Garrett’s Bones – A Mystery Murder Romance

If you like Chapter One, I  will happily send you a gift for a free kindle copy of Garrett’s Bones, review optional, but would be greatly appreciated! I have 10 gifts available. Please leave your email address on the contact page on this website. 

CHAPTER ONE

Gone Missing

It would be an Indian summer in the old colonial farming community of Salmon Brook that year. I suppose it was fortunate I was blissfully unaware of what was to come. It was when the fields of the summer harvest lay bare that the unthinkable would happen. There would be the wet smell of fresh cut hay filling the air as well as the mingling aroma of tobacco fields laid bare of their crops. The large tobacco leaves would hang neatly from wooden poles to dry underneath white-sheeted tents. Tobacco, sweet and pungent, was a grown-up scent of intimacy and secret goings-on.

My best friend Garrett and I would sometimes sneak up behind the white-sheeted tents and listen. Giggles, laughter, and strange noises were familiar sounds to our ears as we listened. More than tobacco leaves nestled under the white-sheeted tents. Not far from the tobacco fields is a gnarled and very old apple orchard that looks like something out of a wicked fairy tale. Walking through its darkly gnarled wood was a rite-of-passage experience for anyone under the age of twelve. Beyond the ancient apple orchard was Canton Road. To this day, memories of Canton Road, where I grew up, float across my senses, but some memories will always be terrifying and grave.

I envision Canton Road’s tar paved darkness as it crosses over Salmon Brook, cuts through McLean’s forest preserve, wanders by old man Duncan’s farm, and the said-to-be-haunted Perry colonial homestead. Canton Road then weaves its way over-laying the swell of land occupied for ten thousand years by indigenous people like the Massaco Indians who were akin to the Algonquin tribes. Evidence of their inhabitation is still visible by those who know what to look for.

Spirit Pond is one of those places. There are still sightings by the locals of ghost warriors who drink from the cold dark waters of Spirit Pond and are not as rare a sighting as one would like to believe. Spirit Pond is a large spring fed body of water surrounded by ancient trees, tall reeds, and weeping willows. The pond’s cold dark water and deep recesses still hold untold secrets. Garrett and I wondered about those secrets. Secrets, we would soon learn, do not always stay buried. They sometimes exact a terrible vengeance on The People.  “The People”, Garrett would say, “have forgotten the sins of the past that must be accounted for.”

Garrett was, what some would call, an intuitive. Others would say he was just plain crazy. He saw and felt things that other people didn’t. I always knew that about Garrett. He was also not your average looking teenager. He had the most unusual eyes. Garrett’s irises were crystal blue, like that of a glacier lake with inky-black spherical pupils that sparkled like black diamonds. It was impossible not to be mesmerized by Garrett’s eyes. He did not look at you; he looked into you. Garrett’s striking good-looks were crowned with hair the color of a Raven’s wings and accentuated his generous smile that could tease me with secrets he alone was privy.

Garrett and I were summer born under a Cancer Moon and just as likely to retreat, as Cancer personalities often do, into the place where we felt safest, into the lush green comfort of the forest. Garrett felt welcomed in the forest because he had a difficult time at home.  Garrett and I would sometimes sit for hours under our favorite tree, reading to one another, usually a classic. We would share our favorite quotes and passages.

Garrett’s father, John Randall, died shortly before Garrett was born and not long after that, his mother, Lynn Randall married Michael Armond, my father’s brother. Perhaps, if Garrett had been born a girl, my Uncle Michael would have accepted Garrett with love, but that didn’t happen. Garrett grew up an outsider within his own home. I suppose that is why Garrett and I would often escape into the green darkness of the forest.

The beginning of summer was wet and muggy in Salmon Brook that year, unlike summers in the past when early summer was still full of spring.  Normally, the sky would be a clear crisp blue and dogwoods would still be in bloom in a wondrous profusion of pink and white, as though adorned with fairy magic. It was a discomforting fact that this year was not like any other.  It seemed to rain constantly forcing all of us to stay indoors, the last place we wanted to be.  Garrett, felt the gloom of it more than I did.

