worth to you?’ He stage whispered.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blog Hop coming

Join The Mojito Literary Society as a participant in their Blog Hop, November 19-21. See www.TheMojitoLiterarySociety.Blogspot.com for details.

Book Review

Too Many Clients
By David Walker
ISBN: 9780727869302
Published by Severn House,2010, 214 pgs.

Another sparkling crime novel in the Wild Onion series. It’s always a pleasure to open a book knowing you are in the hands of an experienced storyteller. Author David Walker has been around the block a few times and he has the accolades to show for it. His latest does not disappoint. Here we have a pair of wise and witty practitioners who are married to each other. In less sure hands, the marriage of two characters often lets a lot of steam out of a relationship and sends readers searching for other divertissements.Not this time.

Private investigator Kirsten, married to uber-relaxed lawyer Dugan, takes on her husband as a client, after a bad cop is found murdered. Dugan, never a careful person, has blundered into the thing in such a way he becomes a suspect. And while Dugan can act odd at times, almost the antithesis of the hard-driving lawyer of many crime fiction novels, he is far from the only character. There’s Larry. Larry Candle is a partner in Dugan’s office. He just doesn’t come off as someone whom you’d want to represent you in court for anything more serious than a mistaken parking ticket. Yet Larry manages to get the job done all the while irritating nearly everyone around him.

As the days pass, Dugan and Kirsten continue to collect new clients who somehow all want them to locate the killer of this bad cop. To Kirsten and Dugan’s collective thinking these new clients don’t seem to be entirely above suspicion, either. Meanwhile the cops continue to zero in on Dugan. Gradually, as Kirsten digs deeper into the people who knew or knew about the dead cop, the story takes on wider and wider implications, tangling mob figures with international activities, a prominent churchman and….well, you get the idea. Twists on top of fascinating complications.

The novel is well-paced, complicated, and a truly fun read. I look for more cheeky stories in Walker’s wild Onion series.

Carl Brookins,www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What in the World is an Ecclesiastical Thriller?

Today we welcome Donna Fletcher Crow to discuss her new novel and tell us about the world of clerical detectives. Welcome, Donna!

Thank you, Bobbye, for inviting me over to introduce your readers to my Ecclesiastical Thriller A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book #1 in my Monastery Murders series.

And if I’ve lost some of you right there and you’re wondering “What kind of thriller did she say?” Let me assure you you’re not alone. I was a little taken aback when a columnist in Canada requested to review my book and then asked, “What’s an Ecclesiastical Thriller?” Oh, my goodness, I not only have to worry about her liking my book, I also have to worry about her liking, or at least understanding, my subgenre. So before I tell you all to rush out (or rush to my website) to buy A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE it might be useful to discuss my subgenre of choice.

You’ll notice I say “discuss” not “define” because like so many labels, Ecclesiastical Thriller is a fluid one. Even among practitioners of the craft. Kate Charles, who in my mind is the Queen of the genre, prefers the term Clerical Mystery. And Phil Rickman, one of my all-time favorites, refuses to label his Merrily Watkins. He says, “I absolutely did not want to go there. Too cosy, too safe, and too... well, too religious, I suppose.”

Many, beginning with G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, simply write their series and let others label. Perhaps that was easier before Amazon wanted everything tagged so they could say “if you like that book, you may like. . .” Susan Howatch frames her psychological thrillers in terms of Anglican history and P. D. James wrote DEATH IN HOLY ORDERS, to my mind the best clerical mystery of all, as one of her Adam Dalgliesh series.

A most useful website “Clerical Detectives” (http://www.detecs.org/) lists more than 210 clerical detectives including priests, ministers, rabbis, a Shaker, the clerk of a Quaker meeting, Buddhists and a Muslim.

Okay, that’s some of the “who” but it still doesn’t tell us “what.” I asked the question on GoodReads some time ago and my friend Sheila said, “I'd say all that's required is that the church (or synagogue, monastery or convent) or clergy, rabbi, nuns, or monks should be prominent in the story.” That seems like a good start, although I think the ecclesiastical setting needs to go further so that it actually forms the thoughts and actions of the main characters. They need to be more than simply photographed against an interesting Gothic background. Or as the Clerical Detectives website puts it, “characters whose lives really were influenced by their faiths.”

