Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Before we check in for Word Count Wednesday, I just want to thank all my new campaigner friends and blog hop friends. It’s been so fun to meet you all and I’m really looking forward to getting to know you better. Also, don't forget that today is the last day to enter the Awesome August blog hop from my Monday post. Go here for details.

This week has been good and bad for me. Bad, because I’m dealing with some insomnia issues and instead of lying in my bed waiting for sleep or doing one more cockamamie remedy which is “sure to work,” I’ve been up writing. So, the good news is I got 4880 words this week. Woohoo! And my characters are at a big turning point in the story so it will be easy to continue.

As I've been wide awake these days I've been thinking a lot about my writing process. I think it’s sort of like when our family rented some tandem bikes and I was paired with my seventeen-year old son. He was in front, steering, and I was behind, pedaling. We went down a large hill, and, honestly, it scared me. Not because I didn’t trust my son, but I wasn’t steering, I couldn’t see what was ahead, and we were going very fast. All I could do was keep my feet to the pedals and hang on.

To me, writing is a lot like that sometimes. We can’t see what’s ahead, and most of the time other people like publishers, agents, or even marketing must-do lists are steering us. And it may feel like we’re just along for the ride and it can be scary. But I think if we hang on, and let go of some fears, we’ll eventually feel the wind in our hair and we can enjoy the ride that comes with every writing journey and experience. At least I hope I can.

How did you do with your word count this week?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: The Protector

Today’s review is Marliss Melton's novel The Protector.

Another author friend of mine was discussing the problems Marliss Melton had had with her publisher (Ms. Melton writes military romantic suspense and apparently her publisher decided they didn’t want any more SEAL books from her) and so Ms. Melton had decided to self-publish.

I was intrigued by the story and wanted to see what the publisher had passed up, so I went ahead and read The Protector. From the very first page we are pulled into Eryn’s story when one of her students is acting very strangely while completing an after school project. She feels uncomfortable, realizing they are alone, and decides to leave. His behavior escalates and so does the suspense of what will happen next. Before Eryn can blink, she’s thrust into a world where men would kill her to take their revenge on her military commander father and if she wants to live, the game is on.

The author masterfully combines her knowledge of the military with the emotions of what havoc war can wreak on even the most gentle of souls, including her hero Ike Calhoun. Ike has come home from the war on terror with a lot of demons. He’s trying to forget everything he’s seen and done, but gets pulled into Eryn’s predicament because of a favor he owes to her father. The author really pushes the reader beyond empathy with Ike’s story and what happened to him and his SEAL team. I found Ike to be a compelling tortured hero and loved his interactions with Eryn.

With a great setting, can’t-put-it-down plot, and characters that pull at your emotions, The Protector was a story that is more than entertainment. It really made me think about our men and women in uniform and the issues they face once they are home. My only complaint was that the villain seemed a bit on the stereotypical side and, for my more gentle readers, I must caution that there were a few sex scenes and some language in this book that could make you uncomfortable, (if it were a movie it would definitely be an R). But those scenes aren’t long and drawn out and can be skipped over without hurting the story. There were also a few typos that were mildly distracting, but the plotline more than made up for that.

All in all, for better or for worse, I think Ms. Melton made the decision that was right for her in her self-publishing foray, and her readers will not be disappointed with her debut self-published novel.

Here is the back copy for it:

Eryn McClellan teaches ESL in Washington, D.C., until the day she’s targeted by terrorists avenging her father’s actions in Afghanistan. The FBI has stepped in, but when it looks like they are using her for bait, General McClellan enlists the aid of the only man he knows he can trust: former Navy SEAL Ike Calhoun.

Embracing solitude in his remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ike thought he’d left the War on Terror far behind. Now he’s stuck shielding a blue-eyed beauty from ambitious federal agents and crazed jihadists. More disturbing still, the charming Eryn seems intent on shattering his self-imposed isolation. Ike does his best to resist her welcoming ways, but he can feel his resistance crumbling like a mountain in a mudslide. With the FBI hot on their heels and the terrorists not far behind, Ike willingly wages a one-man war in defense of the woman whose passion and faith have given him the strength to rise above his past.