I vividly remember the last day of school that year. My classmates looked forward to a summer of fun and freedom, but that wasn’t to be.  With envy, we all agreed that the graduating class of Granby High was probably kicking up their heels and letting down their hair on the sugary white sands of a sunny Florida Beach.

One particular rainy morning, I was stuck indoors with my siblings: Ansel, Aubrey, and Alana, six, eight, and twelve years of age, respectively. My mother, Laurel Archambeau Armond, began her child naming with the first letter in the alphabet and never made it past A. The reiteration of the first letter of the alphabet was an embarrassment to me every time I had to introduce my brother and sisters. I shouldn’t have felt that way, but I did.

While my siblings sat at the kitchen table quibbling over a game of Fish, I went upstairs to my bedroom and stood at my window; the one facing my apple tree and the tarred surface of Canton Road. The dark storm clouds opened up again and poured down in heavy sheets of gray colored rain.  It rained so hard it was difficult to see the gnarled and ancient apple tree through it. Defying being drenched with rain, I opened the window and breathed in the mineral scent of it until the deluge became a soft mist in the air.

My apple tree was my muse. Even though it was too old to produce apples, its dark green foliage was still abundant and beautiful. The apple tree, planted by the Helms family in 1840, gave shade to the grave of their daughter, Abigail, who died in childhood. Any sign of the grave has long since disappeared, but the apple tree still stood. It was hard to believe my apple tree has lived for more than 120 years, but it lives.

At my window, especially on days like this, I would make up a story and because of the rain, it began like this; the rain cloaked the ancient tree where the Indian maiden, who was lost in the dense forest, had hidden herself away from the marauding pirates who were trying to kidnap her for ransom. It was a conundrum. I could not conjure up an ending. Should I save the maiden or should she succumb to the forces of human nature?

As I was pondering how to continue my story, I saw a man run under my apple tree. He stopped and looked up at me as if caught in the act of something. There was menace in his dark eyes; in fact, his eyes and physical posture had the look of something predatory. A chill went down my spine. An ancient physical response took over. My nostrils flared, my heart beat wildly and I found myself trembling.

I quickly stepped back from the window. I felt threatened. It was instinctual. I decided not to tell my mother about the man. She would think I was just exaggerating. After all, it was only a moment and no one needed to know.  There was no point in starting something because of the sudden appearance of this frightening stranger, this man. Still, I would come to regret not telling anyone, not even Garrett, what I had seen.

My father built the house on Canton Road where my family lived. Our red and white split-level home, bounded by the forest preserve and Canton Road, rested on land that held many secrets. The colonial settlement of Salmon Brook was different in a way that is difficult to explain.

Garrett believed Native Indian spirits haunted it.  I believed the ancient forest, with all its terrible secrets of the past, had finally come calling; searching for justice of ills long forgotten. On the other hand, perhaps, it was because of The People that were now encroaching on a sacred land, a land that had finally seen enough.

Whatever the cause that bore the terrible things that were to come, Garrett felt it first. It was a perceptible change I soon became aware of too. Garrett and I suspected that ghosts of the past, now displaced, would not rest peacefully until amends were made. If we could make amends to the spirits in the forest, the ill wind of misfortunate would come to an end. What those amends were likely to be, we could only speculate. It would be up to us, we thought, to atone for their unhappiness.

Their unhappiness, we speculated, was caused by the destruction of several sacred places on the edges of the forest preserve. The construction of homes and businesses into these areas was destroying the equilibrium between past and present. My father was part of this destruction and hence, the problems he was now facing.

I saw the change in my father first. It was not as though he was ever a great father, although he loved us in his own narcissistic way; it was as though something had a hold of him. He became moody, sarcastic, and I saw meanness in him that had not been there before. He started drinking more often at the Old Fount Tavern after work. He would come home later and later with the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. He would head for the sofa without saying a word to any of us and stare at the gray rain beating hard against the large picture window, until he fell asleep. My mother would often say, “Anna, Don’t disturb your father, now, he needs his rest.”

We endured the rainy days as best we could as we waited for sunny days to return and after all it was summer, time to celebrate the freedom from school. It was on that first sunny morning after breakfast when my mother called to us from her old wingback chair, where she most often sat reading one historical novel after another.

