Saturday, April 27, 2013

Does Art Imitate Life

Hi, everybody. Or, maybe I should say, “G’day,” since I’m delighted that my favorite Aussie, the lovely, talented, slightly-wacky, author/blogger Kristy Berridge posted an interview with me on her blog this week. Feel free to hop over and check it out, then come back here so I can ramble on about something loosely related to one of the questions she posed.
                                                                      Kristy's Blog

So, now…
       Is art a reflection of life? That’s what they say, but is it really? I wonder sometimes, because when my characters pull something like one of them did this week, it makes me question my writing.

Don’t look at me like that. Yeah, I know I used the terms ‘art’ and ‘my writing’ in the same paragraph. Let’s don’t go there, okay? For the sake of argument let’s just say my writing is art. Good. That’s out of the way. We can proceed.

I enjoy watching the effects of the emotional baggage my characters have on their developing relationships. It’s one of the reasons I chose to have the central character in the Red Wolf novels be an older man. Clifford Crane has accepted who he is and has no intention of changing when he is suddenly turned into a werewolf, in effect forcing him to change.

In my naiveté, I had the idea that, given werewolves live for a thousand years, they’d have all that extra time to work out their issues. As it turns out, they often just accumulate more baggage. You think your current girlfriend or your recent ex-boyfriend is effed up over what they went through the last twenty years? Try hooking up with someone who’s been carrying the stuff around for hundreds.

Case in point, Ying Hua. You are going to love her. She’s a three hundred year old omega wolf in Red Wolf Rising saddled with the task of being the “calming influence” on the super-alpha assassin, Wei. But, it’s hard to be a calming influence on someone when you’re pissed off at them all the time. And I wrote the scene this week where the two have a fight on the eve of the confrontation between Wei and Clifford, his latest target. It didn’t go as planned.

She was supposed to slam the door to her bedroom, fume for a few seconds, then repent and help Wei work through some stuff. Instead, she stayed angry maybe ten seconds too long. Those ten seconds allowed Wei time to, well, I won’t go into details. The book will be out later this year. But, suffice it to say, werewolves can be impetuous creatures, capable of doing great damage in a short period of time.
        Now I’ve written myself into a corner… again. Not my fault. My characters regularly go off on their own, unplanned paths. But, isn’t that the way life is?

Haven’t we all gotten angry at someone over things that had more to do with our own internal struggles than the behavior that set us off? (Oh, maybe I’m the only one. I’ll just pretend it’s something everyone does.) Sometimes we see it coming, but we can’t head it off. Once the lid on the pressure cooker has blown, we watch ourselves saying things we can’t take back. We understand that an immediate apology has the best chance at repairing the damage. Yet, that anger is now in control, and something… keeps… us… from… letting… go.

It’s like the Big Bang. So much happens in those first few seconds. Then, the seconds turn into minutes. Our brains and defense mechanisms take over, and we begin to rationalize and even justify our actions. The minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, and a new universe has not only been created, it has evolved with a life and physical laws of its own.

Sigh. I’ve lost a few promising relationships over things said in anger. That’s unfortunate. But in my books, people die over this stuff. Now I’ve got my main character in mortal danger, and I was hoping to get at least one or two more stories out of him. Sure am glad my life’s not a book.
        … or is it?

      Well, that's all I've got for now. Until next time...
           Happy Reading!
Oh, don't forget you can purchase either of my books by clicking on the links below...

The Draculata Nest -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback
in Charlotte    Smashwords

The Dragon of Doughton Park ----------------------------------------------------------
Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback
in Charlotte    Smashwords

Friday, April 19, 2013

Featuring Red Tash

  Hi, everybody! Today’s is a very special post for me, because I get to promote (and interview!) one of my favorite authors, Red Tash. For those of you who follow my blog, you know that I reviewed her dark fantasy, Troll or Derby, in June of last year and her name crops up in my ramblings periodically. Well, this weekend, there is a crazy-ass sale going on where Troll or Derby is available as an ebook for only 99 cents. I can’t think of anyone I know (with the possible exception of my mother-in-law), who wouldn’t love this book. I mean, you are crazy not to read this book, so as a service to y’all I have posted the purchase links following my review (and the five stars) below.
  So, who is Red Tash, anyway?

