An American novelist in King Richard III’s court

I opened my Facebook author page to discover my new friend Sarahleigh of Leicester had posted about the gift I sent her, a paperback of my novel, Rings of Passage. On the title page, I had written the inscription, “The Sunne in Splendour shined on us the day we met.” It was so true.

Sarahleigh stands with me as Leicester glows around us.

Sarahleigh stands with me as Leicester glows around us.

Meeting Sarahleigh among the crowd gathering the streets of Richard III’s “funeral” procession, marked the beginning of an extraordinary week for me in which I celebrated the life of a long dead English king. It’s as if this 500-year-old English monarch had suddenly become a rock star.

History geeks, scientists, writers, literary experts, members of the Richard III Society, and everyday working citizens of Leicester, came together for an international event that was as unlikely as it was miraculous.

Against the Odds
Excavated three years ago from beneath a “car park” in the city’s center, the bones of medieval King Richard III matched the DNA of a living descendant of Richard’s sister.

That’s the miraculous part. As Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist for the University of Leicester’s Greyfriar’s project said, “The chances of finding Richard was, I don’t know, a million to one.”

From ignominy to celebrity
On March 22, these royal bones were being transported via motorized hearse and then horse-drawn carriage in a dignified procession along the same route Richard III’s corpse traveled, ignominiously thrown over the back of a horse, the day he died.

Richard III's bones in procession

Richard III’s bones in procession through Leicester on March 22, 2015

He was on his way to Leicester cathedral, where within a few days’ time on March 26, he would be re-buried with the honor he never received the first time, when he was thrown into a shallow grave, 530 years ago. Henry Tudor, the victor of that battle and usurper of the throne, wanted to erase the memory of the last Plantagenet king from the minds of the citizens of his newly claimed realm as quickly as possible.

A medieval city’s transformation
When Richard came through this medieval city in 1485, it had a population of only 3,000. Leicester today has nearly 400,000 residents. Britain’s most ethnically diverse city, it was now undergoing what the news media called the “Richard Effect.”

Many of the people lining High Street waiting for the procession were from countries other than the United Kingdom – America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France. But the majority were Midlanders, born and bred in and around Leicester, who had heard about Richard III all their lives because they grew up among the landmarks of his final days. They had been taught in school the textbook facts about how he had been slain 14 miles from their city on the battlefield of Bosworth – the last English King to die in battle.

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel Novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel Novel with Richard III

My novel unearthed
The entwining of my life with Richard III’s legend began over two decades ago. Reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time turned me into an instant Ricardian, chaffing against Tudor propagandists and Shakespeare’s smear campaign. I eagerly joined the Richard III Society and wrote my first novel, Rings of Passage. In it, Richard is a romantic hero worthy of happiness – not the Bard’s crouch-backed monster.

Many years my novel had languished on a computer hard drive.

Then, suddenly, Richard became newsworthy. Not long after the excavation of his bones and DNA identification, I unearthed Rings of Passage. The advent of e-publishing now made it possible for readers specifically interested in Richard III to discover my novel.

Not long after it came out, my novel passed the acid test when the Richard III Society publication Ricardian Bulletin reviewed it. I had my facts “pretty much bang to rights,” wrote the reviewer.
Whew! I passed the history test.

That kind of obsession
My visit to Leicester in March 2015 was not my first. In 1990, I took a self-guided tour of as many Ricardian landmarks I could get to during a month spent in England. I had been to the Bow Bridge, where Richard had been carried after the battle, his naked body slung over a horse. I had made a pilgrimage to Bosworth Field, which required me to catch a city bus to Market Bosworth, and then hike the remaining few miles to the battlefield, walk around it, and back again – a total of 10 miles on foot.

That kind of obsession is what compelled Philippa Langley to become the squeaky-wheel for the Ricardians, urging public and university officials to finally excavate the site where Richard had most likely been buried, the social services car park on the former location of Greyfriars Priory, destroyed during the Reformation.

I went to that car park on my long-ago trip to Leicester. Because of a locked gate, I could not get as far as Philippa Langley’s parking space marked with the letter ‘R’ under which Richard had lain for five centuries.

Yet, as I stood soggy in the cold rain, like Philippa, I swear I could feel him there.

"Leicester Glows" The Richard Effect
Come full circle to Leicester, March 22, 2015.

Arriving in Leicester by train just in time to make it to City Centre before the streets closed to car traffic, I stood not far from that car park once more.

Like thousands of others stacked six deep along the High Street, I waited for the solemn, horse-drawn procession carrying Richard’s coffin. Many only wanted the chance to toss a white rose in the Yorkist’s honor as he passed.

I first met Sarahleigh in this throng of Richard “fans” at a tree planter along the street, upon which the most “vertically challenged” of us could crawl and stand at a height lofty enough to stare down the street, blinking into the glare of the setting sun, and hoping to catch the first glimpse of the procession.

After that, Sarahleigh kept in touch with me online throughout the week, as we shared the experience of the “Richard Effect” on the city of Leiceister. It’s as if we were old friends long parted who had found one another again.

On Friday, the day after the re-interment in the Cathedral, we joined up for the remarkable and surreal experience of “Leicester Glows,” a “fire garden” of 8,000 flaming candles built into sculptures and trails throughout the cathedral gardens and lining the streets.

Sarahleigh ties a prayer ribbon at Leicester CathedralWe spent the evening chatting, sharing a pint, and eating fish and chips in the Last Plantagenet pub, and then wandered the fiery streets celebrating the reburial of Richard III.