“I do not want any of you to leave the house for any reason today”, said my mother, in her most commanding voice.  Her delicate fingers and well-manicured nails, pointed her warning at us with a wave of her hand. Her finely featured face never left the page she was reading nor did she flash her Elizabeth Taylor violet eyes at us meanly.

“This means absolutely no playing outside until further notice”, she said, pointing her index finger in our direction. “Is that clear?”

We looked at each other with shocked expressions of dismay. It was obvious to me that something had gone terribly wrong. We were never told to stay in the house on a sunny day. It was too much for my mother’s nervous system to have all of us disturbing her quiet time.

Little Aubrey started to whimper. Her un-brushed blond hair fell across her petite face, hiding her bright blue eyes.  Alana, slouching as usual, shrugged her slender shoulders, picked up the deck of cards and started shuffling. She was most like our mother, tall for her age, with violet eyes and hair as dark as midnight, but that is where the resemblance ended.   Alana was not one to let much of anything bother her unless it involved her doing dishes or bed making. Ansel reacted with his mouth turned down at the corners and was about to cry.

“What kind of problem?” I asked, as I patted Ansel’s small shoulder.

Our mother raised her voice one octave, “A teenage girl, almost as old as you, Anna, has gone missing. Until they find her, everyone must stay at home. Am I understood?”

Ansel, his big brown eyes full of concern, asked a few anxious questions, “Gone missing why?  Did she get lost?”

“Now, now, Ansel, it’s okay, nothing for you to worry about”, replied my mother, with a nervous wave of her hand. “I am sure she will be found soon. We are just being careful. Doesn’t mommy always tell you how important it is to be careful?”

“Yes, mom”, was the less than happy response from Ansel, Aubrey, and Alana. Ansel stomped his feet and stormed out of the kitchen, his baby soft blond curls bouncing up and down as he flounced away.

I said nothing, and thus I would not technically be telling a lie. To tell a lie was a very bad sin in my mother’s Roman Catholic eyes. I, for one, had no intention of staying locked up in the house for one more minute. Garrett and I already had a plan, but this new development was far more interesting. He would be meeting me at our secret hideout, anyway. I was good at sneaking away. Garrett was good at sleuthing. We would make a plan and find the missing girl.

***********

Garrett and I felt sure the only place to go missing was here, in the green darkness of the forest.  Our hideout was a small Rock Fall Cave near the rocky banks of Salmon Brook, hidden behind dense bramble. The small cave formed during the last ice age when large boulders settled along the banks of the once mighty Salmon River.

Inside the Rock Fall Cave, we discovered evidence of flints, charred rocks, and pieces of animal bones. The dark peaty earth within the cave was fine as silt and smelt of God’s creations, pungent, but pleasantly so, with the warmth that forms with continuing decay.

In historic times, this cave was a convenient shelter in times of need for the native Massaco Indians who were forced to relinquish their ancestral lands in 1680. The Massaco left an indubitable mark on the land and the land remembered them. I soon came to believe that Garrett possessed knowledge about the Massaco Indian way of life as though he had actually lived it. Garrett strongly believed in the spirits of the forest. I believed in Garrett.

I managed to sneak out of the house through the laundry room window, without a sound and easily disappeared among the tall bushes bordering our back yard leading to the woodlands. The sun-dappled forest carried the scent of pungent pine needles and ripe berries.

I hurried along Salmon Brook until I reached the cave that was hidden behind dense holly bushes. Garrett was already there.

“We must ask for guidance”, Garrett said, turning to me, his eyes soulful and solemn.  “We must receive spiritual guidance from the powers that surround the sacredness of nature, Anna.”

Thus, we held hands, knelt, and bowed our heads. We prayed to the great spirits of the forest to guide us, give us aid, speak to us, and to grant us guardians to protect us from danger. I watched as Garrett’s Raven black hair fell across his face as he knelt on the dirt floor of our cave.

I watched how his lips formed the words of the Indian prayer he softly mouthed. I had of late, become fascinated by the shapely movements of his lips, especially when his tongue brushed them with moisture. He then raised his beautiful sun brown arms gracefully above him, as he called to the forest spirits:

Grant us your aid Oh Great Spirits, help us find the little lost one of our tribe, for we are but unworthy seekers through the forest realm.”

