Over Her Head: preview of a new #LeiCrimeKW novella



LeiCrime-50titles

May 12 is the launch date for 11 new titles in the Lei Crime Kindle World—new stories by professional authors in the fictional universe of Lei Crime, the creation of bestselling author Toby Neal.

One of those titles is mine: Echoes, featuring my Lei Crime character, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm. You will find it on Amazon as of May 12.

To get you excited about the new books, I will preview a bunch of them over the next several days. Today we have Shawn McGuire’s third Lei Crime Kindle World title, Over Her Head, which happens to feature the main character, Lei Texeira

Let Shawn know what you think of her preview in the Comments. 

“I know I’ve been tough on you these last couple of weeks,” she said.

Lieutenant Lani Kaapana was Gemi’s second FTO. The first had been an officer who was close to retirement and not interested in working all that hard anymore. He taught Gemi some things, but most of what she had learned in the month with him she had either figured out on her own or learned by asking other officers. Now that she thought about it, maybe that hadn’t been so bad.

“You have been tough on me,” Gemi agreed, “but I appreciate your approach. I think you know that I’m not one to take the easy route.”

“You’re going to be a fine officer,” the lieutenant said. “I’ve seen plenty of trainees come through this department over the years, only a handful of them have truly impressed me with their potential. You’re at the very top of that list.” She held out her hand to Gemi. “Don’t let me down.”

For a heartbeat, Gemi was moved by these words, but she knew showing emotion would negate everything the officer had just said. Instead, she shook her hand and thanked her once again.

“Your formal training is done,” Lieutenant Kaapana announced, “but don’t hesitate to come to me if you have questions or need help.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Crossing the parking lot, Gemi smiled, feeling a sense of pride at a job well done. She glanced at the spot where a lightbar would go as she climbed into her Renegade and started for her townhouse southwest of Kahului. Today was a big deal, she really should celebrate. There were only two people she would consider partying with, her friend Consuelo or her sister Ashlyn. Consuelo was finishing her senior year with a couple of summer classes at Kahului College and had a big test tomorrow. She couldn’t bother her. Ashlyn? That was touch and go. Ashlyn hadn’t been happy when Gemi dropped out of nursing school. She’d been even less happy about Gemi’s decision to enter the police academy.

Gemi had to admit, if only to herself, that writing traffic tickets and chasing down car part thieves wasn’t the exciting life she’d hoped it would be. On the positive side, she knew her actions were making the streets of Kahului safer. She would put in her time, however much time that meant, and be the best patrol officer she could possibly be, until she could move up the ranks. Her sights were set on becoming a detective.

Her cell phone rang, and Detective Lei Texeira’s number displayed on the screen. Gemi pulled into the nearest parking lot.

“I hear you’re officially done being a trainee,” Lei said.

“You heard right,” Gemi said. “Not a bad day, either. Busted Ozzie Lee on vandalism and drug charges, then said thank you and goodbye to my FTO. Now, I’m on the way home and will probably celebrate with a long run and maybe a big piece of chocolate cake.”

“You really know how to live the high life. Since you have no other plans, how about you meet me for dinner? We’ll celebrate together.”

The women had known each other for more than a year. Gemi considered the detective to be a friend and mentor. But they had never once socialized together.

“Why do I think you don’t really want to take me out to celebrate?” Gemi asked. “What’s going on, Lei?”

“Meet me at the Paia Fish Market,” Lei said. “I’ll tell you there.”

“You can’t even give me a hint?”

“Fine. You’re going to like it.”

Over Her HeadAbout Over Her Head

When women go missing in Maui, the island’s newest rookie cop is on the job.

One year ago, after rescuing her abducted sister, Gemi Kittredge turned in her college textbooks for a Maui County Police Department uniform. Now, the last thing Gemi expects is a phone call from her friend and mentor, Detective Lei Texeira.

Young women are disappearing and they suspect the Yakuza are involved. Lei doesn’t have to ask twice if Gemi is willing to go undercover to find them; taking down the organized crime group is the reason Gemi became a cop, after all. But when Gemi ends up in the Yakuza’s clutches, she’ll need her entire arsenal—badge, instincts, and mixed martial arts training—to get everyone out safe.

Over Her Head takes place after Dark Lava, book 7 in the Lei Crime series.

About the author

Fantasy and suspense author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to tell a tale is as strong now as it was then.

She grew up in the beautiful Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota, called the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin (Go Pack Go!) home for many years, and now lives in Colorado where she loves to read, craft, cook and bake, and spend time in the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You can learn more about Shawn’s work on her website, www.Shawn-McGuire.com.

A look back at a tough year



To many, 2016 has been a horrible year. The war in Syria, the loss of refugees from that conflict and others, the record number of celebrity passings, record homicide numbers in my home town, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency … I won’t go on. It’s too painful.

For me, it’s been a turbulent year, too. I broke my knee in May and went through months of intensive physiotherapy and exercise to get back the range of motion and strength I needed for my two-week whitewater canoeing trip. My son had appendicitis, my other son had some issues with school and work.

In the fall, I came down with a wicked case of pinkeye. There were more problems in this single year than in many that I can recall.

On the other hand, there were some “ups,” as well.

  • I published three books this year:
    • IMG_0020.jpgUnder the Nazi Heel, Book 2 in my Walking Out of War trilogy based on the World War 2 experiences of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury.
      It won Second Prize in the East Texas Writers Guild 2016 Awards for nonfiction/memoir.
    • The Wife Line, a Sydney Rye Kindle World book that features my spy-thriller characters, Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun.
    • Dead Man Lying, my third Lei Crime Kindle World title, featuring my FBI Special Agent character, Vanessa Storm. It won First Place in the 2016 East Texas Writers Guild Mystery Awards.WifeLine-final-small
  • I edited three very strong books by independent authors:
  • I participated in some group publishing efforts along with other members of BestSelling Reads, an authors’ group that cross-promotes members.
  • New members joined Independent Authors International, a collaborative publishing venture where members share skills to provide all the functions of a full, commercial publishing company.
  • PaddlersI canoed 325 kilometres down the Missinaibi and Moose Rivers in northern Ontario to Moose Factory on James Bay, and capsized only once.
  • I visited the Finger Lakes in New York, and met some very nice, interesting people and drank some excellent wine.
  • I crafted an outline for The Triumph of the Sky, the follow-up to my first full-length novel, The Bones of the Earth.
  • I outlined a new Lei Crime novel featuring Special Agent Vanessa Storm: Echo of a Crime, and have so far written about half of it.
  • And I came up with a concept for a new Sydney Rye Kindle World novel which will feature Van and LeBrun.