Red Tash is a journalist-turned-novelist of dark fantasy for readers of all ages. Monsters, SciFi, wizards, trolls, fairies, and roller derby lightly sautéed in a Southern/Midwestern sauce await you in her pantry of readerly delights. Y'all come, anytime.”
   That’s her official blurb. For me, she’s a huge lump of gold that I stumbled over while tromping through the forest of recommendations Amazon throws at me constantly. I was so impressed with Troll or Derby that I shifted my lazy butt in my chair and wrote a review (re-posted below).
   Since then I’ve devoured everything I can find that she’s written, which is sadly not nearly enough to satisfy my hunger. I’ve corresponded with her via email and social media posts, and I’ve discovered she is a delightful person as well as a great writer. I’m proud to say I’m one of the Radishes, the group of fans that follow her avidly on Facebook. And last week, she graciously consented to do an interview for my blog!

   Here it is…
Okay, Red, you already know I’m a big fan, so enough of the stroking and brown-nosing. And I’m going to apologize for the selfishness of the following interview questions, because they are not so much in the interest of promoting you or the book. I have my own curiosity to satisfy.
Uh, how’s it going, by the way?
Going okay! 2013 got off to a challenging start, but I'm looking forward to working my way through all sorts of writing projects near and dear to my heart.
The titles for this series, Troll or Derby (and subsequent titles which I understand are Troll or Park and Troll or Trash), are delightful to me. Especially since titles are something I suck at. You attribute the title to someone else in your acknowledgments. Did that person come up with all three titles? Please elaborate.
Oh, no, I'm taking all the credit for Park and Trash, but my dear friend accomplished author Marian Allen did, indeed, pitch Troll Or Derby at me back when the book was in its early stages. She's a very witty gal and I can't recommend her work more. Those of you who've read the Let It Snow collection from the 2012 holiday season might remember Marian's story “The Pratty Who Saved Chrismuss,” a sort of Dickensian twist on the “off-world holiday” oeuvre.
I remember that one. It was good. Now… I love the cover for Troll or Derby. Tell us again who did the cover art, and how much input did you have in the concept, layout, etc?
The fairy was done by an artist named Brittany Smith of Amaranth Dreams studio. I stumbled across one of her photo manipulations on tumblr or and fell in love with her work. I wrote to her about Deb, sent her some excerpts from the books, and she sent me back sketches until we came up with the gal you see on the cover. I hope to have Brittany do the covers for Park& Trash, as well! She does great work and was worth every penny.
As far as the rest of the cover (fonts, layout, textures, paper tear, etc.), that was all me. I put up a rough draft of the cover without the textures and the paper tear, and a writerly friend complained it was too plain, so I thought about it and tried again. I have a background in page design and have done a lot of work with graphics, so I just kind of fiddled with it until it looked "roller derby" enough for me.
Well, the layout works. Every time I see a roller derby billboard now, I think of that fairy. Similarly, I often think of Harlow when I walk in the nearby greenway in my hometown, which is built atop an old landfill. You’ve captured the ambience of the Laurents County Landfill extremely well in your writings. You hangout in landfills a lot?
In rural Indiana there isn't always curbside trash service. When I was a little girl in Memphis, Indiana, my dad would load up his pick-up truck with the week's trash and take it out to the dump on Saturday morning. He almost always took me with him. I will never forget the sour odor of acres of rotting trash. I have no idea what took my dad so long when he was dropping off, but it always seemed like I had to sit and wait inside the cab of the truck forever. I guess those memories really stuck with me, because I feel like the sight of a zillion discarded pieces of garbage is one of the most colorful, vivid landscapes imaginable. When I began to write the role of Harlow into Deb's story, I asked myself where a troll might choose to live if he wanted to remain unseen. Just seemed like a good idea at the time to hide him in the landfill.
I think it was a great idea. Okay, I have one more question. Troll or Derby at one point reached #1 in Dark Fantasy on Amazon, with a total number of reader reviews now pushing sixty, and an average reader rating so close to 5 stars that it may as well be. Have you ever gotten a negative review? 
Of course!  All novelists get negative reviews. 
Not me! Okay, I’m kidding of course. I have a few 3-star reviews on amazon for my first novel, plus some negative comments in some of the more favorable ones, but some of those have actually been helpful. How do you handle it?
If I'm lucky, a negative review will shed some light on the issues that reader didn't care for.  If he/she just didn't like the story, then there's really nothing I can do about it.  If I can make a change, I will, though.  I have a free flash fiction story that got a lot of complaints because it was so short.  Free stuff always gets a lot of negative reviews, for some reason, and I don't think it helped that readers outside the writing community might not really know what “flash” fiction means.  Readers wanted to know more about that character, so I've since published a couple more stories about him, and hope to get another done this year.  I also solicited friends to add some free material to the end of that download, so now instead of one flash fiction story, it has two flash pieces and two longer pieces.  That's a lot of bang for your “free.”

