Small Towns and Their Food by Pepper Phillips

One thing I’ve learned about small towns is that each one has their own history. My own little town is called ‘Boggy Bayou’ in my series. It was easier for me to use some place that I was familiar with. Settled in 1760, it’s an old town.

I didn’t realize until I did my hubby’s family tree that he was related to the first settlers of Louisiana. They migrated from the New Orleans area, northward until they finally settled in a very rich fertile farmland. Most anything will grow here. We’re still picking oranges off of our trees.

But each small town also has its food preferences. Living in Louisiana means eating well. Recipes are shared between families, in community cookbooks, at church functions, and social functions. There are still some items that I refuse to eat, such as blood sausage. Yuck. But the hubby loves it. I have assisted in helping make it, and I guess that’s one reason I won’t eat it. I have tried to make a modified hog’s head cheese, which is the tidbits of meat from the skull of the hog. I cheated and used pork meat not from the head. If you want to try it, here is a good recipe.

Then there are cracklings…oh, they are good. Part pork skin with fat and meat, it’s deep fried until it turns a dark brown and the fat is cooked out. Crunchy and delicious.

So, when I write my books set in Boggy Bayou, I try to include the food that we do eat on a regular basis. To me there is nothing worse than going to another town in the U.S. and have ‘Cajun Breakfast’ on the menu and there are hash browns offered. Hello…it better be grits if it’s Cajun. Hash browns are served in restaurant chains such as International House of Pancakes or Waffle House, but the local diners have grits.

When I went up to Washington State many years ago for my Granny’s funeral, my aunt took me to a ‘Sausage Feed’ the next day. I’d never heard of that, so was very interested. As a kid when I lived with my Granny, I remember the Flapjack Breakfast from a real chuck wagon on the Main Street, but never a sausage feed. What it was, was a sit-down dinner with browned sausage links, boiled potatoes, lots of different vegetable dishes served family style. As it was set in a high school, everyone sat with their group and strangers. It was quite interesting. But I wouldn’t use it in Boggy Bayou. It wouldn’t ring true.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my take on small towns and the food that they serve. I’m sure your small town has its favorite recipes as well, something I most likely have never tasted. Tell us about it.

I did create a wonderful recipe for White Chocolate Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Sauce that is to die for…men love it!  Even the grandson asked for the recipe. You can get it here: 

That recipe is featured in Naomi’s Heart…

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Cooking and Writing – How Are They Alike?

The other day, a friend and I were discussing dinner. After I told her what I was preparing that night for dinner, she said, “You should think of writing a cookbook.”

Well, I laughed. When people ask for a recipe, it takes a while to measure ingredients as I prepare whatever dish they’ve asked for. Then, I hope and pray their dish turns out.

Most everything I cook is done naturally. I throw everything together without thought. I don’t do recipes well unless it’s a baked item. Exact ingredients and measuring is crucial to the outcome. Still substitutions, such as apple sauce for oil, a sugar substitute for sugar and in some instances, wheat flour for white flour works beautifully.

Since my husband is a heart patient and we’re both diabetic, preparation for any meal is quite a challenge. Oil, sugar, and starches are three of the most troublesome items to deal with. But I manage to work around all of it with a bit of switching ingredients.

Not all dishes turn out perfectly and usually require a couple of times, or more, to get it right. I keep at it until the dishes are palatable.

Cooking reminds me of writing. While we prepare our characters for inclusion into our stories, substitutions, changes must be made. There are times a name, age, location and other factors, simply don’t fit the storyline. That’s when we roll up our sleeves and adjust where needed.

While we’re at it, we add in emotion, scents, touch, feeling, etc. Those elements enhance characterization, and the storyline. As a reader, as well as a writer, a book filled with more than salt and pepper, holds my attention and keeps me turning pages.

So break out the spice jars! Enjoy cooking, writing and reading.

A Smoky Mountain Christmas Wedding – Book Two, coming soon.

My books are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Diesel, Apple and Smashwords.You can find links on my website for all My Books.

http://caroldevaney.weebly.com/my-books.html

Scents and Fragrances

Unusual Christmas Bestseller MAuthors often specify a fragrance to ground the reader in a scene. During love scenes, the hero inhales with pleasure the perfume of his leading lady, and the heroine swoons at the masculine scent of her hunk. Hmm, forgive the purple prose, please.

That fresh scent that puts a smile on your face every time you breathe it in reveals plenty about the type of person you are. According to Dr. Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Research Foundation in Chicago, “The area of the brain that’s used to process smells is actually part of the emotional center.”

What’s your favorite scent?

Lavender: You’re thoughtful.
It could be a subconscious desire for serenity that attracts 220px-Single_lavendar_flower02you to this perfumed scent. You need tranquility. Because of your reserved, kind nature, you prefer small gatherings and you know how to listen.

 

 

 

 

Coffee: You’re fun to be around. main-slider-january-2015-roasters-blend

The smell of coffee alone is enough to provide a boost of energy. If you love this aroma, your enthusiasm for life and willingness to dive into new experiences is infectious. Everyone loves your company.

Green grass: You’re so caring. The subtle scent of fresh green grass induces nostalgia. If you’re drawn to this scent, it’s likely because it brings back happy memories of childhood times You’re so warm people are drawn to you because you take their feelings into consideration.

Citrus: You’re outspoken. The sharp acidic scent of citrus can increase excitement. This lemon_tree_8appeals to your candid nature. You’re not afraid to share your opinions. Your friends love you because you bring elements of fun into their lives.

Lilac: You’re an optimist. The sweet scent of lilac appeals to the romantic in you. You’re emotional and you love passionately. Because you’re so sure things will work out, you’re Royal_Botanical_Gardens_Lilac_Celebrationalways open to new possibilities. You make people believe you can do anything.

So play the game and tell us which fragrance you prefer. And choose scents for your hero and heroine.

 

 

Announcing a new Valentine box on pre-order to be released on February 10, 2015.Final+Book+Cover

Hearts and Kisses: 12 Contemporary Valentine Novels and Novellas Boxed Set

Is romance in the male thriller dead?