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Ferguson stories are an excellent example of this where everything Clare does and thinks is formed by the fact that she is a priest.

Sheila also said, “It seems to me that all the mysteries I think of as ecclesiastical do more or less have a spiritual theme.” And here it seems that we are getting close to the heart of the matter. Until I begin trying to define more sharply and realize that all mysteries are about the clash of good versus evil and strive for the triumph of right over wrong— What P. D. James calls “bringing order out of chaos.”

And so, at the end of the day it gets back to “Showing, not telling.” The best I can do is invite you to my website http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/ where you can see my trailer on the home page and pictures of some of the churches and monasteries I’ve visited under Research Albums. At least it will give you an idea of how I defined and went about crafting my Ecclesiastical Thriller (A term I prefer to Clerical Mystery because it connotes more action. As Phil Rickman said, this isn’t a cozy) wherein:

Felicity Howard, a young American studying for the Anglican priesthood at the College of the Transfiguration in Yorkshire, is devastated when she finds her beloved Fr. Dominic brutally murdered and Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer, soaked in his blood.

A Very Private Grave is a contemporary novel with a thoroughly modern heroine who must learn some ancient truths in order to solve the mystery and save her own life as she and Fr. Antony flee a murderer and follow clues that take them to out-of-the way sites in northern England and southern Scotland. The narrative skillfully mixes detection, intellectual puzzles, spiritual aspiration, romance, and the solving of clues ancient and modern.

And Kate Charles was kind enough to say: “With a bludgeoned body in Chapter 1, and a pair of intrepid amateur sleuths, A Very Private Grave qualifies as a traditional mystery. But this is no mere formulaic whodunit: it is a Knickerbocker Glory of a thriller. At its centre is a sweeping, page-turning quest – in the steps of St. Cuthbert – through the atmospherically-depicted North of England, served up with dollops of Church history and lashings of romance. In this novel, Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries.” – Kate Charles, author of Deep Waters

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'll Share My Good News with You!

Yesterday evening, I accepted and signed a contract with Turquoise Morning Press for the publication of my first solo women's fiction/suspense, Coming to Climax. I am beyond excited, And so, in celebration,I have posted the beginning of a short story and hope you'll help me finish it by eight tomorrow morning, EST. Every person who submits a segment will have his or her name placed into a drawing for a copy of my newest fantasy release,It's Magic and the segment selected as the best one will receive a copy of my new book, Coming to Climax when it is released plus a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card now.

See more about Turquoise Morning Press at www.TurquoiseMorningPress.com, and check out my fantasy release at www.CrescentMoonPress.com/Books/ItsMagic.html.

Here's the short story beginning:


He signed the note, penned on the finest stationery, and carefully placed it in the center of the desk blotter. Turning, he surveyed the room and its contents, committing them to eternal memory. Inhaling, he smiled at the smell of lemon furniture polish and the burning cinnamon scented candle. It was perfect. He walked down the hall, and, two rooms down, strode through the door. Opening the waiting can of gasoline, he splashed it in the room. Striking a match, he threw it on the trail of fuel. It flared and spread closer. He wasn’t prepared for the smell of burning flesh.

“Find anything?” I stood outside the charred remains of the town house. “Hell of a blaze. If the firemen hadn’t gotten here as fast as they did, there might not have been any part of the house left.”
“Okay, Detective Roper, you have your work cut out for you this time.” Greg Tritt pointed to the windows on the second floor. “The vic was upstairs in the TV room, Zeke.” He shook his head. “Nothing there to identify. Not even dental remains. We did find this.” He handed me the note. “Dr. Curtis Frank’s suicide note. The edges are burned, but it’s legible.”
“A bit too perfect, don’t you think?”