So 2016 has been a year with ups and downs, and now that I look at it, for me at least, there were more good points than bad. And for the family, too.

But for the world, it’s been a tough year. For Aleppo and the rest of Syria, for Iraq, for France, Belgium and the U.K., for Japan, Italy and Fort McMurray. For the U.S., 2017 is going to be … interesting politically.

I wish you all a healthy, happy, loving, peaceful and plentiful 2017.

A Hallowe’en treat: A free short story



The Graveyard

A few years ago, I published a short story called “The Mandrake Ruse,” which is the first instalment in Dark Clouds, a novel that I would write as a series of episodes or short stories. The story of the witch queen and her son, the only man immune to magic, it became minor hit, which I followed with “What Made Me Love You?” This is the fourth chapter, which appeared on my old blog in 2012. For a Hallowe’en treat, here it is on this blog for you, my faithful readers.

Happy Hallowe’en!

Sundial Butte Medicine Wheel, Alberta,
photo courtesy travelingluck.com

“Did we have to arrive at sunset?”

“What’s wrong, Matt — afraid of the dark?” Julian turned off the ignition and let the clutch out at the same time, making the gears grind and the whole jeep shake.

“I have no reason to be afraid,” Matt said.

“I’m not afraid, either,” Teri said and got out of the back seat. Matt knew she had very good reason to be nervous about cemeteries, but she strode with long steps and swinging arms to the fenced graveyard, her ponytail swaying. The failing light made her brown hair look black. She pushed the waist-high gate hard as if she were picking a fight with it. Matt saw her jump just a little when the gate squeaked loudly, but she strode through, looking at headstones.

The driver’s door slammed shut much too loudly for Matt’s liking, and he scowled at Julian. But the pudgy warlock did not notice and followed Teri into the cemetery.

Matt twisted in the bucket seat and fumbled to get a flashlight from the bag in the back. Teri or Julian may not have needed one to see in the dark, but he did.

He pulled the satchel’s strap over his shoulder as he climbed out of the Jeep. He closed the passenger door as quietly as he could, but the clunk echoed off something he could no longer see. He felt tingly all over and walked as quietly as he could toward the fence.

The light was failing fast. He looked to his left, where the sun had left behind an angry red smudge along the horizon. He marveled again, briefly, at the prairie’s flatness. His thighs connected with something and he bit back a curse: he had bumped into the iron fence around the cemetery while admiring the sunset. He could now barely make out Teri’s slight form and Julian’s rounded silhouette among the headstones, but for a reason he could not express, he did not dare to turn on the flashlight. He groped until he found the gate and jumped, too, when it squeaked.

“What are we looking for?” he asked in as low a voice as he could when he came up to Julian.

“What?” said Julian, in a normal tone, which made Matt jump again. “Why so jumpy, man?”

“What are we looking for?” Matt repeated, a little louder. “And I’m not jumpy. I’m just trying to be careful, that’s all.”

“Careful? Careful of what? Who do you think is way out here in the middle of nowhere at dusk?”

“I don’t know, but neither do you. So let’s just be careful, okay?”

Julian shrugged. Just as Matt was about to ask “what are we looking for” again, Teri said, “I think this is it.”

Matt followed Julian to the darkest corner at the very back of the graveyard where a stand of trees, now almost completely bare of leaves, leaned over the back fence, casting a shadow that blocked out what little light filtered through the ragged clouds. Matt stumbled three times until Julian took his elbow.

Teri was looking at the trees. Matt had to shine his flashlight at the ground in front of her before he realized that there was no fence here; the trees marked the cemetery’s boundary.

Teri pointed to two whitish rocks on the ground in front of her. “Look at the inscriptions,” she said.

Even with the flashlight, Matt had to bend down close to see what she was talking about. On the rock on the right, he finally made out: “A bird?”

“A Thunderbird,” she said. “And look at the other.”

Matt moved the light. “A cross?”

Something about it bothered him. It was worn, yes, the way only crumbly century-old carved stone can be worn, but …

“Someone’s defaced the cross,” Julian said, his voice as low as Matt’s now. He was right: it looked like someone had scrawled some kind of carving tool across the symbol several times in an attempt to erase it from stone.

“Why would someone carve these two symbols in rocks on the ground, then deface one?” Matt said. He raised the light to see a gap in the trees, an opening to a path lined with a row of white stones on the ground on each side.

Together, Julian and Teri walked down the path marked by the white stones, drawn by something that Matt did not feel. He followed, afraid for and exasperated by his wife at the same time.

He shone the flashlight left and right. As they walked down the path between the white stones, the trees became more and more stunted, more and more twisted.

“These trees aren’t just bare for winter,” Teri whispered. She had to force the words out. She felt her throat constrict until it was hard to breathe in the chill air. “They’re dead.”

Julian snapped off a branch. “They’ve been dead for centuries.”

“Then why are they still standing?” Matt asked.

Teri had to stop and drag breath into her lungs. Julian was having trouble breathing, too.

“It’s a spell making it hard for you to breathe,” Matt said. He took his wife and Julian by the arms and pulled them along the path until their breathing became normal again.

Julian stopped suck air into his lungs. “It was a gateway spell,” he said. “Put there to convince anyone who’s not serious about coming here to turn back. We’re through the gate, now.” He tilted his head slightly. “Do you hear that?” he whispered. He started down the path again, a look on his face suggesting he was following a sound that Matt could not hear.

“What language are they speaking?” Teri whispered back. A sibilance drifted by her ear, words at the edge of hearing and comprehension. She followed Julian.