I like to read. In fact, I’ll read just about anything that enhances my life in some way. As I’ve grown older, I don’t always finish what I start, but that’s because there are so many good books – fiction and non-fiction – available now.

Ulf Andersen Portraits - Robert Ludlum

I’ve loved male thrillers since I was a teenager. Ludlum, mostly then. John Sandford, James Lee Burke, and C.J. Box mostly now.

CJBox

John Sanford’s, Virgil Flowers novels, are some of my favorites. They are easy to read, funny, and I like a bit of vicarious violence now and again. I can also finish them in a sitting or two; which is a tremendous plus.

JohnSandford

Virgil Flowers is an interesting guy. He’s young-ish, smart, funny, and likes to fish when he needs to work out whodunnit, and why. Sandford’s books take place in Minnesota which is near and dear to my Wisconsinite heart, so that’s a plus as well.

Sanford describes Virgil, or more pointedly has a female character describe him, as a good looking, blond, surfer-esque dude, prone to wearing indie band t-shirts, cowboy boots, and jeans. He does not look like the cop he is, much less, like the uber-cop he turns out to be. He’s “sociable”. We know this because Sandford tells us so, well that and the fact that Virgil has been married three times in somewhat rapid succession – and one assumes, divorced three times nearly as quickly.

Now, though, he’s sworn off marriage.

Which brings me around to my point. Sex in male thrillers is a far different thing than it is in romance or in adventure literature. It doesn’t seem to mean much, not that it always has to, but once in a while a meaningful connection could be had.

I like Virgil Flowers.

I like the t-shirts and the boots and the fact that he rarely knows where his gun is. I like his ease with women. I don’t like that the depth of his romantic interludes reads like a high school jock getting off between quarters of a football game while patting himself on the back for his performance. He usually has sex in each novel – often several times in a row – but they are short, quick scenes where prowess is never in question, and neither is his heart. Not really. There’s no real opening up of himself. This I don’t get. That said, I’ll read every one of John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers novels with a smile, living in perpetual hope that at some point he’ll share his heart.

LeeChild

I’ve read most of the 19 “Reacher” novels, by Lee Child – even though he sold Tom Cruise the rights to portray his 6’-5” hero. Same thing. No divorces, but no real connection to anyone Reacher sleeps with either.

Ludlum had some romantic connections in his books. Sometimes even action spurring love. The new thrillers, though, those with a common serial lead, rarely do.

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So that’s why I read them intermittently, after long stints of romantic fiction. I like the wit. I enjoy the smattering of violence and the plot twists. James Lee Burke, in particular, is a fantastic writer, as are all the others I’ve mentioned.

Still, I miss the romance. The closeness. Even the illusion that a strong male with sharp wits and an ascerbic tongue, chasing over-the-top bad guys, could manage to give his heart along the way.

How about you? Does romance play a pivotal role in your pleasure reading? Are there some male thriller writers who do romance well? Does giving your heart, even for the span of one novel, ruin the male thriller? I don’t think it does, so I’m actively reading in the hope that someone will fill the romance gap in this wonderfully fast-paced genre.

Happy Reading! May 2015 be filled with great reads and wonderful writing.

Leigh

Those Totally Awesome 1980s

While working on a Christmas novel taking place in the 1980s, I’ve had fun delving into the era of my high school years. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but a lot has changed since then. I have many fond memories of the decade – the music, the fashions, the TV shows I regularly watched, and hanging out at shopping malls or going to the movies with my friends.

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My sister, mom and me in about 1982. Note the state-of-the-art Polaroid camera.

In a time before cell phones, your only way of reaching someone when you were out was to find a pay phone, and when you got together with people you actually had to talk to them! The internet was beyond our imaginations; research required a trip to the library (using the card catalog to find books). I remember when automatic banking machines came out. I couldn’t believe it was possible to walk up to a machine on the corner and take out money! I saved my money to buy vinyl records and transferred them to cassettes for listening on the go with my Walkman. Rather than use up the batteries rewinding the cassettes, I’d slip a pen into one of the spools and spin the cassette around until it was rewound.

My favourite shows: Simon & Simon, Magnum PI, MacGyver, Greatest American Hero, The Dukes of Hazzard, Love Boat, Family Ties, Facts of Life, The Cosby Show … and too many others to list.

Moves: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to the Future, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Tootsie, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters

Music: Duran Duran, Crowded House, Glass Tiger, Adam Ant, Tears for Fears, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Michael Jackson, Wham, Prince, Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer … and so many more.

Fashion: jean jacket with batwing sleeves, long blouses and sweaters worn over stirrup pants, acid-wash jeans (and a purse to match), boat shoes, chunky earrings, V-belts, and of course my hair in an enormous perm!

Do you have any special memories of the 1980s?

May I Have Your Autograph by Joan Reeves

LuvU4Ever by Joan ReevesA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I received the autograph book shown below as a birthday present from my mom. I can remember taking it with me everywhere I went.

I collected “autographs” from my teacher in second grade, our neighbors, my parents, my mom’s friends, and my brothers. I was particularly thrilled with the autographs from the teenage girls who lived near us. I thought those girls were so beautiful, and I wanted to look like them when I grew up.

Fast Forward

Little did I know that a few decades later, those girls’ autographs would inspire me as a writer. In fact, I hadn’t thought about the autograph book in years. When my mom passed in 2010, I had to clean out her house. I packed boxes of books and papers and took them home with me. I planned to go through them later— when I could manage notJoan's Childhood Autograph Book to cry.

Later turned out to be last year. We’d sold our home too fast and ended up having to store everything while we waited for remodeling to be completed on the Houston townhouse we’d bought. Christmas of 2014, we moved everything into the new house. A year ago, I began unpacking. That’s when I came across all of my childhood mementos including the autograph book.

Inspiration Strikes

One of the autographs that inspired me.

One of the autographs that inspired me.