Now it's up to each of you to add some...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview with an Alpha Bitch

Today's interview is with Friday, poodle and owner of Lou Allin, Mystery Writer:

Friday’s Bio:

I was born in June of 01, which makes me a brilliant, quick-thinking, and creative Gemini going on nine. My parents were champions of course. My birth name was Chile Pepper, which is perfect for my apricot reddish hair, but I was named Friday, as in “His Girl.” My new parents, Lou and Jan, and my brother Nikon the German shepherd picked me up and took me camping that night. They put a leash on me for the first time, and I shrieked blue murder, earning nasty looks from passersby who thought a puppy was being killed. In the night Nicky got out of the tent and stepped on the remote control for the truck. The horn started beeping and woke up the campground at two in the morning. Was that an auspicious arrival or what?

Are you Lou Allin’s boss?

I am everyone’s boss. Let’s get that straight. Sociologists have a word for me, and it’s Alpha Bitch. I knew my destiny the minute I saw the light outside my mommy’s tummy. My bro Nicky never touched a hair on me from minute one. Having a GSD as your muscle is a great idea. When Nicky spoke up with his 120 pounds, dogs listened. Now that he’s at Rainbow Bridge, I have these dippy border collies, Shogun and Zia. Zia competes in agility competitions. Big deal. Who can’t do that? Shogun’s pretty good for scaring off bears when we walk in the clear cuts on Vancouver Island. I sleep with Lou with my own pillow. If I want to get up in the night and shake, I do. If she wakes ME from a sound sleep where I’m chasing prey, I might just growl. There are rumours about me biting when being groomed. Lies, all lies. Once she took a pair of sharp scissors to tidy up my privates and ended up sticking me. I laid fangs on her finger right to the bone. Tell me that you wouldn’t do the same. Ouch. I can still feel that nick.

Has your Mom immortalized you in any of her books? Did she show your real character or did she exaggerate it for the book’s purpose? Are you happy with her portrayal of you?

Lou started writing about me when I was barely four pounds and four months old. She called me “The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a Rastafarian haircut.” When I had my Anna Karenina cape on and got onto my hind feet to make a run, I look like him, all chesty with shapely legs. I posed on the cover of Dogs in Canada in this outfit, one of many custom made clothes in my closet. I even have a purple parka with my initials and pockets for handwarmers. Lou called the book Bush Poodles are Murder. That’s because “are murder” has to be in the title. Lots of people have thought that there is a breed called bush poodles and asked her where to buy one. Humans are so dumb. Natch, I was the hero of the book. We got stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard, and it was -25 below. I’m not gonna tell you how we made it out, but I was an inspiration. The bad woman had even taken the coat from my fictional owner, Belle Palmer. But I got my hunting talents working and found a shrew. Still can’t understand why Belle didn’t want it. But the grouse she roasted tasted pretty good . The cover shows blood on my face and in the snow, but I don’t want to give any more away. In the book they called me Strudel ‘cause I was “good enough to eat.” See how silly people get about poodles?

Have you read any of Lou Allin’s books? Are they really as good as she (he) thinks they are?

I’m only in one book, so I can’t be a fair judge of this because why would I read the others? She puts all her animals in her books. Freya, her first German shepherd, has five books of her own. That’s the record. Nikon has one. A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing. It’s an academic mystery, starring him as a pup. Sounds boring to me. Now, me as a pup is another matter. Shogun has one (And on the Surface Die), and another coming up (She Felt No Pain) in Lou’s new series set here on Vancouver Island. Aren’t those titles stupid? What the heck are they supposed to mean, anyway, from some poems in the 19th century? I keep asking, “Why can’t I be in this one, too? I have zillions of fans,” but she says that her publisher wants her to keep the characters separate. Every night I whisper into her ear: Return of the Bush Poodle, Return of the.... You get the idea. Hope she does. People bought my book because they thought George Bush was in it. Humans, go figure!

What does your mom (dad) do besides writing? Is she a hermit or does she actually set her foot outdoors?

My mom has to be dragged outside. Lou used to teach in a college in Northern Ontario,but she retired. Now she has big responsibilities because she is a VP in the Crime Writers of Canada. She’s in charge of British Columbia and Yukon. Sometime I want to go up to Whitehorse YK to see if there are any other bush poodles. Also she takes care of membership, like finding people all over the world who want to join. She also organizes events like the Arthur Ellis Shortlist Release Event at the end of April. Arthur Ellis is the name of Canada’s last hangman. He’s an award given in six categories in crime writing. Arthur is made of wood like a puppet, and when you pull the strings, he dances like he was on the gallows. Is that weird? And people think Canadians are so polite.