It is available here on Amazon both as an ebook and a print version. It's also on Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My First Ever Blog Hop

I know I usually talk about mom stuff on Mondays, but I couldn't pass up this really fun blog hop and since I've never run one before, this is a new experience. Like parenting. Everything is a new experience when you're a parent. (See how sneakily I made the mom connection right there?)

Anyway, introducing my first ever blog hop! I hope you participate. I think it's going to be fun.

Welcome to the Awesome August Blog Hop, where bloggers from all over the Internet have come together to throw a summertime party!

Every blog on this hop is offering a fun prize, and entering is quick and easy. Simply follow the instructions on each blog, leave a comment, and bop right along to the next blog. You can win multiple times, so be sure to check out all the participating blogs!

On my blog, you can win a signed copy of my new novel Ribbon of Darkness. You know you want it. :)

To enter:

1. Become a follower of my blog.

2. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you are an amazing person. Really. You'll feel so much better if you do. Writers and readers should do that every day because writers need the reinforcement after critiques and reviews, and readers should do it just to get their nose out of a book. :) Then, go here and like my book page.

3. Leave me a comment and tell me that you've done those things. If your e-mail isn't available through your profile, I'll need you to leave that, too - I can't tell you if you've won if I can't contact you!

This blog hop runs through Wednesday night at midnight, so be sure to enter before then! The winner will be notified by e-mail.

Now that you've entered my contest, come meet all my other blog friends and see what fun things they are offering!

Awesome August Blog Hop Participants
1. Tristi Pinkston, LDS Author
2. Karen Hoover
3. Michael Young
4. Kristy Tate
5. cindy Hogan
6. Julie Bellon
7. Margot Hovley
8. Laurie Lewis
9. Mandi Slack
10. Melanie Jacobson
11. Joyce DiPastena
12. Renae Mackley
13. Debbi Weitzell
14. Donna Hatch
15. Carolyn Frank
16. Marsha Ward
17. Stacy Coles
18. Bonnie Harris
19. Danyelle Ferguson aka Queen of the Clan
20. Diony George
21. Lisa Asanuma
22. Susan Dayley
23. Christine Bryant @ Day Dreamer
24. Stephanie Humphreys
25. Ranee` Clark
26. Tamera Westhoff
27. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
28. Heather Justesen
29. Rebecca Talley
30. Jennifer Hurst
31. Aimee Brown
32. Cheryl Christensen
33. Rachelle Christensen
34. Imaginary Reads
35. Andrea Pearson

Learn more about Awesome August Blog Hop here.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sample Sunday--First Chapter of Dangerous Connections

Chapter One
copyright 2011

“How much longer until we land?” Tyler whispered to the flight attendant.

Worry creased the flight attendant’s brow as she eased the obviously pregnant woman to the plane’s galley floor and adjusted her own jumpseat headrest underneath the woman’s head. Cushioning the headrest with as many small airline pillows and blankets as she could, she glanced up at Tyler, shaking her head. “We’re still an hour away. We have medical personnel waiting for us when we land in Paris, though.”

Tyler sighed in frustration. He was pretty sure this baby wouldn’t wait an hour.

“What’s wrong?” the young mother demanded, looking up into Tyler’s face. “Is there something wrong with the baby? I thought you said you were a doctor!”

“I am a doctor,” Tyler reassured her, his tone soothing. “My name is Dr. Tyler Winthrop, and I’m going to do everything I can to help you, but it looks like your baby isn’t going to wait for the plane to land.”

A single tear slid down the woman’s cheek as she slumped back, letting her hand go slack. “Will my baby die? I’m not due for another six weeks.”

Tyler squeezed her hand and shook his head for emphasis. “Not if I can help it.”

She looked up at him, her cheeks tear-stained now, but nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I don’t want my baby to die.”

Tyler groaned inwardly at her words. A premature baby might need specialized care that he didn’t have at his disposal, but he planned to be true to his word. He would do everything he could to help. He rolled his sleeves up and turned back to the flight attendant. “I’m going to need more clean towels and whatever medical supplies you have on board. A couple more blankets as well.”