When I read the autographs from those teenage girls, my imagination took over. Both had written sentiments like this:

2 Sweet2B4Gotten and Sweet4Ever

In my mind’s eye, I could see a couple of kids, desperately in love. A boy in a letter jacket, leaning against a locker, and drawing a heart on the back of his girlfriend’s hand. I imagined him writing, LuvU4Ever.

Story Wrote Itself

The autograph book from my childhood inspired not just 1 short story, but an entire series: A Moment in Time.

LuvU4Ever is the first romance short story in the series.

David and Noelle fell in love when they were eighteen. They promised to love each other forever. Now, it’s 10 years later, and Noelle is heartbroken because she thinks she’s lost David.

About LuvU4Ever

LuvU4Ever, that’s what David had engraved on the plain gold heart he gave Noelle when he proposed.

Can 9 little words destroy a Forever love?

I told you NEVER to call me at home.

Noelle faces the biggest decision of her life. Will she stay? Will she dish out some payback? Or will she just walk away?

I love this story and hope you’ll like it too. Want to watch the video book trailer? It’s getting a lot of views so it must be hitting some hot buttons. Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/P1WCB2yE04k (I’d be ecstatic if you’d click LIKE and Subscribe to my YouTube Channel.)

LuvU4Ever, at These Ebook Sellers: All Romance eBooks * Amazon Kindle * Kobo * Nook * Smashwords.

Final Note

I didn’t think autograph books were still sold, but I was surprised to find several available on Amazon. Most have Disney characters on them, but I found a few autograph books that resemble the one I received long ago.

Post Script

Bestselling eBook author Joan Reeves makes her home in the Lone Star State with her hero, her husband. She lives the philosophy that is the premise of her romance novels: “It’s never too late to live happily ever after.”

Visit Joan online: Blog * Website. Sign up for Joan’s free newsletter for readers or her free newsletter for writers.

New Year’s Resolutions vs Goals

I used to do the whole New Year’s resolutions thing, and I failed miserably. Invariably they involved losing weight, giving up bad habits, exercising more. I’d be good for maybe the first week, and then it would all fall by the wayside.

This year, I’m trying something new and so far it seems to be working. I’ve set goals for myself that don’t have to do with how I look or how I eat–though we’ve been working toward a healthier way of eating for the past couple of years. These goals involve what I hope to accomplish. They’re about writing, about getting organized, about getting my life together.

Writing–my goal this year is to write every day. Even when I don’t want to, even when the words don’t want to come, even when life interferes. I didn’t set a word goal, just the goal to write something. Every single day.

Getting organized–my goal is to do something every day. Accomplish something. Clean out a drawer, a closet, a box, a file. Get rid of some clutter. File receipts. Doesn’t really matter what, so long as I do something.

Getting my life together–this one is harder. I don’t know exactly what it is that is out of kilter, just that something is. So I’m exploring options. Education, a new job with insurance benefits, making moves toward a dream of getting an RV and traveling part of the year. I’ve sent out resumes, looked into online advanced degree programs, joined some full-time RV groups to glean ideas, and started a planning notebook. Maybe I won’t get my life together this year, but I will make progress.

A few other things I’ve done this year is cut back expenses to the bare bones. The only time I’ve left my house all month is to go to the grocery store, where I buy only what I need to fix the meals I’ve planned for the next two weeks. I shop the outside aisles, only venturing into the dangerous inner aisles when I need a specific item on my list. So far I’ve slashed the grocery bill in half by not aimlessly wandering the aisles. We haven’t spent a dime on eating out, haven’t wasted money on a movie, haven’t gone shopping for non-food items.

I know I can’t sustain this frugal existence for the whole year. I have a son getting married this year, I have to go visit my mom in Colorado because she’s at the point where she can’t come to us, and there are birthdays and grandkid events we’ll need to attend. But right now I still have the same gas in my tank that I started the year with, and I’m pretty happy about that.

I’ve passed up a great deal on two leather recliners because now is not the best time to spend money I don’t have to spend. I’ve passed up a great deal on flannel sheets because the ones we have are good enough. Not great, but enough for this season. I’ve passed up great deals on laptops because mine hasn’t quit yet. If it does, I’m in trouble, but I’m hoping it will get me through another year.

If I’d started this 40 years ago, we’d be in a lot better shape than we are now. Like they say, hindsight is 20-20, and I didn’t have the ability in my 20’s to look ahead and see what I would need when I was 60, what I would wish I’d done when I was younger. But what about you? If you’re under 40, start now and look ahead. Do what you can now to prepare for the days ahead when you won’t have the strength, the finances, the mental clarity to do the things you want to do. Get your life together while you can.

I think that’s one reason I tend to write heroines who know what they want and go after it. I never knew what I wanted as a teenager or young adult. I wandered through life aimlessly, like I used to do at the grocery store, and it’s cost me. I don’t want to be that way anymore, so I’m trying to live my life with purpose, making it happen rather than letting it happen.

My book sales started plummeting a couple of months ago, and for a while I let it happen, blaming the Amazon KU program, the lack of a new book release, etc. Then I decided to put Blame it on Texas up for free on Amazon. It’s the first book in the seven-book Lone Star Cowboys series. I was nervous, worried about losing the income from one of my biggest selling books. But I wasn’t going to let life happen anymore. If I wanted more sales, I had to make it happen.

It worked. My sales are back up to normal levels, I have 14 great new reviews and some new fans, and sales of subsequent books in the series are increasing every day.

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Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Set Goals? How is it working out for you so far?

 

 

A Chapter Share

Hey writer friends,

This is an open invitation to share your first chapter. In the comments, please leave a link to a place where you have your first, or favorite, chapter online. If you’d like, leave a buy link and a cover image as well.

I’ll start the game. Here’s the first chapter of Love at the Apple Blossom Inn. It’s the story of a rock star fresh from rehab hiding in a tiny town. He falls in love with the local librarian. She falls for him, too, completely unaware of the drama that awaits her when she, and the rest of the world, discovers that the man she loves is not who he was pretending to be.

apple blossum in copy 2 Buy now: http://amzn.to/1DzHzYf

CHAPTER ONE

Derrick wanted to stand up and walk away from the girl leaning on his chest. She smelled of wine and her product-stiff hair tickled his chin. But when a waiter placed another drink in front of him, he picked up the glass. Even as his head told him he had had enough, his throat burned in anticipation. The cold glass felt good in his hand.

