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Title: THE DESCARTES EVOLUTION
Author: N.J. Croft
Publisher: Sideways Books (Macmillan)
Pages: 268
Genre: Thriller

BOOK BLURB:

A woman with a rare genetic illness must uncover her connection to a terrorist group before their next attack in this exciting new bio-thriller from the author of Disease X.

Lucas Grafton has spent the last ten years hunting the Conclave, a secret organization who took everything from him, including his very identity. Now he has a lead—an imminent terrorist attack on London—code-named “Descartes”. But he can’t connect the dots until a seemingly innocent woman appears during his stakeout.

Jenna Young can’t believe she was attacked and barely escaped with her life. Now she’s on the run with a stranger…and racing against the clock. With only a note left by her father after his death, telling her to use the code-word “Descartes” to get the pills that slow the progression of her illness, Jenna has only days before her body will start to rapidly deteriorate.

Lucas and Jenna must piece together why she’s wanted by a terrorist group she’s never heard of. And why, despite her claims that she needs an unknown and presumably illegal drug to stay alive, she seems to be getting stronger by the day…

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon → https://amzn.to/2zGHV65

 Barnes & Noble → https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-descartes-evolution-nj-croft/1137073479

Entangled Publishing → https://entangledpublishing.com/the-descartes-evolution.html

 Kobo → https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-descartes-evolution

 

Book Excerpt:

Panic flared, and Jenna forced it down, breathing slowly, deeply. She stared at the man and allowed her hatred to show in her face.

He straightened and backed away, leaning against the far wall with his arms folded across his chest. “She’s all yours, Doc.”

Jenna’s gaze darted to the second man in the room. The doctor approached, and she flinched as he wiped the blood from her face with a paper towel, his touch almost gentle. He rolled a trolley close beside the chair, and she peered at it out of the corner of her eyes. It contained electronic equipment and a set of needles and bottles.

He patted her lower arm below the elbow and inserted a needle into the vein to collect blood. After he’d filled two small bottles, he labeled them and put them on the counter across the room.

Jenna concentrated on his actions, preventing her mind from thinking about what was to happen. He came back, looked at her for a moment, then hooked a finger in the neck of her T-shirt and tore it, exposing the tops of her breasts. Her eyes snapped closed, but she forced them open and watched as he taped two monitors to her chest. He fiddled with the dials of the machine and stepped back.

“Your name?”

Her gaze darted  to the other man, who raised an eyebrow and made a move as though to straighten.

“Jenna Young.”

At the soft chuckle across the room, her hatred rose.

The man in the white coat took her through a series of questions about who she was and what she did, and she answered them truthfully. There was no reason not to—she was sure they must know this stuff already. They were calibrating some sort of lie detector. For a moment, she allowed herself to hope they would believe her when she told them she knew nothing—that they wouldn’t resort to torture—until her glance flicked again to the man leaning against the wall. His eyes followed the rise and fall of her breasts, and for the first time his expression was clear: he looked eager.

“Okay, it’s ready.” The doctor stepped away from her.

Though she hated to beg, she knew she had to try. “Please, don’t do this. I don’t know anything. I can’t tell you what I don’t know.”

The man in black moved to stand in front of her, but she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. “Tell the truth, and this will be all over.”

“You really believe that?”

When he glanced away, she knew there was no help. This was going to happen, and she could do nothing. All the same, she couldn’t stop herself fighting against her bonds. It was futile and left her panting with frustration.

“Tell me about Descartes.”

The voice was soft, reasonable. She opened her mouth to answer, to tell them about the letter from her father, but couldn’t make the words come out. Her mind screamed at her to tell them whatever they wanted to know, whatever it took to stop them from hurting her. But she couldn’t do it. Something inside her would not allow her to give in to them; some stubborn, stupid streak would not give them the satisfaction. She glared into his eyes.

“Go to hell!”

He turned to the doctor. “Hook her up.”

The doctor selected a needle from the trolley. He tapped her arm again and inserted the needle into her vein, attaching it to an intravenous bag before nodding to the other man, who crouched down in front of Jenna.

“This is something Doctor Smith here has been working on for us. Just so you know, it’s a combination of truth serum and pain inducer.” He reached across and stroked a finger down over the skin of her cheek. “It’s very effective. You’ll want to pass out, take my word for it, but you won’t. So, you have one more chance. What do you know about Descartes?”

Goddamn fucking Descartes. She was beginning to hate the name.

She clamped her lips together and looked away.

“Go ahead, doctor.”

About the Author

After a number of years wandering the world in search of adventure, N.J. Croft finally settled on a farm in the mountains and now lives off-grid, growing almonds, drinking cold beer, taking in stray dogs, and writing stories where the stakes are huge and absolutely anything can happen.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE – http://njcroft.com/

TWITTER – https://twitter.com/NJ_Croft

FACEBOOK – https://www.facebook.com/NJCroftThrillerwriter/

 

Marilea C. Rabasa is a retired high school teacher who moved west from Virginia eleven years ago. Before that, she traveled around the world with her former husband in the Foreign Service. She has been published in a variety of publications. Writing as Maggie C. Romero, Rabasa won the International Book Award, was named a finalist in both the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards and the USA Best Book Awards, and earned an honorable mention in The Great Southwest Book Festival, for her 2014 release, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  She lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a number of years and now resides in Camano Island, Washington. Visit her online at:  www.recoveryofthespirit.com

Author HeadshotQ: Congratulations on the release of your book, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation. What was your inspiration for it?

A: My desire to heal from substance use disorder and gift my children and grandchildren with the salient lessons I have learned on how to live well and happily. I want to pay it forward for the next generation and make a difference where it most matters to me. In the beginning of my memoir, I wrote a letter to my grandchildren. They and all who come after them were my inspiration.

Q: Why was the writing of Stepping Stones important to you?

A: Often, just writing down our thoughts, pouring our hearts out onto the page, is a cathartic and healing experience. My first memoir was an attempt to heal from losing my daughter to substance use disorder. I shined a bright and candid light on her illness, for the most part, but I wasn’t entirely forthcoming about my own. At that point I was very much in denial about my drinking, and it was clear that I needed to turn the focus back on myself.  This increasingly conspicuous and unhealthy behavior was starting to get in my way, and I knew that much more recovery work awaited me. So, I determined to wrestle with the illness that had clouded my childhood, my young adulthood, the mothering of my children, and was threatening to end my life prematurely as it had my father’s. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. Writing this book became a necessary exercise for me to put my demons to rest once and for all and strive to live with more kindness and integrity, towards myself most of all. The lessons found on the pages of this second book are incorporated into my life every day so that my friends and family members, who are most important to me, will be the direct beneficiaries of my recovery.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

Stepping Stones - Cover Art-1

A: It took about five years to finish. The biggest hurdle was in crafting a whole new structure for the unfolding events in my life. I had to distill seventy years into a reasonable book length and make it readable. So, instead of using the traditional chapter format, my life story is comprised of 132 vignettes. By shortening the pieces, the writing now relies on the power of the images among the vignettes resonating and deepening the emotional impact on the reader.

Q: Could you talk a little about your publishing process?

A: Very enjoyable and simple. She Writes Press vets all of their potential authors and we are put on one of three tracks: ready to be published; no need for editing; in need of line editing, which costs money on an hourly basis; and in need of developmental editing, also costing extra, a lot extra because of all the time added. I was accepted on track two, which was a godsend for me. I thought I had submitted a flawless copy, but it needed a great deal of work! I don’t know how authors can manage without good editors. All I can say is that I’m deeply indebted to the professionals who made my book so much better.

Q: What discoveries or surprises did you experience while writing this work?