“Well, I don’t hear anything, so they’re not natural,” Matt growled. Julian and Teri didn’t slow down, so he added, “They’re supernatural.”

Teri and Julian still ignored him. Somewhere, far away, a coyote’s howl made the skin on the back of Matt’s neck tingle.

The moon disappeared behind a cloud and the flashlight dimmed. “Damn. I just put in fresh batteries,” Matt muttered.

Teri did not the same light to see that Matt did. She saw the trees shrinking, being replaced by dead bushes that merged into the prairie. She could see that the grass was dead, too.

Matt shone the dying flashlight around. White stones on the ground receded on either side in curving rows. “We’re in a circle.”

“It’s a medicine wheel,” said Julian. “I didn’t think there were any this far north.”

“What’s a medicine wheel?”

“They’re rings or circles marked in stone on the grasslands,” Julian said. “They were made by the Cree thousands of years ago on sacred or important sites all over the prairies. As I recall, there are more in Alberta than anywhere else. But I thought the northernmost was well south of here. I’ve never heard of this one.”

“How do you know so much about medicine wheels?”

“Shut up, you two,” said Teri. In the centre of the wheel was a cairn of grey stones, as high as Matt’s head, set on a patch of gravel and sand.

Matt caught her arm just before Teri touched the cairn. “Haven’t you noticed that everything here is dead?”

The flashlight went out completely. The wind whispered in Teri’s ear again, but she could not make out the words. It was maddening — she felt like she should understand them, as if she once had, but could not longer remember. The sound faded like a dream in the morning, then circled her head to come at the other ear.

“Can you understand what the voices are saying?” asked Julian.

“No.”

Matt fought to keep his voice down. “I told you, they’re not real!”

“They may not be natural, but they’re definitely real,” Teri said sharply. “Look, there’s another Thunderbird inscription on the rock.”

Without the flashlight, Matt could not see any inscriptions. “Just don’t touch anything,” he said.

Teri walked around the cairn, Julian at her side like a dog. “I’m afraid…” he said.

Teri stopped. “Me, too.” An unaccountable fear chilled her from the inside out. Both Teri and Julian began to tremble.

Julian fell to his knees. “Yes, yes,” he whined. “Just stop whispering.”

“It’s a trick,” said Matt. He pulled Julian to his feet. “It was one of my mother’s favourites. She used to do it to my dad all the time.” He put his arm around his wife’s narrow shoulders to quell her trembling. “Don’t worry. Nothing here can hurt you.”

“Nothing here can hurt you, maybe.” The weight of Matt’s arm chased some of the fear away. At least her hands weren’t shaking anymore.

“I won’t let anything hurt you.”

Teri shook his arm off her shoulders. “Matt, you may be immune to magic, but you’re not invulnerable.”

A gust revealed the moon and at the same time brought a new sound that did scare Matt: a deep growling that came from all around them, all at once, rising up from the hostile ground itself. The sound woke memories deep in the ancient, back of his brain, memories he never imagined he ever had, ancient, undeniable. His skin was suddenly covered in a thin layer of sweat from his scalp to his toes.

His eyes had adjusted to the moonlight. He could now see rows of small white stones radiating out from the central cairn to the stone ring, like spokes of a wheel.

“That’s why it’s called a ‘medicine wheel,’ said Julian.” Then he caught his breath as he looked beyond the ring. “Oh my, are those coyotes?”

Matt could not see past the rock ring, but the ancient part of his brain knew: “Those are wolves.”

Unconsciously, Matt crouched a little, feet seeking security on the dead grass, muscles loose, every sense alert. He felt as if he was confronting an ancient enemy.

Then he saw them with senses adrenalin-sharpened: wolves standing just beyond the ring of white rocks—at least a dozen, big, calm. None of the grey shapes had bared its teeth, but a constant growl came from the pack, steady as surf on a beach. Matt, Teri, Julian and the wolves all knew: there could be no escape for three humans from their oldest competitors.

“It’s time to get out of here, Teri,” said Matt.

“You’ve always said that wolves don’t attack people,” she answered, but she wasn’t looking at them — she seemed to be studying the cairn.

“What if these wolves don’t know about that,” said Matt.

“Look: something is missing,” said Teri, pointing at a spot on the north side of the cairn.

“Come on, Teri.”

“No, look — there’s a place for something there. This cairn, this whole medicine wheel, was made to hold something, and now it’s gone.”

Teri pointed to a flat spot half-way up the north side of the cairn. Matt couldn’t be certain in the dark, but Teri and Julian could see clearly a flat stone, obviously chiseled, and other carved stones arranged on three sides: a kind of stone box, almost like a trophy case in a school.

“That’s very interesting, Teri, but something doesn’t want us here,” Matt insisted. “Those whispers were a warning, and now they’ve sent the muscle!”

“I thought you were immune to magic,” Julian said.

“I’m not immune to teeth and claws.”

“Give me the drumsticks,” Teri said, holding out her hand but still looking at the cairn.

“Teri, never mind that — we’ve got to go, now!”

Teri just held out her hand like a queen, eyes intent on the cairn. Matt fumbled with the satchel’s flap and pulled out the decorated Cree drumsticks. The wolves growled louder.

“Matt, Teri, they’ve crossed the ring,” Julian whined. He grabbed Matt’s arm in both hands, and even Matt could see his wide eyes darting. “Come on!”

Teri ignored them. Matt wondered if she had been hypnotized — no, enchanted by the cairn. She carefully put the drumsticks on the flat stone in the side of the cairn. Immediately, the wolves stopped growling. They stepped closer, but they did not seem as threatening anymore. Matt took the chance to look away from them, toward the cairn.

The sticks’ placement on the cairn seemed somehow just right. Despite the presence of a pack of gray wolves at his back, Matt felt calmer when he looked at the sticks on the cairn.

“Matt, Teri, can we get out of here? Now? The wolves are getting closer all the time!” Julian whined.

The wolves had formed a semi-circle and stepped forward, closer, deliberately and slowly. To Matt, they looked calm, almost … well, not friendly, he thought. How could a wolf look friendly? Not immediately threatening.

“I don’t want them any closer than they are,” he said, and pulled Teri by the arm around the cairn, away from the pack and toward the trees.

