A deadly, incurable disease creeps silentLY through Chattanooga. And its victims aren’t random.
When inexplicable human rabies cases appear in Tennessee, disease ecologist Letty Duquesne jumps at the chance to trace the virus back to its source. But the closer Letty gets to finding the outbreak’s origin, the further someone will go to stop her.
With an unwanted promotion threatening to take Letty far from the field work she loves, this outbreak feels like her last chance to make a difference. It’s not something she can ignore, especially now. The spillover of zoonotic diseases to the human population is on the rise and violent animal attacks — like the one that killed her sister — are becoming all too common.
Something in nature has gone very wrong.
Local authorities would rather she go home, but Letty can track a source animal like no one else. With the help of disgraced detective, Andrew Marsh, Letty follows the virus’s epidemiological trail. But her every move is watched. And the source animal is closer than she thinks.
Inhuman Acts is a pulse-pounding thriller. Gripping and intricately paced, Brooke L. French’s debut novel will keep you on the edge of your seat.
A week at sea produced a lot of laundry. It fluttered above Jessa Duquesne as she lay on the foredeck of her parents’ sailboat, soaking up the morning sun. The air smelled of salt, waves splooshed against the hull, and seabirds cried out in the distance. It was everything she loved about a life lived outdoors.
Jessa lifted her head, searching the water for Mark. The ocean glittered, and the Nápali coast rose in the distance. Razor-sharp crags, each peak edged with green. Beautiful but empty. Just like the sea. No Mark.
She twisted to check their port side and spotted him beneath the surface. His body slid through a seemingly endless expanse of water, all sun-kissed skin and muscle.
She’d never planned to marry, never had any interest in men that a one night stand couldn’t fix. At least, not until she’d met Mark. He surfaced for a breath then slipped back under the waves. Something moved behind him, further out. A dark shape, getting closer. Thick body, elongated dorsal fin, maybe eight feet long.
Jessa rolled onto her stomach and undid the shoulder ties of her bikini.
The sandbar shark was probably a female, given the size, and harmless as sharks went. Odd it was out this far from shore, though. Poor thing would probably be lunch for a bigger predator. A great white or a tiger shark. And it shouldn’t have been so close to the surface. Sandbar sharks usually hugged the bottom.
She should go get her camera. Maybe make a note of when she’d spotted it so she could have the data point. She could look up any other odd behavioral patterns when—
Stop it, Jessa.
There would be plenty of opportunities to study marine life when she got back to her office at the university. What she needed to do now was focus on all the wedding planning still left undone. She’d been putting off the worst of it — seating charts and table linens and all the other things she didn’t actually care about — hoping she could pawn them off on her sister. Or, at least, that she and Letty could handle them together this week, powered by a steady rotation of caffeine and wine.
Jessa sighed and shifted on her towel. It couldn’t be helped. Letty wasn’t the type to say no when work called, and it wasn’t like Jessa was sorry to be here. A little get-away with Mark was the perfect use for the week she’d already taken off work. But still…
Seating charts and table linens.
The minutiae danced through her mind, conspiring with the warm press of the sun to lull her into a near-doze…
Ice-cold water dripped onto the small of Jessa’s back, and she jumped with a yelp. “What the—?”
Mark stood over her, a grin on his face, dark hair dripping onto the deck. And her.
“Asshole.” She laughed, using the edge of her towel to wipe the water away while she admired the broad stretch of his chest, the V of his abdomen where it disappeared into the top of his swim trunks. “How was your swim?”
“Lonely.” He pulled a T-shirt from the rigging, where she’d hung it to dry. “Want to go below for a bit?”
She shook her head with a smile. “We’re out of condoms.” They’d used the last one the night before, and the memory brought heat to her cheeks. Even in the cramped confines of the cabin, he was a remarkable lover.
Mark shrugged. “The wedding’s in a month. You wouldn’t even be showing by then.”
His dark eyes sparked with mischief.
“You’re so bad.” Jessa retied the straps of her suit. “I’ll meet you down there. I need to hop in and cool off first.”
Mark helped her to her feet and pulled her close. “Don’t be long.” He pressed a kiss to her lips that tasted like salt water. “We’ve got to return the boat to your dad by four.”
She stepped back, winked at him, and dove off the side.
“Show-off!” he called down after her.
Jessa slipped into the water with barely a splash, like the lifelong swimmer she was. The water brushed a cool relief against her hot skin. Moored as far from land as they were, there was nothing to swim to. She settled for circuits around the boat. After a dozen, she turned onto her back and floated, giving her shoulders a break. The sky was a bright almost unnatural blue. It made a wide crescent against the darker indigo of the sea where the two met at the horizon.
Something brushed her foot.
Jessa stilled her legs, paddling with her arms to keep herself afloat as she searched for the culprit. A light-blue mass swirled below her.
Ghostly strands reached up, inches from her skin.
And not just any jellyfish — box jellyfish. Large, square bodies with tentacles trailing below. Lots of them. Some as long as ten feet. Each tentacle had as many as five thousand stinging cells. Each one capable of causing excruciating pain and even death.
She had to stay calm, keep her wits. Which would be easier if she didn’t know their venom was deadlier than a cobra’s. Her mouth went dry. She turned in a slow circle, her breath tightening with each new jelly she spotted. They pulsed through the water underneath her. A writhing, growing mass.
She shifted the direction of her strokes, pulling herself away from them. How many were there? And why were they out now? Box jellyfish were always in the ocean, but Hawaii’s jellyfish tended to come and go with the cycle of the moon. And they weren’t due for weeks, especially not here. She and Mark had dropped anchor off Kauai, nowhere near the beaches of Oahu where box jellyfish were usually spotted.
“Mark?” She called out, but there was no sign of him.
Must be below deck.
She judged the distance to the boat. Maybe fifty yards. It would be easier and faster if she could kick. But she didn’t want to accidentally make contact with the jellyfish. Even one sting could send her into cardiac arrest. Her mouth was so dry, she could hardly swallow. The world shrunk to nothing more than the distance between her and the boat. She treaded water using only her arms, her muscles protesting, tired from the laps she’d done.
Just get to the ladder.
If you get stung, you’ll find the vinegar and douse yourself.
Jessa kept swimming, trying not to move her legs, gliding over the still-growing mass of jellies. Her heart pounded and she struggled to keep herself from hyperventilating. Forty yards, thirty, twenty-five. This was taking forever.
A lightning bolt of pain shot up from her ankle, a radiating burning sting. “Shit.”
She kicked off, powering toward the boat. Her ankle burning, her jaw clenched tight against the pain.
Another strike, this one on the other leg and higher near her thigh. Like a thousand wasps stinging at once. Sweat broke out on her forehead, and she gasped at the sudden shock of pain, then another struck. And another. Her body seized, her arms freezing in place as the jellyfish wrapped themselves around her. Delicate strands weaving bands of fire across her body. Her heart thundered. The sear of agony blotting out the rest of the world, until it was the one true certain thing left.