Or, take the case of my first novel, which tells a story through the viewpoints of about seven or eight different characters.  I knew the transitions would be a bit jarring, and made a lot of caveats to that effect in all the descriptions and even in the front matter of the book, but when it still showed up as a point of contention in several reviews, I added the name of the character to the beginning of each chapter and haven't had that complaint, since. 
You’re talking about This Brilliant Darkness. I liked the shifting perspective in that book, but I read the version with the character names at the beginning of the chapters. So I guess, as a reader, I ultimately benefited from those negative reviews.
My job, in essence, is pleasing my readers.  If they like my work enough to pay for it, then it's my job to clarify what they enjoy and provide more of that.  Do they like the adventure, the pacing, the rush, the characters?  More, then.  I'm happy to do it!  I become a better writer every time I hit a home run based on their desires.
I heard that. Um, we’re about out of time. Anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, John, and thanks for being one of the Radishes.
My pleasure and my privilege, Red. Thanks for your time. Now, get back to your writing, because we’re all eagerly awaiting more of Deb and Harlow in the rest of the series.
                                                              Red and her Biggest Fan 
That was fun! Here’s my own review of Troll or Derby…

   Troll or Derby is Paranormal Americana at its best. It starts out at a dead run as teenaged Roller Deb rescues her older sister from a meth lab fire and the pace only increases from there. Ms. Tash is a former journalist, and it shows. There is not a wasted word in the whole story. There’s no time for background explanations or character development. You need to keep your head up and your eyes and ears open and get ready to duck ‘cause the next thing’s coming at you already. Yet somehow, amidst all the chaos, I came to know the characters and their world pretty well by the end of the book and am eagerly awaiting the sequel.
   This is an action book and to describe any more of it would risk spoiling something for the reader. But aside from the pace there were two particular things I liked about the book that bear mentioning. The first is the author’s talent for saying a lot in few words. Here’s an example, where Deb sums up her relationship with the evil April, “My heart both longed for her and ached for its own stupidity, at the same time.” Man, it would have taken me half a chapter to say that!
  The other thing I liked about the book was the very natural, off-hand treatment of Deb’s sexual orientation. It’s an important element of the story, but at no point does it become the central theme. This is the way it should be, and in my opinion does more for gay rights than any amount of preaching from the soap box, which I’ve done more of in the last sentence than Tash does in the whole book.
  I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more roller derby action, something I was expecting from the title, but that was not enough to keep me from giving Troll or Derby five stars. And the author has promised us more derby action in the upcoming sequel, Troll or Park. Dollar-for-word, this is the best thing I’ve read all year.
   As promised, here are the links to buy Troll or Derby for only 99 cents
   Coming up next time…
       … wow, I have no idea!
Until then, Happy Reading!

Oh, and don't forget you can purchase either of my books by clicking on the links below...

The Draculata Nest -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback
in Charlotte    Smashwords

The Dragon of Doughton Park ----------------------------------------------------------
Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback
in Charlotte    Smashwords

Monday, April 15, 2013

Clifford and Claire, Scene 7

Hi, folks. I had a great weekend hiking around the North Carolina mountains, and I’m pleased to say that more of the story of the Red Wolf was revealed to me while on my quest.
 Today I have another excerpt from my upcoming novel, Red Wolf Rising.

   But first, a quick reminder: Today’s the last day to get my books free on Smashwords. Just use the coupon code to the right of the Smashwords link at the bottom of this post.