His gaze wandered around the room, taking in the hot-tarts as phony as their perky breasts, the guys, a few almost as plastered as himself, and rare breed that defied gender generalization.

Techno music blasted through the smoky air. He hated techno music, thought it sounded like a rumbly stomach felt. But it didn’t give him a stomach ache. It made his head hurt. And his heart. It also made him sad, because it was like music from a machine—not a person. Someone once told him that he would like it if he were drunk, but that person didn’t know shiest, because he was almost always drunk and he still hated techno music.

He glanced at the girl smiling up at him. Her features swam, and he couldn’t focus. Straight teeth? Brown eyes? Did he know her? She looked like Jen Lopez, and he’d always been blonde hound. Goose-bumps pimpled her arms. Weird. He was hot, and she was cold.

He pushed away from her, and swayed on his feet.

“Where you going, baby?” the Jen-girl slurred.

Derrick held up his finger, shushing her, and made his way through the crowded bar to the DJ behind the glass. He knocked until the moron wearing the headphones looked at him. Derrick slid his finger across his throat.

The DJ narrowed his eyes at him, before catching a glance at the manager, dressed in black and hiding near the bar. The manager gave a small nod.

The squeaky, thumping sounds stopped. No one other than Derrick seemed to notice, but he sighed in relief and let the tension between his shoulders ease. Unsure of what to do next, he stumbled onto the small stage, sat at the piano and played.

A hush fell over the room as he sang an old Irish ballad.

The soft winds sing across the sea,

While here I sit all alone and cold.

Rapt in the rays of memory,

That flash from Golden days of old,

For oh, the oceans murmuring tune,

Speaks to my bosom of a time,

When life was as a harvest moon,

Or warbling of a sylvan rhyme.

The piano could never replace a fiddle, but since it was better than the techno-shiest, he continued until the Jen-girl put her hand on his shoulder.

“Baby, that song’s depressing,” she whined.

But Derrick ignored her and continued singing the song he remembered his grandfather singing.

“Whose eyes like Saint’s from sculptured niche,

Look into mine for evermore

Full voices ‘mid the garden flowers,

To soothe and sanctify the day,

These once were mine but frozen hours,

Have stolen them all to depts away”

“Let’s go, baby,” the Jen-girl said, pressing against him. “There’s a party at Mac’s in Brentwood.”

He lifted his fingers and a few of the half-sober people in the room booed, begging him to stay and play. Standing, he gave the crowd a smile and a half bow.

Brentwood. He lived in Brentwood. Maybe someone could drop him off, because even though he didn’t know the girl on his arm, or where he was, or what day it was, he did know he didn’t belong a wheelbarrow, let alone a steering wheel. He had drowned out the driver in him drinks ago. Killed him with a shot glass, which, as it turns out, can be as lethal as a shot gun. The Jen Lopez girl took his hand and led him out the door.

A car with leather seats that smelled of cigarettes and fried food careened down a canyon road. Derrick let the car’s swaying control his movements. It occurred to him that they weren’t heading for Brentwood, after all. Somehow they had left the city. Derrick didn’t recognize the guy in the driver’s seat, but he did know that whoever he was, he probably wasn’t any more sober than himself.

Rocking with each hair-pin turn, Derrick thought about death without fear or sadness. The alcohol and drugs had muted any panic, and he found he could consider his life from a spectator’s perspective. Curious. At that moment, he didn’t care whether he lived or died. He didn’t even have the emotional energy to muster a slow down or a hey, let’s call a taxi. It was almost as if he was already dead.

#

In the upper room of the Rhyme’s Library, the children sat transfixed as Janey read from The Velveteen Rabbit. The light from the window shone upon their rapt and upturned faces. Most sat cross legged on the rag rug, some leaned against their mothers, a couple fidgeted, unable to sit still, but there was a hush in the room as Janey read.

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

 “’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’”

Janey came to the end of Margery Williams’ story and slowly closed the book. The children began to reluctantly stir.

“Miss Janey,” Henry chirped, his blue eyes gazing at her from under a lock of shockingly white hair. “Do you think toys can really die?”

“Not really, do you?” Janey stretched out her legs and wiggled her toes. She loved story-hour, and she was okay sitting on the floor with the kids, but somehow when she read, she would forget to move and her legs or feet would fall asleep. She thought it an okay occupational hazard to have.

Henry’s forehead crinkled as he thought.

“Maybe when toys die, they become zombies,” Brock said, as he pushed his glasses further up onto his nose.

Janey smiled. “I don’t think toys die, and I’m pretty sure they don’t become zombies.”

“But how can you know?” Brock stood up and straightened his shoulders, reminding Janey that Brock’s dad was an attorney. She wondered if a love for a good argument could be inherited.

“I’ve never seen a toy zombie, have you?” Janey stood and held the book to her chest. She loved lots of stories, but the Velveteen Rabbit was her favorite.

“Have you ever seen Jesus?” Brock asked.

“Hum, no,” Janey said.

“Do you believe in Jesus?”

Janey put her hand to her forehead. “What does Jesus have to do with toy zombies?” she asked, but she could guess where this line of questioning was headed.

“Just because you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean that it’s not real,” Brock told her.

“Right.” Janey looked around at the children staring at her with big, questioning eyes and worried about what they would say when they got home. Someone would tattle, and Janey knew the Friends of the Library would be talking about the Jesus and toy zombie debate if she didn’t change the subject soon.

Downstairs, someone screamed.

Now what? Janey wondered. As far as Janey knew, no one had screamed in the Rhyme Library since Charlotte Rhyme had been found dead in the basement last year.

Footsteps pounded up the stairs.

Emma, a volunteer, looking wild-eyed and grief stricken, motioned for her little sister, Gabby. “Let’s go.”

