Tag Archives: Fiction

Spring Break

Now that I’m back working in an academic setting, the words “spring break” are more than just an abstract concept, or a memory of something I used to do. I’ve had a lot of jobs, and some of the ones I enjoyed most were on university campuses, for more reasons than just the breaks in the school year.

This spring break really took me back in time, though, to one year when I was a student at the local university. At the beginning of the week I went to a local bookstore and bought a copy of every book by Anne McCaffrey that I didn’t already own. I spent the rest of the week with my backside planted in my recliner and my nose buried in one book after another. All day, non-stop, until I finished the last one. I ended up with a magnificent headache, but I didn’t care. I’d been transported to a different part of the universe every day, without having to buy a ticket or pay for gasoline. This year I got a couple of new books to read, although my taste in fiction has changed somewhat, and I read a lot more non-fiction. And I have to get up out of my chair more often to keep my creaky old joints from taking a set.

Something else that’s new is that now I also like to write about the books I read, not so much like the book reports I wrote back in grade school, but more like some of the reviews that I’ve read that have made me decide I wanted to read something new. Writing about them also helps me remember some of the details of the story better — did I mention my creaky old brain, yet?

I thought I’d sit down and make a list of some of my favorite authors through the years — most of whom have been women, not surprisingly. Here are a few:

  • Marguerite Henry – who wrote Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, and other books about horses.
  • Dorothy Lyons – wrote Silver Birch, Midnight Moon, Golden Sovereign (also about horses).
  • Jim Kjelgaard (not a woman) – when I ran out of horse stories, I read about dogs, like Big Red, Irish Red, Outlaw Red. (Wait, is there a pattern emerging here?)

Those carried me up through junior high school, then I got into the “gothic mystery/romance” realm with books by Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Jane Aiken Hodge.

After I read The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings, I discovered a whole new fantasy world, and Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, and my all-time favorite author, C. J. Cherryh. Of course I can’t leave out Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, or Joy Chant. I even occasionally read fantasy and science fiction written by men, like Roger Zelazny, or R. A. Salvatore.

For mysteries I used to read Dorothy L. Sayers “Lord Peter Wimsey” books. Then I discovered Elizabeth Peters, Lynda S. Robinson, and Lauren Haney. These three not only have wicked story lines and fascinating characters, they take me where I most want to go — on this planet at least — Ancient Egypt. Robinson’s and Haney’s stories are actually set during ancient times — during the reigns of Tutankhamun and Hatshepsut, respectively. Peters writes about a family of archaeologists digging around the sites of ancient tombs during the years leading up to Howard Carter‘s discovery of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun. What fun! They can’t write new books fast enough for me. I just finished two of Haney’s most recent ones, have to wait until next month at least for another by Robinson to come out. I guess I’ll just have to content myself with more non-fiction in the meantime. And keep myself occupied writing blog entries with a million links to install.

Book review — The Cure

It has been my pleasure this summer, to have a chance to read a couple of books by first-time authors. One was Written in Stone, by Brian Switek, which I reviewed previously, and the second was The Cure, by D. L. Webb. Both authors have had a lot of writing experience prior to launching their full-length books, and it shows.

The Cure opens with a young journalist/editor named Nicole Rogé wanting to celebrate having a promising interview with a New York City magazine. She has been asked back for a follow-up, an indication that she has made it onto the short list. Nicole and her roommate, Natalie Randall, meet at their favorite bar, where Nicole is immediately drawn to a vividly handsome man with icy blue eyes, who seems to be taking far greater notice of her than she would normally expect. According to Nicole’s inner demons, Natalie is likely to claim his attention as soon as he notices her. But that doesn’t happen. She finds it unnerving and exhilarating at the same time.

From the perspective of the man, Vincent Duval, we learn that he is drawn to Nicole on a level that has nothing to do with her appearance, as if he has no control over his attraction. But he is afraid of harming her if he lets his attraction override his caution. Why? Because, as we soon learn, he is a vampire, over a hundred years old.

The two begin an odd relationship. Nicole is ready to take Vincent to bed almost immediately, while Vincent keeps calling a halt right in the middle of heated make-out sessions. Nicole is repeatedly left feeling humiliated, frustrated, and convinced that she has just done something that will make Vincent walk away and never come back. Except he keeps coming back.