Is your mom crazy about book promotion? What does she do to promote her books? Does she ask your advice at times?

I taught Lou everything she knows. I went with her when she signed my book at the big Chapters bookstore in Sudbury back home. I wound around her with my leash so many times that she kept getting tangled up. This was a ploy on my part to take her mind off her own nerves. When little kids came up, I backed off big time. You never know what they are going to do. They stick out a hand and then they pounce. Not that I’ve ever bitten anybody but Lou. That wouldn’t be good for business. She always asks people if they like to read mysteries. Half the time they don’t. If she asked them if they liked dogs, she would get a better response. Maybe someday she will learn this.

It’s been great talking to you! If you’d like my autograph or a lock of my hair, don’t be shy about asking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Scars Left on a Small Town

Reliving a brutal crime that left scars on town

Associated Press, October 25, 2010

"We're about to do the most evil thing this town has ever seen."

Murder defendant Steven Spader is said to have uttered those words as he and three other teens allegedly drove to a house in this town of 2,000 that they had targeted to burglarize and kill its occupants for the thrill of it.

Spader's trial was to start today, and jurors were put on notice during selection that they would see graphic photos of the victims and might hear from survivor Jaimie Cates, now 12. They were prepared for attorneys on the other side not to even put on their own witnesses.

Many potential jurors were disqualified after saying they were sure Spader was guilty, or were terrified by the crime and the prospect of viewing the evidence. Some said they would be skeptical if Spader's attorneys did not provide evidence of their own.

In Mont Vernon, the trial is reawakening the crime that longtime resident and state Rep. Linda Foster said "ripped at the heart and soul of a sweet little New England town."

Susan King Ecklund, who was planting bulbs in front of the fire station last week with other volunteers, said: "I don't think you ever get over it, but I think the trial just means everything will get stirred up again. It just rocks everybody."

The intruders cut power to the contemporary ranch-style home before dawn Oct. 4, 2009. Once inside, they used an iPod taken from Jaimie Cates' room to illuminate their path to the master bedroom, where Jaimie and her mother, Kimberly Cates, 42, slept. Jaimie's father, David, was away on a business trip.

Prosecutors say that Spader, then 17, and Christopher Gribble, then 19, hacked mother and daughter with a machete and a knife, killing Kimberly and severely wounding Jaimie. The girl survived by feigning death as her assailants continued to slash and kick her, she told police.

Jaimie, who had achieved a black belt in karate four months earlier, called police from a cell phone and was still conscious when Milford Sgt. Kevin Furlong arrived at the house.

"They killed my mommy," she told him, according to a state police affidavit.

Two other teens in the house at the time, William Marks and Quinn Glover, have reached plea agreements and are expected to testify against Spader. Prosecutors say they witnessed but did not take part in the attacks. Gribble is to go on trial in February.

It was Marks who wrote a friend from prison about Spader's alleged "most evil thing" statement en route to the house, and a prosecutor quoted the letter during Marks' plea hearing.

David and Jaimie Cates still live at the house, but the facade differs from the way it looked a year ago. The front yard is anchored by the low-cut stumps of old growth pines that Cates had leveled. A woman who answered the door at the home last week said no one wanted to speak with a reporter.

Jurors were scheduled to tour the Cates property today. They will not be taken inside the home.

Spader faces life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted of murder. Midway through jury selection, Spader buzz-cut his shaggy black hair, bringing his appearance back to the skinhead look he had when arrested days after the crime.

Spader often smiles and interacts with his attorenys. During a hearing on a defense motion to limit the number of photographs depicting injuries to the victims, Spader stared intently at the pictures, often cocking his head to get a better angle, as defense attorney Andrew Winters shuffled through them.

Defense attorney Jonathan Cohen would not comment on the defense strategy except to say, "He's presumed innocent. They have to prove he's guilty, and we intend to put them to their burden."

Mont Vernon residents are bracing for the trial and gruesome details that are expected come to light.