Not the only thing.
“Mark!” Jessa forced out the word as her head slipped under the water, a sharp pain slicing her chest. She willed herself to push toward the surface, not to breathe in the saltwater around her. Except it wasn’t water. The jellyfish were everywhere.
A few feet below the surface, she opened her mouth and screamed.
Excerpt from Inhuman Acts by Brooke L. French. Copyright 2022 by Brooke L. French. Reproduced with permission from Brooke L. French. All rights reserved.
Brooke L. French is a recovering lawyer turned writer who lives with her husband and sons between Atlanta and Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She spends most of her days gleefully researching and writing about fatal viruses, terrorism, and murder.
Whew, we’ve made it to another Friday, my bookish peeps. I’m looking forward to the weekend because I get more reading done (as if a book-a-day wasn’t enough for any book lover!). As most of you know by now, I’m an avid reader and enjoy reading from a variety of different genres. Regardless of genre, my fiction preferences are for a well-crafted storyline with a believable plot as well as realistic characters. I’m in awe of the great skill and talent to craft an entrancing read, whether it’s story or character driven. Today’s guest, author David Rabin, will share how he crafted the characters in his character-driven thriller, In Danger of Judgment. I hope you’ll enjoy what he has to say and add In Danger of Judgment to your growing TBR list. Thank you, Mr. Rabin, for joining us today, the blog is now all yours.
HOW I CREATED MY CHARACTERS By David Rabin
My slogan is “Character-Driven Crime Thrillers.” The books I’ve enjoyed most were those with characters I bonded with and wanted to spend time with, characters so charismatic and fascinating that I wanted to buy the next book so I could spend more time with them. When it came time to conceive my debut novel, I created the characters first and then crafted a story I thought would be a good vehicle for those characters.
First, an introduction to the story to get you oriented. In Danger of Judgment follows two Chicago police detectives in 1987 as they investigate a series of drug-related murders that pull them into a much larger conspiracy originating fifteen years earlier during the Vietnam War. As they dig deeper and try to prevent a drug war, they’re caught in a conflict between a drug lord and a man seeking revenge against him.
Now, on to the characters. I wanted to present multiple points of view because each character can bring something different to the story—different pieces of the plot and different personalities expressing themselves.
The two heroes are the detectives: Marcelle DeSantis and William “Bernie” Bernardelli. I wanted two protagonists because I like the dynamic of characters playing off each other. To pull it off, I had to make them different but complementary.
Marcelle is in her late twenties, brilliant and tough. As a female detective in the Violent Crimes division of the Chicago Police Department in the 1980s, she has to deal with sexism from within and without the law enforcement community.
Bernie is twenty years older than Marcelle and has been a Chicago cop for nearly three decades. He’s the book’s moral center, someone who’s seen it all and has learned to adapt to the horrors of his job without losing his sense of empathy and desire to help others. He and Marcelle have a mentor-protégé/uncle-niece relationship.
One of the lessons I learned when reading comic books during my youth was the importance of great villains. The best villains were as well-developed and interesting as the heroes, and I didn’t want a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash (yeah, I’m dating myself now).
The villain is Robert Thornton and he’s the subject of a six-decade backstory. He has a Ph.D., briefly taught as a college professor, served in the OSS during World War Two, spent several years with the CIA, worked as a mercenary in Asia and Africa, and when we see him in the main story, is the chief enforcer for a Southeast Asian heroin cartel. He’s erudite, articulate, unflappable, and has all the social graces, but has devolved from being a hero early in his life to being utterly amoral. I designed him to be not just a formidable adversary but to be equal parts charming and revolting.
The book has two secondary characters, again with the goal of presenting different perspectives and personalities. John Shepard is an accountant who’s a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation division, assigned to work with Marcelle and Bernie to take down Thornton. He’s another complementary character—he suffers from tic and generalized anxiety disorders, which prevent him from developing relationships.
The other secondary character, Ed Stepanek, was the most fun to write. Ed lives in suburbia, is well-liked by his neighbors, dotes on his lawn, kills people for a living, and has a tenuous relationship with reality. Rational characters come with restrictions—once we establish their personality, we expect them to stay within certain boundaries of behavior. But with Ed, I gave myself permission to make him as plumb crazy as I wanted.
It took me twenty-eight years to get from the book’s conception to its publication, and I lived with these characters every day during that span. I’m excited to finally be able to present them to the world. ♦
In Danger of Judgment
by David Rabin
August 8 – September 2, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
When a covert operation during the Vietnam War ends in tragedy, one of its members resolves to kill the man who betrayed it to the enemy. Now, fifteen years later, he’ll finally get his chance.
Chicago, 1987. Home of mediocre baseball teams, gangs that rule the streets, and a Mexican drug cartel that supplies the city with heroin. Chicago Police Detective Marcelle DeSantis and her partner, Bernie Bernardelli, are working a series of heroin-related murders, and their job just got more complicated. The man who sabotaged the Vietnam operation, Robert Thornton, is now the chief enforcer for a Southeast Asian heroin cartel, and after fifteen years overseas he’s arrived in Chicago to eliminate the reigning cartel and seize control of the city’s heroin trade.
Racing to stop a drug war, Marcelle and Bernie don’t realize they’re about to be caught in a deadly crossfire: another man is circling in the wings, one of Thornton’s soldiers from Vietnam, who’s preparing to exact his long-sought revenge against his former mentor. He’s the last person anyone would ever suspect, and when he finally makes his move, the paths of these four people will explosively converge.
Praise for In Danger of Judgment:
“In Danger of Judgment does a masterful job of juggling multiple, full-blooded characters through high-octane storytelling as they make their way to a shocking, violent ending. David Rabin is a name that is sure to become familiar among lovers of best-selling, full-throttle thrillers”
––David Shawn Klein, award-winning author of The Money
“Mr. Rabin brings a fresh set of characters to the tried-and-true crime drama, and his breezy narrative style and crackling dialogue kept me turning the pages well past my bedtime.”
––Ronald Aiken, author of Death Has Its Benefits and former president of The Atlanta Writers
“Kudos to Mr. Rabin on the high quality of the prose, the thrilling plot with a twist and surprise ending, and the extensive research that went into this novel. I highly recommend it.”
––Jill Caugherty, author of Waltz in Swing Time
“Well-developed characters drive Rabin’s taut thriller. . . . the story builds to a lengthy, sensational final act, brimming with well-earned suspense.”
“A stunning debut, David Rabin’s In Danger of Judgment is an engrossing page-turner. Shocking twists barrel full-speed into an action-packed and tense crime thriller readers won’t see coming… Builds an intricately-plotted crime thriller that’s cinematic and wildly compelling. The author’s prose is concise and ‘unputdownable,’ skilled at giving a tangible sense of the time period these characters inhabit.”