It seems vampires are able to detect their soul-mates through this overwhelming attraction to an individual, accompanied by unique pheromones that give the object of their attraction an alluring fragrance that only they can smell. Apparently, vampires also give off pheromones that only their one true mate can detect. There is also a kind of electrical charge that passes through both individuals every time they touch. Once a vampire finds this soul-mate, he or she is hooked for life – and death – basically eternity. But there’s a catch to the eternity part. They both have to be vampires, and Nicole is a mortal human.

That she eventually becomes a vampire is inevitable, which throws another kink into the story, as Vincent shortly afterward discovers a “cure” that can make him fully human again. When he does, the roles become reversed. Nicole must be restrained to keep from killing Vincent in a runaway passion, and Vincent must re-learn how to live as a human, and must keep a safe distance from Nicole. I’ll leave discovery of the resolution to this dilemma to the reader.

A third, and minor, subplot involves Nicole’s great grandmother, who disappeared as a young woman, leaving a bereft husband and children to go on without her. Nicole’s mother had been trying to track down evidence of what happened to her, and passed along her collection of documents to Nicole. Most of the older statements and letters are written in French. Lucky for Nicole, Vincent lived his mortal life in France and is fluent in the language. As he helps Nicole with the translations, he begins to realize a connection between himself and the missing great grandmother, which I will also leave for the reader to discover.

Webb keeps the shifts from first person (Nicole) point of view to third person (Vincent) separated by changes in type-face from standard to italics, and thankfully, she maintains one viewpoint for periods of time that span several pages – no jumping from one head to another in the middle of a paragraph or scene. First person point of view is quite restrictive. The author doesn’t have the luxury of revealing what any other person is thinking, except through their actions and the things they say, and misunderstandings can only be resolved through action and dialog. I think a lot of people feel that using first person point of view is self-indulgent and lazy, but I don’t agree. It takes discipline to stay out of the heads of the other characters, and I see what I consider an excess of viewpoint-hopping in a lot of books. There is no way for the point of view character to know what is going on across town, for instance, or what is happening to another character that is not present. At one point in the story, Webb breaks this rule, and I was disappointed by it. Fortunately, it was near the end of the book, but I don’t think the story would have suffered if she had simply left the scene out. Instead, she made an end run around the rules, and for me the story did suffer for that. For a first novel, I consider The Cure a win.

Author interview — First novel

Densie L. Webb recently published her first novel, The Cure. My friend, Tresha, knows Densie from SheWrites, a website devoted to women writers and readers. Tresha asked me if I would review the book and interview the author for my blog — to go along with the other author interview and book reviews I’ve published here. I said sure. I finished the book a month or so ago, and recently sent a list of questions to Densie to serve as the interview. Here they are along with her answers.

On your blogs you describe yourself as a non-fiction writer trasitioning to fiction. What is your background as a non-fiction writer? Did you write articles or technical peices? How long were you doing that before deciding to start writing fiction? What drew you to writing to begin with, and what now draws you to fiction? I’ve been a freelance, nonfiction nutrition/health writer for more than 20 years. I’ve written for just about everything from newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, corporations for both consumers and health professionals. I only started really trying my hand at fiction a little over 2 years ago. I guess the main thing that drew and still draws me to writing is language. I just love words and adore a well-turned phrase.

The Cure is a vampire romance story with a little mystery thrown in. What made you choose that genre? Are you a fan of the Twilight series? Does the vampire romance genre have a set of unspoken guidelines for what you can and can’t have your vampires do? (My exposure to vampire fiction is mostly limited to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
I’ve always been a sucker for vampires (no pun intended, actually), long before Twilight hit the scene. My daughter, who was 13 at the time, got into reading the Twilight series and gave them to me to read and it renewed my interest. I started writing The Cure before the Twilight phenomenon really exploded. Everyone sort of creates their own rules these days as to what vampires can and can’t do, though I think Stephanie Myer’s vamps are the only ones without fangs. Some can go out in the daylight, some can’t, some can live on animal blood, some can’t, some sleep in coffins, others in the basement, some are romantic figures, some are just animalistic killers. It just depends where you want to take it.