As we finished the required pontification to assure our success in finding the lost girl, I crossed myself in the Catholic way and prayed to Saint Hubertus, Patron Saint of Hunters. Surely, I thought, two powerful Gods are better than one.

Our prayers must have worked, because there was a feeling of lightness in the Rock Fall Cave as we gathered our supplies, put our backpacks over our shoulders, and began our walk through the dark forest. Although a few clouds gathered later in the morning and blocked the rays of the sun, I felt a sudden peace and surety surround me. Garrett’s native knowledge of the forest would help guide our way.

“We will speak as little as possible and only at a whisper”, said Garrett. “Understood?”

“Of course”, I whispered back with a big smile.

“I’m just wondering, Anna, how did you manage to get out of the house? Lieutenant Drummond called our house this morning telling my parents to have all of us to stay indoors.”

With a sly smile and a look that said, I am quite capable, you know, I said, “Well, I left a note saying I was meeting you at the library and that I was old enough to make good decisions.” With a big Cheshire cat grin, I added, “and I left through the laundry room window.”

Garrett just smiled and shook his head, “you are going to get in big trouble one of these days, Anna.”

Garrett had prepared for our quest to find the missing girl in the forest. We knew what to prepare for most situations that we might encounter. I always brought two P&J sandwiches and two apples. Garrett brought candles, a flashlight and Spice Straws. The Spice Straw mixture was a concoction devised by Garrett to act as a deterrent if man or beast threatened us. The mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and red pepper blown through the straw, causes sneezing, wheezing and watery eyes, giving the straw blowers just enough time to escape any danger, or so we believed.

As we walked, I watched the sun and clouds fight each other for space in the blue elliptical sky as we headed out toward the northwest and the deepest part of the forest preserve. The air was crisp, cool, and smelled like the freshly cut herbs my mother culled daily from her garden.

Garrett and I watched for something out of the ordinary; a snapped twig where there shouldn’t be one, displaced soil, or crunched leaves where footfalls had landed. We listened for sounds that should and shouldn’t be heard as we walked along in our faux moccasins. Garrett had long since developed a series of hand signals when even whispering was dangerous. A whisper in a forest is like a foghorn to a ship in stormy weather.  Forest animals have acute hearing; after all, the forest can be a dangerous place for man or beast.

Our very breath was a scent that floated along air molecules into the nostrils of creatures of all kinds. I learned to breathe downward toward the forest floor where fine mulch would absorb the wet molecules of our breath. Scent, however, is a powerful way to gain knowledge about our surroundings and Garrett taught me how to breathe to catch the scent of water, animals, and danger.

We rubbed ourselves down with pine needles and earth to camouflage our scent in keeping with what we knew of Native lore. Garrett was a natural Indian. He did not have to learn these things. He was born this way and I followed in his path. I watched his every nuanced footfall, his sinewy muscles and tall lithe form as he moved with incredible grace through woodlands and meadows.

Garrett always carried a small sheathed knife in his pocket for cutting branches to make a fire if need be. Garrett would never intentionally hurt a living thing in the forest. The Salmon Brook Preserve had a small population of deer, bears, bobcats, coyotes, and the occasional Mountain Lion from up North. The only time there was real danger in the forest was when an unknown predator, a foreign scent, entered the forest causing the hierarchy to be challenged. That, of course, would be us.

As we made our way through the forest, only using our hand signals, we moved with agile, sure steps. We imagined we were White Tail deer like the Native Indians used to do. To be a part of the natural fauna, we had to think and travel as they did, without a sound.

We entered into a beautiful and lush grove of wild hazelnuts and flowering mountain laurel. Even I knew this grove would be a gathering place for herbivores and carnivores alike. The delicious hazelnuts and the sweet and succulent petals of the mountain laurel would be like honey to bees.

Garrett’s uplifted hand signal alerted me to a sudden danger. There, on the other side of a large Mountain Laurel bush, were the tall antlers and shiny brown eyes of a Stag Horn Deer.

Neither Garrett nor I moved a single millimeter of our bodies as this beautiful and very dangerous deer walked by us within a mere three feet between him and us. A Stag Horn Deer will normally charge an intruder and use its antlers to defend its territory. It either chose to ignore us or was so busy looking for hazelnuts and sweet tasting flowers petals, that he may not have perceived us as a threat.