Some friends and family, though supportive on the surface, were quiet on the subject. It’s 2020, and the topic of  substance use disorder is still a loathsome one in contemporary American culture. We live in a surprisingly puritanical society, and it’s heartening to see how some foreign countries—Portugal comes to mind—handle the same issues with more kindness and common sense. Keeping quiet only perpetuates the problem and doesn’t offer practical solutions. The “psychache” that fuels many forms of substance use disorder is a deep and prevailing force in our American culture and one which could be addressed differently. In many ways our society today is rudderless. The breakdown of the family system isn’t helping. Between that and the violent drug wars that make these drugs available to the population, it’s easy to see why substance use disorder has reached epidemic proportions in our country. It’s become an easy solution to a much more complicated and fundamental problem. And no, I’m not an expert social psychologist. I don’t have an answer!

Q: What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from Stepping Stones?

A: I hope they pick up some tools for facing life as it comes, all the good and all the bad, without resorting to substance use disorder—without emotional eating, or popping pills, or taking one too many drinks. Substance use disorder is not about the substances themselves anyway, but rather the emotional and/or physical pain that fuel them. There are better ways to endure what life throws at us without destroying our health. I hope my readers will come away with the assurance that, if they are determined to live well, there are a myriad of ways to cope with life on life’s terms. There are also millions of men and women out there who share their isolation and loneliness, and together they are finding healthier solutions every day. There is enormous strength and beauty in the 12-Step fellowship that has given me my life back and the lives of so many others.

Q: How do you define success as an author?

A: I’m carrying my message to others, shining a light on how I’m recovering from substance use disorder. If I’m making a difference in the lives of any others, then I feel that my journey in self-discovery and healing has been successful.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring nonfiction writers? Could you offer some tips or resources that have been helpful to you?

Be fearless.

Be honest.

Dig deep.

Dig deep.

Dig deep.

Stop when you reach China.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Enjoy the writing, but be open-minded: you might have thought you knew what you wanted to write about and ended up in a different place. Do you always want to know where you’re going? Be flexible. And most of all, BE TEACHABLE. There’s so much in life that we don’t know. Writing your memoir, really listening to that voice inside of you, might be the most powerful guide you have to let go and surrender to the process.

Thank you, Marilea, and best of luck with this meaningful work!

High Res Headshot for VBTDavid Armstrong was born and raised in Natchez, Mississippi. He is an attorney, former mayor, candidate for the U.S. Congress, and he currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the city of Columbus, Mississippi. David received both an undergraduate and a master’s degree in political science from Mississippi State University, where he taught American and local government. He worked for over two years as a copywriter for an advertising firm before attending the University of Mississippi School of Law, which he graduated from with honors.

In addition to The Rising Place, David has written two other novels, one of which, The Third Gift, is set to be released this summer. He has also written four screenplays and has taught screenwriting at the college level. David is the father of two grown sons, William and Canon, and he lives with a snarky cat in one of the oldest and most haunted antebellum homes in Columbus.

His website is therisingplace.com, and he may be contacted at dmatyro@outlook.com.

INTERVIEW:

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Rising Place. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: The Rising Place is based on what I think is a compelling premise: What if you found a hidden box of letters from World War II that belonged to an old maid who had just died—would you read them? And what if you did and discovered an amazing story about unrequited love, betrayal, and murder that happened over seventy years ago in a small, southern town?

After a young lawyer moves to Hamilton, Mississippi to practice law, one of his first cases is to draft a will for Emily Hodge. “Miss Emily” is a seventy-five-year-old recluse who is shunned by Hamilton society, but the attorney is intrigued by her and can’t understand why this charming lady lives such a lonely and seemingly forgotten life.

TheRisingPlace_w14312_ibEmily later dies, and the attorney goes to her hospital room to retrieve her few possessions and bequeath them as she directed in her will, and he discovers an old box of letters, hidden in the back of one of her nightstand drawers. He takes the letters back to his law office and reads them through, and he soon learns why Emily Hodge died alone, though definitely not forgotten.

I was compelled to write The Rising Place after I read a daily devotional in The Upper Room magazine about an old maid school teacher who had just died, leaving no children. One of the teacher’s former students, from fifty years ago, approached the teacher’s niece and told her what a profound effect her aunt had had on him and several of his friends. The niece was amazed to

hear this, and a bit ashamed, since she never knew how special her aunt’s life had been. So, I decided to develop this idea into a novel, told in epistolary form through a box of old letters that had been hidden away for over seventy years. 

Q: What do you think makes a good historical romance? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Love, laughter, and tears.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: That’s a good question and one I’ve been asked a lot. Many writers go to great lengths to plot a story, do character sketches, make chapter outlines, keep a journal of notes, etc., but that just doesn’t work for me and a lot of other authors I’ve talked to. When I get an idea for a story, or a character appears inside my head, I’ll mull it around for several weeks, or several months, until I’ve got it nailed down. Then, when I finally sit down to write, the story just naturally flows. I rarely get writer’s block and am somehow able to remember most of the details of the story without the use of notes. By no means, though, do I credit this to any special ability of my own. I think when you “go with the flow,” as opposed to what you’ve already plotted and structured on paper, prior to writing, your creativity is greatly enhanced. And a lot of this method is simply about trust. I trust my muse(s) to help me bring the story to life. When I write, it’s like I’m sitting in a theatre and watching a story unfold, so I simply transcribe what I’m seeing and hearing on the stage or on the screen. Sometimes, I’m actually an unseen observer in the scene, itself, and I’m taking detailed notes about what’s going on. After the protagonist in The Rising Place, Emily Hodge, appeared inside my head one morning, I just started writing what she was showing and telling me. I had no idea where Emily was going with her story, who the other characters would be, what the conflict(s) would be, or how the story would end. I also had no idea what the title was until I was almost finished with the first draft. The title just came to me one evening when I was out for a walk, and I knew it was the perfect title. This, I believe, is how our muse(s) works.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: My protagonist, Emily Hodge, appeared in my mind one day and started revealing who she was, what her story was, and how she wanted me to tell it. I literally had no idea where Emily was going with her story, how it would evolve and end, but Emily was as real to me as anyone whom I had ever known. True, I had gotten the general idea for the story from the daily devotional that I mentioned above, but I did no character interviews or sketches about Emily or any of the other characters, prior to the actual writing. Again, I simply went with the flow, and everything just naturally fell into place. This is why I trust my muse(s) and would never attempt to write another novel without his/her/their inspiration and guidance.

 

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: Again, I made no attempt to create the main villains—Harlan, Nolan, and Eddie Scruggs. They simply appeared, like I trusted they would, as Emily’s story unfolded on paper. There is a much more heinous antagonist in the story, though—the ugly prejudice that permeates the town of Hamilton, Mississippi during the Second World War. This is what the three main characters in

the story, Emily Hodge, Wilma Watson, and Will Bacon are all struggling with and against, in a  time and place where civil rights were unheard of, a woman’s place was in the home, and the color of one’s skin is what defined their character and status in society.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: A basic definition of “narrative” is how you tell a story, but I think there’s more to narrative, than simply that. Most writers write in third person, which is a sound, objective way to tell a story. But that method is too detached and impersonal for me. I prefer to write in first person, as if the story were my own. I’m somehow able to get inside a character’s head and feel what he/she is feeling, know what they’re thinking, and about to say and do. To me, this makes the characters really come to life. On the flip side, though, a third person narrative is probably more revealing in description and easier to structure. In the stories I write, I tend to focus more on characters and dialogue, than I do on description and action. To me, to write, “I woke up this morning and knew I had to tell my wife I didn’t love her, anymore,” is far more alive then to write, “David woke up and knew he had to tell his wife he didn’t love her, anymore.” But writers, as well as readers, are all different. One style will work easier for you, be more comfortable, than the other, and that’s the one you need to go with. Neither style is better than the other, just different.