“Emma,” Janey said, using her hushed librarian tone, “what’s going on? Who’s screaming?”

“Jessie and Amber.” Emma twisted a lock of her dark curls around her finger, something she often did when stressed about the mis-filing of books, or a computer break-down. “They just heard about Derrick Cordell.” Emma’s voice cracked and her eyes welled with unshed tears.

“The singer?” Janey didn’t follow Derrick Cordell’s career, but she would have to be living in a cave in the hindermost part of the world—which, of course, some people argued was exactly where Rose Arbor was— to not to have heard of the heart-throb.

Emma nodded and choked back a sob. Tears spilled down her face. “He’s dead.”

Henry turned to Janey. “Will he be a zombie, too?”

Janey put her hand on top of Henry’s brown curls. “I hope not,” she said.

#

3 Months Later

Eric Roudel sat on the edge of his bed gazing out at the Caribbean Sea. The sun glistened on the white sand. The trade winds blew through the window, ruffling the white curtains. Someone somewhere played reggae on a xylophone.

He had grown to hate the tediously, gloriously sunny weather. It was like that Clap Along Get Happy Song forever sounding over the airwaves. He wanted dark, brooding music. He longed for a riotous thunder storm. He wanted what he knew he could never have again.

He wanted to go home.

Standing, he faced north. Even if he stayed dry for decades, he couldn’t go back to Rosslare Harbour. According to his therapist, if he wanted to maintain his fragile sobriety, he needed to avoid alcohol. Forever. And trying to avoid whiskey in Ireland was like trying to avoid a Kardashian on TMZ.

He longed for the sharp, bone-chilling damp, the crash of waves, and the craggy shore. The calm, unruffled Caribbean endless blue was like an ocean on Prozac. Sure, the ocean was the ocean, but the Caribbean Sea was as unlike the wild Atlantic as a toy poodle was to a Doberman.

Rap, rap, rap.

“Come in,” Eric said, his gaze not leaving the window.

“Good day,” Lee said, as he pushed into the room with a tray full of food. “I see you’re wearing pants. Must be a good day. Got something special planned?”

Eric grunted and eyed the food. Sometimes he felt so much like a caged animal, like a parrot in a beautiful aviary that he resorted to guttural noises. Sitting at the table, he considered the grapefruit halves, the oatmeal topped with berries, and the turkey sausage links. Even this healthy breakfast should have made him put on weight, but Eric, already emaciated by his substance abuse, didn’t gain a pound. He had always seemed to float above the common problems plaguing everyone else. His life, overall, had been as sunny and easy as the Caribbean Sea.

So why had he destroyed it?

Why couldn’t he be as happy as Lee? Lee wore the same thing every day: a pair of cargo shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, flip flops, a red string tying back his dreadlocks, and a smile.

It had taken Eric months to get used to eating three meals. Breakfast had always, until recently, made his stomach roll. When he had first arrived, he had flushed most of his breakfast down the toilet as soon as Lee left the room, rationalizing that that was the foods ultimate destination anyway. He was merely expediting the process. But Lee must have become suspicious, because he had since found a reason to stay until Eric finished his meals.

After setting the tray down, Lee settled into the chair in the corner, and propped his feet up on the ottoman. He generally liked to talk about his girlfriend, Marla, and today he announced, “Marla and I are done.”

So, maybe Lee wasn’t as happy as Eric had thought. “I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”

Lee used a few colorful words to describe Marla.

“Then I guess you could come with me.”

“Where you going?” Lee asked, faking an interest.

Eric knew Lee would never leave Marla. He might curse her, but he would never leave her.

“I’m not sure yet,” Eric said before he spooned oatmeal in his mouth.

“Then why would I join you?”

Eric swallowed a slug of orange juice before he said, “I’m giving you an out.”

Lee chuckled. “Your last way out landed you here. So, no thank you, sir. I be guessing I a’staying here. You should, too. This is a nice place.”

With a very nice price tag. But Eric knew that Lee didn’t expect him to stay on the island forever. “When you going to get me a guitar?”

Lee shrugged, reminding Eric that even though no one considered him a suicide risk, the center had strict “health and safety” policies. “If I wanted to off myself, don’t you think I would have been successful before now? Besides—who wants to die by way of a guitar string? If I wanted to, I’d drown myself. There’s plenty of water.”

Lee raised a bushy eyebrow. “But you already tried that. That’s why you’re here.”

“Different type of water,” Eric mumbled.

“Anything is deadly if you take it the wrong way,” Lee said.

Eric wiped his mouth and set down his napkin. “I’m serious, Lee. Why don’t you come with me?”

“Nah. You got to go and make yourself a new life.”

“I’ve got nothing.”

How many people had to scrap their old life and make a new one at only thirty? At his tri-life crisis, he had nothing to show for all his living.

“Now, Mr. Roudel, how be saying that? You know that’s not true.”

A voice in his head reminded him of the millions in the Caribbean banks, his sixteen thousand square foot Brentwood mansion, (what had he been thinking? He must have been drunk when he bought that mausoleum,) and his Tesla. Where had he left the car? Was it still in the garage? Shiest, good thing he didn’t own a cat.

“I don’t have a Marla.”

Lee burst out laughing. “You don’t want my Marla. She’s too fat for you.”

Eric bent over his breakfast. “If that’s what you think, she’s not good enough for you, and I’m going to tell her to whip your skinny—”

Footsteps pounded into the room, and Leslie burst through the door. Her dark hair looked while and her olive skin was pink and flushed. She paused to catch her breath before she said, “Mr. Cordell, you got to go!”

Lee bounced to his feet. “Who knows?”

Leslie pushed her hair off her face. “Everyone knows.”

“How?” Lee and Eric demanded at the same time.

“It doesn’t matter,” Eric threw down his napkin and climbed to his feet. “I knew I couldn’t hide out here forever. We all knew this day would come.”

“No,” Lee said, his voice turning steely. “You are not going back to your old life.”

“Then where do you suggest I go? I can’t go back to Ireland. I don’t want to go back to L.A.”