Yet, perhaps its presence meant something else entirely. The Stag Horn deer, according to Native lore is a symbol of protection and strength to fight against whatever ominous force threatens. The Stag Horn Deer is also a dream omen, an otherworldly messenger that comes in the night to warn of danger. Garrett and I wondered if that was the reason, the fiercely territorial animal had not threatened us. As the large animal moved out of striking range, we silently moved through the forest hoping the Stag Horn Deer did not change its mind, dream omen or not.

An hour later, the sun had finally displaced the warring clouds. The golden warmth of the sun glistened on our skin. Ahead of us, Garrett saw one of our landmarks. A spring fed flow of water bubbled out of a rise in the land between ancient rocks and stones. The spring fed water, heaved up from underground rivers deep in the earth’s crust, allowed the current flow of water to come to the surface, from the distant past.

With our thirst now quenched, we then tread silently on soft sphagnum mosses and beds of decaying leaves. After a time, Garrett and I found a place to rest during the noontime heat under the shade of twin Birch trees and gazed up at the cloudless blue sky above us. A light breeze moved through the trees causing patterns of sunlight to dazzle and dance upon shimmering green leaves. We sat, awestruck by the beauty surrounding us. The forest was always an enchanted place to be, at least we imagined it to be.

A short time later, as we stood up to continue our trek, we set about placing our backpacks, made of rugged canvas, over our shoulders.  I then noticed Garrett staring hard at something close by.  I followed his gaze and saw two glittering silver-blue eyes staring out from behind one of the River Birch trees we had just been sitting under. The Red Fox rose up from its resting place and moved gracefully, silky fur glimmering in the sunlight, as it came to stand in front of the River Birches before us. It continued to stare at us, unblinking, as it pawed its forelimbs into the soft moss covered ground.  Then, in the blink of an eye, it leapt from view and disappeared into a corpse of Hawthorns bushes.

Garrett slowly walked over to stand next to me. He whispered low into my ear, “The Red Fox is a messenger of danger, even death, but also acts as a guardian, a warning to be watchful, as watchful as a fox.”

He did not speak further. A look and a gesture was all Garrett and I usually needed to communicate. We moved on to our next landmark, walking deeper into the Preserve. The lay of the landform was now steep braes that sloped deeply and ascended to narrow craggy ridges. Walking was now knee walking. It means to walk with bent knees, almost crouching, until we crossed the ridges of several narrow escarpments.

The craggy escarpments were deep waves in the land created during the last ice age. They were also rich with arrowheads, old coins, and other artifacts that fell away during knee walking. Above us, we heard a cacophony of cawing from a clan of large Black Crows nesting atop a very tall and aged White Pine. Its knobby and twisted bare branches looked like something out of a malevolent Grimm’s fairy tale.

The Crows stared down at us, their sharp black eyes and hooked beaks gnawing worriedly as the sun beat down on their iridescent black wings.  I stood stock still, looking up at the peculiar sight, silently wondering why they were so upset. Garrett grabbed my arm, forcing me to keep walking away from the strange occurrence. A worried look quickly passed across his face and he said nothing as he moved us along.

After a time, we entered a dark area of woodlands with tall chestnuts, white oaks, native pine, hemlock, maples and birch trees. On the forest floor, deep in soft pine needles, I saw delicate pink lady slippers and the jocular jack-in-the-boxes growing in the dark shade of a majestic White Oak. Nearby, I spotted the thin stalk and bulbous head of a Death Cap mushroom that had pushed its way up through the sphagnum moss under the cover of rotting oak leaves. Even starving omnivore muskrats would not eat this deadly mushroom.

Through the putrid decaying leaves, I watched the dark head of a poisonous Adder slip out of the leaves and slither around the deadly mushroom. Its red eyes were marked with narrow black pupils and black zigzag stripes across its light gray body. Both were warning signs to other hapless creatures. I was considering carefully the gruesome oddity of some of God’s creations, when Garrett touched my arm firmly.

