Chasing the Wind: A New Look for an Eight-Year-Old Book

Creativia just launched the new landing page on their site for Chasing the Wind. I hope you’ll check it out!

CTW 2014

As I posted previously, I’ve been learning dictation…and giving a lot of thought to where I go from here professionally. I want to write screenplays. That may succeed, but it may not. I’ve never been one to ever have a Plan B, because that means I’d have something to fall back on if Plan A fails. But I’m no spring chicken anymore and my collaborator is currently busy with other things, so maybe Plan B isn’t such a bad idea anymore. Besides, there are characters I need to catch up with, stories I need to tell. Stories I need to finish. I’ve changed a great deal since most of my novels were written, and so have those characters. I could write about them on my blog, or….

I don’t see myself writing 400-500 page novels anymore, but there is an alternative. For example, James Patterson started something called Bookshots–novels that can usually be read in one sitting. 150 pages or less.  That’s a length I could probably handle. Readers these days (like me) tend to have shorter and shorter attention spans. Several authors have turned to shorter formats. Me? I already have plots for three, possibly four.

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Anything is possible….

Maybe I Won’t Retire, After All….

Writing used to come easily for me. I wrote one of my best novels, The Unicorn’s Daughter, in four months. Final Hours took six weeks. It was almost too easy, which is why I was surprised that The Unicorn’s Daughter required almost no editing from Berkley and became, along with Chasing the Wind, one of my best-reviewed novels.


As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve found it more and more difficult to finish a project. I asked my neurologist if I might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. “No. You’re way too sharp for that,” she assured me. Okay. If not that, what about epilepsy? I was first diagnosed as a teenager, and due to my own stupidity, was off the anti-seizure meds for a long time (I don’t have convulsive seizures, so I assumed–incorrectly–that I wasn’t having seizures at all). Again, the answer was no. My previous neurologist told me I was just distracted. ADHD, maybe?


My eyesight is not what it used to be–not that it was ever all that good. Arthritis has been an issue, so writing first drafts in longhand, as I’ve done throughout most of my career, was no longer possible. It was also a problem in using a computer, tablet or smartphone–especially the latter two, since I had to hold the devices at an angle close enough to be able to see the screens. I’ve joked here about my “Kindle elbow.”

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I’d tried dictation, but that was also a struggle–until I found this book.

Dictate Your Book: How to Write Your Book Better, Faster and Smarter by Monica Leonelle is a gem. Really. She points out that, like learning to type and use a computer are skills that require training and practice, dictation isn’t something you just do. Her book is short, concise and gives you all you need to learn to dictate your books, screenplays, short stories, etc. Collin is even considering it for doing his classwork, time being a big factor for him.

 

What a Character!

Last week, Collin and I went to see a special sneak preview of Doctor Strange. We’re both big fans of the Marvel superheroes. Why? Because they don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s a lot of action in their movies, but also a healthy dose of humor. And their characters are people first, superheroes second. Their movies have some of the best characterization I’ve ever seen. Their heroes are flawed, men and women with questionable pasts, dark sides and emotional issues.

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Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant, arrogant neurosurgeon who believes only in himself and his skills as a surgeon–until a career-ending accident puts him on a path to a world he could never have imagined, and a life in which he could save millions rather than one life at a time.

In Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers are divided when a tragic mistake made during a mission causes the deaths of many civilians. It pits genius Tony Stark (Iron Man) against Captain Steve Rogers (Captain America). Tony has daddy issues–he never felt loved by his father, Howard. “My father never told me he loved me, he never even told me he liked me,” he says. By contrast, Steve had a close friendship with Howard back in the ’40s, when Howard assisted Dr. Abraham Erskine in creating Captain America using his super soldier serum for the US  military. Tony remembers hearing Howard talk about Steve over the years, and there’s clear resentment there. For Tony, it’s akin to sibling rivalry. Steve had a relationship with Tony’s father that Tony never had. When Tony discovers that Steve’s best friend, Bucky Barnes–the brainwashed assassin Winter Soldier–killed his father and mother twenty years ago, he realizes their deaths weren’t an accident, as Tony had been led to believe–and that Steve knew the truth.

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Tony is a complex character. He’s always been terrible at relationships, even when he really wanted them to work. He was deeply loved by his mother but felt rejected by his father–a fact that shaped all of his interpersonal connections.

Actor Chris Pratt, who portrays Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Peter Quill, describes the character as “emotionally stunted.” Peter’s mother died when he was just a boy, and he never knew his father. Add to that being abducted by aliens the night his mother died, and it makes sense that Peter would miss the maturity train, so to speak. He grew up a thief, part of a group of intergalactic pirates called Ravagers, but something deep within him yearns to be the hero, the Star-Lord his mother nicknamed him. It takes him twenty-six years to open the package she gave him on her deathbed. She told him not to open it until she was gone. Perhaps somewhere in his subconscious, he doesn’t open it because as long as he doesn’t, she’s not really gone?