The week nearly over, Sarahleigh and I took our turns tying prayer ribbons at Leicester Cathedral, and giving thanks to the universe for allowing us to share this remarkable historical event.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch described it perfectly: “It’s just an extraordinary thing to witness history through death brought back to life in order to be placed back to death again.”

______________________________________________________________

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

______________________________________________________________

Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time

Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time

Dangerous Reflections is a time travel historical fantasy set in Edwardian London. After Martie is bequeathed a magic wand from her grandmother, she steps through a mirror into the arms of a powerful wizard and a truly magical romance.

Is the road to a successful writing career really paved with six tweets a day?

I’m an author.

But I’m also a single person who owns her home and works a demanding full-time job that has nothing to do with writing fiction.

All effort I put toward writing and the activities associated with it has to be done in my “spare” time. Those would be the hours that are not devoted to commuting to work, working the day job, house cleaning, cooking meals and eating them, exercising, paying bills and other financial activities, grocery shopping and keeping appointments of all kinds, and having to drive to those places, plus dealing with household disasters, illness and whatever else makes up a life. I haven’t mentioned socializing, because there’s precious little of that. The same goes for sleep.

A rough estimate of “spare” hours remaining after subtracting time for those aforementioned activities a little over 30 hours per week — even though I have no pets, nor a spouse, nor kids.

In the days of yore, before the internet, email and social media, I had enough time to turn out a decent-sized chapter in a weekend.

That is how I was able to write two novels.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve dreamed of being a published author. Now I am. I published a novel (Rings of Passage) in August 2013, and have another novel (Dangerous Reflections) scheduled for publication on Jan. 27, 2015.

But I can’t live on the income from writing — not by a long shot. There’s only one paycheck coming into my house that’s paying the mortgage and buying groceries, and that’s from my day job.

And I can’t sit down and write one chapter per weekend. Not anymore.

These days, I have to tend to social media by tweeting, posting, blogging, maintaining my website, soliciting for reviews, sending out emails, maintaining contact with my publicist, book designer and editor, and “engaging my public.” That’s on top of doing all the formatting of my print and ebooks, creating business cards and bookmarks, and a thousand other things that have very little to do with craft, plot or doing the research necessary to write a novel.

Of the 30 hours of “spare” time left to me, most of it ends up as electronic blood, sweat and fear burning down the information superhighway at the speed of hype, which I know will just as quickly become forgotten by the intended audience. When my next spare hour rolls around in the schedule, I’m expected to produce the next round.

Admittedly, I am not all that good at promotion. Like many authors, I’m introverted, and “selling” myself does not feel comfortable. On top of that, there is just not enough time to do it all, or do it well, no matter how hard I try.

Some nights, I fall into bed exhausted from all the trying, knowing that in six hours I have to get up and go to the job that puts bread on the table.

And yet, according to the experts out there, my books will never find an audience unless I put at least two, three or six times more effort into these promotional activities. I must build relationships with fans, make three engaging posts per day to Facebook, tweet at least six times a day hitting all time zones, build circles on Google+, and post reviews to Goodreads and Amazon of other authors’ books in the hopes that they will review mine.

So far, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what must be done, and evidently has been done by successful authors who don’t have the constraints that I do, and loads of time to offer advice.

I can’t believe I am the only author trying to climb this Mt. Everest of expectations while holding down a full-time job and maintaining a house, with a deficit of energy, time or even a rope, to pull me up the mountain.

I’m chasing my dream as best I can. I’m not whining. But I’m also not writing. I’m not enjoying that flow I was once able to achieve when I sat at the computer with a blank slate of weekend hours before me, waiting to be filled with mystery, romance and the love of what I was doing.

I wonder, will writing ever be fun again? I miss that.

What’s in a name? That which we call prose

Coming up with a title for a written piece can be challenging. Some titles pop right into your head, while others require a painful process in which you end up settling for something… finally.

Whether the piece is a novel, essay, song or article, achieving the right balance between the theme of the piece, what you want to communicate to the reader, and what the appeals to the sensibilities of your targeted audience, is not easy.

Too obscure, and nobody gets it. Too obvious, and it’s trite. But one thing is certain: if it’s not catchy, it’s also not memorable. Boring bombs and indifference is death.

Finding the right title for my historical fantasy time travel novel, “Rings of Passage,” did not come easily.

My original title was “Battle Against Time.” Too trite. My next idea was “Shakespeare’s Child.” Too obscure. At last, the members of my critique group, who brainstormed with me, came up with “Rings of Passage” as a play on the phrase “Rites of Passage.” We all agreed it was the best of what we’d thought of so far.

The title of my second novel, “Dangerous Reflections” (scheduled for release in January 2015), popped right into my head immediately after coming up with the concept.

That hardly ever happens.

So here are some techniques I use to find just the right title:

Rhymezone search options

Rhymezone search options

Technique #1: Go for the throat. What’s the most obvious prop, character, archetype or theme of the piece? Include that in the title. I wrote an essay about picking up my guitar again, after not playing it for 25 years. It’s a stringed instrument, so I chose to build the title around the word “strings.”

OneLook wildcards

OneLook wildcards

Technique #2: Twist the obvious. Now that you have that one key word, play with it. Search for phrases that are built around that word (idiomsite.com). Find words that rhyme with it. (rhymezone.com). Think of other people’s well-known titles or lyrics that use that word (rockwisdom.com), and twist it slightly so it stirs people’s memories in that direction, yet is somehow slightly “off.”