Garrett’s eyes, now a dark blue crystal, looked into mine, his furrowed brow and the rigid set of his jaw told me something was very wrong. I felt fear and I froze, almost afraid to breathe. Garrett put a finger to my mouth to silence me. Then, Garrett, like some feral animal, slowly turned to the object of his concern. Every muscle in his body was tensing, as though he had caught sight of something terrible. I followed his line of sight. Whatever it was, was in deep shade, and created an odd, even alien form resting on a log.

The tall canopy of trees shaded the forest floor darkly making it difficult to see what Garrett found so disturbing. The buzz of insects, summer heat, and humidity under the oppressive shade was like walking through a rainforest. I pushed my damp hair away from my face with the back of my hand as I followed Garrett’s gaze to the large log. We were too far away from it to see what the alien form could be. Whatever it was, Garrett knew it was something unnatural.  I became acutely aware that no birds were singing, no squirrels chatting, and except for the buzzing of insects; there was no sound at all, save for the fearful beating of my heart.

Number of pages: 264 (kindle count: 189)

 

Book Review Saturday: Protecting His Witch by Zoe Forward

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not my usually reading material, especially with the guy on the cover with an open shirt. I like reading books without shirtless men on the cover, but this one was about a witch and the description was interesting.  I was soon to discover that you really can’t judge a book by its cover! This fascinating and imaginative mystery romance is exceptionally well written and keeps the reader totally engaged as the writer builds the story into a crescendo from breathless interludes to heart-stopping suspense. From the very first pages, the reader is drawn to the beautiful and enigmatic Kat and the very dangerously sexy Matthew, as they try to untangle the web of mystery surrounding them.

Kat has no idea who and what she is as she struggles to understand the strange phenomena that grips her and even threatens her life. Matt is determined to avoid being pulled back into a world of ancient mythology that he has tried to forget. Kat and Matt, suspicious of the inexplicable physical chemistry in their passionate and contentious union, find they are under attack by powerful forces that threaten their very existence as ancient enemies lead the world toward Armageddon. Kat and Matthew are determined decide their own fate at the risk of losing everything they hold dear.

I was completely spellbound by the power unleashed in this story of sizzling passion and high suspense to see what fate had in store for the beautiful Kat and the devilishly handsome Matthew. I could not put this story down for a minute and I highly recommend this stylish and sexy thriller as a must read.

Book Review Monday! Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Uniquely Magical, Alien, and Danger-at-Every-Turn Mystery Thriller! Great Story!

This magical, alien driven, strong female heroine story, first captured my attention by its interesting cover and title. This story takes place in a normal appearing small town in the present day, with chapter one opening with, “Brutus is dead”. Well, I had to find out what happened to Brutus and from that moment, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading. Our intriguing Heroine, Dina, keeps us guessing about who, what, where, and when, as she struggles to resolve the mysteries surrounding her – while managing to stay alive. This fascinating story takes you by surprise with exciting and scary alien adventures from the very first page with unique mysteries, good writing and complex characters that will make your head spin. The ending left some unresolved issues, however, they are carried over to book 2. Anyone looking for a good mystery involving human and alien magical interactions, this is it.

IF I GO – A new novel by K. D. Dowdall August 2017

 

 

 

 

“A death in the family finds 32 years-old anthropologist, Lilly Allaire, returning to her hometown to solve a deadly mystery that has haunted her since childhood.”

Lilly Allaire returns to her hometown after the unexplained death of her cousin, Dax. Both suffered a traumatic psychogenic event as teens that left them with no memory of the event. Lilly is determined to solve the mystery with her childhood friend, Noah. She falls in love with him, but she is suspicious of his past. Was he somehow evolved and is her life at risk?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EVIL SPEAKS – An Interview With Author S. Woffington

evil-speaks-34403446INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA WOFFINGTON, author of Evil Speaks, book #1 in the Warriors and Watchers Saga, an epic mythological fantasy series released February 2017

Early reviews:

“Be prepared to be engrossed! Between the awesome fight scenes, in-depth characters, and all the creatures, your son or daughter won’t want to put this book down! . . .remarkable job entwining Greek Mythology, Greek History, and these modern-day teenage misfits. . .the author incorporates characters with different abilities. She helps break down stereotypes that often plague special children.”