What other genres do you enjoy reading? Are you going to write another vampire novel, or do you plan to branch out into other areas of fiction?
I love to read, but I guess women’s fiction is my favorite. The last two books I read were Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (yes, it’s a woman). I think she’s a genius. She has some of the richest emotional writing that just sort of sneaks up on you. I’ve only read two of her books (I cried and lost sleep over both of them) and I think she has about 7. I have number 3 (A Perfectly Good Family) here that I’m going to start right away. Also just finished reading The Stuff That Never Happened by Maddie Dawson, which I really enjoyed. My other favorite author, who is quite different, and not an author of women’s fiction by any stretch of the imagination, is Augusten Burroughs. He’s best known for Running With Scissors, but I think Dry is my favorite of his. I’ve read all of his books. Oh, and speaking of vampires, I read The Passage by Justin Cronin and Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth, neither one of which is a romance, and both have very different takes on vampires.

I’m actually working on another book now, which has nothing to do with vampires. It involves a young woman’s serendipitous encounter with a celebrity and how it results in her becoming the target of a celebrity stalker. I’ve done quite a bit of research on celebrity stalkers for it and it’s fascinating to read, like rubbernecking at a car wreck. You can’t turn away.

How was your self-publishing experience? Will you self-publish all your future novels, or will you use that experience to find the right print publisher in the future?
It was truly educational. I published on Smashwords and Kindle and did a hard copy with CreateSpace on Amazon. I was able to do the layout, etc for CreateSpace on my own, because it requires only a pdf. But I had to hire someone to do the formatting for Smashwords and Kindle. My eyes were already crossing with the CreateSpace formatting. Just couldn’t face two more. Each one has its own requirements. If I finish my celebrity stalker story, I’ll query agents first and if nothing comes of it, I may go the self-publishing route. It’s all changing so fast, though, that may mean something totally different than it does now by the time I get to that point. It’s doubtful I’ll ever earn back my expenses for formatting, but, as I said I learned a lot and I’m quite glad I followed through and did it.

And I want to thank Densie for taking the time to answer these. I enjoyed her first published novel and will post my review of The Cure in a few days. So stay tuned.

Too much thinking, not enough writing

Every year about this time, someone or other that I know on or off line brings up National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” or just “NaNo.” Sounds a lot like “Yada-yada-yada,” if you don’t already know what those people are talking about. I started writing a novel a few years ago — in August — so I couldn’t join in the NaNo madness. And I’m still “working” on it, so I won’t be doing NaNo again this year. My friend, Tresha, who belongs to a writer’s group, is going to write something every day in November to show solidarity with the members of her group who are doing NaNo. Maybe I can do that, too. (Says Crazybasenji, without my permission). If I do, some of it will show up here, but since I’m trying to both start and finish my novel, a lot of what I’ll write won’t (show up here).

Funny thing about starting in the middle of a story and working outward. It’s almost as hard to figure out where and how to start as how to finish. I’ve actually written several endings already, all variations on a theme of sorts. But how to begin kept eluding me, until yesterday when a light finally came on. I haven’t mastered the practice of sitting down and writing anything anyway until the answer presents itself, although I’m sure I need to work on that. But sometimes just throwing a bunch of ideas into the stew-pot of my head and then letting them simmer and blend a while works just as well. Although in the meantime, I could/should be writing blog posts that I have plenty of ideas for and just can’t seem to hold still long enough to get on the page. ARRRRGGGHH!

So, yeah, I wrote the middle of my novel first. But at least there is a middle. Of a novel. By me. I think that’s kind of cool.

BICENTENNIAL

I wanted the fireworks to go on forever — or at least for the rest of the night. It’s the way I feel every Fourth of July — never enough fireworks. But this year, 1976, I was in the Air Force, watching the display from a grassy knoll near the practice tee at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Needless to say, those in charge of the show had pretty much pulled out all the stops.

The night sky was dazzling with sound and color and light. Just enough breeze stirred to dissipate the smoke and the smell of black powder.

I was stretched out on a picnic blanket, looking up, perfectly content, when a body landed beside me.

“Having fun yet?” Jeb Dalton, fellow aircraft mechanic trainee and all-around goof ball. There was wafting around him a distinctive, pungent aroma.

“Dal, what the hell have you been smoking? Are you crazy?” I asked. “Don’t get any of that on me. I don’t want to get arrested.”

“You can’t get arrested for the way you smell!” He laughed uproariously.

“Don’t be too sure about that. You’re in the military, remember? Who knows what they can arrest you for. And it might interest you to know that my roommate is around here somewhere, and she hangs out with S.P.s a lot.”

“Gotta run.” Dalton launched himself straight up off the blanket. “See you at work,” he called back as he disappeared.

“Who was that?” Dal’s spot on the blanket was now occupied by my dorm roommate, Lena Fletcher.

“Another crew chief.”