DAVID RABIN was born in Chicago and raised in its Lakeview neighborhood. He later moved to Atlanta, where he worked as a trial lawyer for thirty-three years. Now retired, he writes fiction, runs a competitive shooting program, and competes in rifle sports, including the discipline of Highpower Rifle, in which he holds two High Master classifications. He and his wife, a former clinical social worker, have two grown sons. In Danger of Judgment is his first novel.
Saturday greetings, my bookish peeps. Have you ever pondered the quirks we bring to our various routines, including reading? Some of us can’t sleep without reading a few pages. Some of us find reading digitally abhorrent, whereas others find they can only read digitally. You might have a favorite reading chair or spot on the sofa. Perhaps you have a favorite mug or glass you sip your preferred beverage out of while you read? Whether we consider these habits or quirks, we all seem to have them to some extent. Authors are no different, whether speaking about their reading or writing habits. Some authors will only write using certain types of pens or pencils. Others may prefer to use manual typewriters to create their literary works. Please help me welcome back, Ken Harris, author of the recently released See You Next Tuesday. Mr. Harris will be discussing his writing quirks with us. Thank you, Mr. Harris, for taking time away from your busy writing schedule to visit with us again.
What are your writing quirks?
Writing quirks? Oh, I’ve got ’em. Some common, some off the wall. The follow-up question asked is does your routine play into somehow traditionally publishing a complete trilogy in fourteen months? The not, out loud answer is, by the seat of my pants like a rocket sled going off the rails. But, instead, I usually shrug my shoulders with a dumb look and mention I thrive in creating fictional universes and the characters that fill them.
Truth be told, I really do enjoy banging on a keyboard for a handful of hours each day. But there are a few steps, quirks if you may, that lead me to that point in the process. I’d like to share exactly how I manage to keep up this frenetic pace.
All of my ideas start with a pad of paper and a handful of sharpened Ticonderoga #4 pencils. Why #4 is a common question. Being left-handed, as my hand moves across the paper, left to right, graphite from most pencils (#2s) smears across the side of my hand. I find a #4 has a much harder lead and there is practically no transfer from the page to my hand. Less time spent washing my hands equals more pages of notes.
The pencil and pad of paper are also portable and you never know when an idea will hit you. That being said, the notes app on my phone works wonders too, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea you know that will be forgotten the moment your head hits the pillow again. I’ve lost count of the trips I’ve made, tiptoeing down the hallway to my office and speaking notes into my phone.
What usually is a boatload of handwritten pages are then typed into Word where I can edit and move sections around more freely. This results in the thinnest of outlines, most of which never make the first draft. Finally, those edited pages are cut and pasted into Scrivener where I start pounding away to make the magic happen.
Speaking of making the magic happen, what happens when those creative juices dry up faster than the water at Lake Powell? Enter my strangest but most productive quirk to date: Introvert turned Twitch streamer.
Writer’s block hit me hard during the drafting of the 3rd book in the “From the Case Files of Steve Rockfish” series. I hit the wall at 40,000 words and didn’t write a thing I didn’t not trash the following morning for three months. Going against my previous stance of never forcing the issue (It’ll come, Ken, just give it time), I logged on to Twitch one morning and began live streaming my writing sessions. It turned out to be one of the best writing decisions I’ve made in a very long time. Yes, people draw, paint and play video games on Twitch, but did you know there is an up-and-coming writers’ community on the platform?
I assumed I would have the occasional friend or family member stumble across my stream, but soon I reached affiliate-status and began to look forward to the regular viewers that wander into my channel each morning. Six weeks after I started streaming, the block was crushed and the first draft of the novel came in at 113,000 words. My protagonists were out of their individual quagmires, back together, and moving forward on the big case again.
Apparently, I do my best writing in front of a virtual audience while carrying on and keeping up with the chat. Not to mention my viewers are a great help when my brain dies and I can’t come up with the word I’m looking for.
I’ve used giveaways to attract viewers, followers, and even subscriptions. Yes, I can make the occasional dollar doing this. I’ve given away mugs, Audible codes, challenge coins, and even mentions in the acknowledgments section of that upcoming third in the series (drops March 9, 2023). Twitch has a thing called Channel Points, which viewers can earn by watching and participating in chat. I’ve used these to create rewards that keep me engaged with the viewers. They can use points earned, called Writer’s Blocks, to purchase such things as play DJ and pick a song to be played, buy me a shot, tell them a little-known fact about me from work or writing, and even a community challenge where viewers pooled their points to rename a secondary character in the draft.
In the end, my quirks might seem normal to some, off the wall to others. But in the end, it’s all about getting words down on the screen in a timely fashion in a way that works for you. Sometimes the most off-the-wall idea works. And if it doesn’t, move on. Don’t get stuck in that rut. It sucks there. ♦
See You Next Tuesday
by Ken Harris
July 11 – August 5, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
From the Case Files of Steve Rockfish
PI Steve Rockfish’s father loses part of his retirement savings in an online romance scam while partner Jawnie McGee handles the firm’s newest client who spins a tale of alleged spousal infidelity. Rockfish ignores his current case load and becomes fixated on tracking down those responsible for the fraud. Restitution is coming in the form of cash or broken bones. At the same time, Jawnie’s surveillance of the cheating spouse reveals more acts of kindness than sex leading to a client who doesn’t want to believe the good news.
Unbeknownst to the partners, each investigative path leads the partners to the Church of the Universal Nurturing II where the fraud is on a cryptocurrency level. Their new SunCoin is marketed as the only post-rapture currency accepted inside the pearly gates. After all, who wants to show up to the after party with out-turned pockets and not get past Heaven’s paywall?
Church elders court Rockfish and his new-found Hollywood wealth with an old-fashioned honey pot. The danger level ratchets up as Rockfish counters by sending the firm’s two new confidential informants undercover only to find the church’s endgame grift is larger and deadlier than anyone expected.
“Harris has created his own sub-genre with this series, which is a beautiful and unique thing to see. Beloved characters must brave the most dangerous, harrowing journey yet. The suspense woven through this tale is done with a finesse rarely seen, and ensures we stay glued to the page.”
Ben Eads, author of Cracked Sky and Hollow Heart
“The second in the Case Files of Steve Rockfish series begins with separate cases involving a cheating husband, a corrupt religious cult, a stockpile of poison gas, and a currency scam. The cases come together in a wild ride worthy of a chase scene in a movie, as the detectives pursue the cult leader in a rip-roaring page-turner of an ending.”
Carolyn Geduld, author of Take Me Out The Back and Who Shall Live
“Harris takes you on two journeys you hope will never happen to family members but fear it could. The emotional roller coaster you will ride, keeps you reading and hoping the end comes with a taste of sweet revenge. Harris finds a way to weave a story that keeps you turning the pages and wanting more Rockfish.”