Q: Setting is also quite important, and in many cases, it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Certainly, it helps to be familiar with the setting—as I was in The Rising Place. If not, then it’s critical to do as much research as you can on where your story is located and when it takes place, especially when your story is action and/or period driven. But, I want to point out that setting should never overshadow your narrative, dialogue, or characters. Setting should be a great frame for your painting, but it should never detract from the painting, itself.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: No, I had no idea what my themes would be, at the start. As Emily Hodge revealed more and more of herself and her story to me, the themes appeared and naturally evolved. They became as much of the background and setting as the place and period, themselves.

Yes, many of the same themes in The Rising Place are also at work in my next novel, The Third Gift. Apparently, these recurring themes in my writing are life themes I came back again to work on, or simply explore. I think we all have core themes that motivate and drive our lives, at least on a subconscious level.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: In my mind, the art of writing is talent and the craft of writing is practice. I don’t think the two are separate, though, nor do I believe that one ends and the other begins. They’re both necessary ingredients that produce the final result. Like sugar and flower in a cake—they both have to be in it for the cake to be a cake (or at least taste good).

No, I don’t think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust. Good editing doesn’t destroy a story, it only makes it more believable, more readable, more professional. And a good editor will never try to change your story, only make it better. Plus, the reality of writing is that it’s not about what you write—it’s about what you re-write. Editing is simply the icing on that cake.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: Talent, dedication, and discipline.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. Thoughts?

A: Wow, that’s a scary thought! I still have nightmares about not having done my homework for school, or not being prepared for a test. Other than graduating from law school, writing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also one of the most—maybe the most—rewarding things I’ve ever done. Anyone who’s ever written a novel and had it published will tell you that the amount of work and time it takes to complete such a daunting task is incalculable, to say the least. Novelists talk a lot about how much time it took them to write and re-write their novel, but if you add to this the amount of time it took them to do research for their story, and the time it took to research potential agents/publishers and then to query them all, it’s overwhelming—to the point that you have to wonder why anyone in their right mind would ever take on such a project. I think the answer, though, is that the process itself is so rewarding. Think about it—how many things are there where you can be so absorbed in what you’re doing that you totally lose all sense of time and place? And if that’s not a real turn-on, then I don’t know what is. 

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Absolutely. There’s a plethora of resources, books, workshops, and websites available. Actually—too many to even attempt to mention. One of the best books, though, I’ve ever read on the craft of writing is The Writer’s Journey, 2nd Edition, by Christopher Vogler. I highly recommend this book to all aspiring, and experienced, writers. 

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A:  Yes. I have an old friend who’s an expert on the art and craft of creative writing. He’s read all the best books on the subject—including Chris Vogler’s 2nd and 3rd editions, he’s watched most of the YouTube videos on the subject, he’s been to numerous writing seminars and literary festivals, and he can spend all day talking about the subject of writing. The problem is, though, my friend has never written anything. I don’t understand how/why someone with that much knowledge about writing wouldn’t just sit down and do it. So, the best advice I can give is that if you want to be a writer, then write. Write every day, even when you don’t feel like doing so. It’s all about practice, and we all know what they say about “practice.”

 

 

 

 

Title: Panorama – The Missing Chapter from the Memoir Views from the Cockpit
Author: Ross Victory
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 120
Genre: Real Life Stories/ Relationships & Sex

BOOK BLURB:

After a friendship ignites and morphs into a curious tale of parallel souls with a Brazilian-American soldier serving in the U.S. military in South Korea, Panorama reflects on the author’s contemplations to return to a crumbling family life in Los Angeles or to endure his life in Seoul for an end-of-contract cash payout.

With a thought-provoking storyline that covers eating live octopus, philosophical debates about the gender of God, a pregnancy, and bisexual erasure in men, Panorama delivers a page-turning cerebral adventure. Ending with prose that simultaneously bites and soothes, Panorama suggests readers stand tall in their unique intersections of relationships and sex. Reminding us that as daunting as the vicissitudes of life, and no matter the view from the cockpit of life, the human spirit cannot, and should not, be restrained. While truth may be the bitterest pill of them all, the effects of our truth can bring us closer to an unbroken life.

PRAISE

In this small book are two masterpieces, a riveting remembrance of several life-altering experiences and relationships the author began in Seoul, South Korea, and an essay, let’s call it part tirade, part profound reflection on our view of men, masculinity, sexuality, and romance. You cannot stop until finished because there is no midway, no stopping point as you become a part of his world. After nearly every sentence you scream with or at his observations either with critical reflections or ecstasy. Ross has his pulse on his generation and the most precarious issues confronting sexuality and romance.

–Dr. Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Ph.D. –Cornell University & ​​​Author of “Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity among Men”

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon → https://amzn.to/2xZyCNi

 Barnes & Noble → https://bit.ly/2xfXQac

Book Excerpt:

I found myself in a local bar called Panorama, skimming through my work contract. I contemplated my ability to continue this working abroad disaster and considered walking away from a large end-of-contract payment, or perhaps I was simply waiting for an explanation from “God” about why everything falls apart. I read the pages over and over, searching for what I needed to do to end my contract and still get the cash. Panorama was a quaint, local bar that Koreans escaped to to enjoy horrific karaoke and shots of throat-burning Soju, the equivalent of cheap vodka. Americans were not interested, nor did they notice this dingy place.

Tonight, it was fairly empty. Alone on the stage stood a Korean ahjumma, or aged woman. An ahjusshi, or aged man, also Korean, sat in flooded tan trousers on a short stool next to her, holding a large cello. The woman had a gray, shoulder-length poufy perm with a slight purple tint. She wore a hanbok—a traditional Korean dress—her face covered in thick, pasty-white makeup. With clarity, passion, and purpose, she and the cellist performed as no one but me watched. The song had a simple, memorable riff with a reflective chord progression. The woman had turned off the karaoke television screen and sang from memory as the cellist supported her.

She sang as if this were the last song she would ever sing. Her soul flickered between every note, with presence and awe. Like she was going somewhere and would never return. As the woman sang, she reached into the spotlight that lit her, pulling the light closer to her chest—like she and the light had established a deep state of devotion. As the ahjusshi played the cello, hidden in the woman’s shadow, particles of dust floated through the light and disappeared into the darkness, like floating glowworms. I could not recognize her words but recognized the source of them. This woman must be singing to me… I thought. I fantasized about hope as she sang.

The four soldiers sat at the empty bar, near the stage. I sat in an oversized, black leather booth near the entrance. One of the soldiers went back outside, propping the door open momentarily. The glacial breeze returned. The soldier strode back in and took a detour toward my booth, warming his hands. I turned away but could see him approaching from the corner of my eye.

“Ey, excuse me, bro. Restroom around here?” He shivered.

“Behind the bar…” I pointed.

After a few minutes, as I began to pack up, I heard a voice. “Ey, can I sit here? You look normal…” I looked up, confused. It was him again. He chuckled and shivered.

“Yeah, I’m headed out…all yours. Has a good view of the stage.” I snickered to myself.

“Man, this woman can sing. I wonder what she’s saying. I’m Alveré,” the soldier continued, “Alvín in English. What you drinkin’?”

I motioned to my waiter for the check.
“Let me guess. You’re from the West Coast,” he said.

Alveré quickly made it clear that he had plenty of time to chat and was looking for a new friend. He removed his hat, placed it on the table, and rolled up his sleeves; he began flipping through the beer menu. Someone new in my life is the last thing I wanted.