   Now, more of Clifford and Claire…
   I’ve only hinted at it in the first two books, but those who’ve read them may have gleaned that Claire (aka, Claws-on-the-Foot), has had a disappointing history with romantic relationships over her thousand-year life. (I think that makes her a perfect match for Clifford Crane.) She’s a bit surprised to find she has an attraction for this man, and it keeps getting in the way of the business she has with him – to turn him into the Red Wolf of Prophecy.
   In the last post, we saw her invite him to her apartment. Her plan is make him feel comfortable by feeding him breakfast and chatting a bit, as she looks for an opportunity to propose turning him into a werewolf. They’re in the kitchen talking while she cooks. Let’s see how it goes…
Clifford inhaled deeply. “Smells good,” he said.
She turned and smiled. “Glad you came?”
He liked her smile, the way it made her high cheek bones dimple and her eyes sparkle. He felt warmth expanding in his chest. He nodded and grinned. “Yep,” he replied.
He watched her smile widen at his response, and he fought a sudden urge to kiss her. He might even have taken a step towards her. Did she lean forward expectantly, or was it just his imagination? He cleared his throat. “Ahem, can I help with something?”
She started, blushed, and turned back to the stove. “Oh, let’s see…” She was trying to focus, but she could hear her own pulse pounding in her ears. “Would you pull a couple of paper towels off that roll over the sink?”
He did, and he handed them over. Their fingers touched. He pulled his hand away quickly and jammed them both in his pockets. “Anything else?”
She turned back to the stove, spreading the towels across a clean plate for draining the grease from the bacon. An after-image of herself standing in front of him, eyes closed, lips puckered, spatula in hand, lingered in her mind. It hadn’t been that obvious, had it?
Okay, he’d just asked a question. What was it, can I go now? “Huh?” No, it wasn’t exactly that, it was… “Oh, no… I mean, yes. The juice. In there.” She pointed to the refrigerator. She took a breath. “There’s some orange juice in the fridge. Would you pour us a couple of glasses, please?”
“Sure. Uh, where are the glasses?”
“Cabinet.” She pointed. “There.”
Conversation stopped. Bacon popped and sizzled. Glasses clinked. There was the faint rising tone of liquid being poured. She felt the heat from his body as he passed behind her, leaving the kitchen to take the juice to the dining table. She took a deep breath. Quick, think.
The whole idea behind breakfast had been to make him feel comfortable. Now he was freaking out. Hell, she was freaking out. He was married and obviously had scruples and she was throwing herself at him again. There couldn’t possibly be a worse time to broach the subject of his wolf, but after the stunt she’d just pulled she doubted she’d get another chance. She’d be lucky if he stayed for the meal.
She flipped the pancakes out onto a platter and turned the burner off. She broke the eggs into the other pan and watched them begin to sizzle before she pulled the bacon from the grease and laid the strips out on the paper towels to drain. She flipped the eggs over.
Okay, she needed to do some serious damage control. “It’s almost ready,” she called, her voice feeling strained and unnatural. She placed a stack of three pancakes on two plates and flipped the eggs onto them. She dropped a few pieces of bacon on the side of each. She picked up the two plates and took a deep breath. Here goes. She carried the plates into the next room.
Clifford had been further examining the figurine, and he set it aside on the table as she put his plate down in front of him. “Enjoy,” she said. She set hers down and sat down in front of it, across the table from him. “There’s syrup, but have you ever tried apple butter on pancakes?”
“Apple butter?”
“Yes,” she pointed to one of the mason jars. “It’s homemade, too.”
“Really? I’ll have to try it, then.” He spooned some out onto his pancakes and sampled them. “Mmmm,” he nodded, “that is good. The bacon, too. You have serious skills.”
She smiled. His praise seemed genuine. Perhaps the food, and some light conversation, would ease the tension a little, make them both forget what had just happened. “Thanks,” she said. “I love to cook. I had to get my kitchen set up first thing.” She indicated the boxes stacked along the wall. “Everything else is secondary.”
“Good to see you have your priorities straight,” he grinned. “But, really, I’m impressed. You cure your own meat, make apple butter, you’re an amazing artist…” He nodded towards the centerpiece carving. “I have a feeling that’s just the beginning?”
She took a bite of her pancakes, smiling and blushing.