“The path is gone,” Julian said.

They had entered the medicine wheel by a gap in the ring, but where the parallel rows of stones intersected the wheel, the ring continued, unbroken, around the cairn as far as they could see.

Pulling Teri by the hand, Matt stepped over the stone ring toward where he thought the path was. Teri fell back as if she had hit a wall.

“Teri, what the hell?”

She rubbed her forehead. Julian held his hands in front of him and pushed like a mime at a make-believe barrier. “Matt, we can’t get past the ring. We’re stuck in the medicine wheel!”

Matt stepped back into the ring, then out again, unhindered. “This is ridiculous.”

Teri shook her head. “We can’t get out, Matt. That’s what the gap in the stones was for.”

Matt ran several steps along the ring in one direction, looking for a gap, until he could see the wolves near the cairn. He turned and ran back in the other direction until he saw the wolves from the other side; no gap either way. He wrapped his arms around Teri’s slim body from behind and pulled. He could step over the stones, but as soon as Teri’s shoulder came even with the stone ring, he felt something stop her. He pulled harder until she cried out.

“It hurts, Matt!” She pulled out of his grasp and rubbed her shoulder.

Matt stepped back into the medicine wheel. “Okay, Teri, get us out of here your way. Can you take us back to the Jeep?”

Teri pulled off her jacket and dropped her pants. “We all have to be naked.”

As she unhooked her bra, Matt looked nervously at Julian.

“Don’t worry about me getting a cheap thrill from this,” said Julian, already down to his boxers. Every inch of his skin was covered with dark hair, even his back. “Now get your britches off.”

Matt scrambled to take off his clothes, feeling the chill of the October night. Teri lifted her arms over her head. Despite the situation, Matt could not help but watch her breasts rise as if to follow her hands up. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the transportation spell. Minutes went by; clouds shrouded, then revealed the moon. Teri’s brow furrowed, but nothing happened. She could not find the energy, the place where she had found the power before. “It’s not working,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Matt wasn’t sure whether he should be afraid or relieved; he hated traveling by Teri’s spell.

“I don’t know. I cannot see the Jeep, or anything beyond this … this place.”

“I can’t help you, either,” said Julian.

Matt looked at Julian, at his wife, at the cairn. Were the wolves coming closer?

There was no flash, no bang, no smoke. One moment, Matt was looking toward the cairn; the next, a woman stood in front of him. It was hard to see her features in the dark, but she wore a toque with long tassels on the sides and what looked like a shawl.

Teri and Julian could see better than Matt: the colours in her woolen shawl, the beads, four bands thick, around her neck. She was young, beautiful, with smooth skin and long dark hair hanging from under her hat.

“What the hell are the three of you doing out here in the middle of the night, naked?” she demanded in the flat tones of a First Nations accent. “Didn’t you see the No Trespassing signs?” A wolf nuzzled the woman and Matt, Teri and Julian knew what she meant by “No Trespassing.”

Matt’s hands went in front of his crotch and he shivered. But neither Teri nor Julian was embarrassed to be naked in front of the stranger.

“I was trying to cast a spell,” Teri said, as if it were as common as “I was looking for my watch.” “Something is blocking me.”

“Why did you come out here to cast a spell?” the stranger asked.

“Who are you?” Matt demanded. He wondered if he should pull his clothes back on. He could barely suppress shivers, but would that be a sign of weakness in front of a stranger? Would he be vulnerable with one leg in his pants and one out if the wolf beside her suddenly rushed him?

The woman held his gaze for a long pause. “Who are you?”

“We’re from the government,” he answered. It’s not really a lie. He tried not to be obvious about looking for his clothes on the ground.

“Canadian government has no say here. This is Grizzly Bend Nation land. First Nation land. Nêhiyawahk land.”

“We brought back the sticks for the medicine drum,” said Teri.

You shouldn’t have said that. Too late, now, Matt thought. He remembered that they had left the drumsticks on the cairn, where they looked so right.

The woman in the shawl looked almost impressed. “Really? Who told you to bring anything here?”

“We put them on the flat stone on the cairn,” Teri said.

The woman disappeared, just as she had arrived: no flash, no smoke. Matt blinked and stared at the spot where the woman had been standing.

“Where did you find it?” she said from behind him. “How did you bring it here?” Matt turned and stumbled over his own heaped clothes on the ground.

Teri stepped up to face the woman directly. Julian summoned all his courage and stood beside her while Matt tried to find his footing in the dark. “We took it from Ottawa,” she said calmly.

The woman turned to Matt. “You look strange. The other two, I understand why they are here. But I do not like you.”

Matt did not know what to say.

“Go,” the woman said.

“But we brought the drumsticks back,” Julian protested.

Matt could not believe what Julian and Teri did then: they stood absolutely still, staring at the woman in the shawl, mouths slightly open until Julian fell onto his bare butt.

But what Teri saw was very different. She felt as if she had no more control over her own body. She could do nothing but watch the woman change. The shawl became fur, thick and shaggy, the hat disappeared, the hair became a mane that reached over her head, animated by a will of its own. Her face morphed, jaw stretching into a snout, mouth gaping, long fangs drooling.

And she grew, legs and arms and torso lengthening and thickening. She grew until she towered above them, reaching toward them with claws that glimmered in the red light from her eyes.

Julian fell onto his naked butt on the cold ground. Teri’s knees shook, but she could not will her feet to move even as the claw came toward her and touched her bare chest. The tip traced a red line from her collarbone down to her navel, but all Teri could do was to look into the beast’s red eyes.

The beast’s head came closer. Its jaws opened impossibly wide, but Teri still could not move as it took her hand in its mouth and slowly closed its jaws. Pain flashed up her arm, replaced immediately by a blank numbness. The beast drew its bloody snout away and Teri saw her hand between its teeth. Blood, her blood, dripped from the beast’s jaws. She watched, unable to make a sound, as more blood spurted from the stump of her arm, bright red in the dark night.

Matt watched the strange woman step closer to his trembling wife, and realized they were the same height. When the woman lifted Teri’s hand in her own and lifted it to her face, Matt decided that was enough. To hell with the wolves, he thought. He stepped between the women. “What is the medicine drum for?” he demanded.