Courtney Barnum, Kelly’s Thoughts on Things blog

“In my last years at Harcourt, I can’t remember reading one single fantasy MG or YA that was half as interesting as the world you have created…. So brilliant! Between the fight scenes and the stories and people and creatures…, it was truly a roller-coaster adventure.”

Editor, Evil Speaks

What is Evil Speaks about?

The lords of the underworld have joined forces to open the ancient gates of evil. Seven teens must stop the gates from opening: Kami is deaf, Amir is blind, Zuma is overweight, Layla is gorgeous but lazy, Chaz is in a wheelchair, Benny is a loner, and Raj is as angry as the purple dagger-shaped birthmark running down the side of her face. They are quirky teens who must become warriors. But they can barely save themselves.

What made you put special needs characters in this series?

It wasn’t intentional so much as these characters appeared to me from all of my interactions with special needs individuals over the years—they inspire me. My website has stories of RL Warriors (Real Life). I wrote these characters into a screenplay around 2002, but I set that aside to work on my novel Unveiling. When I went back to it, the story had evolved into an epic mythological fantasy. I always wanted these characters to be superheroes. Clark Kent has flaws; he’s a bit of a bumbler, but as Superman, he is confident, can fly and has superpowers. In Evil Speaks, Amir is blind and vain about his looks but in the underworld, he has super vision; Kami is deaf but she gains super hearing, and Chaz is in a wheelchair but he can walk in the underworld. If regular people like Clark Kent can become superheroes, so can children with challenges. As in life, each character must also grapple with his or her personal problems. Layla, for instance, is gorgeous but insecure. She has low self-esteem; she feels her beauty is her only asset and she didn’t work for that.

How long did it take you to write Evil Speaks?

I will answer that by saying my first novel Unveiling took years. It was historical and multicultural and required massive research. I also gutted it twice to change directions. In hindsight, this seemed like a waste of time. With Evil Speaks, I sat down and came up with a repeatable plan, using the 8-essential plot points and 3-act structure. I worked on character development before anything else. Then I filled in my plot-planner scene by scene. It was a lot like writing the bones of a screenplay. I like to write full days, not piecemeal. I set a goal to crank out the first draft over summer vacation. When I sat down to write, it flowed easily from scene to scene, changed at times, bust stayed on course. I knocked it out in ten weeks. The revisions took months longer, and I ultimately added a chapter. You can find a section titled “Writing Lessons” on my editor’s website at SWoffington.com, where I lay out the system point by point for others. Start with “Writing Lessons: Introduction” under Recent Posts or pick a topic from the list.

What do you like best about the fantasy genre?

You can go anywhere, do anything! You can create entire universes (or underworlds) full of crazy characters and locations. History (or mythology) always comes into play for me. It’s clearly just part of who I am as a writer, as are international settings. Evil Speaks is an international quest.

You work as a developmental editor as well. What mistakes do you see most often?

I love helping authors hone their fiction or improve their techniques. Every author I’ve worked with has strengths and weaknesses: maybe the dialogue is strong but the descriptions and details are weak; or the descriptions are amazing but the dialogue is stilted or it does not fit the character or all characters sound alike. Two basic concepts are critical to every manuscript: 1) avoid passive verbs (every page must have strong active verbs), and  2) “show” don’t tell, meaning write a scene and let me see the glistening sweat dripping down the side of someone’s face, plopping onto the contract and wicking the freshly penned signature into a  fuzzy black Rorschach image; don’t say “He was sweating as he signed the contract” (this is also passive).

You advocate inclusion on the WarriorsandWatchersSaga.com website—can you tell me about that?

Since writing Evil Speaks, I’ve learned that special needs children are bullied five times more often than other children. I’m shocked by this. I put tips for education, intervention and inclusion on my site for parents and educators. I’m using Deer Valley’s “Disability Awareness Activity Packet” in the classroom. Prevention starts with education. Along with that, every parent, educator or librarian should ensure our children read literature with special needs characters. Books create closeness to characters, and that creates empathy in the reader. Empathy can enable children and adults to leap past the page to make friends with special needs individuals and include them in society.

You’re working with a publicity company for the launch of Evil Speaks. What has been your experience with this?