“Right now, you can hide out at Marla’s.” Lee stood and took hold of Eric’s arm. “Three months ago, you were as good as dead. That ain’t happening again. Not while I’m breathing.”

#

“It’s like Elvis sightings,” Janey told Emma as they worked together shelving books. “Everyone thinks they’ve spotted him. Next thing we know, they’ll be finding Eric Cordell’s face on potatoes.”

“It’s not like Elvis, at all. They’ve proven the…” Emma choked up, and then cleared her throat, “the body they thought was his, isn’t.”

“Because of the teeth?” Janey asked.

“That, and other things,” Emma said, her face stony.

Janey touched Emma’s arm. “I hope he is alive, but if he is—where is he?”

Emma sniffed and looked up at the ceiling. “I think if he was dead, I would know it.”

“Really?” Janey studied Emma. They were only five years apart, but sometimes she felt like Emma’s grandmother. Janey bit back a sigh. In some ways, living with an alcoholic mother had made her grow up too fast. But in other ways, it was like she was trapped in her childhood home, because she had to look out for her baby brother. When she had graduated from school she’d been offered a scholarship to Western Washington University, but the thought of leaving Noah alone with her mom kept her Rose Arbor.

Emma interrupted her thoughts. “We share a spiritual connection.”

Janey loved Emma. No matter how dark her thoughts, Emma always managed to make her smile. “Does Matt know?”

Emma tossed her dark curls over her shoulder. “Why would Matt care?”

Janey stopped fighting her smile. “I think he would like to know.”

“I don’t care what Matt thinks.” Emma deliberately shifted her attention to the books on the cart.

“What I think about what?” Matt stepped out from behind a shelf, and tucked his earbuds in his pocket.

Emma flushed an interesting shade of pink. Janey envied Emma’s coloring—it was so dramatic and changed so rapidly. Janey, on the other hand, was blonde, pale and about as interesting as vanilla.

“About Derrick Cordell,” Janey said.

“That pretty boy?” Matt scoffed, and straightened his spine so he stood taller.

“You got something against pretty?” Emma asked.

“I like pretty women, not boys,” Matt said.

“Good to know,” Janey muttered.

Matt ignored her. “You need a ride home?” he asked Emma. “I brought my dad’s bike.” He showed her the helmet he had tucked behind his back. “I brought this for you.”

Emma’s cheeks flushed again.

Janey wanted to ask if Mr. Harnett knew Matt had his bike, but she bit her lip and went back to shelving books. She might feel like a grandma, but she didn’t need to act like one. “We’re almost done here,” she told Emma. “You should go.”

“Are you sure?” Emma asked, glancing around at the empty, but practically immaculate library.

“Absolutely,” Janey said. “I can finish here on my own.”

After locking up the library, Janey climbed in her truck and offered a silent prayer that it could take her home. The Toyota coughed a few times before roaring to life, and Janey sighed in relief as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed west.

Minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot of the Apple Inn. She loved the inn, she always had, even when it had been an old and abandoned ramshackle, Janey had loved coming there as a little girl. Even now after all these months, it was hard to believe that she got to live in it. So what if she got the attic room without air-conditioning or central air? She used a fan in the summer, and a space heater in the winter, and every day she got to walk through the cranberry red front doors like she owned the place.

Janey let herself in, and the bell chimed a welcome.

Victoria hustled through the spacious hall, wiping her hands on her apron. Most of her dark, curly hair had escaped its hair pins and it looked almost as frantic as Victoria’s face. “Oh, heavens, Janey, I’m so glad you’re home!” She dropped her voice to a whisper and motioned for Janey to follow her into the kitchen. “We’ve got cranksters staying! They were supposed to be in the Golden Delicious, but I had to move them out to the Granny Smith cottage because they didn’t like the birds in the trees outside their windows.”

Janey passed through the large kitchen and headed for the mud room where she hung up her coat on a hook beside a collection of aprons and traded her shoes for a pair of slippers she kept underneath a bench. “And there aren’t birds in the trees next to the cottage?”

“Well, of course there are! But I didn’t know what else to do!” Victoria rolled her eyes and went back to her rolling pin on the spacious butcher block counter. “They seem happy…well, at least not as cranky…there.” She covered her hands in butter and shaped the dough into a large circle.

Janey collected a paring knife, a cutting board and sat down at the table in front of a big bowl of apples. “Don’t we have someone renting the cottage?”

Victoria sighed and sprinkled brown sugar, allspice and cinnamon over the dough. “He’ll get here tomorrow.”

Janey peeled, cored and chopped apples. “And when do the cranksters leave?”

“Not soon enough.”

Janey nodded, understanding. “You want me to make up the Gala?”

“Or the Pink Lady? No wait—it’s just a man, staying alone.”

“Definitely not the Pink Lady, then.” Janey took her apple bits and dumped them on top of Victoria’s dough.

Victoria rolled the dough, forming an apple, cinnamon roll that, come morning, would warm the hearts of even the crankiest, crankster. “I don’t know what I would do without you,” Victoria said.

“You would hire someone else.” Janey leaned over the kissed the older woman’s cheek. “But I don’t know where I would be without you.”

#

With his hair dyed black and a UW baseball cap on his head, Eric pulled into the stadium’s crowded parking lot. He adjusted his glasses, and gave himself another critical glance in the rearview mirror before climbing out of his rented Subaru. All around him, other peoples’ families and friends milled. A few had portable barbecues set up, and the smell of roasting meat mingled with the sharp tangy odor of beer. He braced himself.

He could do this.

He had chosen Seattle for a number of reasons—the music, the vibe, the gloomy weather that matched his mood—but mostly because it reminded him of Ireland. Finding Rose Arbor on a map had been just a fluke, but he hoped a providential one, since he intended to make it his home. He knew that Rose Arbor could never replace his village, Rosslare Harbour, but since he couldn’t go home, he hoped to find a next best thing.