Marvel’s got some well-developed villains as well–Loki, for example. The second son of Odin, King of Asgard, he grew up in the shadow of his older brother, Thor, heir to the throne. When he discovers he’s not Odin and Frigga’s biological child, that Odin found him during a battle with the Frost Giants, having been abandoned, left to die, Loki concludes this is why Odin always favored Thor. Even when Loki does his worst, fans relate to him. They get him. When an angry Odin tells him his birthright was to die, the fans feel for Loki.

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Zemo is another interesting bad guy. Having lost his entire family during the Avengers’ battle with Ultron, he seeks revenge. He knows he can’t destroy the Avengers, but with the right push, they can destroy each other. “An empire destroyed from outside can be rebuilt,” he says, “but one that is destroyed from within is dead forever.”

Throughout his quest for revenge, Zemo is seen listening to a voicemail message. It turns out to be the last message he received from his wife before her death.

When I started writing, I was focused on plot. I was young and lacked the life experience to understand the importance of well-developed characters. One editor I knew used to call me “The Master Plotter.”

Now, I prefer more character-driven stories.

The Advice Most Often Given to Writers: Write What You Know

The trouble with that advice is that a lot of thrillers, supernatural suspense novels and tales of horror would never be written if we followed it. I’ve written about killers, genetic experiments, financial empires, supernatural powers, espionage, the Middle East and other topics of which I have no personal experience. If I only wrote about what I know, the list would include idiots, self-absorbed and spineless jerks, nutcases, liars, and false friends.

Okay, so I could write political novels. As we all know, Washington is full of all of those type of characters.

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My friend and fellow author, Shelly Arkon, has lately been writing a  great deal about matters of faith on her blog. Shelly has spent the past few years studying both the Bible and the Torah and has learned a great deal. While bloggers are often warned about writing about matters of faith in a cheesy manner, Shelly’s posts are honest, from the heart and thought-provoking. I’ve done a lot of thinking myself. I’m a Christian, and I’ve experienced a great deal in my life that has confirmed my faith–but I still have more questions than answers. I’m by no means an expert, but still I want to write things that make people think and hopefully find a door opened to them that they haven’t seen before. So how to do it?

Fiction, mostly. In Chasing the Wind, I write about characters who also have more questions than answers: cynical FBI agents, an agnostic photojournalist, a Biblical archaeologist who has faith but challenges it, and an atheist who is called to be a prophet but still can’t believe what’s happening to him. I put them in situations where they get pushed to their limits and their faith (or lack of it) is tested. They witness miracles. They deal with loss and rise above it. And they face many of the same questions I’ve faced.

I always believed in God–but as the Bible says, even demons believe in God. They know He exists. Believing is not the same as putting one’s faith in God. I wasn’t able to do that completely for a long time. That door opened for me twenty-two years ago, on a dark night in which I felt more hopeless than I ever had. I went to bed that night, facing a situation for which there seemed to be no resolution. I prayed, more than I ever had before, and was still praying when I finally fell asleep. I was awakened the next morning by what first seemed to be just a ringing telephone, but in fact was God’s answer to my urgent prayers–the miracle I needed.

That miracle has led me to write my first work of nonfiction–a memoir that’s (finally) almost finished, Riding Out the Storm. It’s not easy to lay bare one’s soul for all to see, as my close friend William Kendall discovered with his most recent blog post. But sometimes, we need to write about the things that make us most vulnerable. Sometimes, as in William’s case, it’s a way to exorcise our personal demons in order to be free of them. It took tremendous courage for William to share the things he’d kept so private for so many years. For some, like Shelly, it’s a way to share our discoveries of faith…and to provide a warning of what’s ahead. For me, it’s hopefully a means to testify, to show others that anyone can–and will–change. And that it really is darkest just before dawn.

 

Character Blog: Connor Mackenzie and Lynne Raven Mackenzie, Chasing the Wind

A few years ago,I did a series of character blogs–getting into the thoughts of my characters. From time to time, I’ll be reposting these entries for those who weren’t around to read them back then….

CTW 2014

Connor says:

I was attracted to her right off, but I wasn’t seeing her as more than a bedmate–a temporary one at that–at the time.

I didn’t even want to go to the bloody lecture. Sarah wouldn’t let it go. I realised she wasn’t going to give up. It was really quite odd, because Sarah and I have never been close. Why she wanted me with her that night remained a mystery for months to follow.

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When Lynne told me of her difficulty in obtaining funding for her dig in Egypt, I saw an opportunity. I had made plans to fly to Cape Town the next day, to lie low the until the furor subsided. This, however, was a much better option. No one would be looking for me on an archaeological excavation. I would be living in the middle of nowhere with a woman I found quite appealing. 

It had definite possibilities.

Edward wasn’t going to be an easy sell, but he understood the urgency of the situation. I couldn’t stay in London. If I did, I could well end up in prison. What we had done was illegal. If the Foundation provided Lynne’s funding, it would all be perfectly legal and no one would be the wiser. It would not be connected to me. And if I got it on with the lady while in exile, all the better.

I had no idea then how it was all going to turn out…. 

Lynne says:

There’s no such thing as coincidence. Nothing happens by accident.

I wasn’t even supposed to be in London. I’m an archaeologist specializing in Biblical archaeology. I’d been working on a dig in Egypt, searching for proof of the Exodus. Yes, that Exodus. My partners and I had been there for a while, almost three years. The money was running out, and we hadn’t been able to secure further funding.