Alveré had a slightly grown-in buzz cut and a naïve presence. He was dressed in army fatigues with coyote brown boots. He was covered in crisp snowflakes; Somehow, I could see the hexagonal and octagonal crystalline structure of the ice. His face was stuck in a half-smile, on the verge of a chuckle. He was nearly six feet tall with perfect posture and the typical, stiff, herculean stance of a military person.

He wore a forearm tattoo on his left arm of an Admiralty ship’s anchor wrapped in chain links. The anchor transformed into a thirty-petal rose at the eye of the anchor. There was a hummingbird feeding on the rose, its wings curled in and up.

“Yep, from California—L.A. I’m Ross.”

“Ross from Cali…” He seemed to contemplate this and quickly mumbled something in Portuguese. “Nice to meet you, Ross. I’m from New York, born in São Paulo, Brazil, though.” “Moved here when I was thirteen.” Alveré excitedly corrected himself, having momentarily forgotten that he was now in Korea. “You know what I mean…moved out there.” He laughed.

“Brazil? How’d you get into the U.S. Army?”

“Long story. My unit just got here. I just met these idiots—FML.” He continued. “You military? What are you doin’ all the way in Korea…by yourself?”

“I’m actually an English teacher in a work-abroad program,” I responded.

“You signed up to come here? Who does that?!”

I pondered, squinting my eyes. “I guess I did? What a dumbass.” We laughed. “And I’m honestly sitting here regretting every moment.” I held my contract up.

“Respect. Wow.”

For the next several minutes, we spoke about the absurdities of Korean culture. Every time I glanced at Alveré to size him up, his eye contact felt like a Cyclops beam, at least for the fraction of a microsecond our pupils met. In these moments, the details of his eyes were apparent. His eyes were thalassic, deep, abidingly blue, with a thin chestnut lining. While intense and notably awkward, something about Alveré seemed familiar, like a puppy’s gaze.

As we spoke, Alveré was wringing his hands on top of the table. He would rub his hands on the side of his pants and laugh randomly between longer gaps of silence, uttering, “Interesting!” at the end of most of my sentences. One of the other army guys tumbled into my booth.

“Hey, bro!” a drunken soldier said to Alveré.

“Ooh, he’s sexy, Alvin! Did you get his number?” the solider drunkenly joked while reaching out and twisting Alveré’s nipple. Alveré pulled away, embarrassed.

Another soldier interjected, “Alvin, you going tonight, bro? Rampant Korean p*$$y, bro…free flowing like mas agua.” The soldier began to do the robot dance.

“Alvin’s our new resident Brazilian model to attract that tiger pussy… Look at this face.” The soldiers exploded into gut-wrenching laughter, grabbing Alveré’s chin and squishing his lips. “F$g#@t,” one soldier joked. “We’re headed to this joint in Hungdae.” Hungdae was Seoul’s party capital. A night in Hungdae would mean we would be out until 6 a.m.

“You should join us…” The solider glanced over at me. “I’m Connor.” Connor reached out to shake my hand. He continued, “I hear they just let you…” The soldier paused, then wiggled his middle and ring finger around in quick circles. “And the girls just start makin’ out with each other.”

“You wanna roll through or…” The soldiers looked at me as Alveré hesitated. He whispered to me, “Don’t leave me with these idiots. Please, bro, pleassssse!”

I explained to the soldiers that I was an English teacher and that my class started early. They became distracted and began to chatter drunkenly to each other.

“Please, Ross from Cali… Don’t leave me with these douches—we vibin’, right?”

I continued to pack my bag.

“I’ll text you the address. Let me get your number. Just a few hours; never been to Hungdae…”

“Nice to meet you, Alveré, but I’m out…”

“My mom calls me Alveré; friends call me Alvin—you can call me Alví, though, if you want…” He continued. “You can tell me about L.A. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

I laughed. I stared at my contract. My passport looked back at me from the bottom of my bag. I looked back at Alví.

All right. I’m in, let’s go.

About the Author

Ross Victory is an Award-Winning American author, singer/songwriter, travel geek and author of the father-son memoir, Views from the Cockpit: The Journey of a Son (2019) and Panorama: The Missing Chapter (2020). Ross spent his early years collecting pens, notepads and interviewing himself in a tape recorder. With an acute awareness for his young age, Ross was eager to point out hypocrisies and character inconsistencies in children and adults through English assignments. If he weren’t keeping his English teachers on their toes for what he would say or write next, he was processing his world through songwriting and music.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: http://www.rossvictory.com

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/rossvictoryofficial

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rossvictoryofficial

10 Things You Might Not Know About Jennifer Chase

  • I always write my novels in my bare feet. It’s just comfortable and I’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember. It has happened once or twice that I had to put on a pair of socks if the winter is extra cold.
  • I was born and raised in California, and currently reside there. But, I’ve lived in Oklahoma and Colorado for a short period of time.
  • I’ve had dogs in my entire life ever since I was two years old. My first dog was a Golden Retriever.
  • I won an open tennis tournament when I was fourteen years old.
  • I thought seriously about becoming a veterinarian because of my love for animals.
  • I don’t drink coffee! I love the smell of freshly ground coffee, hate the taste with a passion, but I’ve been known to eat coffee ice cream on a whim. A little bit crazy—I know.
  • I write left handed, but I’m ambidextrous in most activities.
  • My favorite city in California is Santa Barbara.
  • The snack I like to eat I’m writing is black licorice—especially when I write about serial killers.
  • I love to write when it’s raining.

About the Author

Jennifer Chase is a multi award-winning and best-selling crime fiction author, as well as a consulting criminologist. Jennifer holds a bachelor degree in police forensics and a master’s degree in criminology & criminal justice. These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent psychopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling.  She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists, and member of the International Thriller Writers.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: https://authorjenniferchase.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JChaseNovelist

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJenniferChase/

About the Book

On the floor, amongst the piles of freshly pressed laundry, lay the woman’s lifeless body, her pale yellow nightdress soaked in blood.
“I didn’t do it…” came a whisper from the corner of the room.

Detective Katie Scott has never seen two people more in love than her aunt and uncle as they danced on the decking the night of their wedding anniversary party. But the next morning, when Katie finds her aunt’s body sprawled across the floor, that perfect image is shattered forever.

All fingers point to Katie’s uncle, Pine Valley’s beloved sheriff and protector – after all, his prints are all over the antique knife found at the scene. Grieving, but certain of her uncle’s innocence, Katie is consigned to the cold case division after she’s discovered searching the house for clues. Does someone want to keep her as far away from this investigation as possible?

Ignoring warnings from her team, Katie digs into her uncle’s old case files and discovers photographs of the body of a young girl found tied to a tree after a hike in search of a rare flower. Her body is covered with the same unusual lacerations her aunt suffered. Katie knows it can’t be a coincidence, but every lead she follows takes her to a dead end.

Moments before the sheriff is arrested, Katie realizes that a single piece of thread she found at the crime scene could be the missing link that will stitch old crimes to new. But how can she prove her uncle’s innocence without throwing herself directly into the line of fire? She doesn’t have a choice, he’s the only family she has left

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon → https://amzn.to/2IOsQQW

Rie Sheridan Rose multitasks. A lot. Her short stories appear in numerous anthologies, including Nightmare Stalkers and Dream Walkers Vols. 1 and 2, and Killing It Softly Vols. 1 and 2. She has authored twelve novels, six poetry chapbooks, and lyrics for dozens of songs. These were mostly written in conjunction with Marc Gunn, and can be found on “Don’t Go Drinking with Hobbits” and “Pirates vs. Dragons” for the most part–with a few scattered exceptions.

Her favorite work to date is The Conn-Mann Chronicles Steampunk series with five books released so far: The Marvelous Mechanical Man, The Nearly Notorious Nun, The Incredibly Irritating Irishman, The Fiercely Formidable Fugitive, and The Elderly Earl’s Estate.