Stephen W. Briggs, author of Family of Killers-Memoirs of an Assassin
Ken Harris retired from the FBI, after thirty-two years, as a cybersecurity executive. With over three decades of writing intelligence products for senior Government officials, Ken provides unique perspectives on the conventional fast-paced crime thriller. He is the author of the “From the Case Files of Steve Rockfish” series. He spends days with his wife Nicolita, and two Labradors, Shady and Chalupa Batman. Evenings are spent playing Walkabout Mini Golf and cheering on Philadelphia sports. Ken firmly believes Pink Floyd, Irish whiskey, and a Montecristo cigar are the only muses necessary. He is a native of New Jersey and currently resides in Northern Virginia.
Good day, my fellow book lovers. I hope you’re all having a good week and staying cool and dry. Have you ever given any thought to the psychological issues some of our beloved characters reveal but also deny? For example, Scarlett O’Hara uses denial as a massive coping mechanism throughout her life, but occasionally she uses it as a weapon or tool to get what she wants. Gone With the Wind just wouldn’t be the same if Scarlett were as sweet and kind as her “friend” and rival, Melanie. Authors intend for some characters to be more flamboyant and over-the-top because it makes for a more interesting story, as well as making for a memorable character. I’m pleased to welcome Haris Orkin, author of Goldhammer to the blog today. Mr. Orkin is an acclaimed author and he’ll be talking to us about Bond, James Bond. Thank you, Mr. Orkin, for joining us today. I look forward to learning your thoughts on James Bond and now turn the blog over to you.
YOU’D HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO BE JAMES BOND By Haris Orkin
Daniel Craig’s last James Bond movie was finally released after a long delay and right now, there is no new Bond film on the horizon. Ladbrokes, the storied British betting and gambling concern, publishes odds every day as to who the next James Bond might be. People can lay bets on it. The top contenders at the moment are Tom Hardy, Henry Cavill, Richard Madden from Game of Thrones, Aiden Turner, Idris Elba, and Rege-Jean Page of Bridgerton fame. Whoever Barbara Broccoli chooses to be the new Bond will take this sixty-year-old blockbuster franchise into the future. Currently, it’s the fifth highest-grossing movie franchise of all time.
When Goldfinger first came out I couldn’t wait to see it, but my parents thought I was too young. They thought it was too violent, too sexy, and too grownup for a fourth-grader. (The movie poster featured a nude woman painted entirely in gold.) They finally gave in to my nagging the following year when Thunderball came out.
In the pre-title sequence, Bond punched out a guy dressed as a lady and then escaped by donning a jetpack and taking off into the sky. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. One week later there was a promotion in the parking lot of our local mall. In 1965, Randhurst was the largest shopping center under one roof in the world. I lived in suburban Chicago and it was one mile from our house. A man donned that same (or similar) James Bond jetpack and took to the sky with an earsplitting whoosh. I was thrilled and inspired and right then and there I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Who wouldn’t? He traveled all over the world and drove super cool cars with built in-machine guns and ejector seats. He sky-dived and scuba-dived and gambled in casinos on the French Riviera. Every woman he met shamelessly threw herself at him. Bond had no fear of anyone or anything. He was confident in every situation and comfortable in his own skin. I think that was the biggest fantasy of all for an awkward pre-teen from the suburbs of Chicago.
Two years later I saw You Only Live Twice. Two years after that, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I owned a James Bond toy camera that turned into a pistol and a toy radio that turned into a sniper rifle. That was also the era of The Wild, Wild West, The Man From Uncle, I Spy, and The Avengers. (The one with Emma Peel and John Steed, not the one with Iron Man, Spiderman, and Thor.) But Bond was the original. The first. The best.
It was also the era of Get Smart and that was the first hint to me that there was something vaguely ridiculous about Bond. When Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery, the Bond films turned slightly more comedic. I missed Connery’s cool edge and I didn’t think Moore exuded the same sense of danger. I wanted to believe in Bond. I wanted to buy into the whole ethos of a lone secret agent who could save the world.
Gradually, over time, as much as I loved Bond, I was beginning to see the absurdity behind what he did and how he did it. Bond always accused the supervillains he confronted as being barking mad. But in truth, he was no less crazy. I began to understand that only someone completely crackers could do what James Bond did.
I started reading the books as well and Fleming’s Bond wasn’t as over the top as the movie Bond. He was more grounded and a bit more realistic. The villains weren’t quite as insane as the ones in the movies, but they were definitely crazier than Bond. Over time, however, the books became as fantastic as the films. Even as a twelve-year-old kid I could see that Bond was probably a few egg rolls short of a pu pu platter.
Who in their right mind would cross a river by jumping over the backs of a bunch of crocodiles? Or leap out of a plane without a parachute? Or bungee jump off a thousand-foot-high dam? These are things only a person with a death wish would do. Or someone so insanely confident that they didn’t believe death or serious injury was even a possibility. Of all the nutty things Bond did in those early films, the craziest to me was when he decided to go undercover as a Japanese fisherman in You Only Live Twice. As a six-foot-two Caucasian with a Scottish accent and bangs, Bond didn’t seem convincingly Japanese to me. Hell, he didn’t even speak Japanese. For Bond to believe that anyone would actually believe he was Japanese didn’t just strain credulity, it was batshit crazy.
Still, I continued to love James Bond. I still do. He continues to be the ultimate escapist male empowerment fantasy. He also reminded me of another famous literary hero who made it his mission to right wrongs, save damsels in distress and slay dragons. This hero was also famously delusional.
A few years back it crossed my mind that today’s equivalent of a knight errant would be a secret agent. A contemporary Don Quixote would likely imagine himself to be a super spy like James Bond.
That’s how James Flynn came to be.
Oscar Levant, the virtuoso pianist and world-class wit, once said, “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.”
The same could be said for the line between bravery and batshit crazy.
by Haris Orkin
June 6 – July 1, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
A James Flynn Escapade
A young actress, involuntarily committed to City of Roses Psychiatric Hospital, plunges James Flynn into a dangerous new adventure when she claims one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood is trying to kill her.
Still convinced he’s a secret agent for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Flynn springs into action, helps her escape and finds himself embroiled in a battle with a dangerous sociopath worth billions. In the process, he uncovers a high-tech conspiracy to control the mind of every human being on Earth.
With the help of his reluctant sidekick, Sancho, and a forgotten Hollywood sex symbol from the 1960s, Flynn faces off with Goldhammer and his private army in a desperate attempt to save the young actress…and save the world…once again.