For the guitar essay, I took the phrase “absence of strings” (meaning “no strings attached”), but slanted its meaning to imply the opposite of the phrase’s original intent. In my case, not playing the guitar had caused a void in my life.

Technique #3: Bend Google to your will. Use the search engine to discover how many other people have already used your idea—but at the same time, to brainstorm alternatives to those overused titles. Suppose you’re toying with a phrase you like, that captures the essence of your work, but has been used to death. Enter part of the phrase into the search engine, except with quote marks around it. (www.google.com/advanced_search)

Google search with quote marks

Google search with quote marks

Using Technique #3 For my guitar essay title, I entered “<space> of strings”—which allowed for a word in front of the phrase.

This filled in the blank (“____ of strings”) with:

An array
Lord
Rite
Chief
Best
Absence

As another example, I wanted to add a subtitle to my novel “Dangerous Reflections,” which is a historical fantasy about  wizards who travel through mirrors. Using Technique #1, I started building upon the most important device in the novel, a mirror. Using this idea, I quickly came up with “Magic Mirrors” and “Smoke and Mirrors.”

After entering “Magic Mirrors” into the search engine, I immediately discovered this was an overused phrase, and that there was already a fantasy series with that in the title.

I switched to Technique #2. The rhymes for “smoke” produced many results, but they didn’t make sense in context.

But the rhyming word “broke” suggested “broken.” Using the very useful “near rhymes” tool of Rhymezone, this yielded some quirky results:

Stolen
frozen
potent
woven

Perhaps, within other contexts such as poetry, these results would have sparked intriguing possibilities. But they didn’t work for my purpose.

Switching back to Technique #1, I went for a synonym of “mirror.” Thesaurus.com is the go-to website for synonyms, and I use it daily.

With a little brainstorming, I came up with a Biblical phrase from Corinthians (King James Version), “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Many titles have been inspired by it, even a Rolling Stones album, “Through the Past, Darkly.”

Using Rhymezone to rhyme “darkly, “ I found “starkly,” “courtly,” “sharply,” “portly.”

Not quite what I was looking for.

So I went to OneLook, a “dictionary of dictionaries,” and used its “wildcard” function to find words that ending in “ly.” This brought up an overwhelming number of results.

Fortunately, the website gives you the option of narrowing it down to “common words and phrases” and even “part of speech.” I definitely wanted adverbs. This produced an alphabetic list that went on for pages and yielded some possibilities: “blithely,” “boldly,” “timelessly.”

OneLook also offers a key word search of Shakespeare’s works (resulting in this blog post’s title). Or enter a word to “show only matches that are related to this concept.”

I put in the word “light” coupled with the “ly” form, and got some slightly oddball results, including “light-headedly,” sparkly” and “smelly.” Interesting, but definitely no cigar.

So I switched to Technique #3, entering into Google a partial phrase inside of quote marks, “Through a glass” – and in addition to that, outside the quotes, a minus sign (-) in front of the word “darkly” to eliminate matches including that word.

Search hits included “Through a Glass <fill in the blank>”

Weakly
Onion (thanks to the Beatles)
Lightly
Clearly
Daftly
Window
Bible
Brightly

This exercise helps you eliminate phrases that have become trite, and sparks your own imagination by leveraging from what others came up with to think outside the box.

In the end, I didn’t use the word “mirror” or any variation of “through a glass” as a subtitle for “Dangerous Reflections.” I settled for the more prosaic and Amazon-category-friendly, “A Historical Fantasy through Time.”

Even though I didn’t find my subtitle using these techniques, the exercise wasn’t a bust. It stretched my mind, fueled my creativity, and resulted in several ideas and phrases I can use to market the novel.

Useful Links

5 Easy Tips for Terrific Titles by Anna Guerrero

Idioms and sayings

http://www.pride-unlimited.com/probono/idioms1.html
http://www.brownielocks.com/folksayings.html
http://www.idiomsite.com/
http://www.idiomconnection.com/proverbs.html

Dictionaries and word sites

http://rhymezone.com
http://onelook.comhttp://thesaurus.com

Popular lyrics reference by category

http://www.rockwisdom.com/mainpage.htm
_____________________________________________________

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

 

 

“Name that Beginning” reader challenge: We have winners!

Three months ago, I asked readers to tell me which alternate beginning I should use for my second novel, Dangerous Reflections. Up for grabs were $10 gift cards to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or a signed copy of my first novel, Rings of Passage.

So congratulations go to Laura, Tammy and Luke as the winners! An email will be arriving soon with instructions on how to claim your prize.

Of those who weighed in, all but one voter picked Beginning 2, with the dissenter choosing Beginning 3. (Beginning 1 had no fans.)

Because I ended up blending beginnings #2 and #3, I threw everybody’s name into the hat (aka the Random Thing Picker), no matter which beginning they voted for, to arrive at the winners.

So thank you to everyone who participated. You truly helped me make this very difficult creative decision.

Dangerous Reflections

Dangerous Reflections:
Wizards in love

Dangerous Reflections is a time travel historical fantasy centered around a romance between Martie, who just learned she is a wizard, and the man who must teach her how to use her powers. The story is primarily set in Edwardian London, when the popular culture of the time embraced the concepts of the occult, magical societies, mediums and meandering upon the astral plane.

Without further ado, I introduce the new beginning to Dangerous Reflections.
_____________________________________________________________
Chapter One
Present Day
University of Western Pennsylvania

With the magic wand tucked in her backpack, Martie knocked on the office door. It fell open a crack, and inside sat the man she most—and least—wanted to see: Professor Cirksena, the only person within five hundred miles who knew anything about the history of English magic.