Eric tucked his hands into the pockets of his Levi jeans and made his way to the entrance. No one noticed him. The crowd in the stadium surged around him, reminding him that it really was much easier to get lost, and feel lonely, in a crowd than on an almost deserted island.

#

Janey pulled her battered Toyota pickup truck into the Husky Stadium parking lot. Beside her, Noah bounced in his seat, his excitement rolling off of him, making Janey smile.

“We’re going to get Husky-dogs, right? Uncle Ted promised me Husky-dogs.” Noah thought for a moment. “But did he give you money for lunch? Because if he didn’t, that’s okay.”

Janey checked her wallet for the tickets and cash. “No…he gave me money.” Which wasn’t true, but she knew from her own experience that Uncle Ted regularly made promises he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep. Noah would learn that disappointing lesson soon enough. He didn’t need to learn it on his birthday. At least Ted had given her the tickets.

As Noah hustled out the door, Janey disconnected her phone from the power cord. Before leaving home, Janey had downloaded her homework. She didn’t want to study per se during the game, but maybe when Noah wasn’t looking she could catch up on her reading for her online accounting class. She tucked her phone into her bag and followed Noah to the entrance.

Noah held onto her hand, and jumped more than walked up the concrete concourse. Janey glanced at the tickets—the seats on the fiftieth yard line made her happy and mad. Happy, because she knew that Noah would be thrilled, but mad, because she knew that the seats were outrageously expensive and Noah could have used the money for much more important things…like milk, socks, or underwear.

But knowing that Noah would gladly trade-in, or abandon altogether, his underwear for a chance to see the Huskies up-close and personal, Janey steered Noah to their seats.

“Can we get the Huskydogs now?” Noah asked.

“Now? You can’t be hungry. I just watched you eat five bowls of Captain Crunch!” Janey doubled checked the row numbers as they descended closer to the field where the cheerleaders shook their sparkly pompoms. “We’ll get the dogs at half time.”

“Before half time!” Noah shouted over his shoulder to be heard over the band. “If we wait until half time, then there will be a long line and they might run out.”

Janey put her hand on Noah’s shoulder to keep him from bumping into a man carrying a baby dressed in a dog suit. “I don’t think they’ll run out.”

“But there’s so many people here, they might, right? So, we need to get them before half time.”

Janey pointed at their seats in front of a couple of gray-haired men, and a woman with knitting needles and a ball of yarn. A family with several children who looked younger than Noah sat in front of them, and a group of students were beside them. The students wore purple Husky shirts and hats and seemed to shuffle seats a lot. Janey hoped they would be louder and noisier than Noah, because she worried about him bothering the senior citizens and the lady-knitter.

Noah wiggled in his seat, making it bounce up and down, but once the players ran on to the field, he focused. “See there, number 32. That’s Nolan Keener. He’s the first string quarter back.”

“Huh, huh.” Janey’s gaze followed Noah’ finger.

“And that guy, number 25, he’s the running back.”

Janey smiled as if she cared.

Beside her, one of the students chuckled.

A whistle blew, a horn blasted, and a Husky kicked the ball.

“Ugh!” Noah groaned with the crowd when the ball landed near the 30 yard line.

Janey nodded, tried to look somber, and tucked her hands in her pockets. Her fingers closed around her phone. Her thumb sought out the on button. While the teams faced off, Janey took a quick glance at her taxation preparation homework.

“First down!” Noah groaned.

Janey looked up, sent Noah and conciliatory smile, and went back to her phone.

The student beside her chuckled again.

Janey shot him a quick glance that turned into a stare. He looked slightly older than the other students, and oddly familiar. His blue eyes gazed back at her through dark rimmed glasses. His jet black hair didn’t match his skin, and while it wasn’t so unusual for a guy to dye his hair, it seemed off with this guy. He wore a purple University of Washington sweatshirt that looked way too big for him, no name jeans, and a pair of Ranger boots. Guys that died their hair black typically dressed Goth, or Emo. This guy didn’t fit a stereo-type. In fact, taking note of the wrinkles around his tired eyes, she wasn’t even sure he was a student.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. You just…” Janey stuttered, “look weirdly familiar somehow.”

The guy’s face turned white and his hand trembled. “We haven’t met,” he said in an accent that Janey couldn’t place. “I would have remembered.”

Janey nodded, smiling. “You probably just look like someone on TV.”

“Hey,” one of the students leaned over, “what about me? Do you think I look like someone on TV?” He batted his long eyelashes at Janey, grinning and reminding her of a large Teddy Bear. But she couldn’t tell him that.

“Sure,” Noah said, “you look just like a wesen from Grimm.”

“What?” the student sputtered. “Well, you look like—”

The insult was lost in the crowd’s roar.

“Interception!” Noah yelled. He climbed onto his seat so he could see over the people standing in front of him.

While everyone else watched the Husky’s lineman carry the ball to the ten yard line, Janey checked her phone.

The guy in the black rimmed glasses chuckled again.

Janey frowned at him.

He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “You don’t really give a rip about the Husky’s, do you?”

Janey gave Noah a quick glance, before telling the non-student to hush.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

Noah perched on the edge of his seat. “We’ll get a touch down here, or at least a field goal.”

“So, who do you think I look like?” the nonstudent asked, leaning in so that his shoulder nearly touched hers.

“I’m sorry?” Janey sat back to see his face more clearly. She realized that if he didn’t look so tired, he would be incredibly handsome.

“You said I reminded you of someone. I want to know who.”

“Really? You might not like my answer.”

“What if I told you I think you look like a younger, prettier Nicole Kidman?”

“Do you want me to reciprocate and tell you that I think you look like a young George Clooney? Or be honest, and tell you that you look like Curious George?”

The non-student seemed satisfied with this, and leaned back in his chair just as everyone around them bounced to their feet. “I don’t look like Curious George.”

“Maybe not, but you’re kind of acting like him.”

“Ouch,” he said with a grin that let her know she hadn’t hurt his feelings.

“Touch down!” Noah screamed. “I knew it! I knew Nolan could do it!”