Rie lives in Texas with her wonderful husband and several spoiled cat-children.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: https://riewriter.com/  and https://theconnmannchronicles.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RieSheridanRose

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheConnMannChronicles/

Interview:

Would you call yourself a born writer?

I don’t know if I would characterize it quite that way…but I do know that as soon as I could formulate an answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the answer always included “And a writer.”

What was your inspiration for The Marvelous Mechanical Man?

There were several things that went into it. First, it was November, and I needed a National Novel Writing Month project. My writing partner suggested I try Steampunk as it was a genre I liked, but hadn’t really written in. It sounded like fun. The Steampunk I had read was mostly dark, except for Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books, so I decided to follow her lead and be less gritty. I, being a masochist, also decided to experiment with First Person PoV, because I had never tried to do a long form in that style. That turned out to be a brilliant decision, because Josephine Mann was born, and she had a great deal to say.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

The first draft took thirty days—being a NaNoWriMo project—but polishing and edits probably took at least another six months. All said and done, this was probably nine months from start to first publication, and then a touch-up before its re-release.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

God no. The only time I am even half-way disciplined is November, and that doesn’t always work out to words hitting page. In my defense, I edit for two small presses as well as my own writing, and I am chief cook and bottle-washer…but that is really no excuse. Many authors can juggle better than I can. I am literally floored by the productivity of some of my peers, but I am more of a “when the mood strikes me” sort of writer. I really need to try the scheduled route.

A typical writing day is to sit at the keyboard and stare at the page until I work up the courage to put a word down. Often I will read over the end of the day before to remember where I was going, and then I will write until I am called to do something else or get bored.

That’s a terrible answer, but it’s probably why I am not publishing more…

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

As I say, there were several challenges about this book. First was capturing New York in 1874. I wanted it to be as true to period as possible while still exploring the tropes of Steampunk. I do a lot of research, even though there is a lot of the fantastic involved—like Phaeton, the Marvelous Mechanical Man, himself. There is no scientific reason for why he works…he just does.

Writing a young woman who grew up in the sheltered confines of a convent and yet has been fending for herself for a few years was also a challenge. Keeping Jo believable was important, but she does tend to get kidnapped a lot…

What do you love most about being an author?

Two things—creating my own worlds, and meeting people to share them with. I love going to conventions and introducing people to my characters and places. I also love challenging myself to try new genres and methods. So far, only mystery eludes me, but I am hoping the next book changes that.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

All of my work has been with small presses or self-published. Sometimes I wish I had pushed for the top, but I am generally happy with where I am.

Specifically with The Marvelous Mechanical Man (and the rest of The Conn-Mann Chronicles) the first editions of the first two books were released by a small press, but I realized that I could dedicate more time and energy to promotion and other aspects than my publisher could. She had a hundred or so authors to promote, and I had just me. So, I got the rights back on those first two books, and I have been self-publishing the series ever since. I have been very pleased with the results. Sure, I would love to have more sales—who wouldn’t? But I have the freedom to try crazy things like the three teas I have had developed for my characters, or the toy kittens that sell like hot-cakes at conventions. Jo and I are plugging away on Book Six, and her friend Winifred has her own story releasing soon.

Title: THE MARVELOUS MECHANICAL MAN
Author: Rie Sheridan Rose
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 270
Genre: Steampunk Adventure Romance

BOOK BLURB:

The Marvelous Mechanical Man is the first book in a Steampunk series featuring the adventures of Josephine Mann, an independent woman in need of a way to pay her rent. She meets Professor Alistair Conn, in need of a lab assistant, and a partnership is created that proves exciting adventure for both of them.

Alistair’s prize invention is an automaton standing nine feet tall. There’s a bit of a problem though…he can’t quite figure out how to make it move. Jo just might be of help there. Then again, they might not get a chance to find out, as the marvelous mechanical man goes missing.

Jo and Alistair find themselves in the middle of a whirlwind of kidnapping, catnapping, and cross-country chases that involve airships, trains, and a prototype steam car. With a little help from their friends, Herbert Lattimer and Winifred Bond, plots are foiled, inventions are perfected, and a good time is had by all.

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Amazon → https://amzn.to/3bfoz55

For many years, MaryAnn Kempher lived in Reno Nevada where most of her stories are set. Her books are an entertaining mix of mystery and humor. She lives in the Tampa Florida area with her husband, two children, and a very snooty Chorkie.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: http://www.mkempher.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMaryAnnKempher/

 

Can we begin by having you tell us how you came up with that wonderful title?

MaryAnn: My main character has a love of Starbucks. It is her weakness. The murder happens at night under the moonlight. So, Mocha, Moonlight, and Murder.

Can you tell us a little about the main characters?

MaryAnn: The two main characters are Katherine O’Brian and Scott Mitchell. For their own reasons, neither finished college. Now, they meet in the last class they both need for their degrees. They start out as friends and become friends who fall in love. The path is bumpy and funny. While their love story unfolds, a mystery develops. Katherine has a stalker, the man she saw disposing of a dead body.

They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point where the reader just can’t put the book down. Can you tell give us one of the pivotal points in your book?

MaryAnn: I think that point depends on the reader and what they like the most, romance or mystery. When Scott and Katherine first meet, it’s funny and maybe that’s when some people become hooked. On the other hand, it might be when Katherine stumbles upon the killer as he disposes of his victim, which happens early in the story.

Can you explain to us why it was important for you to write your story?

MaryAnn: I don’t have a deep answer. I just know that once I start a book, I have to finish writing it. And once done, I feel so complete.

What are you working on now?

MaryAnn: Two main characters from book two through seven are getting their own series. Trust me, anyone who has read those books will be thrilled. These two characters are liked very much.

Final question: do you have any advice for the yet-to-be-published writers?

MaryAnn: Assuming the book is finished and you are self-publishing, pay to get it professionally edited and proofread. This can be expensive, but it’s worth it. Also, pay for a professional cover. Give a lot of thought to the back-cover blurb. The first thing people see is the cover, then what do they do? They read the blurb. So, both are extremely important.

All of the above, except the cover, still applies for those seeing to have their book traditionally published. If you are, and are lucky enough to have an  agent request a partial and then a full, you’ll want your book to be highly polished before sending to that agent.

About the Book

One night, 28-year-old, Katherine O’Brian, decides to walk to an all-night diner. The only problem? It’s midnight, but Katherine lives in Reno Nevada, a city that never sleeps; she can clearly see the diner’s lights in the distance. It’s no big deal, until she passes someone’s garage where a man is loading a dead body into the trunk of his car.

And now, she’s in trouble. She outran the man that night, and while she has no idea who he is, he knows who she is. And he wants her dead.

As if attempts on her life weren’t stressful enough, Katherine has gone back to college. She’s determined to finally finish her degree, but her lab partner is driving her crazy. He’s hot, but annoying. And she’s not sure which she wants more—a night of mad, passionate sex or a new lab partner. It varies from day to day.

Will Katherine give in to her lust for her partner or will she give in to her desire to throttle him? If she’s in the ground before graduation, it won’t matter.
Not your typical romance, not your typical mystery.

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Amazon → https://amzn.to/2OkHlii

Struggling To Profit From Social Media?

It’s more than likely not your fault. There is a lot of misinformation (and outright lies) being told about how social media is supposed to work. In Social Leads you will discover post ideas to use on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and more!

Your Very Own Social Media Playbook You Can Use Over and Over

If you want to add social media to your marketing plan, this is the playbook you need to get started. Understand how each platform works and how so you can achieve your business’s goals. Inside this action-oriented book, you’ll learn:

  • How to get traffic to your social media pages for free
  • What to do when you’ve tried everything on social media and you’re not getting results
  • Example social media posts (with pictures) to help get your creative juices going
  • Plus more!