The woman stepped back, outrage on her face. Now that he was close, he could see she was middle-aged, with creases from her nose to the corners of her mouth and deep crinkles at the corners of her eyes. She was as short as Teri, but stouter, and there were strands of grey in her long black hair.

“Go,” she said again. She stepped aside and a wolf took her place, and Matt was suddenly conscious of its mouth at his crotch level. He backed away, pushing Teri farther behind him.

To Teri, the beast vanished, replaced by the familiar sight of her husband’s naked back. Beyond him was a huge gray wolf, teeth showing. Behind it were the rest of the pack and the woman in the shawl. She could hear the wind again, as if she had not heard it for a long time, or as if she had become aware of a different sound only after it had stopped.

Teri gasped when she looked at her arm: her hand was intact. She flexed her fingers, fascinated by the way the little scar on the back moved. She looked down: no scratch on her chest, no blood. “It was an illusion,” she whispered.

Matt wondered whether the wolves would really attack or were just putting on a show, a display to scare them. The question became moot as Julian scrambled to his feet and ran as fast as he could.

“Go away. Go now,” the woman screamed and the wolf snapped its jaws. Wolf spit hit Matt’s genitals. Matt grabbed his wife’s elbow and ran. She pulled out of his grip to pick up a piece of clothing from the ground. “Never mind that!” Matt snapped and hauled her away. He pushed Teri ahead of him to follow Julian as fast as they could go. Stones and twigs scratched their bare feet, but there was no more barrier at the stone circle for Teri.

Somehow, they found the path through the forest and tried to move their feet even faster. Teri stumbled but Matt held her up and willed his feet to move faster as they heard wolves growling at their heels.

This path was not this long on the way here, he thought.

Something sharp cut into Matt’s foot. He fell, gasping. Teri shrieked a little and stopped beside him, but Matt pushed her farther down the path. “Go!”

He pushed himself back up to his feet and tried a step. Pain shot all the way up his leg and out his mouth in a hoarse cry. He heard the wolf pack behind him and fear overrode pain. He ran at top speed, catching up with Teri. His foot felt like it was on fire, and flamed hotter every time it hit the ground.

If I’m immune to magic, maybe my blood will slow them down, he thought. The wolves bayed louder. Great. They smell blood, and now they’re excited.

Which means they’re real wolves, not magical.

His bare toe hit something and he went down again, hard, naked skin scraping over the rough ground.

Teri ran back to him, fumbling with something: his jacket, which she had picked up when they ran from the medicine wheel. She reached his side seconds before the first wolf and thrust Matt’s open knife at its snout. It yelped and sprang back. Hot wolf blood splattered Matt’s legs.

The wolf hesitated only a second and sprang, sinking fangs into Matt’s forearm. Matt screamed and thrashed but the wolf held on and Matt could feel its teeth sinking deeper into his flesh. The wolf shook its head. Matt hit the wolf’s head with his free hand and kicked with no effect. He could feel the fangs hitting bone. A deep fear filled him.

He felt a thud. The wolf let go and fell sideways with a yelp. Julian stood over them, holding a big rock. “Come on!” he panted. Teri helped Matt up and he stumbled behind them. His forearm throbbed and the sole of his foot stung with every step. Scrapes stung his skin on his legs, his side and his back. Blood tickled his skin as it ran down his arm. The smell of the wolf’s musk stuck in his nostrils and sweat stung his eyes despite the cold air on his naked skin. But Teri held his side and pushed him forward, and her hands warmed his skin.

Something scratched his shoulder, then the opposite side. “The path’s getting narrower,” Teri panted behind him.

“The trees are closing in on us,” Julian exclaimed ahead of them. “We have to move faster.”

Somehow, they made their legs move faster. Matt saw Julian hesitate, and then they were out of the little forest and back in the cemetery. They stopped, hands on knees, panting, searching for enough breath. Julian fell to his knees, then onto his back, chest heaving up and down.

Matt looked back. The woman in the shawl stood under the trees at the entrance to the path, a wolf on either side of her. “Never forget how I let you go,” she said in her flat tones. “Now leave and never come back.”

“Who are you?” Teri stammered. Julian was already across the cemetery, heading for the jeep.

“Tell your people that Jessica Piyesiw has warned them,” she said, and vanished as she had before. The two wolves looked briefly at the naked trio in the cemetery, then turned and disappeared under the trees as only wolves can.

Teri put her arm around her husband to try to support him as he limped to the jeep. “You always think so clearly, Teri,” Matt said as she fished the keys out of his jacket pocket. She and Julian helped Matt into the car; Julian checked for a first-aid kit while Teri took Matt’scell phone from his jacket pocket.

“Call Racine,” she said.

“And tell him what? That we’ve lost the drumsticks as well as our clothes?”

“Tell him you need emergency medical help.”

As usual, Matt could not argue with his wife. He pressed the speed dial button.

This is going to hurt, he thought. Julian brought out a bottle of peroxide and some cotton swabs. And so will that. But not as bad.

Happy Hallowe’en!

Author’s note:

When I first wrote Dark Clouds, I thought it would be the first chapter of a novel called The Mandrake Ruse, which would be the first instalment in the series called The Witch’s Son. Since then, I have come to understand that The Mandrake Ruse is the title of the first chapter of the novel, Dark Clouds.

So far, I have published five chapters:

When I have more chapters ready, I’ll publish all of Dark Clouds as a serial. Watch for it!

 

How can you not be inspired by fall?



img_0864Autumn is my favourite season. I love the cool air and the lower light come as such a relief after the heat and humidity of the summer — especially this past summer with its long drought. And of course, the colours of the leaves.

I’ve heard people say “Fall is the season when everything dies.” But the cool air energizes me. Fall is the season of the harvest, of pies and soups and my favourite sweaters and leather jackets.

Fall is also the season of Hallowe’en, the funnest holiday of the year.

To me, fall is the best time start new projects. Let’s face it: 17 years of my own schooling, and a further 17 for each of my children has conditioned me to consider the autumn as the beginning of new chapters in life.