The flight attendant nodded and left. Tyler looked down into the eyes of his patient, seeing naked fear there but also trust that he would make this right, to heal her and help her. It was an all-too-familiar sight, and he looked away, telling himself that these circumstances were different. Still, this was a dangerous situation—nothing could change that—and so many factors could affect the outcome. He ran his hand through his short brown hair and drew in a deep breath. Scrunching down onto the floor and trying to maneuver his long legs into a comfortable position beside his patient made Tyler even more acutely aware of the small space they were afforded in the back of the plane. But if he were to look at the silver lining of the situation, everything would be within arm’s reach. He grabbed a clean towel from the cart parked beside him and wiped a small bead of perspiration away from the woman’s forehead. “Tell me your name.”

“Amber,” she said, her voice shaky. “I think another contraction is coming.”

“Okay, just look at me. We’re going to breathe together. Do as I do.” He offered his hand to her. “Just squeeze my hand, and we’ll get through this.” As the contraction began to take hold, Tyler was grateful at how quickly the breathing techniques came back to him. It had been a long time since he’d helped someone through childbirth.

She clasped his hand firmly as the contraction gained strength and copied his breathing as she tried to get through the pain. When it was over, she sank back against the pile of pillows and blankets behind her. “I don’t think I can do this.” Her breathing was ragged now, and her face registered the pain she’d just been through.

“You can do this,” he reassured her. He looked over his shoulder, surprised that the flight attendant was taking so long with the supplies. “Where is your husband?” he asked, trying to keep Amber talking.

“He’s meeting me in Paris,” Amber said forlornly. “I thought I’d be okay to fly since I had six more weeks left.” She started to cry. “I should have stayed home and come after the baby was born.”

“Amber, I need you to concentrate on your baby. Stay calm and use all your strength,” he said gently and squeezed her hand again. “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“It’s a girl,” she said, the ghost of a smile on her lips. “We just can’t decide on a name.”

The flight attendant poked her head back in, her arms full of towels and a box of medical supplies. “How are we doing? Is there any way at all to hold off until the plane lands?” Her eyebrows were raised in a question as she set everything down on the cart.

Tyler couldn’t answer her because another contraction had started and from the intensity with which Amber was squeezing his hand, he knew this one was stronger. He once again showed her the breathing technique and continued breathing with her until it was over. “It won’t be long now,” he finally said. “This baby isn’t waiting.” He grabbed some of the extra blankets and other supplies the flight attendant had brought and quickly got himself organized. “Amber, are you ready?”

Amber nodded weakly. “I think so.”

When Tyler opened the first-aid box and laid out what he would need, he looked up at Amber. “Okay, this is it.” Amber was wide-eyed and panicked. “Remember what I said—gather all your strength, and concentrate on your little girl.” She nodded and closed her eyes, but in a few moments the contraction was upon her, and she was pushing while Tyler counted. All indications were that the baby was in the right position and that everything was textbook, but from his experience, that didn’t mean something couldn’t go wrong. He leaned down, trying to meet her eyes so she could focus on him. “You’re so close, Amber, just a few more pushes. I know you can do this. You’re just about to meet your baby.”

She shook her head, then closed her eyes. “I can’t do it,” she mumbled. “I can’t do it anymore.”

A second flight attendant joined them, looking at Amber sympathetically. “I came to tell you that the plane is getting ready to land now. The ambulance is waiting to take you to the hospital, and your husband is waiting there. Just hold on until then.”

Amber seemed to rally a bit at her words. “My husband is waiting?”

The attendant nodded. Amber took a deep breath and slowly let it out. After one more push, Tyler was holding the smallest baby he’d ever seen. He cleared her mouth as best he could, then gently compressed her tiny chest. When that didn’t seem to do anything, he tried blowing little puffs of air into her mouth while rubbing her with one of the towels, his heart pounding as they waited for her first cries.

“She’s not crying,” Amber choked out. “Is she . . . ?”

Tyler rubbed a little more vigorously, and after a few long seconds the baby let out a weak cry. He smiled and continued his ministrations, and before long, the baby was letting out a wail. He knew that it was critical for premature babies to stay warm, so he laid the baby on her mother’s stomach, then covered both of them with a blanket. “Amber, meet your daughter.”