Praise for Goldhammer:
“One of those books that has you laughing and turning pages well into the night.” —Len Boswell, Bestselling author of The Simon Grave Mysteries
“A riotous comic novel that’s also a legit page turner. A deftly plotted, swiftly paced thriller.” —R. Lee Procter, Author of The Million Dollar Sticky Note and Sugarball
“A fast-paced quixotic thriller that would make Miguel de Cervantes and Ian Fleming proud. The third James Flynn novel is a powerful cocktail of suspense, adrenaline and a whole lot of laughs. Orkin has the remarkable ability to keep the reader straddled between a genuine spy thriller and an off-the-wall comedy” —Joe Barret, Award-winning author of Managed Care
Genre: Comedy Thriller Published by: Black Rose Writing Publication Date: June 23rd, 2022 Number of Pages: 240 ISBN: 1684339677 ISBN-13: 9781684339679 Series: The James Flynn Escapades, Book 3 | Each is a stand-alone thriller Book Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Haris Orkin is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and game writer. His play, Dada was produced at The American Stage and the La Jolla Playhouse. Sex, Impotence, and International Terrorism was chosen as a critic’s choice by the L.A. Weekly and sold as a film script to MGM/UA. Save the Dog was produced as a Disney Sunday Night movie. His original screenplay, A Saintly Switch, was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starred David Alan Grier and Vivica A. Fox. He is a WGA Award and BAFTA Award nominated game writer and narrative designer known for Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Mafia 3, and Dying Light.
Hello, my bookish peeps. Have you ever given any thought to what makes a book memorable? Can you imagine To Kill A Mockingbird NOT taking place in the South or in the 1930s? Would the story have had the same impact? Needless to say, authors have to take into consideration not only the locale of their settings, but also the time period, when crafting their stories. I’m pleased to welcome Ken Harris, author of The Pine Barrens Stratagem to the blog today. Mr. Harris will be discussing with us the importance of location in his writings. Grab your favorite beverage, sit back, and enjoy Mr. Harris’s visit. Thank you, Mr. Harris for being with us today, the blog is all yours.
Location, Location, Location by Ken Harris
More than one friend, publisher, and interviewer has asked me why I chose the setting of The Pine Barrens Stratagem to be smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.
Aren’t you going to turn off readers, they asked? In fact, that point was brought to my attention from a small publisher in the text of their query rejection email. “We just don’t know if people are going to want to read about the pandemic,” were the words used.
Fear of the unknown, but this is the story I wanted to tell. If my story was set around 1929 to 1930, I would be remiss if I just ignored the stock market crash and impending depression on the characters and the environment all around them. If I wanted to write a book that I knew the general public would willingly accept and if I were in this solely for the money, I would have thrown in half a dozen zombies into the story. Apparently, the zombie apocalypse might be the only pandemic people won’t get upset reading about.
Suspend belief, others say, when questioning my setting. If I was capable of suspending belief as an author, I’d write horror. I am an absolute horror nut when it comes to books and movies. But I can’t write it. Tried. Failed. Can’t suspend belief as I type. I guess that’s what 32 years with the FBI does to a person. Just the facts, ma’am.
There are many detective novels written in sunny conditions with no rain in sight. I wanted the opposite. Something out of the ordinary that would be a challenge. My goal was to reinvent the sarcastic fast on his feet private eye I watched as a kid in The Rockford Files, but in modern times. When I began this book in September of 2020, the sun didn’t come out most days and the news was overflowing with Covid stories. I wanted to see how my protagonist would deal with this additional adversity in his investigative work day.
Right off the bat, I knew Steve Rockfish would be having money problems. People were no longer going into the office each day. Working from home was becoming the norm. That meant no one was going into the office to continue that romantic fling with a co-worker or stopping at the local bar after work to meet the other half of their affair. The bread and butter of a lot of private detective work was out the window. The flow of rejected spouse banging on a private eye’s door to get proof of the infidelity slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether.
Secondly, I wanted to challenge myself as a writer. I was very interested in how Covid restrictions would impede a Rockfish investigation. He would need a mask, pretty much everywhere he went. Would restrictions prevent him from just gaining access to places or people that he would normally just walk up to? How would his demeaner change? Would he follow the government’s guidelines even if they caused him to not properly work the case and possibly, in the end, not complete the job for his client? All of this made me think out of the box. I really hate that phrase, but it fits here.
Emotional or non-verbal tells are a tool used to express the tension of a scene or the mental state of a character. I could easily write a character smiled in response to something someone else said. It shows the reader that particular character’s frame of mind. Not so easy to do, as an author, if someone is wearing an N95 mask. It made me write outside my normal comfort zone.
In the end, Covid is just another bad guy that Steve Rockfish has to face off against in the modern world. I would hope readers agree with me when I say the action, humor, and sarcasm of the book demote the pandemic to a small character of the book, but one that is important and had to be addressed in the world we currently live in. ♦
The Pine Barrens Stratagem
by Ken Harris
February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Private Investigator Steve Rockfish needs cash, like yesterday. The bad news is that yesterday, a global pandemic raged, and Maryland was headed toward a lockdown that would ultimately lead to cheating spouses no longer “working late,” and hence a lack of new clients.
Rockfish’s luck changes when a Hollywood producer reaches out, but the job is two states away and involves digging up information on a child trafficking ring from the 1940s. What he uncovers will be used to support the launch of a true crime docuseries. He grabs a mask, hand sanitizer and heads for South Jersey.
On-site, Rockfish meets Jawnie McGee, the great granddaughter of a local policeman gone missing while investigating the original crimes. As the duo uncover more clues, they learn the same criminal alliance has reformed to use the pandemic as a conduit to defraud the Federal Government of that sweet, sweet, stimulus money.
It’s not long before the investigation turns up some key intel on a myriad of illicit activity over the last eighty years and Rockfish rockets toward a showdown with the mafia, local archdiocese and dirty cops. COVID-19 isn’t the only threat to his health.
Genre: Crime Thriller Published by: Black Rose Writing Publication Date: January 27th 2022 Number of Pages: 250 ISBN: 1684338719 (ISBN13: 9781684338719) Purchase Links:Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads
Ken Harris retired from the FBI, after thirty-two years, as a cybersecurity executive. With over three decades writing intelligence products for senior Government officials, Ken provides unique perspectives on the conventional fast-paced crime thriller. While this is his first traditionally published novel, he previously self-published two novellas and two novels. He spends days with his wife Nicolita, and two Labradors, Shady and Chalupa Batman. Evenings are spent cheering on Philadelphia sports. Ken firmly believes Pink Floyd, Irish whiskey and a Montecristo cigar are the only muses necessary. He is a native of New Jersey and currently resides in Northern Virginia.
Good day, book people. I hope those of you in the USA will get to spend some of your Labor Day holiday today reading. I hope those of you elsewhere are able to find some time today to squeeze in some reading. If you’re like me, an avid reader, I’m always amazed when I pick up a new-to-me book or series about how much detail the author will include about the characters. Some authors provide glimpses of the characters backstory and other authors will weave the backstory into overall story. It doesn’t seem to matter how they craft their characters, the more details I have about a character, the more three-dimensional they seem to become. Today I’m pleased to welcome an award-winning and bestselling author, Kat Flannery, whose latest book, The Memory Bell, was released a few months ago. Ms. Flannery will be discussing the importance of character biographies with us today. I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say, follow the blog tour, and add The Memory Bell to your TBR list. Thank you, Ms. Flannery, for taking time out of your busy schedule and joining us today. The blog is now yours.