ORDER YOUR COPY

 

Amazon → https://amzn.to/3awrSVf

 

Book Excerpt:

What To Expect From This Book

Back in the day, building a business seemed pretty straight forward. You found a building, you got a loan, you opened up shop, and the people came to your store.

Except, that’s not exactly what happened?

People found office space, got the loan, opened up shop, and no one came. The savvy business owners would discover marketing tactics that would generate foot traffic. Tactics like direct mail, radio advertising, catalog advertising, classified ads, etc.

After some trial and error, they saw results.

Nowadays, the storefront is different.

People go online and build websites. No loan needed, just a monthly payment for hosting and an annual fee for your domain registration.

But many people have discovered that though it’s easier to “set up shop” now than a few decades ago, they run into the same problem: getting customers.

The savvy business owners will start looking at different online marketing tactics such as blogging, email marketing, SEO, and social media marketing.

“Build it and they will come” mentality crippled/cripples many businesses.

If you are reading this book, kudos to you for putting forth effort to “figuring it out”. It’s important to get as much knowledge as possible. But as Dale Carnegie infamously said, “knowledge isn’t power until it is applied.”

If you are not action oriented, then this book is definitely not for you. I’m sorry to tell you that this book is nothing but words filled with actions you must take if you want your business to have a chance in hell of survival.

Yes, I know, with a title like Social Leads: Your Social Media Playbook to Generating More Leads in The Next 90 Days, there should be some magic. There should be some snap-your-fingers-and-boom-it-works instructions. Sadly there is none of that in this book.

This book is for action-takers.

Implementers.

Persistent and determined individuals who will, by golly, make this business work; it’s this or bust. If that is you, then you’re in luck.

What’s on the pages that follow is action plan that will help you start attracting leads organically using social media.

Why are we focused on social media?

According to the statistics, the average person is on social media between 2 – 6 hours every single day.

Marketing 101 says “Go where the people are.” And the people are on social media. Chances are high, you will be able to sell your products and services on social media.

But…(there’s always a but isn’t there)…

Social media is always changing. The algorithms, the rules, and the available platforms all can change at the drop of a hat. It’s this constant change that makes social media marketing difficult for many to grasp and understand. In my ten plus years of using social media to generate traffic to websites in a variety of industries, I have seen it all.

And yet, despite the changes, I have managed to attract clients and money with less followers and fans than many of my competitors. (I made $500 my first 6 weeks on Instagram with a meager 40 followers. To date, I have made thousands of dollars on Instagram alone and I have under 300 followers.)

How is that possible?

You’ll discover all of that and more in this book. Turn the page and let’s get started.

Shay Banks helps entrepreneurs get more leads and sales with social media. If you’re not filling your pipeline with new leads, Shay can show you how to use your social media pages to do just that. Get more leads now by grabbing your free social media toolkit at: www.shaybanks.com.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

 

Website: www.shaybanks.com

 

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/sbankstech

 

 

 

A single mother and owner of the town diner, Charlie McKay couldn’t be happier with her life in Blue Creek. Taking care of everyone around her is a labor of love, but the secret she’s keeping about her daughter’s parentage lurks beneath the surface. With the scars of the past still not healed, Charlie isn’t interested in adding a man to her life, even if that man is the oh-so-tempting Craig Sutton.

Determined to own his own bar, as his father had, Craig Sutton is a man on a mission. But wanting to enjoy small town life is only one of the reasons he moved to the mountains of North Carolina. Whether meaning to or not, Craig can’t keep from getting involved with the McKay family, and the closer he gets to Charlie and her daughter the more entangled he becomes.

In Blue Creek secrets have always run deep, and someone is now trying to expose Charlie’s in a disturbing way. She isn’t the only one with something to hide, however, and deception threatens a possible relationship between her and Craig. As hidden truths are revealed and danger increases, Charlie must find a way to face the past or lose everything.

Amazon → https://amzn.to/2FTlM3J

First Chapter:

Someone was in his bedroom. Craig Sutton feigned sleep, even though the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He rolled over, slid one hand beneath his pillow, grasped cold steel, and opened his eyes. He didn’t know whether to laugh or curse. Standing on the bed next to him was four-anda-half-year-old Mackenzie McKay. Her big black eyes were wide and unblinking. He released his weapon and sat up.

“Uh…hi.”

“Hi.” She twirled one of her white-blonde pigtails. Craig had come across Mack, the niece of his landlady, on a number of occasions. But…

“How’d you get in here, sweetheart?”

She pouted. “I’m allowed.”

“Well…I don’t think anyone told you, but because I’m staying here, you need to knock first.” Craig didn’t want to scare her or, God forbid, make her cry. He’d never been able to handle female tears, especially the tiny variety.

She crossed her arms. “Auntie Alex shoulda said.”

“I’m sure she meant to…How about you go in the other room while I change, and then I’ll take you to find your aunt.”

“Ohskay.” She jumped down and closed the door behind her. Craig went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and changed his clothes in record time. When he came out, he was surprised to find her sitting at the kitchen table, humming and swinging her legs.

Craig shook his head and smiled; the kid was adorable. “Ready, sweets?” “Yep!” She hopped off the seat and took Craig’s hand.

He shivered the moment he stepped outside; he should have grabbed a jacket. It was freezing, and Mack didn’t have a coat on. He swung her up in his arms, she giggled, and his heart warmed.

She pressed her cold nose into the crook of his neck. “Grandpops does that too.”

“He’s a nice guy then.”

“Uh-huh. You smell pretty. Kinda like my Uncle Ryan but with more pepper,” she said with a small nod, then her mouth pinched. “But you don’t itch my nose.”

Craig laughed. “Is that so?”

“Uh-huh.”

They walked across the gravel parking lot toward the bed and breakfast Alexandra McKay owned and operated. It was called Granny Vaughn’s, and the place was both massive and impressive, if one was into that kind of thing. There was a closed-in porch leading to the kitchen, which was off limits to B and B guests, but whose entrance he was told he was welcome to use if he needed anything—like paying his rent or chatting up his landlady.

Craig had expected to come across Alexandra but found her sister Charlie, Mack’s mother, instead. It was a pleasant surprise. He enjoyed this particular McKay, with her short blonde curls, big brown eyes, and supple pink lips—kissable lips. Almost every time he was in her company, he’d been drawn to her mouth, not that she noticed. It was for the best; he had his own agenda here in Blue Creek, and he needed to keep his priorities straight.

Charlie put her hands on her jean-clad hips. “Mackenzie Annie McKay, where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“Uh-oh, kid.” Craig put Mack down. “She used your full name; looks like you’re in trouble.”

Mack’s gaze darted between the adults. “I went to the playhouse.”

“Do we need to talk again about going somewhere without telling me, or going into places without being asked?”

The child looked down and shuffled her feet.

Charlie offered him a small smile. “I’m sorry, Craig.”

“It was a shock to the system, but what the hell, it woke me up,” he said looking around the room. “Is Alexandra here?”

“She’s running errands, but she’ll be back soon.”

She turned to Mack. “Do you want to help me or play with your doll babies?” It only took a second for the child to dash out of the room.

Craig eyed the pot of coffee sitting on the counter. “Are there any guests?”

Charlie, the consummate hostess, poured him a cup. “This is the slowest time of year for Alex, but there was a sweet older couple staying here last night; they left a bit ago. I was helping them load their luggage into their car, hence my daughter slipping away.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He took the offered mug, then sipped. “You do make the best coffee.”

She gave him a shy smile. “There are muffins too, if you’re interested?”