"The trial is on everybody's mind," said Diane Fredericks, whose property backs up to the Cates'. "It's so heinous. We lock our doors now. We never used to."

Fredericks, who occasionally chats with David Cates when he walks his dog, said it was remarkable the family still lived there.

"He's a strong person," Fredericks said. "I have a lot of respect for him and for everything Jaimie went through."

Local schools expect that counselors might be busy dealing with students' reactions to the graphic details about the attack on their young classmate, said Foster, the state representative.

"In a small town like this, there are just no words to describe how disturbing this is," Foster said.

"It changed the fabric. It made you realize that life is very precarious."

Read more: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/national/105644733.html#ixzz14Xp2ORbd
Watch sports videos you won't find anywhere else

Friday, November 5, 2010

Video trailer for new short story

My short story, co-written with Linda Campbell as Terry Campbell, was just released in Dreamspell Mystery, Volume 1 on Halloween evening. I've posted the trailer here with a buy link, should you want to read it and some more mysteries--worth the $2.99 IMHO.

"Man in the Moon,"
Dreamspell Mystery Volume 1 (ebook anthology)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interview with Sunny Frazier

Sunny Frazier is an author of astrology mysteries. Her newest work WHERE ANGELS FEAR is available from Oak Tree Press. What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?

WHERE ANGELS FEAR completes the phrase “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” from Alexander Pope's “An Essay on Criticism.” My first book is titled FOOLS RUSH IN. People think it comes from the Elvis Presley song. Alexander Pope is not as famous.

What is WHERE ANGELS FEAR about?

My shy astrologer Christy Bristol is asked to find a missing person using her skills with the horoscope. It leads her to the Veterans hospital, three homicides and a sex club. Christy also has a office job with the sheriff's department and her investigation steps on some major toes.

I pulled from my background as both an astrologer and 17 years in law enforcement. The story is built around a real sex club we investigated, a candy-cane striped building that we thought was a fruit and vegetable stand. I contend that in Fresno, where I worked, we can't even do sex right.

What books have most influenced your life most?

The absurdity of CATCH-22 had a big influence on me, especially since I was in the military when I read it. There was a book years ago called THE CRAZY LADIES that gave me an irreverence in my writing. Right now, Chuck Palahniuk is a factor. Wish I had the courage to write as boldly as he does.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
J.A. Jance. She has taken me under her wing on a number of occasions. Very early in my career she took me seriously. She even made two trips to Fresno upon my request to speak to Sisters in Crime. I have the utmost respect for her and proud to call her a friend and mentor.

What are your current projects?

I'm acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press, so I'm building careers for other authors. I'm also working on my next Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A SNITCH IN TIME. I speak on marketing and short story writing and I've been asked to fly to Puerto Vallarta (all expenses paid!) for a conference. I'm also going to Canada next year for Bloody Words. In two weeks I have Mystery on the High Seas, a conference I was asked to plan. We are sailing down the Mexican Riviera for a week with three days of conference. There's a Hollywood agent on board for pitches.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Since I retired, I feel I'm being drawn away from my law enforcement ties. It makes the books harder to write. On the other hand, I think Christy may find herself on a longer leash away from the office more and more. I plan to send her to Mexico and Puerto Rico. Let's see what kind of trouble she can get into!
I also set very tough challenges for myself with the astrology. Right now I'm trying to demonstrate astrology as a profiling tool. I'm not sure it's really possible. I also want to explore the universality of astrology by going to foreign countries. I've lived in Puerto Rico, so that's a start.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

“You can't promote what doesn't exist.” Get something out there. Publishing has never been easier with small presses, Kindle, e-books. Cyber-socialize and get name recognition before publication. Don't keep sitting on that finished manuscript. Take a risk. It's not the only book you'll write. Gotta start somewhere!

And, never use the word “it.” I hate to see that in novels. “It” is a nothing word. You can do better.

Here's Chapter One of WHERE ANGELS FEAR:

The slate sky and the last of the autumn leaves drifting to the gutters gave Christy Bristol a chill that had nothing to do with November. Being unfamiliar with the city of Kearny, she drove slowly through the section known as the Tower District looking for Harvard Avenue. All the streets she passed had Ivy League names, so she knew she was in the general vicinity.