Then came the call.

A colleague who had been slated to give a series of lectures in London was injured at his dig site and was unable to fulfill his obligations in Britain, so he asked me to take his place. That might not seem odd to you, but this guy was someone I’d always been at odds with professionally. Why me? I wondered. Why had he asked me, rather than someone with whom he actually got along?

I didn’t question it too closely, though. I figured a couple of weeks in London would give me a chance to take one last shot at finding the funding we needed to keep going. It was my last chance.

Then I met Connor Mackenzie, and everything changed.

I’ll never forget that night. I walked into the lecture hall, and he stood out like Chris Rock at a Klan rally. He was wearing worn jeans and a leather biker jacket. He was of average height, with light brown hair that was almost blond, and blue eyes that, well…. He looked a lot like Ewan McGregor.

We talked briefly. When I told him of my funding dilemma, he suggested he might be able to help. I didn’t take him seriously, but he was so compelling–all right, I confess. When he asked me to have dinner with him, I didn’t want to refuse…. 

There’s Safety–and Sales–in Numbers!

Fellow author Mark R. Hunter did a blog post about setting up a booksigning in advance of the Christmas shopping season. I haven’t done a signing in years. It’s so much easier to just do all of the selling online. Besides, I never really enjoyed doing them–unless it was a group signing. Solo signings can be productive, sure–but unless you’re Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, or one of those really big names, it can be pretty quiet, too. (Cue the crickets.)

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I’ve done a number of group signings. And not only do readers show up, sometimes your fellow authors come to cheer you on–like this one, some years ago, at a Waldenbooks store in south St. Louis County, where I live. That’s fellow author Anna Eberhardt, aka Tiffany White, with me–and peeking around from the safety of the bookshelves is Collin, who refused to pose with us but didn’t object to photobombing us!

My favorite group signing was one I did with twenty other authors at a B. Dalton in a large mall. We had a blast! We made snarky remarks at each other and hammed it up for the shoppers, getting us lots of attention. We also sold a lot of books. I didn’t even mind that our car broke down en route and I had to hitch a ride with the aforementioned Anna and her husband, Leo.

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Coming in for a Landing…But Where’s the Rest of the Squadron?

I once told a fellow author I was going to take flying lessons as research for a book (that was never written, as it happens, because my agent didn’t find the idea glamorous enough). The fellow author’s response: “Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the air.”

I should probably point out that this comment was made in the early ’90s, when air travel was still fun.

Anyway, I’m not flying now. Not even as a passenger. By “landing,” I was referring to Creativia’s landing pages for my books. So far, only two are up and running. I’m guessing they’re doing this in alphabetical order, as the first one up was Alexander’s Empire and now we have Angels at Midnight. To check them out, just click on the links. And while you’re at it, check out my author page at their site. (They haven’t yet added my latest release, Ms. Maxwell and Son, to my bibliography.)

Angels at Midnight Complete

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When I decided to reissue my backlist books, I had a choice to make. These books, with the exception of Chasing the Wind and Final Hours, had all been written and published in the late 1980s-early 1990s. That was a time when the most popular fiction was either historical romance (not my cup of tea) or glamorous, suspenseful contemporary romance. Today, the market is decidedly different. On one hand, I really wanted the old books to be available on a permanent basis, even if they didn’t gain many new readers. Om the other, I felt an urge to rewrite all of the old stuff, not just to make it more relevant to today’s readers, but in the case of Alexander’s Empire to satisfy my need to finally publish the story I’d wanted to write from the start.

If I were writing them today? Alexander’s Empire would still involve wealth and power–to a degree. But it would be, at its heart, the story of a man who discovers he’s not who he’s always believed himself to be, that his present life was created out of a tragedy that destroyed several lives. It would focus on his inability to trust, to love, and his search for answers.

As for Angels at Midnight, again, there would be less glamour and more of a modern “MacGuyver meets Robin Hood” story. Ashley might still be a celebrated artist, but Collin wouldn’t be an oilman’s heir. He’d be someone who was one of many cheated by a ruthless employer. He’d be more high tech than he was back in the ’80s. And there would be more fencing. Those were my favorite parts of the original.

That’s what might have been….

What Do a Single Pregnant Woman, a Cranky Musician, a Toilet-Flushing Cockatoo and a Snowstorm Have in Common?

Since my first series romance novel, Ms. Maxwell and Son (originally published by Silhouette in 1988, reissued by Creativia in August 2016) is currently on sale at Amazon through Monday, here’s an excerpt….

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Chapter One

This is it. This is really it. The baby’s corning. The contractions were thirty minutes apart now, and still nothing more than a vague cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. I have plenty of time, Katie Maxwell thought, brushing a strand of her short, dark auburn hair off her forehead. She willed herself to remain calm. Plenty of time to get to the hospital. Plenty of time. She drew in a deep breath and tried to focus her attention on the comic strip she’d been working on, but without much success. Deadline or no deadline, she couldn’t think of anything but what was happening inside her own body.