Her former Ph.D. professor in psychology looked up from his work, and smiled. “Come in, my dear.”

Martie forced herself to step into the office. Her heart raced, not with affection, but fear. Six months ago, she had ended their relationship.

He had praised her thesis. It showed much promise, he’d said. Something sparked when their eyes met. As the weeks passed, Martie had become enamored.

“I have been expecting you.” The professor’s Frisian accent sent a shiver of repulsion through her. Without wanting to, she recalled his hands on her, and his hot breath in her ear. He had a dark sensuality that attracted her – and scared her to death at the same time.

“I heard about what happened to your father and grandmother. I am sorry.”

Besides the stress of being in his presence again, her “second sight” —a peculiar family trait she had inherited from her grandmother—shot off mental flares.

Escape while you still can.

Martie lifted her chin in defiance. “I need your help, Professor.”

Cirksena’s demeanor, with his fine Burberry suit and smug expression, exuded arrogance.

“So formal, my dear? You used to call me Marcus. We were friends once, were we not? And colleagues. I am certain we would have proved Jung’s theory, if you had given us the chance to finish.”

“I am just as sure we wouldn’t have.” Her voice shook. “I’m not here to talk about my dissertation. I’m here because I need your professional opinion. Believe me, it’s the only reason I’m here.”

Cirksena leaned forward. “Is it about your family? Have the doctors made a diagnosis? You found them in that comatose state, did you not?”

Martie’s face grew hot. How does he know so much?

She shuddered internally at the memory of coming home from her university job as a graduate assistant to find her family members unconscious in the living room. After failing to revive them, she had called 9-1-1.

Reaching into her backpack, she retrieved the wand, and placed it on his desk. “What is your assessment of this… heirloom? It belongs to my grandmother.”

“Ah,” was all he said as he picked up the wand.

Alarms went off for her. Martie stared at him.  “You’ve seen it before.”

“What an odd thing to say. I have seen ones like it before.”

She watched silently as he withdrew a loupe from his top drawer, and put it to his eye, examining the wand’s markings. After studying it for several minutes, he looked up from beneath bushy eyebrows, his gaze boring into hers.

What’s going on here? Whereas a moment before, her second sight unequivocally knew Cirksena recognized her Gran’s wand – now it was saying Cirksena spoke the truth. He had never seen it before.

Cirksena did not break eye contact. Martie summoned her willpower and looked away. “Well?”

“What would you like to know?

Martie steadied herself, but could not keep the nerves out of her voice. “After my family got sick, our lawyer delivered this wand to me. My grandmother had instructed him to do that if anything happened to her. He told me our family had been connected to a magical society in nineteenth century England, but that Gran had refused to give him more details.”

A sob caught in her throat, but she repressed it. “The timing of this makes me suspicious. I can’t help but think this skeleton in the family closet has to do with Dad and Gran’s sudden illness. This wand seems to be the key to saving them. But I can’t quite figure it out.”

Martie had no problem  begging when it came to her family. “The doctor says the longer they are in a coma, the less likely they will regain consciousness. Can you help? Will you help me?”

Cirksena’s dark eyes found hers and held them for a moment before returning to his examination of the wand. He weighed it in his hands, and ran his finger over the odd alchemical symbols painted along its eighteen-inch length.

After a long moment, he set the wand on his desk. “I will help you. I expect something in return.”

The thought of owing him a favor turned her stomach to knots. “What do you want?”

“If you agree to my terms, I will rouse Judith and Dr. Harris from their lethargy.” He sounded confident he could do it.

Truth dawned like a red sun rising before her eyes. “You had something to do with their illness.”

“Nonsense.”

Her backpack slipped from her hands and hit the floor with a thud as another revelation occurred to her. “You know my dad because he teaches at the university. But how is it you know my Gran’s first name?”

“I think you had better sit down.”

“You already knew about my family’s connection to magic? How long have you known? The whole time? Even when we almost –”

She did not dare speak that out loud.

Cirksena rose. Martie backed away.

She didn’t have to be a psychic to sense how he much enjoyed this cat-and-mouse game. It was written on his face, evident in his voice.

He gestured toward a chair. “Stay, and I will tell you some of what I know.”

Some of what you know?” The realization he had been manipulating her all along sank in. “That’s right – you came to me about my dissertation.”

A muscle in Cirksena’s cheek twitched.  “So I did. The topic of your dissertation intrigued me. Jung’s investigation into alchemy is an atypical interest for a post-graduate psychology student of this century.”

Martie shook her head.  “It’s more than that. I think you researched my family before you came to this university. That’s why you came.”

Cirksena forced a smile. “That’s ridiculous. I looked into your family history after I became aware of your work.”

This ran deeper than Cirksena admitted. A professor does not do a background check based on a student’s thesis topic. So much for ESP. Why hadn’t she “sensed” this? At one time they had been close – inappropriately close for a student and her professor. Did he have some ability to cloak his intent from her second sight?

Obviously, he wanted something. And he wanted it badly. “Why go to all these lengths to become involved my research? What is so important that you would do this awful thing to my family?”

He was momentarily taken aback by her comment, but did not deny her accusation. When he finally spoke, Martie thought she heard him wrong.

“I want the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“You want what?”

He repeated it.

“You’re being sarcastic.”