The baby continued to wail, and he could hear applause from the passengers at the front of the plane. Looking at mother and daughter, he could barely contain the emotion that rose within him. It had been so long since he had been present when life was just beginning. Usually he was there to witness life drawing to a close, as the dying called out for their mothers and he stood by, helpless, unable to do anything more for them. His eyes stung with unshed tears, and he turned away from the sight of mother and daughter to clean up a little, busying himself with getting Amber and the baby ready for the plane to land.

With the flight attendants’ help, Amber and the baby were ready for the jolt of landing and prepared for transport. The paramedics seemed to miraculously appear just minutes after landing and took over the patients’ care. Before they whisked mother and daughter away, Amber reached for his hand. “Thank you,” she said. “I owe my baby’s life to

Tyler smiled. “You did a great job,” he told her. “You’re going to be fine, and your baby is beautiful. Good luck.” She smiled at his words, and with one last squeeze of his hand they were gone.

Turning to a nearby flight attendant, he asked if she would mind bringing him his carry-on bag, since it had an extra shirt in it and the one he was wearing was ruined. When she returned with the bag a few moments later, he quickly changed, then made his way back to his seat. As he passed by, several people were anxious to give him a pat on the back and another round of applause. He smiled politely and bent to gather his things. The adrenaline was wearing off, and he felt happy, but tired, and ready to get to his hotel.

As he gathered the items he’d brought on the plane, he realized with dismay that his laptop bag was missing. He carefully went through his belongings, looked in the overhead compartment, and searched all around and underneath his seat to no avail. The bag was nowhere to be found. All of his papers, his computer files, and his books were gone. One book in particular that had been in the case held special meaning for him, and he cringed to think it could be missing.

He scanned the plane, trying to locate the flight attendant who had brought him his shirt, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. A knot was starting to form in the pit of his stomach. That laptop case had his entire life on it. He made his way to the exit, where the pilot and a few of the crew were still standing.

“Thanks for all your help, doc,” the pilot said. “I hear it was a girl.”

Tyler nodded. “It was. I’m glad we were so close to landing so the baby could get to a hospital.”

“Well, you kept your head in the crisis, but I guess that comes with the territory of being a baby doctor.”

“I’m actually a trauma surgeon. I just finished my second tour of duty in Iraq.”

The smile died on the pilot’s face. He was quiet for a moment, and the crew exchanged a few quick glances. “I’m glad you made it home safe, then. What are you doing in Paris?”

“Meeting my father for a little vacation.” Tyler cleared his throat. “Sir, I seemed to have lost my bag with my laptop in it. I’m sure someone mistakenly took it for theirs, but I would really like to get it back as soon as possible. I was going to ask the flight attendant about it, but she seems to be gone already.”

The pilot furrowed his brow. “I’ll look into it for you, but you should file a report with the airline. I’m sure they’re going to want to speak to you about the baby’s birth anyway.”

Tyler groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. All he wanted to do was get to his hotel, maybe eat some French food, and take a hot shower. Looking back at the pilot, he pasted a smile on his face, thanked him, and moved toward the exit to report his loss and gather the rest of his luggage. He had mixed emotions as he walked through the terminal teeming with people anxious to reach their destinations. He watched a businessman hurry past him, barely aware of his surroundings as he spoke on a cell phone, and Tyler felt a twinge of jealousy. He used to be like that. He’d had a direction and purpose before and during his deployment to Iraq. But everything was different now. He no longer knew where he was going, yet helping the woman on the plane had given him a taste of the confidence he thought he’d lost. So despite the frustration of losing his laptop bag, he felt a glimmer of hope that his time in Paris could help him gain some perspective on where his life might be headed now that his tour of duty in Iraq was over. He suspected his dad had been thinking along the same lines when he’d invited Tyler to join him here in Paris. Time would tell, but Tyler was hopeful.