 “Oh,” he continued, “and you live in the national forest, which I am totally envious of. So, I have to ask again, because I really don’t think you’re here just to cook me breakfast, why have you moved to Charlotte?”
To be near you, Clifford Crane. “Well,” she replied, “I originally came to town looking for someone, back around the first of October. A young niece of mine ran away from home. One of her friends told me she might have come to Charlotte.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound good. How old is she?”
“Fourteen. She’s a good kid, really, but she fell into the wrong crowd and started using drugs. Her parents were about to send her to a rehab facility. It seems she got wind of it and took off.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve had any luck?”
“She knew a young man here. Now, they’ve both disappeared.” She sighed. “I don’t think they’re in town anymore, but I thought I’d stick around for a while, in case they come back.”
“Oh, wow. That’s tough.”
“I know.” She chewed silently for a moment. She took a sip of her juice. “Anyway,” she continued, “I kind of like it here, so…” She trailed off, shrugging. She tried to think of some light and comfortable subject to steer the conversation towards. She thought about inquiring about his home life, which hadn’t been going well the last time they talked, but such an inquiry might be taken in any number of wrong ways at this point. The silence dragged on.
Eventually, Clifford reached over and picked up the figurine. “This,” he said, “is really interesting. It’s incredibly detailed, but it’s not as… accurate as yours there.” He pointed at the centerpiece. “I mean… it’s not a wolf, is it? It’s something different. Not a real animal, I imagine, but a representation of something?”
She swallowed.  Uh oh, this is it, and neither one of us is ready. “Yes and no,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows.
“Um,” she continued, “it is a representation, of sorts. It’s my totem, or a representation of my totem, but… it’s a pretty accurate representation, because…” Dare I say it?
He was looking at her expectantly. After over five hundred years of living with the prophecy, and having nearly reached the end of her supernatural lifespan, she found herself at a crossroads, or at least a fork, and she was uncertain which path to take. But, if her path was to coincide with that of the man in front of her, like she thought it was, then she owed it to both of them, indeed to all humanity, to strike ahead. It felt unnatural to reveal her secret to a human. In nearly a thousand years, she’d never done so and knew of no others of her kind who had. But, if what had been foretold was truth, shouldn’t it just work out for the best?
“… it’s me,” she blurted, “in my shifted form.”
“Huh? What do you mean? I don’t get it.”
“It’s what I become, when I let my totem out.” She watched his face closely. Realization dawned as he put two and two together. Uncertainty crossed his features as the rational part of him rejected the conclusion. Finally, denial settled in.
“You’re a werewolf,” he smirked. “That certainly explains a lot.” He choked off a chuckle at the expression of seriousness on her face. His eyes cut back and forth between hers and the figurine. “Okay,” he murmured, “that’s interesting.”
“Clifford,” she said softly, tentatively, “you are, too.”
He laughed. “Well, damn, you found me out. Whew, I’ve been hiding it for years. What a relief to have it out in the open, finally! Heh-heh.”
“I’m not surprised you don’t believe me,” she said. “You need proof, and that’s understandable. Here, I’ll show you.” She stood, moved a few feet away, and began to remove her shirt.
He pushed himself away from the table and stood also. “No, Claire, stop. Don’t, please.” He went to her. Her shirt came off over her head and her snow white hair fell glistening about her bare shoulders. He stepped back at arm’s length. “Look, Claire, I’m sorry. I like you, but, really, I can’t do this.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I was only…”
He backed away, trying not to focus on the nipples that were peeking through the long tresses over her chest. “I admit I’m attracted to you, and I’ve probably been sending out the wrong signals, but…”
      She bent over and pushed her shorts down around her ankles. “No, wait, I just…” She heard the front door slam as she stepped out of the jogging shorts. He was gone. She stood looking at the door, naked to her panties, her shorts dangling from her fingers. That did not go at all well, she thought.
   No, it didn’t go too well, did it? But, how do you go about telling someone you’re a werewolf? Hmmm. I’ll let you know later.
   Remember, there are links below to order my books. The ebooks are only $2.99. Damn, you can hardly pass that up!
   Coming up later this week…
       … an interview with dark fantasy author Red Tash!