He was perfectly serious. “I want you to bring me the elixir of life. ”

Martie’s mouth fell open. “Now you’re mocking me, my work.”

“I believe in your thesis.” Cirksena was emphatic. “I want the stone. I’ll settle for nothing less.”

“We both know there is no such thing.”

“Yet you yourself tried to prove its existence.”

She glared. “I failed. Or I gave up. It was naïve, wishful thinking. You flattered me and I stupidly believed you when you praised my theory in the first place. You encouraged my obsession. You manipulated me.”

“I encouraged you, yes. Because the Philosopher’s Stone does exist. I know who has it. And if you want to save your grandmother and your father, you will find it and bring it to me. That is my price for helping you.”

Martie narrowed her eyes. “I am more convinced than ever that you had something to do with their illness. I will tell the police. They will arrest you.”

“They will do no such thing.” Cirksena settled into his chair again. “This is an odd way you have of asking for help, but I will ignore it.”

Martie’s face went hot and she bit her tongue.

He tilted his head. “Surely the lawyer gave you something besides this wand. Something that explains it? A letter, perhaps?”

His words jogged her memory. “There is a letter. But it doesn’t make sense.” She grabbed her backpack from the floor, retrieved the envelope and handed it to him.

He unfolded the letter and read it aloud.

“Dearest Martinique – I should never have kept the secret of who you are. Look into the mirror and know the truth. Save Doctor Uncle. He died because of me. You’re the only one who can save him. Save him and he will save us. Love, Gran”

It rattled her, hearing Cirksena speaking the name her grandmother had always called her in his strange Old English-sounding accent.

Cirksena had more surprises. “Judith is your great grandmother, is she not?”

A slight panic thrilled through her. He knew that, too?

“She was born in 1903. She’s 111 years old. She was once a practitioner of magic.”

Martie stared.

“Wizarding blood runs through your veins. You, your father, your great-grandmother—and the grandparents you were never permitted to meet—are all descended from an ancient line of English sorcerers.”

If she expected to hear anything, it certainly was not this.

Cirksena raised an eyebrow. “But your father, Dr. Harris, is a man of science. I have had enough conversations with Martin to know he does not believe in magic.”

Martie’s hackles rose at his easy summation of her father. “See, you don’t know everything. My dad goes by his middle name, ‘Frank.’” It was a childish thing to say. Gran had always scolded her for being petulant. She didn’t care.

He ignored her interruption. “Because your father did not approve, you grew up in a house devoid of magic. But that doesn’t mean you are not a wizard.”

“You have totally lost your mind.”

Cirksena did not flinch. “You don’t have to believe me. I can prove it.” He picked up the wand.

“What are you going to do with that?”

He stood and motioned for her to follow him, which she did reluctantly. He led her toward the back room of his office, to a full-length mirror. “Have you ever read ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

His gaze went momentarily distant. “Wait—there is something missing. Were you not also given a medallion with a five-sided symbol on it? You should recognize it from your alchemical studies.”

She reached into her backpack. The medallion had been stored with the wand, in a wooden box with the Eye of Horus carved into it, but she hadn’t discovered it right away. She pulled out the metal disk, hanging on a chain. “A pentacle.”

“Yes. Put it on,” he said.

“Why?”

“Do you want proof or not?”

Martie reluctantly put the chain around her neck. “You had better get to the point soon.”

He handed her the wand. “Stand before the mirror.”

“What purpose…?”

“Do as I say.”

Martie eyed him warily, but stepped in front of the mirror.

“I know you sense things others do not. You see things others do not. What do you experience as you look into the mirror?”

She gazed at her haggard reflection. The stress was getting to her. She appeared gaunt and thin, and the state of her hair made her look like a madwoman.

A moment later, a “thrumming” sensation vibrated through her body, to the tips of her fingers and toes. “Whoa, what’s going on?”

“You are feeling the magic within you. It is your birthright.”

Startled, Martie stepped away from the mirror. The strange sensation passed.

She breathed deeply to calm herself. “That was weird.” She retreated into the outer office and squeezed her fingers to get the feeling back into them. What was that?

She turned to face Cirksena, who had followed her back. “I want some answers. “You’ve obviously done the research. Who is this ‘Doctor Uncle’ mentioned in the letter? Did Gran have an uncle who was a doctor?”

“It is, perhaps, a nickname she called him,” Cirksena suggested. His expression revealed nothing more. “She knew him when she was a child in London. He may have been a friend of her mother’s. After Violet Morley died, he stood in as her protector until she was adopted by her new parents and immigrated to America.” He paused. “This man was a powerful wizard. But he died  in 1910. Judith wants you to ‘save him’ because she believes she was responsible for his premature death.”

“How can you know that? What did she do?”

Cirksena remained silent.

Martie retrieved the letter and reread it. “What does Gran expect from me exactly? How is ‘saving’ a dead person even possible?”

He seemed to be calculating how much to reveal. “I believe Judith wants you to use the wand to return to 1910 and prevent the wizard’s death.”

Martie threw up her hands. “Time travel? Really?”

Cirksena smirked. “Surely you have figured it out. Judith’s guardian was a wizard. It is he who possesses the Stone. You must get it from him.” He shrugged. “And if you wish to save his life to appease your grandmother, feel free.”

It was Martie’s turn to laugh, albeit weakly. “That’s all I have to do. Go back in time. What about the part you haven’t told me? Such as, how?

The professor’s mirth evaporated. “I will help you. We will work together again.”

“When hell freezes over.”

Martie picked up her backpack and shoved the wand and case into it. She turned toward the door.