It was about time. Her due date had come and gone almost two weeks ago with no indication that her baby had even considered making his debut in the outside world. Just like your father, Katie thought. She immediately pushed the thought from her mind. Mustn’t think of Michael now. Not now. Michael’s not your father …not in any way that really matters. He was just my husband. Was. The man who made me pregnant. That’s all.

She looked at her watch. She had to keep timing the pains. This couldn’t be false labor. It just couldn’t be. It had to be the real thing. She couldn’t wait another day. Not after having waited so long already.

Her obstetrician had told her to be patient, that first babies often arrived late. But everyone’s patience had its limits, and Katie’s was no exception. She’d waited eight months already. . . eight long months since she took the home pregnancy test that had changed her life so drastically.

She got up from her drawing board and walked across the room to the windows, her left hand gently massaging her aching back as she moved at a slow waddle. In the past few months she’d begun to feel like an unflattering cross between a duck and an elephant. It was snowing.

She had no idea how long it had been snowing . . . she hadn’t looked outside in hours. She’d been struggling to meet her deadline when the first contractions came at just past mid- night. She hadn’t had the TV on, so she’d had no idea there was any inclement weather in the forecast. God, why did it have to snow tonight, of all nights? Normally Katie loved the Connecticut winters. The countryside that was verdant green in summer and rich with reds and golds in autumn was especially beautiful after a freshly fallen snow–before that special beauty was marred by the snowplows and salt and cinder trucks. Normally Katie looked forward to that first snowfall, but tonight it only meant trouble. It meant she wouldn’t be able to drive herself to the hospital as she’d planned. It meant she’d have to call for a taxi…or an ambulance.

She settled down on the overstuffed couch and waited for the next contraction. When they were fifteen minutes apart, she would call Dr. Rowen and leave for the hospital. She decided it would be safer to call an ambulance than take a chance on a taxi that might not arrive in time. Katie frowned. No wonder her mother kept insisting a baby needed two parents. One to do the heavy labor, and one to drive to the hospital in case of nasty weather, she thought wryly. At least I haven’t lost my sense of humor—yet.

Another pain came, this time more intense than the last. Katie caught her breath and checked her watch again. Twenty-five minutes apart. They were coming closer together. She lay back against the couch and sucked in her breath. Had she made the right decision? she wondered for the hundredth time in the course of her pregnancy. Not that she’d really had any other options. Michael had made the decision for her the same day she told him about the baby. Michael had never had any desire to be a father—he’d made that clear from the day they were married. Still, Katie had always hoped he’d change his mind. He hadn’t. If anything, he’d become more adamant in his refusal to even consider starting a family. She’d never had to worry about forgetting to take the pill—Michael always reminded her. She recalled now how he’d reacted to the news of her pregnancy….

“You’re supposed to be using birth control,” he said evenly as he went to the bar to pour himself a drink. As he’d put it, he was sure he was going to need one.

She watched him for a moment as he poured automatically. Just the right amounts of vodka and tonic, two ice cubes, never any more, never any less, and just a small twist of lime. He could almost make it in his sleep. It never varied. It was almost as though all the glasses were marked and the lime cut in precisely the same size pieces. Katie realized for the first time how annoying that was. She searched his handsome face for some sign of emotion, any emotion. There was none.

“I was–that is, I am,” she said finally. “Something must have gone wrong.” She gave a helpless shrug.

“Obviously.” He lifted the glass to his lips, his expression now as cold as the ice in his drink. He took a long swallow, slowly, as if taking time to consider the options. “How far along are you?”

“About six weeks.” He was taking an interest, anyway, Katie thought, however slight. Itwas a good sign. A beginning. But her hope had been short-lived.

“Well, thank God for that,” Michael said with relief in his voice.

“I don’t understand–” Katie began.

“At least it’s not too late.”

“For what?”

“An abortion, of course,” he said as he put down his glass, as if the decision had already been made.

“I have no intention of having an abortion, Michael,” she told him. “This pregnancy may not have been planned, but there’s no way I’ll terminate it.”

His smile was cold. “Don’t tell me it’s against that Irish Catholic heritage you’re so damn proud of,” he concluded.

“Heritage or not, I don’t believe in abortion,” she said tightly, her fists clenched in the folds of her full skirt. She was fighting to control her anger. “This is my child, and I have every intention of keeping him.”

“Then you’ll keep it alone,” he said with barely controlled anger in his voice. “I told you before we were married that having children was one subject that would not be open for discussion. I didn’t want children then, and I still don’t.”

“And that’s all that’s ever mattered to you, isn’t it–what you want!” Katie exploded. “What I might want doesn’t matter to you at all, does it?”

“If you were so set on a life of home and hearth and sticky fingers and runny noses, you should have married a family man, Kathleen,” he said acidly. “You knew my position on this before we were married.”

“Your position? My God, Michael, you make this sound like a legal debate!” she responded incredulously.

He looked at her calmly. “We had an agreement.”

“No, Michael, you had an agreement. I had a marriage–or I thought I did, anyway.” She was fighting to control the temper that was very much a part of her Irish heritage. “What I wanted never mattered to you. How I felt never mattered to you. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that.”

“Then you’re determined to go through with this pregnancy?” he wanted to know.

“Yes. I am.”

He nodded slowly. “Fine,” he said finally. “Do you want to get the divorce, or shall I?”