A spot on my daily ride along the Ottawa River.

But I think the one aspect of fall that is most inspiring to me is the colours of the leaves.

I wasn’t able to ride my bicycle all summer, since I tore my quadriceps tendon in May. I was only able to get back to it in September, and after just a couple of days of riding 25 kilometres to the office, I noticed my mood getting much better. Being outdoors gives me a boost.

My biking route is spectacular in the fall. This year, the colours of the leaves seem especially intense, with lots of red and orange. They look brighter when the sunlight hits at a low angle, early in the morning or later in the afternoon — when I’m on my bike.

Last week, I took a trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York to see the area and also sample the wines I had been hearing so much about. When my wife and I got there, we found the leaves were just starting to turn colour. But each day, there was more red, orange and yellow on the vine- and forest-clad slopes.

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In New York’s Finger Lakes, when the autumn leaves were just starting to turn.

Inspiring? Definitely. Driving, viewing, tasting wine, relaxing in cafés, chatting with other guests at our B&B — somehow, that allowed my brain to put some vague ideas together. Over four days, I worked out the plot for a new novel, and it’s going to be my best yet.

For a long time, I’ve had the idea to write a novel that uses two songs as a starting point: Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” and the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.”  But I couldn’t even get to an outline. Until, strolling along the edge of a Finger Lake in New York, I had a flash: “What if I made this a new Vanessa Storm, and Vanessa was the Barefoot Girl?” This book would be something of a departure from the previous Vanessa Storm books, but it would still fit within the Lei Crime Kindle World.

This new will tell two parallel stories: about Vanessa as a teenager, wondering which direction to go in life, about whether to go to university like her parents want her to, or to ride off with the bandit with a heart of gold; and then today, dealing with the consequences of the choices she and others made. It’s more than a typical action-thriller or mystery. It’s more about what makes us who we are, and how we change the others around us.

In the meantime, I am finally making progress again on the third volume of the series about my father-in-law during World War Two. I have one last chapter to finish now before I start with the second draft. Here’s to hoping that I’ll finish before the end of the year!

What book reviewers want: An interview with Janie Felix



bookstack

Once again this week, Written Words turns the tables on the book reviewers by asking them questions. In this instalment, Janie Felix agreed to let us in on the secrets of book reviewing.

What genres do you review?

I review most all genres — whatever I read, because I find it helpful when I read others reviews.

I like mystery/police/ action genres.  They challenge my mind, hold my interest and allow for escape from normal life.  I like some romance, but not ” bodice ripper” types.  I like reality in romances, not necessarily happily ever after … realism.  I enjoy some sci-fi if it is relatable.

What do you look for in a book that you review?

What I look for in books is believable character development by the author.  I like surprise twists.  I also look for good beta reading (I really hate misspelled words, poor grammar and bad syntax.)  When I find an author whose style I enjoy, I veraciously read their books.

What is the worst mistake that an author can make in a book?

The worst mistake and author can make: boring, long convoluted explanations by a character.  And shabby proofreaders.

What is the worst mistake in your opinion that an author can make when trying to promote a book?

Promoting a book can be tricky. I’m not sure I dislike most book promotions. I really LIKE when an author of e-books offer their first one free. Very often if I like their style or characters, I will continue to follow them and buy more just by the “credit ” of their name alone.

Which is more important to you: the plot/story, characters, or the writer’s style?

Characterization is probably the most important part of a book for me.  If the characters become real, you can put them in most any plot and they survive.  ‘Course that all goes back to the author. So it is circular.

Name a classic book in the genre you favour most that you think today’s writers should aspire to equal.

The Stand is a book with great characters the writers can aspire to.

Desert island question: name three record albums you would take with you if you were stranded on the island from Lost (where they had vinyl records and diamond-stylus record players).

Albums: David Brubeck’s Take Five,  the 1812 Overture or any Tchaikovsky work and anything by James Taylor.

All about Janie

 IMG_1051Janie has been married for 52 years to her best friend, Gary. She is a mom of four a grandmom of seven, a Wiccan High Priestess, a clinical herbalist and an avid reader.  She is 72 years young and loves to quilt, preserve what her husband grows and teach others about her knowledge of Wicca and herbs. 

Initiation Rites: The summer of the Bones of the Earth



Tomorow is is the summer solstice, and tonight is the full moon. This is a coincidence that doesn’t happen very often, and one I used for my first (to be published) novel, The Bones of the Earth.

I chose that because of the symbolism and mystique surrounding both the full moon and the summer solstice. The solstice, of course, is the day in the northern hemisphere with the most daylight.

And tonight is the full moon, always an event full of meaning—a great opportunity for a writer of fantasy.

The last time the full moon came the night before the summer solstice was apparently 70 years ago, so this coincidence is pretty rare. I did quite a lot of research to find when that happened during the Dark Age in Europe, and found it happened in 593 AD. This was fortuitous for a writer of fantasy: it was arguably one of the darkest years of the Dark Age, when the Western Roman Empire was a dim memory, whole nations were migrating across Western Europe, and a new group was invading Eastern Europe, the Avars—a people who made the Huns look like disorganized brush salesmen.

Perfect. For a fantasy writer.

A solstice deal

Initiation Rites, Part 1 of The Bones of the Earth, is 99 cents on Amazon and free on Smashwords. So to get your dark age fantasy on, you can get Initiation Rites for free, and this week, The Bones of the Earth is just 99 cents.Initiation Rites

For those who like dark, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, here’s a taste:

Wait. Wait. Wait.

Wait until the full moon is high, Vorona chanted. Wait until magic fills the night.

They waited as Vorona’s steady drumbeat pulled the full moon over the trees.

“Mysyach,” she repeated with every drum beat. No one else spoke or even moved. They waited as Mysyach, the moon goddess, slowly revealed her face. On this warm night, they felt a promise being fulfilled: “A full moon the night before the summer solstice is a very rare event,” Vorona had said one full moon ago in this same clearing. “It is the time for young men and women to worship, to celebrate their own fertility.”  They had danced naked to Vorona’s beating drum and returned home, exhausted and expectant.