Cirksena took a step toward her, as if to prevent her leaving.

She quickly moved away from him. “Do I have it wrong? Is this really some ridiculous ploy to get back with me again?”

Cirksena smiled. “You are very self-absorbed and deluded, my dear, to believe so strongly in your own importance.”

She snorted. “Just checking.”

“You need me.”

She proceeded toward the exit. “Now who’s self-absorbed and deluded.”

He shook his head. “You can’t do this on your own.”

Martie rounded on him. “Watch me.”

He cast a final remark her way. “If you want to save your family, you will be back.”

“Gran believes I can do it. If she does, then I do.” She closed the office door firmly behind her.

*  *  *

Smothered by death.The words looped endlessly in Martie’s mind.

She sat by the hospital bed where her grandmother lay motionless and sheet white. She couldn’t shake the memory of the feather dream. In this comatose state, could Gran be having it?

It was a dream Martie had had for years, beginning the night her mom died. The blinding white light. The sense of being cradled by something primal, something overwhelming, asphyxiating. Like drowning in feathers. When she was little, it had sent her crying to Gran’s bedside in the middle of the night more times than she could count. When Martie was older, Gran admitted to having the same dream. “It’s like being smothered by death.”

The words had branded her mind, and from that moment on, Martie felt connected to her grandmother as she had never been to anyone else in her life.

“Oh, Gran, what will I do if I lose you?” Martie’s voice was barely a whisper. Tears gathered in her eyes and she brushed them away. Her foot caught the leg of the chair, nearly tripping her as she hurried out.

Martie went down the hall to her father’s room, her stomach hollow. Her dad lay as still and pale in his bed as Gran. She sat next to the bed and touched his arm, but there was no response. She found his hand and held it. His fingers did not move.

Her chest ached as she watched his quiet breathing and studied the facial details she had taken for granted when he was up and around. The crows feet at the corner of his eyes, the laugh lines around his mouth—these creased her heart as surely as his face.

She didn’t care that Dr. Martin Frank Harris had lied to keep her safe from her family’s weird obsession with ritual magic. She missed his silly sense of humor, and the strange noises from the basement when he worked on his “perfectly serious” experiments with magnetic rocks. She wanted him back.

The likelihood that Cirksena had done this horrific thing to her family to blackmail her into getting what he wanted—whatever that was—settled upon her like a ten thousand pound weight.

_____________________________________________________________

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Karla Tipton’s first novel, “Rings of Passage,” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. It’s available in Kindle and all e-book formats, as well paperback on Amazon.com and B&N websites.

 

Author Cara Bristol discusses the writing life and her new erotic sci-fi romance, “Breeder”

Cara Bristol was one of my earliest writing colleagues. We were eager and fresh-faced journalism grads from different colleges. We ended up at the same suburban newspaper, writing for the society section (typically called the “soc page” in newspaper jargon). We wrote wedding copy and covered women’s clubs, but both of us had bigger dreams. Funnily enough, at that time, none of them had to do with writing novels. And now we’re both doing it.

Cara featured me on her blog the day my novel “Rings of Passage” came out in August, and now I’m interviewing her on mine. What goes around, comes around – and now we have come full circle. Upon the Oct. 15 release of Cara Bristol’s first erotic science fiction novel ,”Breeder,” I asked about her life as a writer, how the creative process manifests when she writes, and some challenges she must face juggling real life commitments and her art.

(see interview below)
_______________________________________________________________

"Breeder"

Read an excerpt below

“Breeder links:
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Breeder-Cara-Bristol-ebook/dp/B00FX7L5FO/
All Romance eBooks (ARe)
https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-breeder-1318747-340.html
Loose ID
http://www.loose-id.com/breeder.html
Author’s website
http://carabristol.com/
Twitter  @CaraBristol
https://twitter.com/CaraBristol
Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/cara.bristol.3
_______________________________________________________________

Cara Bristol interview

Karla: At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there an event, or a comment someone made to you? Or perhaps an experience that made you think, “Hey, I’d like to write.”

Cara: I’ve always enjoyed writing. The students in high school would complain about having to write term papers, but I secretly enjoyed the assignments. When it came time to choose a college major, I chose journalism because it involved writing. I liked journalism. I love writing fiction.

Karla: What were your earliest written works? (Poems, short stories, songs, essays, novels)

Cara Bristol BiographyCara: Well, the “earliest” is a 30-page mystery I wrote in the fifth grade. Professionally? As a journalism and public relations director, I’ve written numerous newspaper articles, brochures, annual reports, newsletters, press releases. I wrote (and published) my first erotic romance in 2009. I now have 12 erotic romance titles published. Most of them have been released in the last two years.

Karla: What made you to decide to write a novel, in particular?

Cara: I enjoy the freedom and creation of writing fiction. My preferred format is the novella, but I let the work decide the length. I’ve written short stories, novellas and novels.

Karla: Do you have a very early work that you would like to reinvent or get into shape to share with the world? What is it?

Cara: The work I would redo has been published. If I could, I would rewrite Unexpected Consequences, the first book in the Rod and Cane Society domestic discipline erotic romance series. I would make the heroine less naïve—although I really enjoyed that aspect of her personality when I originally wrote it.

Karla: What is the MOST important to you? Plot? Character? Setting?