“I think I’d better do it,” she said dispassionately. “As far as I know, pregnancy isn’t grounds for divorce in this state…but discovering I married a selfish jackass just might be.”

Katie’s thoughts returned to the present. Looking back on it now, she realized she shouldn’t have been surprised. Michael had never really liked children. She’d seen it when he was forced to be around her nieces and nephews for any length of time. He’d never showed any interest in even trying to learn to like them. He didn’t like children, didn’t want any of his own, and that was that.

At least he was honest about that much, she thought dismally. After the divorce she’d often wondered if he had ever really wanted to be a husband, either, or if marrying her had just been more convenient than having to go looking for someone to take care of his sexual needs when he felt the urge.

By three in the morning the snow had reached blizzard proportions and Katie’s contractions were fifteen minutes apart. Time to call the doctor. She picked up the phone on the table next to the couch and started to dial, realizing halfway through the number that the line was dead. “Oh, no,” she breathed, depressing the button on the cradle repeatedly, frantically. Nothing. The snow must have downed the lines. She tried her cellphone. Again, nothing. No signal.

Terrific, she thought. Now what? She searched her mind frantically for a possible alternative. She could have the baby right here, alone. She shook her head, dismissing that idea. She could just as easily fly to the moon on gossamer wings. Only as a last resort, she promised herself. Stay calm. She willed herself not to panic. It wouldn’t do any good. It might even make matters worse. Or would it? She remembered reading somewhere that anxiety could actually prolong labor. It might give her time to figure out how she was going to get to the hospital.

Good grief, what was she thinking of? Who in her right mind would actually want to prolong labor? The thoughts of a desperate woman, she decided. A very desperate woman. Who else in the building was home right now? she asked herself. Who might be able to help her? There were only six apartments in the converted Victorian manor. Two were vacant at the moment. Julie, her only real friend among the tenants, was away for the weekend.

“Don’t have that baby till I get back,” she’d told Katie jokingly as she was leaving yesterday.

“Don’t worry,” Katie had laughed. “I think he’s waiting for the spring thaw.”

I’d be happy if he’d just wait until morning–or at least until the phone’s working again, she thought now, ready to push the panic button. The Kellers, the elderly couple who lived upstairs, were off on one of those “Love Boat” type cruises. Even if they had been home, Mr. Keller was hardly physically up to a mad race to the hospital inthis weather—and Mrs. Keller didn’t drive at all. The man who lived next door had just moved in two weeks ago. Katie had seen him on the stairs a couple of times, but knew nothing more about him than his name and the fact that he liked to play his piano in the middle of the night. She’d heard he was a real grouch, too. She considered her options, then got up off the couch.

It looked like the man in 2B was her only chance.

*****

Jack Spangler tapped out a tune on the keyboard, then paused long enough to scribble some illegible notes on a music sheet on top of the old, scarred piano. Had he taken the time to look in a mirror, he would have seen a face that looked as if it had been without sleep in at least a week, one that probably had not known a razor in almost as many days. He would have seen bloodshot eyes shadowed by the effects of too little sleep, and thick, dark brown hair in desperate need of a barber’s scissors. He would have seen a body that was just a little too thin from skipping too many meals. But he would not have cared, even if he had taken the time to make those observations. There was only one thing on his mind, and that was his music. He was not a dedicated composer; he was an obsessed one. When he was in the middle of a composition, it occupied his every waking thought and haunted his dreams. He lived and breathed music. It was his mistress, his tempestuous, demanding mistress, possessing his soul as no mortal woman ever could. And unlike a woman, his music would never leave him; it would always be with him, always be a part of him. When he was composing, the rest of the world ceased to exist. And that was the way he wanted it.

He raked a hand through his thick, dark hair and took a long swallow of the cold coffee in the mug that had left a ring on his completed sheet music, making a face at the unexpected bitter taste. Time to make fresh coffee. He got up from the piano and walked barefoot into the too small kitchenette, mug in hand. After dumping its contents into the sink, he rinsed the mug, then filled it with hot water from the tap. No point in wasting time boiling water, he thought. He opened a jar of instant coffee he kept on the counter and spooned three heaping tablespoons into the water, stirring it as he scanned the shelf overhead for the individually wrapped crackers he always pocketed in restaurants. Finding the packets in an old cracked mug, he took two. “Hungry, Sam?” he called out.

“Sam’s hungry,” a large white cockatoo responded from his perch in the living room. He spread his wings wide and ruffled his feathers as if to emphasize the point.

“You’ve been on your best behavior,” Jack decided aloud as he returned with the coffee and crackers. “I guess you’ve earned these.” Putting the mug down on the top of the piano, he unwrapped the crackers and offered one to the bird. Sam took the cracker in one claw and started to eat it.

“Where’re your manners, Sam?” Jack asked as if he were speaking to a child to whom he’d just given candy.

“Thank you, Jack,” Sam answered on cue, immediately returning his attention to the cracker.

“You’re welcome, Sam.” Jack sat down at the piano and started to play again, but was interrupted by the unexpected sound of someone knocking at the door. At first he thought he was hearing things. Nobody in this quiet, very normal neighborhood could possibly be out and about at this hour. He’d begun to think they all went to bed at sundown.