Janey clapped along with everyone else while Noah bellowed out the Husky fight song. He knew all the words, while Janey had to read the jumbo-tron to keep up.

The nonstudent kept his lips pressed together.

“You’re not a Husky die-hard?” Janey asked when the song ended and they settled back into their seats.

He shook his head. “I’m more a Rugby guy.”

“Yeah? Then why are you here?”

“It’s really hard to find a rugby in the States.”

“Where you from?”

He bit his lip and took a long time to answer. “The Caribbean.”

“Oh yeah.” She leaned away from him. “That’s it. You look like Johnny Dep! Captain Jack Sparrow!”

He seemed pleased. “Really?”

“Sort of.” Janey shrugged. “Except your clothes aren’t so raggedy.”

“I’ll take Dep over Monkey George any day.”

Noah tugged on her hand. “Janey, do you think it’s time to get the dogs?”

“Um, sure. Do you want to come with me, or stay here?”

“Stay here!”

“Okay, but if I leave you here, you have to promise me you won’t move.”

Noah froze in place, and Janey laughed.

She turned to the guy next her. “Can you keep your eye on him?” she whispered.

He nodded. “Maybe you can read while you stand in line.”

#

“See, aren’t you glad you didn’t wait?” Noah asked thirty minutes later when the half time buzzer blew and thousands of people headed for the bathrooms and concession stands.

“You were right. Again.” Janey nodded and bit into her hotdog.

“Besides, you want to be here for the camera contests,” Noah told her.

“Camera contests?”

“Heck yeah!” He pointed at the jumbo-tron. “See, they’re doing the Rock It Out contest now.” The camera flashed to a girl in the audience who pretended to beat a set of drums with imaginary sticks. Her hair whipped around her head, moving faster than her hands.

Noah climbed on his seat and rocked out. Janey watched, silently praying he wouldn’t fall onto the senior citizens or puncture himself with to the knitting needles.

“Yeah, dude,” the Teddy Bear student said. “They’ve moved onto the kiss-cam.”

Noah’s hand froze mid-air. “Ah, gross.” He climbed off his chair and settled back into his seat. “I hate this part.”

When the camera focused on a couple, the guy grabbed the girl and bent her over backwards in a Fred Astaire sweeping kiss. The second couple had more reservations, and did little more than peck at each other. The crowd booed.

Janey snuck her phone out of her pocket. She was reading about tax exemptions when Noah nudged her. “You’re on the camera!”

Janey dropped her phone back into her pocket, just as the Teddy Bear student grabbed her and planted his beer-stained lips on hers. He grinned as he pulled away.

Janey smiled politely and looked over his shoulder to watch the man in the black rimmed glasses walk away with shaking hands.

Highway to the Danger Zone

Song by Kenny Loggins/Top Gun movie soundtrack.

Okay, now that you have that earworm firmly stuck in your head. LOL

fantasy creatureLike me, most writers are introverts. We live inside our heads in an imaginary land peopled with imaginary creatures. We live in a comfort zone we are quite content to never leave. But sometimes in life you have to step out of that comfort zone and into the Danger Zone. Whatever that Danger Zone means to you.

Years ago I was even more introverted than I am now, I know, hard to believe. 🙂 If I were posed the question: Firing Squad or Public Speaking (taking into account that public speaking was any number bigger than 3) I would have chosen the guns. Then, my son joined the Cub Scouts and wanted me to be a leader. Gulp! By the end of his time in the Scouts I was Troop Leader, Cub Master, and any other position that no one wanted. I stepped out of my shell for my son. I spoke to over 50 people for the Bridging Ceremony. Standing in front of an auditorium with all eyes on me.

Now, I need to step out of the comfy, toasty place I’ve made for myself in self-publishing and up my game. I have to put myself out there. Invisibility is a death knell for a writer. So, this month I’ll be interviewed on talk radio which is terrifying me. What if I can’t speak? What if I say something stupid? Then, I’m talking on a panel at the Silicon Valley chapter of RWA for Girl Gone Indie. Again, terrified. The only saving grace is that I am one of three speakers and I already know one of them.

Do you stay in your comfort zone? Do you step into the Danger Zone? Got any tips?!!

Thanks, Jill

Jan. 12th, 4pm PST http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hummingbirdplace
Jan. 24th, 9am-noon PST Silicon Valley RWA chapter meeting http://www.svrwa.com

My newest release, Love in the Time of Zombies is available everywhere as a pre-order.

Free in the New Year…Without the Side-Effects

blank list of resolutions on blackboardOne of the things we love to do in the New Year is make resolutions. We want to be kinder, exercise more, eat better…

Fat-Free Food

To eat better, we don’t want to get too crazy and give up life-long favs. So we head to the diet section of the grocery store and find our favorites…all sporting the word FREE.

chochipsFat Free

Sugar Free

Gluten Free

You get the idea. But if you flip the package over and read the ingredients, you might notice that in order to remove what makes something yummy, they have to add a lot of strange ingredients, some of which are worse than the original stuff. Who hasn’t eaten delicious ‘guilt-free’ chocolate…and then spent some time doubled over with stomach cramps? Sometimes free comes with a price–especially ironic when diet food costs so much more than their regular counterparts!

Is there such a thing as ‘free’ without the guilt? Absolutely. And the pastime is way more fun than dieting. I’m talking about reading, of course! 😉 When you visit blogs like Authors of Main Street, you find great reads that are often part of free promotions.

MCM med

By the way, my latest time-travel romance is now FREE, and extra-new because it has an updated cover.

Modern day Nashville and 1950s Detroit clash worse than an IKEA futon and a plaid Barcalounger when a free-spirited interior designer and a strait-laced automotive engineer find themselves in another time. TOMS-wearing Olivia Haugen and Madras-shirted Kyle Daniels have no idea why they’ve ended up in 1954 Michigan, but it’s probably not because of all the swank mid-century furnishings. Discovering the reason might have something to do with a wily salvage warehouse owner and her not-so-little shop of secrets.

Free…without the stomach cramps! Now that’s a New Year resolution I can get behind!