Cara: Character. But, of course, all three are important because they are so interwoven. Character drives plot, plot creates character and setting affects then both. But I write romance because I find relationship dynamics fascinating. Put the right (clashing) two characters together and the story practically writes itself. For example, in Body Politics. I sent a diehard feminist on a blind date with a Dom who likes to spanks his women. In Breeder, an Alpha Commander falls in love with slave he is forbidden by law to want. Can you see the conflict?

Karla: Do you write genre fiction or literary fiction? Do you think there is a clear delineation between the two styles? And if so, what is that?

Cara: I write genre fiction (romance), in several subgenres: erotic, paranormal, domestic discipline and science fiction. I see literary fiction and genre fiction at two opposite ends of the continuum. One is black, one is white. But in between, it grays and becomes hard to tell them apart. But my fiction is definitely on the genre side.

Karla: How scheduled are you when writing? (9 to 5, when you have an assignment, when the inspiration strikes).

Cara: I am very scheduled about my writing. I work (write and promote) seven days a week. I am usually at the computer by 5:30 a.m. That said, I rely a lot on inspiration. Even when I’m not at my computer, I’m usually thinking about my writing.

Karla: Where do you write? Is there certain music you have playing in the background? A favorite room, desk or chair? Are you like J.K. Rowling, and write in a coffee shop?

Cara: I have a lovely, dedicated home office that is mine, mine, mine. (I used to share an office with my husband). I do not write to music, I find it distracting.

Karla: Are the stories that you write different from those that you read? For instance, romance versus humor.

Cara: No. My time is so limited that I read strategically. First priority is my genres. Second priority is authors I know. Third is everything else.

Karla: Is writing your job or your hobby? If it is a hobby that has turned into a job, are there drawbacks to this?

Cara: Writing is my job. What no one realizes until they get into it is how consuming a writing career becomes. It’s insidious! When I worked in corporate PR, I didn’t work seven days a week, nor did I bring work home. Now I write at home and writing and home life bleed together. Writing/editing occupies about 50 percent of my work time, promotion the other 50 percent.

Karla: Is one successful novel enough, or do you see yourself as a “career” writer?

Cara: If you were only in it for the money, and you hit it out of the ballpark like JK Rowling or EL James have and earned gazillions, perhaps one novel would be enough. But those authors not even good examples because they both wrote series. You can never rest on your laurels because for 99 percent of authors, eventually the sales from any one book drop. And even if I hit megastatus, I would probably continue to write because I love it so much. I am driven to write. If I hit it big, I might not write as much, but I would still write.

Karla: Are you a tortured artist? Is writing therapeutic, cathartic or simply fun?

Cara: Fun. I’m not the least bit tortured.

Karla: Is your creative process something you sweat over? Or is it something you trust to “kick in” as soon as you get started.

Cara: I had one book that I sweated over and if that’s what writing was like for me all or most of the item, I wouldn’t be a writer. I have learned to trust that inspiration will come.

Karla: If you have a troublesome plot issue, how do you solve it? Is there a method or a meditation you turn to solve the problem?

Cara: Often I find that switching POV helps. Other times, it helps to think about the problem when I am in “nonwriting” mode, i.e. away from my desk such as taking a shower or walking. I get a lot of ideas around 3 a.m. too.

Karla: What advice would you give to new authors who are trying to find their voice and their stride?

Cara: Stop trying to find your voice and tell your story.

Karla: How do you blend other parts of your life (family, day job, etc.) with writing? What challenges arise?

Cara: I don’t have another day job, so that’s not an issue, but blending writing with family and other commitments is an issue. I’m still working on that. I know some authors who have day jobs and small children at home and I have no idea how they do it.

_______________________________________________________________

 “Breeder” excerpt

If not for the sneeze, Dak would have exited the musty, dank corridor. But the muffled sound caught his attention. When he squinted into the darkened cell, he spotted a female crouched on a straw mat in the corner. He hadn’t noticed her on his way into the Breeder Containment Facility; the habitation unit had appeared empty.

Dak turned to the BCF director and sighed. “What about her?”

The beta’s already crooked mouth drooped farther in distaste. “My apologies, Commander. You don’t want that one.”

Sival’s disparagement piqued Dak’s interest. The director’s opinion had proven worthless; none of the breeders he’d preselected for inspection had rated close to satisfactory.

“I would like to see her,” Dak insisted.

“Very well, Commander.” Sival saluted and opened the habitation cell with a master entry card. Dak stepped into the small enclosure. The director followed, and the metal gate clanked shut.

The naked female drew into a tighter ball and tucked her face deeper into the crook of her arm. Other breeders had preened as soon as they’d noticed him and his chest-insignia identification. He wasn’t just an alpha. He was the Alpha.

This breeder’s lack of respect and failure to adhere to Protocol by acknowledging his presence struck him as odd. Dak frowned. “Is she mentally deficient?”

Sival tightened his lips. “No, stubborn, ill behaved. She would not befit an Alpha Commander.” He nudged the female’s hip with the toe of his boot. “Rise to your feet.” She did not respond, and he moved to prod her again. Dak forestalled him with a wave and grasped the female’s arm.

“You will stand.” He hauled her upright. She averted her face, so he grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him. Tangled hair the color of black heating stones fell back from an oval face to reveal eyes like the Parseon moon. The glimmer of intelligence that sparked within the violet depths aroused his interest more than anything else he’d seen so far.

Nature had bestowed the Parseon people with an exceptionally strong immune system so that they rarely required medical intervention, but breeders by nature were weak, and so many of the ones he’d seen had seemed dull or ill or both. This one’s skin, when unsmudged by grime and dirt, probably glowed like the pale sands of the Ospian Sea. He supposed, as breeders went, she wasn’t unattractive, although the stench emanating from her was. His beta would throw a fit if he dragged such a creature into their domicile.