Then he heard it again. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Who the hell could be knocking at this ungodly hour? He’d thought he was the only living soul in this part of Connecticut who kept graverobbers’ hours. He dragged himself off the bench again and crossed the room.

“Listen, whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying–” he stopped short as he pulled the door open.

The woman standing in the hall looked familiar, but he couldn’t place the face. She was short, with thick hair cut to frame her face like a glossy red cap, a delicate, heart-shaped face and dark green eyes. She was, he decided in the seconds he’d had to appraise her, quite attractive. She was also either very pregnant or a Weight Watchers dropout. Even under her bulky winter coat, he could tell that her stomach was quite large.

“I’m Katie Maxwell,” she told him, clearly upset about something. “I live next door.” So that’s where I’ve seen her before. On the stairs, Jack thought.

“I need your help,” Katie was saying.

He gave her a puzzled look. “Lady, it’s three in the morning–” he started.

“I’m in labor. I need someone–I need you, that is, to drive me to the hospital,” she went on.

“Where’s your husband?” Tact had never been Jack Spangler’s strong suit.

“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” Katie said crossly, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I don’t have a husband—and right now, I don’t have any other way to get to the hospital. I can’t drive myself. Nobody else in the building is around, and I can’t call an ambulance because the phone lines are down.” She’d gotten it all out in one breath. Jack was still staring at her, bewildered.

“Will you help me?” she asked, almost pleading by now.

He hesitated for a moment, considering the alternatives. She could end up having her baby right there in his living room. He would have to deliver it. The thought of that made him feel a little anxious himself. “Yeah, okay,” he said finally, nodding in surrender. “Give me a minute to pull myself together, okay?” He dropped onto the couch and started pulling on his socks and boots. “You got a suitcase or anything?”

She nodded. “I’ll get it.”

He shook his head. “I’ll get it. Just tell me where it is.” In every TV sitcom he’d ever seen, they always rushed off without the suitcase and had to come back for it. He had no intention of coming back for anything.

Katie nodded. “It’s just inside my door, on the big chair.”

“Hey, good lookin’!” Sam squawked as Jack started looking for his coat.

“Shut up, bird!” he ordered as he walked out, closing the door behind him.

Is It Something in the Water?

A Prophet…or an Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong?

Today’s excerpt is from Chasing the Wind, my favorite of my works. It took Collin and me ten years to write and revise, during the worst period of our lives, but we stuck with it–even when agents and publishers who wanted to work with us insisted we had to turn it into something I didn’t want it to be in order to sell it. Early on, it was a screenplay. I finally realized we would have to self-publish it in order to make it the story I really wanted to write, so in 2008, that’s what we did. Then a few years later, I told Collin we had to rewrite it, switching from third-person point-of-view to multiple first-person POVs. We did, and it was re-published by Creativia. The ebook edition is available via Amazon at a special promotional price–$.99–now through Wednesday!

This is the story of Lynne Raven, a Biblical archaeologist with a failed marriage and a yearning for motherhood, and Connor Mackenzie, a mysterious benefactor with an incredible secret he has yet to discover himself….

 

CTW 2014

Caitlin Hammond

The woman was hysterical.

Her husband wasn’t in much better shape. He could barely talk, struggling to answer my questions in fragmented sentences. Their six-year-old daughter had been abducted from their backyard. There were no witnesses, and an exhaustive search of the neighborhood turned up nothing.

“I don’t understand how this could have happened,” the child’s father said, choking on every other word. “She only let Mandy out of her sight for a minute.”

He looked over his shoulder at his inconsolable wife, being tended by a neighbor. “She’s always been an overprotective mother,” he said, lowering his voice. “Mandy’s our miracle baby.”

“How so?” I asked, taking notes. In the years I’d been with the FBI, I’d found child abduction cases to be the biggest test of my objectivity. If somebody took my kid, I’d probably hunt them down and kill them. Kidnappers and pedophiles should always be turned over to the parents. The courts might let them go. But you didn’t hear that from me.

“We’d been trying to have children for years, almost as long as we’ve been married,” the distraught father went on.  “We both come from big families and wanted kids of our own, but it just wasn’t happening.”

“Is your daughter adopted?” my partner, Jack Farlow, asked.

He shook his head. “No, no,” he said. “She’s ours. We went to a fertility clinic when we couldn’t conceive. It took everything we had, all of our savings, but Mandy’s worth it.”

“You had difficulty in having a child,” Jack said slowly. “Who was at fault?”

The man was at first puzzled, then angry. “What kind of question is that?” he asked. “What has it to do with Mandy being missing?”

“Probably nothing, maybe everything, depending on the circumstances of her birth, sir,” Jack said. “Did you use an egg or sperm donor?”

The man shook his head. “No,” he said. “Mandy’s ours, one hundred percent. She was conceived by in vitro, but we used our own…you know.”

“We have to ask,” I apologized. “If your daughter were not biologically yours, then we would have to consider the possibility that the biological parent might have taken her.”

“We’re her parents, no one else,” the man insisted. His face reflected his deep fear for his child’s safety. “Please bring our baby home. Please.”