The Draculata Nest -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback
in Charlotte    Smashwords free thru April 15 with coupon code BX73L

The Dragon of Doughton Park ----------------------------------------------------------
Click on the link to order:
ebook for Kindle    ebook for Nook    ebook for Kobo    in Paperback
in Charlotte    Smashwords free thru April 15 with coupon code SP83A

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Clifford and Claire, Scene 6

  Hi, folks. I have a few more excerpts from my upcoming novel, Red Wolf Rising that I’ll be posting this time and next. I’m also posting this one a little early so I can pack up and head for a little weekend road trip to the mountains for some hiking and idea-gathering. I’ve decided I deserve it, even if no one else does!

   First, a quick reminder: Both my books are free in any electronic format you need at Smashwords through April 15th! Just use the coupon code to the right of the Smashwords link at the bottom of this post.

   Now, on to today’s post…

   I appreciate the little bit of feedback I’ve gotten from these excerpts, but the more the merrier. I take great store in what y’all say, so don’t be shy. I want this to be awesome by the time it hits publication, and y’all can help me out with suggestions.
   At this point in the story, Claire is 90% sure she wants to reveal to Clifford that she’s a werewolf, in the hopes that he will agree to allow himself to become one, too. She’s been waiting for the right opportunity, and she feels she may be running out of time…