“Why is she so filthy?” he asked.

“She refuses to bathe.”

As Dak scrutinized her facial features for shape and symmetry, he noted little imperfection or dysgenics other than her lack of hygiene and her gender. When cleaned up, she would please the eye, but to bear his sons, it mattered more that she be healthy and strong.

He released her face, stepped back, and assessed her from head to toe. He exceeded the height of most males, alphas included, while she stood smaller than the average female.

The top of her head failed to even meet his shoulder. She was thinner than other breeders too, although her chest bore an abundance of fatty breast tissue. In the chill of the cell, her nipples had puckered to hard points. Despite the coolness, he was experiencing a rise in temperature. A dormant lust chose that moment to kindle, causing heat to coil in his abdomen and groin. He could not remember the last time he’d experienced such a spontaneous reaction—if he ever had. With the pads of his fingers, he probed the sides of her neck for swollen areas. The way she trembled under his touch aroused a sliver of sympathy. Breeders lacked courage, and uncertainty frightened them. Not all alphas and their betas treated breeders well. If he chose her, she would be adequately fed and housed. His command consumed his time and energy, which left his beta alone for long stretches. A breeder would relieve Corren of household chores and provide him with a physical outlet as well.

“What is she called?” Dak asked.

“Her sire named her Omra.”

Peace, it meant.

He parted Omra’s lips with his fingers and slipped a digit into her mouth, running it along her upper gum line to check the solidness of her teeth. At a flash in her eyes, he jerked his hand away a centisecond before she snapped her jaws together, so that her incisor only grazed the tip of his finger.

Sival’s face reddened. “Commander, I apologize. I will have her flogged.”

“Unnecessary. I will take care of it.” He unclipped the sudon from his belt.

Cover reveal: Jackson Paul Baer’s “The Earth Bleeds Red”

THE EARTH BLEEDS RED is Jackson Paul Baer’s first novel due out the end of October 2013 (Pandamoon Publishing). It’s part literary and part suspense.

The Earth Bleeds Red

Author Jackson Paul Baer new book comes out on Pandamoon Publishing in October.

This cover is one of the most beautiful and poignant I have ever seen. Congratulate Jackson on his achievement. Visit his website at http://jacksonpaulbaer.com.

Here’s a description of the story:

Scott and Jessie Miller are a couple in love. Ashley, their only daughter, is 17-years old and has vanished; leaving behind nothing but a pool of blood. Her strange disappearance is quickly thought to be a homicide. Her cozy, northwest town is stunned when police find the body of another girl at the bottom of the Willamette River. The eerie signature found on the girl links to a monster dubbed the Hail Mary Killer. While Scott searches for Ashley, the FBI feels convinced that she is the killer’s latest victim.

In spite of three other bodies with the same distinct marking, no one prepared themselves for the discovery in southern Oregon. Local hikers stumble upon a car in the mountain brush and a tattooing needle with an evil history surfaces inside. A cabin appears nearby with another gruesome discovery. Scott finds some solace in his friendship with Father Henry as he and Jessie try to salvage their marriage and move on beyond the loss of Ashley. The FBI finally catches a break when they unearth the dark past of the Hail Mary Killer’s family. What emerged in his basement is more terrifying than anyone could have possibly imagined. What happens to the Miller family and Father Henry will shake your soul and keep you reading till the last page.

Fork in the road

Writers, like everyone else, struggle to escape their past. It could be in the form of memories or people or “stuff,” but we want to get away from it. Maybe because it reminds us of our failures, or lost hopes and dreams, or simply a period of life in which existence was truly miserable

Spoons and a fork

The spoons belonged to my Grandma, and the fork to my Aunt Mary. Photo by Karla Tipton.

But writers, to do their jobs, have to draw from something to put an honest sentence, paragraph and story to the page. That something is the stuff they most want to escape – demons that, although specific to them, are at the same time universal.

Demons make great copy.

Some demons caught up with me recently, at last bringing the phrase, “my wounds are open for the sake of art,” home to me in a way other than intellectual.

Although I’ve been a writer for many years, and can draw from my highs and lows, pain and pleasure, for the sake of a story as well as the next scribe – I’ve never really had that “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” moment that Stevie Nicks writes about in her song “Gypsy.”

For a writer, it’s that moment she realizes she has a story to tell – not a story to entertain, or for use of escape. A story that sings like the angels.

But a story that’s going to require some bloodletting. Not a romance or a mystery or a horror novel, but a story that falls into that crazy narrow definition of “literary.” And it’s probably not going to have a happy ending. At the least, it’ll have an ambivalent one.

Bloodletting. Opening some wounds for the sake of art. Falling into a river of emotional blood that might carry me to a place so dark I’ll never escape it.

What people who write memoirs go through to visit the places of their lives no one should have to walk through twice.

True catharsis.

It is (at least as far as the New York Times Book Review section goes) the thing that separates an artist from a hack. Or at least, a career novelist.

I’ve gone into the crypt of misery so deep before I almost didn’t return to the living. It was a dark place that I’ll have to return to, if I’m to do this thing.

This literary thing.

I don’t know if I can. I’m not sure I have the courage.

But it’s as if fate is whispering in my ear, and I can’t turn it away.

I’m at a fork in the road and it’s decision time. I’ll be a different person if I come out in one piece on the other side of this project.

I don’t know if I can survive the honesty.