The Memory Bell was so much fun to write, but that didn’t mean there weren’t challenges along the way. I’d be lying if I told you the whole writing process was a breeze, and nothing went wrong. Ha, I don’t think any author could spout that sentence as true. There are always problems and as the author—the creator you have to figure out how you’re going to fix them.
With all of my novels there are problems and sometimes they’re really big ones. You know, ones that require me to rewrite 10,000 words, or scratch a whole beginning, or worst-case scenario delete the whole manuscript and start over. Every single one of the above happened when I was writing The Memory Bell in the first four months. I honestly didn’t know if the book would ever get written.
When I set out to write a contemporary mystery littered with family drama, I had no idea how in-depth I would need to go to put the Penner’s to paper. The process was crazy and long and at times annoying. Why? Well for starters I had to write a bio on every single one of the Penners so that I could understand them better, really get to know them. Yeah, I had pages upon pages of backstory and conversations that I never used. Alas it was all necessary so that I could write each character perfectly. Did it make the process any less painful? No, it did not, but I know it needed to happen.
My job as an author is to deliver well researched, three dimensional characters that are real to my readers just like they are real to me. AND if that means I write 22,000 words of character biographies and backstory, then that is what I do. I hope you enjoy reading The Memory Bell and learning all about the devious Penner clan.
Thanks for having me on your blog!
The Memory Bell
by Kat Flannery
September 1-30, 2021 Tour
Grace Penner’s safe haven crumbles when a body is found outside of town.
Gifted the memory bell, a family heirloom, from her grandfather’s will, Grace’s excitement is soon squashed when the bell gets broken right after she receives it. While gluing the pieces back in place, she discovers three are still missing.
Determined to find them, she is halted when the new detective, Bennet James, investigates her family. Grace is intent on showing the detective her family isn’t capable of murder, but as the investigation deepens, and pieces of the bell show up with ominous notes, Grace soon realizes the Penners are not what they seem. Amidst the tightly knit family; dark secrets, deception, and possibly even murder unfold.
Will Grace be able to save the family she loves more than anything without losing herself forever?
Praise for The Memory Bell:
“A naïve small-town girl and a disillusioned big-city cop, drawn together by an unsolved crime that is itself only the tip of the iceberg, The Memory Bell serves up the perfect steamy summer read.” –Jenny Jaeckel, author of House of Rougeaux
“The story moves beyond a small town whodunit to probe the underlying bonds of history that connect a family.” -Midwest Book Review
“Wonderful, engaging, and fast-paced! Flannery knows what she’s doing!” -Jonas Saul, author of the Sarah Roberts series
Genre: Mystery, Suspense Published by: Black Rose Writing Publication Date: July 1, 2021 Number of Pages: 288 ISBN: 1684337089 (ISBN-13:978-1684337088) Purchase Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Kat Flannery’s love of history shows in her novels. She is an avid reader of historical, suspense, paranormal, and romance. A member of many writing Kat enjoys promoting other authors on her blog. When she’s not busy writing, or marketing Kat volunteers her time to other aspiring authors. She has been a keynote speaker, lecturer and guest author inspiring readers and writers at every event she attends. Kat’s been published in numerous periodicals throughout her career, and continues to write for blogs and online magazines. A bestselling author, Kat’s books are available all over the world. The BRANDED TRILOGY is Kat’s award-winning series. With seven books published, Kat continues to plot what story will be next. Creativity is in all aspects of Kat’s career. She does Social Media and Marketing for her own career and businesses, writing ads, and other content.
This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Kat Flannery. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs September 1 through October 3, 2021. Void where prohibited.
Grace Pierrepoint Rendell, the only child of an ailing billionaire, has been treated for paranoia since childhood. When she secretly quits her meds, she begins to suspect that once her father passes, her husband will murder her for her inheritance. Realizing that no one will believe the ravings of a supposed psychotic, she devises a creative way to save herself – she will write herself out of danger, authoring a novel with the heroine in exactly the same circumstances, thus subtly exposing her husband’s scheme to the world. She hires acclaimed author Lynn Andrews to help edit her literary insurance policy, but when Lynn is murdered, Grace is discovered standing over the bloody remains. The clock is ticking: can she write and publish her manuscript before she is strapped into a straitjacket, accused of homicide, or lowered six feet under?
With a cast of secondary characters whose challenges mirror Grace’s own, Saving Grace is, at its core, an allegory for the struggle of the marginalized to be heard and live life on their own terms.
“A psychological thriller with more than enough twists, turns, and misdirection to keep even the most jaded reader turning pages all night long.”
–Lori Robbins, author of the Silver Falchion Award-winning novel, Lesson Plan for Murder
One felony was all it took to convince Andrea Lin she was better suited to committing crime on paper than in person. As renowned mystery author Lynn Andrews, she understood conflict equaled good drama. Like her readers, she should have expected the hiccups, even relished them. What she hadn’t counted on was the accompanying agita, especially while sitting in her Bergen County kitchen, far from the action at the Bitcoin Teller Machine.
Her one job had been to place a single phone call when the money hit and tell the hacker to lift the encryption on Grace’s computer. Trouble was, her dozen calls remained unanswered until a few minutes ago, throwing their meticulous plan off schedule.
Andrea stroked the blue-gray Nebulung purring on her lap and tried to ignore the churning in her stomach. “Denver, the next time I consider helping a sibling with some crazy scheme, you have my permission to use my leg as a scratching post until I come to my senses. Agreed?”
Denver looked up, his green eyes filled with innocence, and answered with a single meow before leaping onto the table toward her plate of shortbread cookies.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” She sipped her tea, willing the sugar to sweeten the acrid taste in her mouth. The phone interrupted her meditation. No doubt a check-in from her brother, the extorter-in-chief.
“I figured you’d have called by now. Everything on track?” Joe’s strained voice conveyed his own jangled nerves. They’d agreed to be vague when communicating. In these days of Siri and Alexa, anyone could be listening.
“Finally. Took forever to get through to our friend, but she said she’d take care of ‘our project’ as soon as her meetings wrapped up. From here on out though, I’m sticking to fiction. Real-life intrigue is too stressful.”
Andrea missed Joe’s response, instead perplexed by her cats’ sudden change of behavior. Denver had tilted his head and leapt from the table; Vail and Aspen sat frozen, ears perked, staring toward the foyer. Then she heard it too, the sound of papers shuffling in the living room. She leaned forward, muscles taut, hackles raised, ready to pounce. “Joe, hold on a sec. I think someone’s in the house. I’ll call you back later.”
“Wait, what? Andrea??” Silence. The connection was dead.
After twenty minutes of weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic to travel one mile, Joe “Hack” Hackford pulled up outside his sister’s Ridgewood home. Adrenaline pumping on overdrive, he jumped from his car and sprinted toward the house. Door wide open—not an encouraging sign. He steeled his nerves and hastened inside. The living room looked like a hurricane’s aftermath, with furniture overturned and papers littering the carpets and floor.