"Why did I ever agree to make a house call?" she chided herself. All she needed was the date of birth to do a horoscope, and maybe the time if the customer knew it. In fact, meeting face-to-face only muddied the astrological waters. Without meaning to, she often picked up impressions which slanted her interpretations. No, voice contact was definitely safer.

Geneva Anders was a hard woman to refuse. "I need to meet you," she'd insisted. She offered to pay travel expenses from Coronita to Kearny, a distance of twenty-eight miles. She offered to pay the full fee, even if she decided against the horoscope.

The money was tempting--charting horoscopes on the side barely supplemented Christy's salary from her office job at the Central County Sheriff's Department. But she felt guilty doing astrology for cash. The people who needed her services the most were often the ones who could afford it the least.

The homes she passed were tidy, with neatly groomed gardens and wide verandas. Vassar, Princeton, Yale--and Harvard.

"I want to be sure you're the right one," Mrs. Anders insisted over the phone. "I can't waste my time on a fake." Not very diplomatic. Christy wasn't sure she wanted to be the "right one" but she confident enough as an astrologer to bristle at the suggestion she might be a fraud.

Coming out of the closet, astrologically speaking, had been difficult for Christy. Working in law enforcement and doing horoscopes on the side wasn't a good mix. But astrology simply acted as a conduit for something even stranger--an inherited psychic ability.

Other families passed down the fine china or good silver; in Christy's clan, maternal members handed down the DNA for ESP. And they'd been doing it for centuries.

Blessing or curse, the trait passed from grandmother to granddaughter, always skipping a generation. Grandma Dolly Good had been a formidable psychic in her time, but now her visions were blurred. Christy's sister, Celeste, had exceptional talent, but she hid it behind a habit of the Dominican order of nuns. She believed that visions and the ability to transmit her thoughts were gifts from God to do His work.

And Christy did horoscopes. The chart was a tool which opened her up to a universe of premonitions. The past, the future, swirled like a galaxy through her subconscious when a chart was strong. Astrology acted as a guide for this knowledge, good and evil, as it found its way to her. And it brought all sorts of people into the orbit of her life. Like Geneva Anders.

She turned on Harvard. The branches of the Chinese Elms on either side of the avenue grew toward each other high above the street, forming an arbor tunnel. It must be beautiful in the spring, she thought, like a lacy mantilla shading the lush avenue. But on this November afternoon, it looked like skeletal fingers intertwined over her head. A scattering of leaves clung to the limbs, fighting the inevitable.

Even on a street of dwellings that could vie for the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, the Anders' place stood out. It looked French, or what Christy expected she'd see in France if she ever made it to Europe. Blue tiles shingled the mansard roof, which angled sharply downward until it seemed within reach of the ground. Windows glittered with diamond patterns of multi-colored panes. French doors on the second floor backed a rounded balcony. Despite all its beauty, the house lacked warmth and charm.

She parked her car along the curb and walked up the flagstone pathway. She wrinkled her nose at the perfectly trimmed hedges. It looked too planned out, that's what was wrong. She'd take her apartment in Coronita over this place any day. The three-story, butter-yellow Victorian where she lived wasn't classy, but house had character. And characters. Her seventy-something landlady lived on the ground floor, and prissy Mr. Maciel resided in the attic. The roses were overgrown and the lilac went unfettered in spring. Even on the bleakest days, the house radiated warmth.

Out of the corner of her eye she caught the slight movement of the lace curtain as she approached.

Mrs. Anders took her time answering the knock, although Christy felt sure she'd been the one playing peek-a-boo at the window.

"You must be Ms. Bristol." The woman was small and in her mid-forties. Like her house, she was coolly turned out. Her blond hair folded into a French twist; not a wisp dared to escape. Her flawless makeup looked professionally done, and she appeared as comfortable in a silk pantsuit as Christy did at home in her comfy old robe. Until a few minutes ago, Christy felt appropriately dressed in good pants and a chenille sweater. Now she felt downright dowdy and ten pounds overweight next to Mrs. Anders' svelte frame.