“You work on the flight line?” A new voice. I turned my head. He was sitting on the blanket on the other side of Lena. Nice looking. Dark hair, gray eyes, trim mustache. Something familiar about him.

“This is Chris Miller,” Lena said. “Chris, this is my roommate, A.J. King.”

“Hi,” I said. “Yes, I work on the flight line — Delta section.”

“Ah, F-4s. A guy I went through Basic with works on F-4s — Shawn Mercer — you know him?”

“Sorry, I haven’t met everyone on the flight line yet. Been a little busy dodging jets and the verbal abuse my trainer likes to hurl at me.”

Chris gave me a long look.

“You drive a blue Chevy pickup, don’t you? A new one?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly. Then a light came on. “I know where I’ve seen you. At the gate, right? The civilian clothes threw me.” At the gate meant he was S.P. — Security Police. I was glad Dalton was already gone.

“I know,” he agreed. “I don’t always recognize people when they’re not in their cars. You have Texas plates on that truck. Is that where you’re from?”

“Yeah, Houston. I bought the truck when I was home on leave after tech school. It gave me plenty of room to pack all my junk to move out here. Where are you from?” Standard line of questioning when meeting someone new on base — what’s your first name, what’s your specialty, where are you from.

“Tucson.”

“Wow. You’re a long way from home. What is that, about 120 miles?”

Chris looked down at Lena.

“She always this sarcastic?”

“Oh, she’s not even warmed up, yet,” Lena grinned.

“Sarcastic? Me?” I acted hurt. “That’s a little harsh, don’t you think? I prefer to call it heavy irony, myself.”

Chris laughed.

“Tell me something, both of you,” I said. “Is it just me, or does it seem a bit cliché to be in the military on the 200th anniversary of the first Independence Day?”

They both looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

“What? You mean you haven’t thought about the whole red, white, blue, rah, rah, rah, thing?”

Lena rolled her eyes and shook her head. You’d think she would be used to me after three months of sharing a dorm room.

“I guess I never thought about it quite like that,” she said,

“A.J. why’d you join the Air Force?” Chris asked.

“So I could get out and use the G.I. Bill to pay for college.”

“Not because you wanted to work on jet fighters, or see the world?”

“Being in the Air Force wasn’t the objective. I didn’t really care what job I got. Getting out in four years is the objective. And I’d rather see the world as a civilian.”

“It’s good to have goals,” he said solemnly. I turned to look at him. The corners of his mouth twitched up. Huh. Nice looking and a sense of humor.

The fireworks came to an end in one final dazzling barrage, and everyone cheered. We got up and started shaking the grass and twigs out of Lena’s blanket. I looked around at all the other people doing much the same — gathering up folding chairs and coolers and kids.

“They’ve all come to look for America,” I warbled softly.

Lena looked around at me.

“Is that from a song?”

“Did it not sound like I was singing?”

“Is that what you’d call that?” Chris asked.

“Hey!” He was quick. I’d have to stay on my toes.

“It’s a Simon and Garfunkel song,” Chris told Lena. She looked surprised.

“You listen to Simon and Garfunkel?”

“Sure, I even wear a beret sometimes,” he deadpanned. I threw back my head and laughed. The beret was part of his uniform. I could end up actually liking a law enforcement official.

“Well, that makes up for the crack about my singing.”

I rode back to the dorm with Lena. Chris had gone off in another direction.

“Lena, how come you know so many cops?”

“So many? I know about six, and not all that well. I met Chris first. We went through in-processing and base orientation together, went out to eat a few times. But those guys all change shifts every time the wind changes, so they get off in their own little world. Chris calls now and then, but it’s not like we’re dating or anything.”

“So, do you think someone could get arrested for smelling like pot smoke?”

“I don’t know,” she laughed. “Why?”

“That guy who took off right before you got there — Jeb Dalton. I work with him. He reeked of pot smoke when he came up. I just wondered what would have happened if Chris had got a whiff of him.”

“I think that as long as he’s on base, the cops can search him or his car whenever they feel like it. I guess if he doesn’t actually have any stuff on him or in his car, they’d have to let him go.”

“That would be a hell of a thing, wouldn’t it? To get thrown in jail on Independence Day?” I should have known better than to say anything. Next day S.P.s showed up on the flight line asking questions about everyone who knew Dalton. Me they searched. Seems someone had seen me talking to him at the fireworks show. I wanted to murder Chris Miller. All the rest of the day I ground my teeth over what a low-life he had turned out to be. So what if it was his job. I guess some people are never off-duty.