“Andrea? Are you here?” He rushed into the kitchen, which lacked any signs of their celebratory dinner—no spaghetti boiling on the stove, no cake rising in the oven. Only the door to the backyard ajar and a shriek emanating from the next room, piercing the eerie silence. Hair stiffening at the back of his neck, he raced into the dining room where a redheaded woman stood frozen, staring across the room.
“Who the hell are you?” he growled.
The stranger remained wide-eyed and unresponsive. He followed her gaze to the floor, where he witnessed the unthinkable. His beloved sister lay in the corner, surrounded by a pool of blood, a kitchen knife stuck in her chest. Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling. A trio of feline guards circled her lifeless body.
Hack’s knees turned to jelly, and he grabbed onto a chair for support, forcing back the remains of the snack he’d consumed only minutes earlier. Once the initial shock waned, he reverted his attention back to the intruder. At second glance, she did look somewhat familiar, though the woman he’d met a few weeks back—the missing heiress whose computer they’d just hacked—was brunette. Had she uncovered their con? With a bolt of fury, he reached forward and pulled the wig from her head. A thousand questions zigzagged in his brain, but only one forced its way past his lips:
“Oh my God. Grace. Oh my God. What the hell have you done?”
By day, a mild-mannered salesperson, wife, mother, rescuer of senior shelter dogs, competitive trivia player and author groupie, happily living just north of New York City. By night, an author of sex, suspense and satire.
My background includes stints in travel marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations, and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. And I needed to actually make money. Now they’re off doing whatever it is they do (of which I have no idea since they won’t friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy.
The main thing to remember about my work is that I am NOT one of my characters. For example, as a real estate broker, I’ve never played Bondage Bingo in one of my empty listings or offed anyone at my local diet clinic. And I haven’t run away from home in fear that my husband was planning to off me.
Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways! Click here to view Saving Grace by D.M. Barr Participants.
Enter To Win!:
This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for D.M. Barr. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on October 12, 2020, and runs through November 15, 2020. Void where prohibited.
“An ingeniously dark comic thriller about greed, gluttony and murder that is destined for the big screen.” –Best Thrillers
Aimee Trapnell reluctantly leaves her apartment on Manhattan’s Central Park West to return to her childhood home in Georgia for her father’s ninetieth birthday. Also on hand are her two brothers, wily Marsh and ne’er-do-well Trainor. With a forty-billion-dollar inheritance at stake, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make the old man happy.
To their shock they learn that what their father wants for his birthday is to kill someone. He doesn’t care who it is. He just wants to know what it’s like to commit murder.
Betrayal, double-dealing, and fast-paced action set the Trapnells on a collision course with an unexpected villain. Their journey takes them from the swamps of Georgia, to Italy’s glittering Amalfi coast, to rugged Yellowstone National Park.
Jill Hand is a member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. Her Southern Gothic novel, White Oaks is available on Amazon and from the publisher, Black Rose Writing.
Advance readers called it a fast-paced, hilarious account of three siblings who are competing for their father’s forty-billion-dollar fortune while trying to prevent the destruction of Planet Earth.
Diane Donovan, senior reviewer from Midwest Book Review praised White Oaks, calling it, “an unusually multifaceted tale that holds the ability to prompt laughter from thriller-style tension.”
Jill Hand’s novel, Rosina and the Travel Agency, and The Blue Horse, a novella, follow the adventures of a young woman rescued from a railway accident in 1889 by a twenty-fourth-century enterprise in the business of time travel tourism.
Steady is the Fall by Emily Ruth Verona ISBN: 9781612966069 (paperback) ISBN: 9781310354557 (ebook) ASIN: B017WXSWE8 (Kindle edition) Publication Date: October 29, 2015 Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Holly Dorren can’t breathe. Think. Feel. Her cousin is dead. Nothing will bring him back. And nothing will ever make her whole again.
In the days following Larry’s funeral, Holly begins to reflect on the childhood they shared. She looks for answers in both the past and the present, convinced that understanding his fascination with death might somehow allow her to cope with his absence. She doesn’t want to disappear, but already she’s fading away from the life she’s led.
Holly knew her cousin better than anyone, she was his best friend, and yet there is still a great deal she cannot accept in their relationship. In him. In herself. She doesn’t know how to move on without him, but refusing to accept his death carries its own devastating price.
Read an excerpt:
We were in a car accident as children. I was eight at the time and could never remember the details afterwards. My cousin Larry remembered everything, even though he was two years younger than me. It might sound strange that a six-year-old would remember more than an eight-year-old, but it wouldn’t seem odd at all if you knew Larry.
Even as the years passed and my memory of the event faded more and more, Larry’s recollection of it only grew stronger. His parents never liked that much. Neither did mine. I was the only one who ever listened with the sort of unease and appreciation that he craved. We’d sit huddled on the sofa in my living room while my mother was out and my father was upstairs. I’d hug a pillow against my chest and he’d sit on his knees, hunched forward with his hands slicing through the air as he described it all in active detail.
Larry never called it an accident. Not once. He referred to it instead as an imperfect moment or that time in the truck. Keep in mind this was coming from a boy of six, and then eight, and then fifteen, but Larry was incredibly articulate from the very beginning. Every phrase was deliberate with him—each letter carefully chosen. With such a gift for language and grace as a speaker, my cousin should have been a better storyteller, but he wasn’t. His descriptions were clear, but for some reason Larry couldn’t milk it. He always started at the same spot—when we were in his father’s gray pickup truck, where Larry was seated in the middle between his father and me.
Riding in that truck was really something to a couple of kids because it was the only time we didn’t have to sit in the backseat. We felt like proper adults up there in the front with the steering wheel and the dashboard. The cloth interior smelled like motor oil and old takeout. Larry loved that. He found it comforting. Nostalgic. His mother was a health nut, but his father possessed a particular fondness for anything that could be gotten from a drive-thru window. Abandoned hamburger wrappers and soda straws sat in huddled piles at our feet and we just kicked our heels together and smiled with gleaming, crooked teeth.
It had been snowing all morning, Larry often explained, with tiny white flakes falling onto the windshield and dissolving the same as they do when they fall onto your tongue. It was still fairly early in the day, though the clouds made it seem much later. Larry’s father had promised to take us out for lunch if we helped him in emptying out the garage. It was simple enough. He’d hand us something and have us run it upstairs to Larry’s mother in the study to see if she wanted to keep it or if the item could be thrown away. Larry and I made it a game, racing one another to see who could reach his mother first. Mostly we just tied, but I think I might have managed to win a time or two.
Most of the boxes from the garage were filled with old baby clothes and broken toys that were old enough to possibly be worth something at auction if only they had been properly maintained. Larry’s mother enjoyed finding value in the obsolete. They had a garage sale monthly for about five years. It drove Larry’s younger sisters mad because all their toys were constantly being sold before the girls were ready to part with them. They’d toss their red little heads up in the air and call it unfair. Larry called it capitalism.