In a living room that went beyond formal, Christy perched on the edge of a sofa that must have belonged to a Louie. The antique furniture had to be the real McCoy. Anders' money wouldn't settle for less.

"I don't normally go in for this sort of thing," began Mrs. Anders as she poured tea from a silver teapot into wafer-thin teacups. "But you come highly recommended."

Christy knew her reputation as an astrologer had grown in the ten years she'd lived in Coronita, where it was easy to be a big karmic fish in a small, liberal pond. Coronita, unlike the rest of Central County, was populated by artists and scholars and people who eagerly embraced New Age concepts.

In Coronita, Christy fit in almost too well.

She knew her reputation was by word-of-mouth, but exactly which cultured mouth recommended her to someone of Geneva Anders' ilk? She flipped through a mental Rolodex of client names, but none were monied folks. At least, not on the surface. Unlike Los Angeles in the south and San Francisco up north, wealthy people in the San Joaquin Valley were harder to spot than quail in season. Their dirt-caked boots might cost a thousand dollars, their plain ranch houses worth a half a mil. One family, the Newsome's, owned a spread so large they used the family helicopter to monitor fields of cotton, melon and alfalfa; they used a beat-up truck to shop at the Canned Food Warehouse.

The tea didn't taste like Lipton. It had a bitterness that made Christy want to reach for three more sugar cubes. Mrs. Anders drank hers straight. I bet even money she's a Virgo, thought Christy.

"Do you make your living from astrology?" Mrs. Anders asked, settling back into the damask of the armchair.

Feeling as if she were being interviewed, Christy said, "No, I work at the Sheriff's Department."

"Really?" The woman's source hadn't filled her in completely. "Are you a deputy?"

"Office assistant. I work at the Coronita substation."

Mrs. Anders had trouble hiding her disappointment. "I see. My husband and I are avid supporters of Sheriff Nolan. We contribute to his campaigns."

"I've never actually met the man, but I see him on the news a lot. I hear he's a great guy."

That was the only name Geneva Anders dropped. She got down to business and grilled Christy on her knowledge of astrology. The woman apparently did some research to prep for their chat. She came off sounding like the Spanish Inquisition. Christy fielded questions about rising signs and planetary conjunctions with ease. She even considered bull-shitting to see if Mrs. Anders understood her material. Finally, tired of the game, Christy put down her cup of tea and edged forward on the couch. "Mrs. Anders, do you want your horoscope done?"

"No, but I would like you to cast my husband's chart." A note of cream-colored, monogrammed stationery rested delicately on the coffee table next to the silver tray. Geneva Anders guided it to Christy with a manicured nail. "Here's his birth date."

"Is there any particular area of his life he wants me to look at?"

"No." Mrs. Anders' face broke out in a mottled blush which clashed with the neutral tones of her outfit and hair.

She wants to know if he's having an affair. The thought shot true like an arrow to the bullseye. Christy knew she was on target.

Normally, she backed off from horoscope requests with ulterior motives. She saw herself in the same role as a lawyer, doctor or priest. Her clients asked for her services and she kept what she found strictly confidential. Even when she did gift horoscopes she sealed them before handing them over, often to the disappointment of the person paying for the gift. Her only exception to the rule were horoscopes done on children. Those she gave to the parents. Raising kids was hard enough; more power to them if astrology could help.

She would make an exception for this horoscope. Not because Mrs. Anders was rich--she'd still charge a standard fee of thirty dollars--and not because she was flattered to be noticed by a classy client. Christy knew she would cast Avery Anders' horoscope because the minute she touched the page of stationery, she felt an urgency emanating from the paper. Her sixth sense picked up something she couldn't afford to ignore. Christy felt the familiar prickle of danger.

"I'll contact you when it's ready." She got up to leave.

"There's a bonus if you get it done quickly."

"If I rush, I might miss something important. But I'll make it a priority over others I'm doing."

Later, in the car and heading out of the city, the ominous feeling continued. Whatever trouble Avery Anders was in, it was beyond his wife's expectations. Christy had no doubts that it would show up in his chart--she just wasn't sure the horoscope would do any good.