Now, one month later, the night before the summer solstice, they gathered again in the clearing. Vorona’s moonlight ceremonies were irresistible, and open only to the unmarried young adults—no children or married people allowed. Twenty such came to the clearing just before moonrise, speaking low and fast in small groups. In the middle were the most popular couple, Mrost the bully and his girlfriend Grat; the others laughed at all their jokes and never dared interrupt them.

As always, Javor was the last to arrive and stood a little apart, wondering what to do. What if they tell me to leave? he thought. He shifted his weight from foot to foot until he spotted Hrech, his only friend. Then he saw Elli talking with her two girlfriends at the side of the clearing. She is prettier than Grat, and nicer, too, he thought as usual. Why does everyone like Grat better? He wondered whether he should go to Hrech or Elli.

No one noticed Vorona arrive; she seemed to appear in the centre of the clearing. Vorona had set herself up as the village’s witch: the woman who knew about herbs and remedies, who knew who was too closely related to marry, who dispensed potions and advice about finding a lover or getting a baby. But she was no crone. Perhaps twenty years old, she had long, rich brown hair and curves that Javor had started to notice when he had turned 13. She had big, widely-spaced eyes that she accented by painting dark outlines around them, and they flashed green in daylight and strangely silver by firelight. She had high cheekbones, a delicate face, wide lips and a delicate dimple like a tiny furrow in the end of her nose.

Tonight, she wore a metal necklace and a silvery bracelet. A single piece of amber hung in the centre of her forehead, suspended from a leather band around her head. A long robe of yellow and red, woven in a fiery pattern, hung from her shoulders. The front was cut very low and Javor took a good look at the curve of her breasts in the moonlight. As she turned he could see that the robe’s skirts parted at the side, revealing not only her leg but her whole hip. His heart started to beat faster.

The moon’s lower edge cleared the tallest tree and Vorona startled them all by crying “Worship, young people!” She lifted her hands. “Mistress of the night, Mysyach, bless us tonight as we pay homage to thee!” A pyramid of wood at her feet burst into flame all at once, quickly building into a bonfire. How did she do that? Javor wondered.

“It is time, young worshippers! Join hands in a circle around the fire and begin the ceremony!” Vorona commanded, then bent her head down and crooned words Javor didn’t understand.

You can find The Bones of the Earth on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iBooks and other e-book e-tailers.

 

Telling tales about tales



Kathy Lynn Hall on writing style

Reprised from the previous Written Words blog on Google.

Kathy Lynn Hall was one of the first independent authors I encountered through social media. Even though I am not in the target audience, I enjoyed her first novel, Red Mojo Mama, the story of a woman who takes control of her own life and her own happiness. I asked her about her writing style.

How would you describe your own writing style?

Folksy — it took me a long time to find my “voice” and once I did I realized that it’s very earthy and one-on-one. I think I would have been one of those people sitting around the pickle barrel, telling tall tales in the old days.

Are there any authors whose style you admire? Do you try to emulate them?

I absolutely love Agatha Christie and Jodi Picoult, but can’t begin to write like either one of them. The only thing I think I can imitate is the way a story is woven. I often think of this as a pinball machine — anyone remember those? — when the ball starts down the chute and you’re madly trying to use the flippers to keep it pinging off all the little thingies. You keep trying to go back to the high pointers, sometimes failing, but sometimes you hit it big and everything lights up. That’s what a writer lives for.

Are there authors whose writing style you dislike?

No particular authors, but if a story is bereft of heart, I’m really not interested and quickly lose interest. If it’s all action and no character-building or interactions, I just stop reading it.

How important is your writing style to you? Are you happy with your style, or are there aspects of it you try to change during rewriting or editing?

I have grown to really like my style. I’ll never be the Great American Novelist and that’s okay with me. If I can make a reader love my characters and care about them, then I’m happy. The one thing I have to watch out for is my tendency to be too concise and leave out description. I started out as a screenwriter and that’s ALL dialog, so I have to curb those tendencies.

How can readers identify your writing style? Are there particular words or kinds of words that you tend to favour? Sentence structures? Or is it more in the story, the pacing or the characters?

It’s definitely the characters and what they say and do to each other. I could have written Castaway — the film — because my character would have invented Wilson, too.

Do you think your genre imposes certain restrictions on writing style?

Absolutely — I think any genre does that. My “Red” novels are romantic suspense, which demands that there be enough romance, but not so much that it becomes a romance novel, and enough action to keep you hopping. The current novel I’m working on is a political thriller and I’m stepping outside my comfort zone a bit to insert enough action.

Do you think your audience responds to your writing style, consciously or unconsciously?

With any author, I think the reader responds unconsciously at first, but eventually how you are writing rises to the surface and they begin to recognize what they like about the way you write. Or maybe what they don’t like.

How important do you think writing style is to an author’s commercial success? It’s everything. Almost, anyway. Style can overcome a lot. Sure, you must have a great story and characters, but if your style is clumsy or tough to read, you’ve lost the reader before they even get that far.

Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview, Scott. I enjoyed it.

And thank you, Kathy, for your insight.

Kathy Lynn Hall is author of the novels Red Mojo Mama, Red is an Attitude and The Great Twitter Adventure, the short-story collection Her Heart, the autobiographical collection of musings entitled Tell Them You’re Fabulous and the social media guidebook Blog & Tweet — How to Make a Splash Online.

She’s also a prolific blogger, maintaining two blogs simultaneously. Currently, Kathy is on an extended round-the-world trip. You can follow her wanderings on

Also, be sure to visit her Amazon Author page.

What do you think about Kathy’s comments about writing style? Leave a comment.

 

Remember those who fell



Remembrance Day 2015

Wikipedia

Lei Crime meets Rocky Horror: An excerpt from Rocky Bluff



A new Lei Crime Kindle World novella by Kim Hornsby

Strange things had been happening onstage for the last hour and a half, unlike anything she’d ever seen before, not that she went to the theater on a regular basis. But this particular play was bizarre, and Lei had long ago turned off her cop warning signal to simply enjoy the spectacle of The Rocky Horror Show. Apparently it was normal for the crowd to yell “Asshole” every time one of the characters said his name, and to have flashlights waving and rice being thrown. Most audience members seemed to know when and how to perform each ritual.