He homed in on the basket of baked goods, sat down at the table, and helped himself. “Keep me company?”

Charlie shot a quick glance in the direction her daughter went. “Okay, but just for a bit.” She poured herself a cup of coffee, then took the seat across from him. “How’s Blue Creek treating you, so far?”

He shrugged. “I can’t complain, but let’s not talk about me; tell me about you.” He eyed her over the rim of his mug. Was she debating what to divulge? How stimulating!

“Well…I—” “I didn’t see your ride in the parking lot.”

“No, my sister Casey took it for an oil change.”

“She’s the mechanic, right?”

Charlie nodded.

“It’s an interesting choice,” he said around a mouthful of muffin.

Her brow pinched. “Sorry?”

He swallowed both his food and his grin. “Your SUV—not your sister’s career. A female mechanic is pretty badass, but so is your ride. It’s vintage, isn’t it?” Her lips quirked upward.

“Yes. I saw one like it in a movie once. I’ve never really been into cars, but I wanted that Blazer! I asked Ward Jessup, who was the town mechanic at the time, how hard it would be to get one, and he said he’d look into it. It took him years, and I’d actually forgotten about the entire thing, but after I had Mackenzie, it showed up in my driveway.”

Craig’s eyebrows rose. “He gave it to you?”

A fine sheen glazed her eyes. “Yes, Ward was very special to my family—to me. He died over a year ago.”

And now he was a dick. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She shrugged. “You didn’t know.”

He shifted in his chair. “What about your family?”

“What about yours?” A blush swept up her cheeks. “I didn’t mean to sound—”

He waved a hand. “Don’t mention it. My mother died when I was a kid. It was just me and my dad until college—two men trying not to let life knock them down, or so he always said. He owned a bar, so I’m continuing the tradition. I’m on my own now.” Sort of.

“Oh, I’m—”

“What about Mackenzie’s father?”

She flinched. Damn. “Sorry if that’s too forward.”

“He’s dead.”

Craig sat back. “I see…sorry.”

Charlie stood, dumped her coffee in the sink, and started loading the dishwasher.

He drummed his fingers against the table. “So, tell me about my landlady.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Alexandra?”

“Yes, is she as—I don’t know—cold as she seems?”

“Alex isn’t cold; she’s shrewd—there’s a difference.”

“Yeah?” He smirked and stood.

“She seems a bit stuck-up to me.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘stuck-up.’ ” She closed the dishwasher and smiled at him. “We’ve always described her as prissy, and that’s Alexandra to the core. She’s always been like that—she’s a trip. You seem to have a lot of opinions about my sister.”

Craig cocked his head to the side. Was Charlie jealous? “I’m the curious sort, but if you’re wondering if I’m interested in her, then the answer is no. She’s not my type.”

“And what is your type?” Her face went red.

“Why? Are you interested?” Wouldn’t that be stimulating?

Her brow pinched. “I…” She was a picture with big doe eyes, apple cheeks, and pink, kissable lips.

He downed his coffee and walked over to her. Priorities be damned. “Well, Charlie, are you?”

“I have a four-and-a-half-year-old and own a diner. I don’t have time to be interested.”

Craig leaned down and breathed her in. She smelled like cookies. Delicious. “Pity that.”

Her gaze searched his, and, God help him, she licked her lips.

“Good morning.” And there went all the heat. Craig winked at Charlie, then turned. Even with the cold stare in her dark blue eyes, Alexandra was breathtaking.

“Good morning, Landlady.”

She put her shopping bags down on the table and eyed him. “Was there something you needed, Mr. Sutton?”

“Nope, and it’s Craig, remember?” He turned to Charlie. “Thanks for the coffee and conversation.”

Charlie’s cheeks were still flushed, but she smiled. “You’re welcome.”

He gave a curt bow to Alexandra, then headed out the door. Despite the dismissal, Craig smiled. Things were shaping up his way.

****

Craig Sutton…holy moly, but the man caused Charlie to pulse in places best not thought about. From the moment he walked into her diner, she had been taken by the sight of him. And today was no different; his tawny hair had been tousled by the wind, and his dark blue eyes were the perfect mixture of mischief and sincerity. Not to mention how his tight jeans fit his backside oh-so-snugly.

Even a ratty sweatshirt couldn’t diminish the drool-worthy factor. Charlie shook her head and turned to her sister.

“Do you want to tell me what all that was about?”

Alex paused from putting away groceries. “What all what was about?”

Charlie rolled her eyes. “Oh, you know very well what I mean.”

“I thought you’d sworn off men?”

She could only stare at her sister. A few years ago, Charlie’s choice in the opposite sex had sent her reeling into a black pit of shame and despair. She had promised herself she wouldn’t go down that particular rabbit hole ever again, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the scenery. And she missed being in a man’s arms, not to mention kissing. Goodness, she loved kissing. If Alex hadn’t come in, Craig may have…Don’t even go there, Charlie girl!

“Cat—or something else—got your tongue?”

Charlie gaped. “What in the world has gotten in to you today?”

Her sister sighed. “Sorry, I’m not trying to be a bitch—”

“You could have fooled me!” She shook her head. Alexandra was more than a sister, she was Charlie’s best friend, and…and… “Do you like him?”

“Who?”

“Seriously!” She huffed and snatched a package of coffee filters out of her sister’s hands. “Do you like Craig?”

“We don’t know enough about him.” Alex held out her hand.

Charlie gave the filters back. “That doesn’t answer my question.” Most men fell over themselves when they first met Alex, and Craig was no exception. Charlie couldn’t blame him; her sister was like a goddess with her crown of fiery locks and unrelenting confidence. And Charlie wasn’t jealous, but this particular man’s reaction to Alex, and her sister’s odd behavior, did prickle under her skin.

“Are you interested in him?”

Charlie shrugged. “I can’t afford to get in a tizzy over any man.”

“Exactly! Men make a mess of things, and that’s all we need to say on the subject.”

“Fine.” Charlie began to help unload the groceries, knowing full well her sister hadn’t answered the question.

****

“Did you get me a surprise?” Mack asked.

“Yes, baby, but you have to wait till we get home,” Charlie said for the third time since they’d left her parents’ house. It was her own fault for mentioning she’d gone shopping after she’d picked their SUV up from the garage.

She pulled into the driveway, enjoying how the moonlight haloed their little house, a small white-sided ranch with navy-blue shutters and a wraparound porch. It was the house she’d always pictured having—a home of their own. Putting the vehicle in park, Charlie squinted at the package on the front porch. She didn’t remember ordering anything.

She got Mack out of her car seat and hurried up the steps after her. “Look, Mama!” Mack clapped. “It’s a present for us.”

“Let’s go inside first, then I’ll come and get it.” Charlie unlocked the door and urged Mack in. She waited a beat, then went back to get things she’d picked up at the store. She glanced at the box and rolled her eyes. It looked heavy.

Mack tried to take the bags out of Charlie’s hands the minute she walked into the kitchen. “Can I have my surprise now?”

Charlie handed her daughter the new coloring book. “Here, sweetheart. Now go to the playroom, and I’ll come in there in a minute.”

Mack shouted her thanks and skipped away.

Charlie hated admitting it, but she couldn’t wait for preschool to start again. She understood the teaching staff had the flu, but how long did it really take to get better? Take a chill pill, Charlie girl! Twenty minutes later, she put the finishing touches on her meatloaf. She cranked the timer for another fifteen minutes and went to set the table. She had just put out the forks when she remembered the box.

Maybe one of her sisters had sent them something. Out on the porch, Charlie took a few minutes trying to figure out how to get the thing inside—it weighed a ton. Finally, she decided to open the package right where it was. From the smell, something had gone bad. There was no way she was bringing it inside her house, much less her kitchen.