***

“I only turned my back for a moment,” the distraught teacher repeated over and over. “I never left the schoolyard!”

A six-year-old boy had been abducted outside a prestigious Seattle school for gifted children. No one saw it happen, even though there were several children in the schoolyard, being picked up by their own parents. Everyone was being questioned.

“We understand, Mrs. Harwood,” I said in an attempt to calm her.

I don’t understand!” The emotional outburst came from the child’s mother. “You were responsible for him! You were supposed to be watching him!”

“I was watching him!” the teacher attempted to defend herself. “I was watching all of them! I only turned away for a moment!”

“Long enough for someone to take my son!” the angry mother shot back at her.

“Easy, Mrs. Wyndham,” Jack urged. “She won’t be able to remember anything if you keep attacking her.”

Charlotte Wyndham turned to the window, hugging herself tightly as if trying to shield herself from the chill of fear that consumed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She said her husband was in Paris on business. He’d booked a flight as soon as she called him, but he could not be there before the next morning.

“We only had each other, until Noah was born,” she said. “Neither of us have any other family, and we both wanted children. When we couldn’t get pregnant on our own, we sought out the experts. It took us three years and thousands of dollars to have Noah, but he’s worth every penny. If anything happens to him….”

***

The woman’s body was found in her car, parked in the driveway outside her Florida home. She was still in the driver’s seat, her seatbelt still in place. She’d been shot in the head at close range. Her five-year-old son was missing, presumably taken from his car seat.

We questioned her husband at length. He was frustrated by the endless probing. “My wife is dead, my child is missing. Why are you wasting time questioning me?” he demanded.

“You found her, sir, ” I said. “We have to start there. With you.”

“She had no enemies,” he said irritably. “None. She got along with everybody. I always envied that about her. She was the peacemaker. I was the loose cannon.”

“Were you a loose cannon with her, Mr. Reynolds?” Jack asked.

“No, of course not.” Roger Reynolds didn’t miss the implication. “What are you asking me?”

“Only if there were any problems between the two of you.”

“You think I killed her?” Reynolds asked incredulously.

“Did you?”

“No, of course not!”

“What about your son?”

“What about him?”

“Were there any problems regarding the child?” I asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Reynolds snapped. “Our son was perfect. Perfect.”

 

Lynne Raven

Dear God, how long has it been? As I stood at the window in my hotel room in London, looking at the city below, I found myself feeling like I’d just landed on another planet.

I should probably explain. I’m a field archaeologist. Home is wherever I happen to be excavating—at that time, “home” was Egypt. The only people I see on a daily basis are the members of my team. Restaurants, theaters, shopping—all are rare luxuries. My wardrobe is simple and functional, much like everything else in my life.

As I looked at the royal blue tunic I’d planned to wear that night, I realized I hadn’t worn it in months. It didn’t fit my normal lifestyle. Too feminine for a dig. Thinking about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made the effort to be feminine, to actually look like a woman. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like a woman, the last time I’d wanted to feel like a woman. Feeling and acting like a woman always seemed to get me into trouble. I had discovered long ago that I got on better with people who’d been dead for a thousand years than I did with the living.

I’m not one to spend a lot of time worrying about my looks. For what? I’ve been divorced over a decade and can’t remember the last time I was on a date. I turned forty that summer, but on the good days, I could still pass for thirty. I had fine lines around my eyes—“archaeologist’s squint,” an occupational hazard more than a sign of aging. I haven’t changed my hairstyle since college—it’s long, dark and threaded with strands of copper from being out in the sun all day, every day. I know I don’t look my age. But there are times I feel it acutely. I got good genes from my parents. Genes that I haven’t been able to pass on to any children of my own. The thought of the children I’d never have and the family I hadn’t seen in a year brought a wave of unexpected sadness I couldn’t shake. It was Thanksgiving in the States. How many years had it been since I’d gone home for Thanksgiving or any other holiday? I told my parents I was too busy, but the truth was that it was too painful to see my three sisters with their children. Seeing what I’d been missing.

I always believed this was the path God had chosen for me. I could never have been satisfied with the life my sisters led back in Missouri. Taking the easy route had never been my style. We all have a purpose. I believed without doubt that mine was to find evidence that would prove the events described in the Bible had actually happened.

As for why I was in London, I hadn’t planned on being here. Three weeks before, I’d been minding my own business, working on my dig in Egypt when that call came, asking me to do a series of lectures in London, to replace a colleague who’d been injured in an earthquake in China. The request surprised the hell out of me, since it came from someone I not only didn’t know well personally, but had been at odds with professionally. What was it Dr. McCallum had called me? Too much of a dreamer to ever be a serious archaeologist. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t about to debate the merits of his request. It had been so long since I’d taken any time off from my work, for any reason…and as much as I loved it, I’d been feeling the need for a break for a long time now. It was a feeling I’d never had before, one I was at a loss to explain, even to myself. Work had been my whole life for…how long? Ever since the divorce.

I was giving serious consideration to adopting a child, maybe two. Not babies. Older kids. Kids who could live the way I live and actually enjoy it. There are lots of kids in the world needing parents. It doesn’t matter if I give birth to my kids or not.