And there he was, standing in front of my dorm when I got home.

“Thanks, Chris,” I grimaced at him. “I really enjoyed all the attention I got at work today, getting patted down, having to empty my pockets, and letting a couple of ham-handed strangers go through everything in my truck and camper.”

He held out his hands in a conciliatory gesture.

“Your room got searched, too. And I’m sorry. That’s why I came over. I wanted to tell you it wasn’t me. I didn’t really see that guy you were talking to last night. But he was being watched. A.J. he wasn’t just lighting up a doobie in the parking lot. He’s been dealing. Everyone he had contact with had to be checked out.” That caught me flat footed. I had never associated with a drug dealer before — that I was aware of. Well, they say the military is a broadening experience.

At that point, Lena showed up and had to be filled in.

“You remember when we were talking about Jeb Dalton last night and how it would be a bummer to get thrown in jail on Independence Day?”

“Don’t tell me that’s what happened!”

“Oh, that’s only the beginning…” and I proceeded to tell her about my interesting day. “And Chris says our room got tossed,” I finished.

“Not ‘tossed,’ searched.” Chris frowned at me and shook his head. “You might find a few things out of place. Which reminds me of something I heard about. Which one of you keeps a live black widow spider in a jar on the desk?” Lena aimed a dagger finger at me.

“That’s what I figured.”

“I think black widows are among the most beautiful arthropods on the planet,” I said in defense. “Besides, I couldn’t find a tarantula out in the desert.”

“You’re not supposed to have pets in the dorm.”

“Not a pet. Science project. I’m conducting behavioral research.”

“Translation,” Lena added. “She likes to watch it kill crickets.”

Chris rolled his eyes heavenward.

“Now I’ve heard it all,” he said. “Why don’t you two go change and let’s go get pizza? I’ll buy. Unless you have other plans.”

“Those sound like good plans to me,” Lena said with a smile.

“I have to take a shower, first,” I added.

“Call me when you’re ready, then.” Chris turned and headed off toward his dorm, a few blocks away.

It was unsettling to find “a few things out of place,” even though Chris had warned us.

“That was nice of Chris to come all the way over here to tell us about the room,” I said. “Here I was having evil thoughts about him all day because I thought he turned me in.”

When I got out of the shower, Lena called Chris, and we met him in front of the dorm a few minutes later. He drove a black, 1967 Mustang that was so shiny I could see my reflection. I made the mistake of saying “oh-wow-cool-car,” which is the universal signal to the male animal to produce an information overload on the engine specifications, torque, zero-to-sixty times, and all modifications past and present. Lena and I were glassy-eyed by the time we got to the pizza place.

“I’m still in shock about this Jeb Dalton thing,” I said as we were drinking beer and waiting for our pizza. “He seemed like such an ordinary guy, although I knew he liked to party.”

Chris shrugged and said nothing. I guessed he wouldn’t be able to talk about the case whether he knew anything or not. Lena got up to visit the ladies room.

“Chris, can I ask you something? Purely academic curiosity, of course.”

“Okay,” he said, but his smile said, “Uh-oh.”

“I would expect a guy like you to have a girlfriend, but it seems you don’t. Is there someone down in Tucson?”

“There was, for a long time, in fact.” He set his beer down. “There was a girl down the street. We grew up together, went to school together, went to all the games, went to the prom. Then when I went off to Basic Training, she met someone new and got married — wham, just like that. Then I realized she’d always been pretty impulsive — something I’m not. She’d get us into trouble, I’d get us out. That’s why I wanted to be a cop — to help people get out of trouble.

“Anyway, I was with her so long, it was like being married. It’s weird to be single, but I’m not all that anxious to start anything new. I tend to see long term consequences. Like, I look at you — I see major consequences.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said ruefully. Chris shook his head.

“I didn’t say bad. I said major. For instance, I’ve known you 24 hours and you’re in the middle of a criminal investigation.”

“Not my fault.”

“Still. I get the idea stuff happens around you. I’m not saying I won’t come running if you need back-up. But you seem pretty independent — I don’t really expect you to need me to come running.”

“Come running where?” Lena was back.

“I think Chris just volunteered to be my guardian angel.” I smiled wickedly.

“Well, goodness knows you need one,” Lena said. “Chris, I don’t envy you that job.”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Shut up and eat your pizza, A.J.”