She stopped, pointing to a side trail. “My apartment’s right up the hill. I just moved in. Come on. I’ll cook for you.”
Your apartment? Alarms went off in his head. “Uh, I don’t know if I…”
“Don’t worry. It’s just breakfast. I’m not going to jump your bones or anything.” She smiled.
“I didn’t mean to imply…” But he remembered saying the same thing to someone else one time.
“Just making sure,” she said. She turned and started up the hill. “Besides,” she called over her shoulder, “I’m way too old for you.”
Oh, boy, he thought. But he followed her anyway. The pathway led up a gradual incline and ended at the foot of a set of wooden stairs with a handrail that switched back and forth up a steep hill. At the top landing was a parking lot facing a row of recently constructed apartment buildings. They crossed the parking lot and ascended several flights of stairs to the third floor. Her door was the second on the right. She bent and pulled a key from her right sock.
“I haven’t finished unpacking,” she said, “so don’t judge.” She unlocked the door. He followed her inside. She pointed towards a small table with two chairs that sat in front of a sliding glass door which opened on a balcony overlooking the greenway beyond the parking lot. “Have a seat while I get started.” She disappeared into a small kitchen to the left.
He walked through a living room populated mainly with boxes. The little dinette was the only furniture in the room. He took a seat and spent a moment taking in the view. The window looked west, and the sky was just beginning to lighten as the sun tried to rise over the hill behind them.
“You can see some really pretty sunsets from that balcony,” she called from the kitchen.
“I bet,” he replied.
“It’s the main reason I chose this apartment,” she continued. A bell sounded, signaling the end of the heating cycle of a microwave. “Here,” she said, suddenly appearing with a cup of steaming liquid in her hand. She set it in front of him and handed him a spoon. There was a faint aroma of licorice. “Stir this for a minute, but don’t let it get cold. It’ll help the cramping. I’ll be right back.” She disappeared into another room.
Clifford began to slowly stir the liquid, releasing more of the aroma. He took a cautious sip. It was still too hot. He stirred some more. The centerpiece on the dinette table caught his eye, and he leaned close to examine it. It was a very detailed wood carving of a group of wolves. One stood watch as the others reclined serenely.
“You like that?” she asked, re-appearing from the back room. She’d removed her shoes and sweats and was now down to a t-shirt, jogging shorts, and bare feet. She had nice legs.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “I have kind of a thing for wolves.”
“Not surprising,” she said, disappearing into the kitchen again. “You’re a wolf, yourself.” He heard pots and pans rattling.
He thought a moment. It was a strange thing for her to say. “How do you mean?” he called.
“Everyone has a totem, an animal spirit to guide them,” she called. “Yours is the wolf.  I recognized it before. Mine is, too.”
“Are you an Indian… I mean, Native American, or something?”
“Yes, I am. And a shaman of sorts.”
“Really.” That was interesting. He wasn’t sure if he believed her, though.
“Yes, really. Have you tried your drink?”
“Oh, hang on. I will.” He raised the cup to his lips and took a sip. “What is it? I don’t recognize the taste.”
“A concoction of different herbs. I tried to sweeten it a little. Sometimes it’s too bitter, but it should help your leg not to be sore later.”
He took a longer sip. “It’s not bad. What exactly is a shaman?”
“Oh, a shaman is… a medicine woman… uh, spiritual healer…” She poked her head around the corner, frowning. “… tribal psychologist?”
“You have a tribe?”
“I did, for many years. Not so much any more.”
“What happened?” He was learning something about her. It wasn’t at all what he’d imagined.
“Time, mostly. This generation, it’s much different from… mine.”
“I heard that.” He’d raised his fist and sang with Pete Townsend at concerts when he was young, “… I hope I die before I get old…” Now, he was that generation the kids didn’t want to become. “Mmmm. I smell bacon.”
“Yes, you do, and you’re going to like it. It’s venison. Cured it myself. I brought some of my cache when I went home to pack some things a few weeks ago.”
“Home? Where’s that?”
“Not far. Near a little town called Troy, the other side of Albemarle.”
“I know it. I hike in the Uwharries all the time.”
“I have a cabin right smack dab in the middle of the Uwharrie National Forest.”
“That’s cool. How long have you been there?”
“A looong time.” She emerged from the kitchen carrying some utensils and condiments.
“Sounds nice. So, what are you doing in Charlotte?”
She began to set places for them both. She leaned across him to place two Mason jars – it looked like they were filled with different jams - between the two settings. He could feel the heat from her body and smell the aroma of her skin, a combination of sweat and bacon, not at all unpleasant. “Cooking you breakfast,” she said, fixing him with a smile.
She was very close, and she seemed to linger, until he cleared his throat and looked for something else to focus his attention. His eyes settled on the centerpiece again. “Ahem. I really do like that carving.”
She straightened, turning on her heel. “I might have something for you, then.” She strode back to the kitchen. I might have myself for you, if I’m not careful, she thought. She’d been telling herself there was a higher purpose behind her obsession with this man, but there was no denying the physical attraction. It might say more about his own restraint than hers that they weren’t naked on the floor right now.
She pulled a pitcher of previously-mixed pancake batter from the refrigerator and turned the burner on under a pan. Then, she turned and scanned a line of figurines along the counter behind her sink. She reached for one, pausing only a second before grabbing it up and returning to the living room. She set it down on the table next to Clifford. “Here, you can have this.” She walked back to the kitchen.
She stood before the stove, listening intently for indications of his reaction from the next room. She heard a whispered, “Wow.” There was a note of acceptance in his tone, and she exhaled in relief. She dropped a dab of butter in the pan, spread it around with a spatula, and poured three neat piles of batter which quickly spread into perfect round cakes. She called to him, “You like your eggs over medium, right?”
“Uh huh,” he replied, absent-mindedly. She could tell he was concentrating on the carving, probably running his fingers over it and maybe noticing some of the intricacies and… unique features. I hope I’m not moving too fast, here, she thought.
“This is… interesting,” he said.
She tensed, waiting for him to elaborate. There was only silence. Bubbles appeared in the pancake batter, and she flipped them over, smiling in satisfaction at the even, golden-brown color of the undersides.
“Was this hand-carved?” he called. “The detail is almost too intricate to be, but…” He wandered into the kitchen, holding it to the light. “Yeah, I can almost see… it looks like it had to be done with a fairly large knife.”
She scooped the pancakes from the pan onto a plate next to the stove and picked up the pitcher of batter. “It was,” she smiled.
“Did you do it?”
“No, but I did the centerpiece in there. The one you have was given to me by a friend.” She poured three more cakes into the pan. “It’s pretty old, and the natural color of the wood has faded. It was almost snow white when I first got it. Hey, could you hand me that pan?” She pointed.
He turned in the direction she indicated and saw a row of iron skillets hanging along the wall next to the stove. “Which one?”
“That one. No, the smaller one to the left. Yeah, that one.”
He pulled it off its hook and handed it to her. She placed it on another burner and turned the heat under it. She plopped a glob of butter in its center. She flipped the pancakes over, stepped over to the refrigerator, opened it, and extracted several eggs, which she set beside the pitcher of pancake batter.
Clifford inhaled deeply. “Smells good,” he said.
       She turned and smiled. “Glad you came?”

   Okay, that was kind of mundane, intended to set the stage for what’s to come. What do you think?
   And, feel free to click on one of the links below to order one of the first two books!

   Coming up in a few days…
       … more Clifford and Claire

Until then... Happy Reading!
The Draculata Nest -----------------------------------------------------------------------

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The Dragon of Doughton Park ----------------------------------------------------------
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