Maybe if she hadn’t forgotten about the darn thing, it wouldn’t have had a chance to spoil. “It’s freezing out here, so it isn’t my fault,” she told the box. Shaking her head, Charlie used a paring knife to cut the tape. She opened the flaps, wincing at the stench, and looked inside. Charlie rushed to the porch railing and emptied her stomach.

She closed the box, her hands shaking. It couldn’t be! Oh, God.

“Mama, what—”

“Go to your room, Mackenzie, and don’t come out until I get you.”

Mack hesitated.

Charlie shouted, “Now!”

Her daughter ran back inside.

Charlie rubbed her face. “Holy shit,” she whispered; she choked out a sob, then took a couple of deep breaths. She could handle this; she had to calm down. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed.

“McKay.”

“Fletcher, someone sent me a package.” She gulped for air. Do not fall apart, do not fall apart.

“Hells bells, just spit it out! I got a grave robbed out here, and you won’t believe whose it is neither.”

“Rick’s?”

“How the hell did you know that? Shit—”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say. He’s here…someone put him on my porch.”

“Holy fuck! Don’t touch anything! Jasper and I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Charlie shoved her cellphone in her back pocket. Not only did someone out there know her secret, but they’d dug it out of its grave, chopped it into pieces, and left it at her door.

About the Author

W.L. Brooks was born with an active imagination.  When characters come into her mind, she has to give them a life- a chance to tell their stories. With a coffee cup in her hand and a cat by her side, she spends her days letting the ideas flow onto paper.  A voracious reader, she draws her inspiration from mystery, romance, suspense and a dash of the paranormal.

A native of Virginia Beach, she is currently living in Western North Carolina. Pick up her latest novel, The Secrets That Shape Us- available now!

Website: www.wlbrooks.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorwlbrooks

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2RAd0xl

Elysia Strife is a self-published author of science-fiction fantasy and romance novels.

Adopted by two educators, Strife developed a deep love for learning new things. In 2012, she graduated from Oregon State University with two Bachelor’s Degrees in Public Health and Human Sciences: Interior Design and Exercise Sport Science. Her past wears fatigues, suits, and fitness gear, sprinkled with mascara and lace.

“I like to question everything, figure out how things work, and do tasks myself. Experiencing new things is fun but also helps with writing raw and genuine stories. And I’m always trying to push my comfort zones.”

Strife likes the rumble of her project car’s 350-ci V8. She enjoys the rush of snowboarding and riding ATVs on the dunes. But nothing brings her more solace than camping in the mountains where the stars are their brightest.

Strife enjoys connecting with readers and welcomes all feedback and questions.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: elstrife.com

Blog: https://elstrife.com/category/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElysiaLStrife

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorelstrife

Book Description:

A romantic-suspense novel featuring: miscarriage, hot co-workers, cybersecurity threats, and the struggle of defining family.

With only an abusive mother-figure to guide her, Norah has learned everything the hard way. An unexpected pregnancy with her fiancé changed her career plans. But miscarriage and betrayal thrust everything in reverse again. Eerie things start happening at work, and Norah finds herself at the center of the investigation.

Secrets tumble forth from Norah’s father, her ex-fiancé, and the mystery around her adoption, breaking the walls she’s put up to protect her heart. Now, more than ever, she longs for trust, love, and a family of her own.

Bonding with her handsome co-worker, Evan, and his teenage daughter, Ashley, Norah gets a glimpse of cohesive family life. She finds herself falling for Evan and becoming an unlikely source of help and understanding for Ashley. Evan and Ashley have an empty seat at their table, one Norah wishes to fill. Yet the guilt of taking the previous woman’s place threatens to keep them apart.

Can Norah overcome the scars of her past and discover her inner strength? And will the private letter from her father answer her questions or destroy the family, and the man, she’s come to love?

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon → https://amzn.to/2wYVKLh

Interview:

Would you call yourself a born writer?

Yes and no. I am continually playing out random stories in my mind, proposing questions, and putting fantastical twists on less exciting aspects of life. Writing didn’t come naturally to me when I was younger, mostly because I was always focused on providing the right answer.

In recent years, I’ve started writing more from the heart. I think it’s an acquired skill set, one I plan to improve upon until the end of my days. I just started digging into poetry, a form I never understood in school. The key is to allude to something greater than what is written, not to be deliberately ambiguous. I always try to hint at the deeper meanings in my books without stating them outright. Perfecting that technique takes time, but the intent has always been there.

What was your inspiration for A Promise in Ash?

It started with the emotional struggles I faced after a miscarriage. My life felt like it was falling apart. But writing about myself isn’t something I like to do. So it was only a concept. Then I met a woman who had experienced abuse as a young woman and dared to stand up and move on. Her experiences influenced A Promise in Ash to becoming the story it is today.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

I started writing it a few years ago but stopped to work on other projects. In total, I’d say about six months off and on. Some days I sat down and wrote a few pages. Other days I would work on refining a specific emotional moment. In my books, there are always a lot of details that add up to a climax. Making that path wind the perfect amount as readers climb the mountain—with a few red herrings thrown in—takes a lot of time, especially when there’s more than one plot.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

I wish there were a typical writing day! I fit in writing every chance I get. I often get my ideas at night while lying in bed, unable to sleep, and will write them in a notes app on my phone. When I have a bit of time the next day, I’ll transfer them to my laptop, where I develop the concepts. But I’ve been freelance editing for a while, so I’m usually working on other author’s manuscripts. I’m also a dedicated gym rat, spending a few hours there almost every day. And since we live in an RV, my chores take extra time. We don’t own a dishwasher or a washer and dryer. Tanks need dumping every few days. And with such a small space, a dog, and a husband who works construction, it gets hella dirty up in here! Cleaning has to happen daily. Writing began as a cheaper, productive alternative to being on Pinterest in my free time. There are way too many good ideas on that site.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

Everything has a purpose, which I reveal at the end. Working backward from that point and showing each piece as its own thread was difficult. The main character, Norah, has an emotionally complicated life in the beginning. I had to manage a worst-case scenario of real life. Her father is sick. She miscarries. Her step-mother is abusive. Her fiancé doesn’t want children and starts to wonder why she hasn’t shown for dates. So she’s stuck in this place of not knowing what to do with herself because everything is falling apart. On top of all of that, lights flicker at work. Norah’s left a creepy message. Her phone starts acting wonky. Money is disappearing from accounts. All she wants is a healthy, boring, peaceful life with a family of her own. It’s just not the card she was dealt in life. But I had some great CPs who helped me tie up loose ends.

What do you love most about being an author?

Finding out from fans that they enjoyed something from one of my books makes my writing feel worthwhile. I enjoy creating new worlds and experimenting with human emotion. I think we can test out theories through writing stories and hypothesizing what people would do in given situations.

But I also like to be able to say, “I made this. I wrote it. I edited it. I formatted it. I designed the cover.” It’s proof to myself that I can do things. I can tell anyone that I have two degrees, am a veteran, have worked lots of different jobs. But nothing quite substantiates work like a physical copy. It’s a strange but elating notion, seeing them sitting up there on my bookcase.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

It’s still odd to say, “I’m an author,” even though A Promise in Ash is my 5th self-published book.  I enjoy self-publishing because it lets me have control over every aspect of the product. I’m also sort of impatient and struggle with holding onto a project that’s completed. It stresses me out. So I write, edit, publish, and move on. I have loads of prompts and half-written stories.

I do wish I could spend more time writing and less operating a business. But one of the significant struggles of indies is being discoverable to readers. Marketing is a hassle but an upside in the long run. So I still like this process.

Thanks for having me!

Best wishes!

-Elysia

 

 

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