Being in London would hopefully also provide me with an opportunity to seek the funding I needed to continue the dig. Time was running out and I’d already been rejected by the three private foundations that had funded my previous digs. God, I need a miracle, I silently prayed. That’s what it’s going to take if I’m to continue my work—Your work.

***

I saw him enter the crowded lecture hall. He was hard to miss. He looked so out of place in the sea of conservatively dressed attendees—but it didn’t seem to bother him. He wore faded jeans and a beat-up black leather jacket. He was with a young woman, a petite brunette who looked as aristocratic as he was scruffy. His light brown hair was in desperate need of a comb. His boredom was evident in his body language, the way he shoved his hands down into the pockets of his jacket. I decided I’d lost my audience before I even got to the podium.

“I fail to see why you couldn’t have come to this event alone, Sarah,” he said, annoyed. “You know quite well that I’ve no interest in spending the evening listening to a decrepit old man talk about life in some desolate outpost of Hades, digging up the pathetic remains of people who lived in another millennium.”

The woman shook her head disapprovingly. “If you had even bothered to read the brochure I gave you, you would know that Dr. Raven is a woman,” she told him.

“No difference,” he said with an offhanded shrug. “Frumpy, gray hair in a schoolmarm’s bun, sensible shoes, no doubt.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to need a pint—or two—to get me through this evening. I’ll be back. Eventually.” He turned to leave the lecture hall and we were face-to-face. He smiled, and his whole face seemed transformed by it. His eyes, blue and intense, instantly softened. “Hello,” he said in a low voice.

The woman came up behind him. “This is Dr. Raven,” she told him.

He extended his hand to me. “Connor Mackenzie,” he introduced himself. His Scottish brogue was unmistakable. I noticed that he didn’t introduce his date.

“Lynne Raven.” I shook his hand. “I left my sensible shoes back at the hotel,” I said, feigning regret.

He looked embarrassed. “You heard that?”

I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“I’m sorry—”

“Don’t be.” I smiled. “I get it all the time.” It was the truth. People are always surprised when they discover I’m an archaeologist. They always expect us to look and act like Indiana Jones. I do have the hat and the leather jacket, but no bullwhip. I used to wish I’d had one when I was still married. My ex could have benefited from a good whipping.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “You certainly don’t look like an archaeologist.”

He wasn’t expecting Indiana Jones. He was expecting a fossil as old as some of my finds.

I laughed. “Having heard your description, I’m relieved to hear I don’t look like one to you.”

He looked me in the eye, which was a little unnerving. “I think you’re quite beautiful,” he said.

I could feel my cheeks flush. I couldn’t remember the last time a man had made me blush. Maybe my ex-husband, but that was another lifetime—one I preferred not to remember. “Good save,” I said, a bit unnerved by the intensity of his stare.

“Are you enjoying your stay in London?” he asked in an awkward attempt at small talk.

“Very much,” I answered, grateful for the change of subject. “I spend most of my time on excavations. This has been heavenly.”

“Where will you go when you leave?” he asked.

“Egypt,” I said. “We’re digging in the Sinai, near the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.”

He looked amused. “You don’t really expect to find stone tablets—” he started.

I shook my head. “The tablets were taken to Israel in the Ark of the Covenant,” I explained. “They were still in the Ark when it disappeared from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. It’s been rumored that the Ark’s now somewhere in Ethiopia, but no one’s been able to prove it. Much as I would love to be the one to find the Ark, we don’t expect to find it in Egypt. We are searching for evidence of the Exodus in general.”

He laughed. “Have you found the secret to parting the Red Sea?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes. It’s called faith.”

“I’ve heard archaeologists are now using modern technology to aid their work,” he recalled. “Computers, satellites—”

“We do.” I drew in a deep breath, thinking of the equipment I still needed to continue my work. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped in this case. We haven’t found anything significant yet. This has turned out to be a long-term project, which means it’s been costly. My funding’s been cut off, and other sources I’ve used in the past have already turned me down. I have to find a new source of funding ASAP. Time is running out, if I’m going to continue my field work.” Why was I dumping this on him? I glanced toward his female companion, who was watching us intently. “I think your girlfriend’s getting the wrong idea.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” he said. “She’s my sister.”

Only then did I realize that he was still holding my hand. I withdrew it slowly.

“Have you eaten?” Connor asked.

I shook my head. “I’m beat. I thought I’d just get some Chinese takeout after I’m finished here and call it a night.”

He laughed. “A rare trip to the civilized world and you plan to spend the evening in your hotel room? That’s unacceptable.” he said. “Come have dinner with me.”

“I don’t think so—” I started.

“I may be able to save your project,” he suggested.

I was more than a little skeptical. “How?” He didn’t look like he had enough cash to pay for dinner. Except for the watch. The watch he wore looked very expensive. He probably stole it. Or so I thought at the time.

He winked, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “My trust fund,” he told her.

I nodded slowly. “Right.”

He wasn’t about to give up. “I could surprise you. What have you to lose by hearing me out?” he asked.

I hesitated for only a moment. “All right,” I said finally. Even if he didn’t have the means to save the excavation, there was something so compelling about him, I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t want to refuse.

God help me, I was thinking.