I love it! I interviewed many companies. One company would have worked to increase my on-line presence alone for $500/month, but I wanted more. I chose Smith Publicity, because they have a long track record of working with authors. They helped me design a campaign to fit my budget. I decided to make the investment, because I’m writing a 7-novel series. It seemed prudent to get the word out on book one. The publicist sends review requests to book bloggers, sends out requests for author interviews for radio or television, sends out press releases, lines up book signings, and more. I wanted a team approach, and that’s what I received. I’m very happy with my publicist Katie. She works as hard for me as I do for myself. The Smith Publicity website is packed with media tips for authors, such as “101 Book Marketing Ideas to Promote Your Book.” In short, do your homework, have realistic expectations, and stick to your budget.

Brief Bio:

  1. Woffington is a California native, whose thirst for adventure began when reading1001 Arabian Nightstales as a child. In her twenties, she lived in Saudi Arabia and England, spent months in Italy, and traveled extensively. After completing UC Irvine’s Humanities Honors Program, she earned dual Master’s in English and Creative Writing from Chapman University. Her stay in Saudi Arabia inspired her debut novel Unveiling, which won Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest SP e-book awards. Woffington teaches middle grade students at a Montessori school. During Summers, off, she writes fiction and works as a freelance developmental editor.

Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters

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Writer’s Digest Guest Post by Elizabeth Sims says: No matter what sort of character name you’re pursuing, heed common sense and follow these seven tips to make sure you pick the best names possible for your story.  What’s in a character’s name? Everything!

  1. Check root meanings. It’s better to call a character Caleb, which means “faithful” or “faithful dog,” than to overkill it by naming him Loyal or Goodman—unless you want that for comic/ironic purposes. Some readers will know the name’s root meaning, but those who don’t might sense it.
  1. Get your era right.  If you need a name for an 18-year-old shop girl in a corset store in 1930s Atlanta, you know enough not to choose Sierra or Courtney, unless such an unusual name is part of your story. Browse for names in the era you’re writing. A Depression-era shop girl who needs a quick name could go by Myrtle or Jane; it will feel right to the reader. Small public libraries will often have decades’ worth of local high school yearbooks on the shelves. Those things are gold for finding name combinations from the proper era.
  1. Speak them out loud. Your novel might become an audiobook or an e-book with text-to-speech enabled. A perfectly good name on paper, such as Adam Messina, may sound unclear aloud: Adam Essina? Adah Messina?
  1. Manage your crew appropriately.  Distinguish your large cast of characters by using different first initials, of course, and vary your number of syllables and places of emphasis. Grace Metalious (a great name right there) demonstrates this in her blockbuster Peyton Place, as do any of the successful epic writers like James Michener and Larry McMurtry.  Example: The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus.   Need an idea for a short story or novel? Look no further than The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus. Organized by subject, theme and situation categories, it’s the perfect writing reference to break out out of any writing funk.  Order now from our shop and get a discount!
  1. Use alliterative initials.  Employ this strategy to call special attention to a character: Daniel Deronda, Bilbo Baggins, Ratso Rizzo, Severus Snape.
  1. Think it through.  You might notice that in most crime fiction the murderer rarely has a middle name or initial. Why? Because the more you explicate the name, the more likely there’s a real person out there with it. And reading your story they might become upset and try to sue you or come after you some night with a bayonet.
  1. Check ’em again.   When writing my novel, The Actress, I needed a name for a Japanese-American criminal defense attorney, and the name Gary Kwan burst upon me. I loved the name and used it in the book. Only thing was, as soon as the thousands of copies of hardcovers were printed and shipped to stores, I heard from a reader who pointed out the simple fact that Kwan is a Chinese surname. I cursed loudly and decided: a) that I would ALWAYS check name origins, and b) that Gary Kwan had a Chinese grandfather who adopted a Japanese orphan who became Gary’s father. Or something like that.

[Abridged] Naming characters just right is a challenge, but give it some time and thought, and you’ll start to find the fun in it. Study the names great authors have come up with, let your mind loose to play, do your research, and above all, trust your ear.  And if worse comes to worst and lucky enough to just bump into your character in a dream—where you can ask him yourself.