So, no, Lei hadn’t reacted when the giant moon crashed to the stage, crushing a cast member. It was ten seconds before she pulled herself together, ran down the aisle and joined Stevens on stage.

Lei’s friend, Kali, who played the tap dancing groupie, Columbia, stood near the feet of the dead woman looking horrified. Her hands covered her mouth as if to keep from screaming, or crying. Nora, the victim, had been a favorite with the cast. That much Lei knew.

The murder weapon, a large quarter moon prop, that until ten minutes ago had held Frank-N-Furter as he descended from the theater’s rafters, lay on its side beside Nora, like a dog who won’t leave their dead owner. When the prop broke free, the main character, a transvestite scientist, had been seated on the curve of the moon singing “Don’t Dream It, Be It,” in full spotlight. Thanks to quick thinking, he’d jumped to a level spot at the top of a staircase while the moon continued its path to hit Nora on her head. Lei attributed Derek’s fortunate landing to his dance training. He looked flustered.

“You okay?” Lei asked him.

He nodded, but Lei knew no one was really okay.

Although Stevens had taken the victim’s pulse immediately and feeling nothing, shook his head, one of the cast ignored the pronouncement and was now doing CPR.

Lei stared at the grim scene on stage. From one angle it looked like Nora lay on the stage floor like she’d decided to take a nap. From another angle you could see that the amount of blood pooled by the woman’s left ear had to indicate a fatal injury. Lei fingered the smooth stone in her jacket pocket, her reminder to not let the darkness take over at horrific moments like this. Dissociation was a bitch sometimes. Somehow, the stone helped.

The theatre stage door flew open and paramedics burst into the once gorgeous, but now charmingly decrepit theater. Audience members had scattered, some going home, many spilling into the aisles talking and maybe still hoping. Lei knew this woman was dead, never to be revived by any amount of CPR. “Let’s move over here,” she said, directing the cast to the back of the stage. “Make room for the paramedics.” She wasn’t wearing her police detective badge, Stevens either, but the cast of twenty actors and crew did as they were told. No one on stage looked vindicated like this death was what they’d been hoping for. Lei noticed things like that.

Both wires that had held the moon prop led to a carabiner-type loop that connected them to one central line that now dangled uselessly. She bent over the wire, took a photo with her phone, just in case it got moved before the police photographer arrived, and wondered how a wire simply gives out. Someone would have to go up in the rafters to investigate. The break looked too clean for fraying. Tonight’s tragedy might not have been a horrible accident after all. It might have been a murder.

Lei Crime preview: Hoaka Moonshine



A Lei Crime Kindle World novella by Laurie Hanan

Hoaka cover with badge

It started as a low moan, then rose to a raspy chorus that might have been born of intense pleasure, or pain.

“Danged cats,” I said under my breath. “They’re enough to wake the dead.” I rubbed my arms, trying to shake off the chill that shot down my spine.

Nai‘a ignored me. The little black and white terrier’s eyes were locked on the screen door. Her hair bristled, her lips quivered as they pulled back to reveal sharp fangs. She let out a low growl. This was more than the indignant yapping she reserved for the neighborhood cats.

A glance at Simon told me he hadn’t heard it. He lay sprawled across the couch, headphones firmly in place, engrossed in that online game he liked to play till the early morning hours.

As I shut the front door and turned the deadbolt, I caught a whiff of something slightly foul. How long had it been since Simon last showered and put on clean clothes?

“C’mon, Nai‘a girl,” I said. “Time for bed.”

“Ma! Open the door!” Simon demanded. “I already sweatin’ like one pig.”

He took a swig of beer and slammed the bottle onto the coffee table. His hand slid into a bag of Cheese Puffs. He shoveled a handful into his mouth, wiped orange crumbs onto his shirt, brushed them onto the couch. All without taking his eyes off the laptop. His version of multitasking.

Nai‘a trotted down the hallway, looking over her shoulder to make sure I followed. She knew the routine.

I locked the bedroom door behind us and started to undress in the dark.

“Ma!” The thin wall did nothing to muffle Simon’s yell. “I told you, open the door!”

I didn’t answer and he couldn’t be bothered to keep on yelling.

The closed room was stifling, but I made sure the sheet covered every inch of my legs. Nai‘a curled up beside me.

It wasn’t five minutes before another drawn-out yowl brought Nai‘a to her feet. A warning rumbled in her throat.

The cat had to be right in our backyard.

“It’s okay, Nai‘a,” I whispered. “It’s just a cat.”

But if I didn’t know better, I’d almost swear it was a baby crying.

Nai‘a lay down and pressed against my side. She tensed at every noise.

The ceiling fan whirred above me. Its tick-tick-tick sounded like an old-fashioned wall clock marking the seconds, while the cats carried on outside.

About Hoaka Moonshine

When Dee Maltin bought the little beach cottage on Maui, all she wanted was to leave her memories behind. Now, fifteen years later, things are starting to go awry. Why does everyone else deny hearing the feral cats that keep Dee awake all night? What’s the smell that permeates her house no matter how much she scrubs? Why does her strange neighbor, who hasn’t spoken to her in all these years, choose this moment to strike up a conversation? A woman shows up at Dee’s door looking for her birth mother. Is she a con artist, or just deluded? Dee searches for answers and is soon over her head in one big Hawaiian-kine mystery.

Get it exclusively from Amazon.

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Lei Crime Kindle World is based on the Lei Crime series, created by bestselling author Toby Neal.

About the author

image0030 copy_edited-2Laurie grew up in the picturesque islands of the South Pacific, with a father who pioneered air travel to some of the remotest islands. She graduated from high school in the Mariana Islands, then studied art at the University of Washington. She continued her studies in Israel, where she met her husband. They settled in Hawaii, Laurie’s first childhood home, and raised three children. After retiring from the Honolulu Post Office, Laurie began writing her Louise Golden mystery series, about a mail carrier who can’t keep her nose out of trouble.

Find out more about her on her Amazon author page.