By noon we had finished with the garage and were out in the truck on our way to lunch to well-known and beloved Barkley Diner. The place had these dark brown seats, which looked like leather but weren’t, and the lights were yellow-tinted which made everything look like it was lip up by a warm, crackling fire. They served the standard fare. Burgers. Fries. Eggs. Pie. It could have been swapped out with any other diner in the country and no one would have noticed. And yet it was our very own place. The historic Barkley Diner.
The drive only took ten minutes from Larry’s house, but to get there we had to drive along Redwood Road, which consisted of one wide lane that stretched through the woods and down beyond the park. The road was about six miles in length though we only had to travel about two of those before turning onto Wharton Avenue, which emptied into the intersection by the traffic light that sat opposite the diner. The trees, whose bare branches lurched overhead as we gazed out the window, were coated with a light brush of fresh snow. Everything seemed frozen and icy. It was the middle of October but it looked more like December. That day entered the record books as the earliest snowfall Garner County ever received. I used to like to tell my friends that in school. It made me feel knowledgeable—powerful even. It’s strange how children grasp so tightly to what they cannot make sense of, finding importance in all the wrong places.
Both Larry and his father remembered the radio as being on that afternoon but only Larry knew the song that was playing prior to and following the accident. Stairway to Heaven. Larry was particularly proud of that little detail. After a point he even became smug about it. Stairway to Heaven. Imagine that. He claimed it started about two or three minutes before the crash and continued amidst the static on the radio until an ambulance arrived. No one bothered to turn the engine off. It just kept on playing all the way through.
Being hit, he said, was like sitting in one of those spinning teacups at an amusement park. The other car tried to yield as it came to a fork in the road but there was ice on the pavement and so the little sedan went barreling into the left side of our truck. We spun three or four times before hitting a tree. Larry compared the impact to a violent punch in the chest. It made him dizzy and, gasping, he looked up to see that his father’s nose was cracked and the man’s mouth had set on muttering every curse that could be called upon. Then, Larry said, he turned to me. I didn’t stir when he touched my arm. Blood had begun to seep through my hair, painting the window bright red. The impact left a thin scar up near my temple, just under the hairline, from where my skull split the glass. Larry explained that his father looked me over, but was afraid to move my arms or head. My uncle then instructed his son to run over and check on the other driver. He didn’t though. He didn’t want to leave me—he couldn’t leave me. He didn’t even want to get out of the car. So Larry’s father told him to watch me and he opened the door and ran over and called to the man in the sedan. Larry just continued to sit there. Staring. He claimed he couldn’t stop staring at me as that song continued to play and his head continued to spin. It was like the teacup never stopped turning, he said. It just never stopped.
When the paramedics arrived they took me away. Larry wanted to sit in the ambulance with me but they drove us separately, claiming my injuries to be more severe. Whether Larry’s disappointment in not being allowed to go with me came from a concern for my safety or his fascination with the blood, I’ll never know. It was probably a little of both. Afterwards he swore it was because he was worried about me. He was always a rotten liar, and since I believed him it was most likely true. Or maybe I just wanted to believe him. Too much has happened since to ever really know.
Larry sprained his arm in the accident, but other than that there was little harm done to him. He was always disappointed about that and at first his parents took that disappointment to be displaced guilt; they thought he felt ashamed to have gotten away with barely a scratch. But really he was just disappointed that he hadn’t experienced more. Felt more. The accident wasn’t nearly enough to settle him.
The only solid thing I could ever recall about that afternoon was how bright the lights were when they rolled me into the hospital. I looked up at those round, white lights along the ceiling and thought I was dreaming. Or dying. The lights looked hot and it stung so viscously to stare at them that I had to close my eyes. There was nothing after that. The memory just tapered off and the next thing I could recall was being back at home.
The doctors did their work and were proud of my recovery, given that my injuries were more severe than they at first suspected. I received a concussion from hitting my head and one of my lungs collapsed in the ambulance. The latter actually served me well in later years. I was able to avoid my parent’s insistence that I join the soccer team that spring, and in high school it got me out of having to run the mile required to pass gym. The cold weather sometimes made my chest ache and I couldn’t breathe well after running, but those doctors considered me lucky. I could have died. Larry used to say that all doctors tell the parents of surviving patients that their children were lucky. He thought it was nonsense. There was nothing lucky about it. For years I thought I understood what he meant. Only later did I realize that I was wrong.
Larry clung to the particulars of that afternoon. They mattered so much to him, and so in time they began to mean a great deal to me as well. His memories became mine. His story did, too, and for a while it looked like that was all the accident would be: a good story. Those involved recovered, even the other driver who suffered nothing beyond a split lip. No one pressed charges. No one died. The flesh healed quickly. At the time it looked as if nothing much had changed. Only later did we come to realize the extent of the damage it had done.
My parent’s never let Larry’s father off the hook, even though it wasn’t his fault. The fact that guilt nearly drowned him became inconsequential. No one seemed to notice that it was only after the accident that he started drinking again. It didn’t matter, not to my parents. At the time I was an only child and my mother maintained that nothing ever scorched her soul like that phone call informing her that her lovely little girl had been brought to the hospital. It was the last time she ever took the trouble to care about me as a mother. In that respect, the accident also did me good. I knew from that afternoon that she loved me and I remembered it when she left my forty-five year old father for a twenty-six year old physical therapist in Florida. I remembered it when she stopped visiting. I remembered it when she stopped calling. For the rest of my childhood I had the comfort of knowing that for one day as I lay on the very verge of death, my mother truly loved me. That love was so strong that it scorched her soul. Some people might have needed more than that, but I considered it to be plenty. It was more than my father had. It’s more than my brother, who was only three when she left, was ever likely to receive.
Larry always regretted the accident more than I did, which many thought was strange for a lot of different reasons that did not really apply. They thought he wished it hadn’t happened, but really it was what didn’t happen that disappointed him. Larry saw something in the accident—the potential for something—that he couldn’t get over. He became fascinated by it—addicted to it. The dizziness never left him and so he never stopped spinning. Instilled in him was the need to know. He was stuffed full of the cruel and compelling need to understand every aspect of it. Every vile little detail. Every curious moment. It was unfortunate really. All those years of waiting and wondering and he never shared a single answer with me, even though I was quite possibly the only one who actually wanted to understand. And he tried. He always tried to make it clear what it was he wanted to find and why it meant more to him than all the rest, but as articulate as he was, he couldn’t put it into words. It became impossible to convince any of us. Not that it really mattered when all was said and done. There was nothing worth finding in it because Larry ended up dead. It happened on a Thursday. Suicide. No one was surprised.
Meet the author:
Emily Ruth Verona is the author of the novel Steady Is The Fall. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from the State University of New York at Purchase. She is the recipient of the 2014 Pinch Literary Award in Fiction and a 2014 Jane Austen Short Story Award. Previous publication credits include work featured in Read. Learn. Write., The Lost Country, The Toast, and Popmatters. She lives in New Jersey with a very small dog.