* * *

It felt like hours since Tyler had entered the small room along with several other people to report lost luggage and lost belongings. He watched the stress in the face of the harried woman behind the desk as people raised their voices to her. The knot in his stomach tightened as the crowd seemed to feed off of the anger of others, loudly voicing their opinions of airlines that had lost their luggage. The young woman tried to calm each person down, but Tyler could see the fatigue on her face. When the man in front of him started shouting and waving his hands close to the woman’s face, Tyler had had enough. He stepped in, touching the angry man’s arm. “Sir, you need to calm down.”

He sized Tyler up, looking like he wanted to continue the argument, but changed his mind as Tyler moved closer to him. The man dropped his gaze to the floor before mumbling an apology. Tyler moved to the front of the line and gave the clerk a smile.

“Merci beaucoup,” she said, returning his smile, obviously a little surprised by his actions.

Tyler knew a smattering of French and replied with what he hoped was “you’re welcome.” “Je vous en prie,” he told her.

She handed him a small stack of papers. “Welcome to France.”

For just a moment, Tyler really did feel welcome. But when the older lady behind him snorted her impatience at being made to wait a second longer, the moment was gone. He nodded as he moved aside, giving one last grin to the woman who was helping him.

Clutching the papers, he sat down to fill them out. When he had finally written down all of his contact information in case the laptop was found or the airline had any questions for him, he hauled the rest of his luggage to the curb and hailed one of the waiting taxis to take him to the Hotel de Crillon, where his father was staying.

As the driver wound through the streets of Paris, Tyler laid his head back, just letting the sights slip by him. It still felt strange not to be in uniform. Blowing out a breath, he sat up straight and looked out the window as the car slowed down. The driver had pulled up to an elaborate hotel that seemed to once have been a palace. Tyler raised his eyebrows. This was luxury! Leaning forward, he paid the driver and then retrieved his luggage. As he walked into the lavish lobby, the gilded raised ceilings made him feel as if he were visiting royalty. An impeccably dressed man behind the front desk greeted him with polite aloofness. “Welcome to the Hotel de Crillon,” he said, his accent barely noticeable. “How may I help you?”

“I’m Tyler Winthrop. I believe my reservation is under the name Craig Winthrop.”

He typed the name into his computer, staring at the screen. “Ah, yes, you are on the fifth floor, monsieur.” He lifted his hand, and Tyler was surprised when he rang a small bell and a bellhop with a classic red uniform appeared. “Fifth floor, please,” he said to the young man.

“Room 5118.” The bellhop nodded and took Tyler’s bags. “Enjoy your stay,” the concierge said as Tyler followed the bellhop down the hall to the elevator.

Tyler nodded. “Thank you.” After a short elevator ride, the bellhop opened a door at the far end of the hallway, holding out his hand for Tyler to enter the suite first. As Tyler stepped over the threshold, he stopped for a moment, just taking in his surroundings. It was probably the most luxurious place he’d ever seen, a stark contrast to the cot and tents he’d recently left behind. Walking through the sitting room, he took in the dark wood paneling, elegant draperies, and plush carpeting. “This is amazing,” Tyler muttered to himself. He moved into the bathroom and was impressed with the huge bathtub surrounded by windows that boasted a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. “Wow,” was all Tyler could think to say.

He walked back into the sitting room where the bellhop waited patiently. Tyler thanked him and gave him a tip, firmly shutting the door behind him. He went to the first bedroom on the left and saw that his luggage had been neatly placed next to the canopied bed.

Peeking into the second bedroom, he saw his father’s watch, his pen, and some paper on the ornate end table. Nodding, Tyler determined that his father must still be at a business meeting. He had planned to wrap up all company business items today so he and Tyler could focus on enjoying Paris together without business getting in the way. It must have taken longer than he thought.

He took advantage of the time he had and took a long, hot shower, letting the steaming water run until he felt he couldn’t stand the heat anymore. It had been a long time since he’d had hot water anytime he wanted it and for as long as he wanted it. Tyler considered taking a short nap after his shower, but thought better of it, deciding he didn’t want to risk a nightmare. Instead he called room service and ordered lunch, intending to eat just enough to tide him over until his father returned. As he glanced at the end table once more, it struck him as strange that his father hadn’t left a note as to when Tyler could expect him back. It wasn’t like him. He shrugged. He knew there was nothing to be done but wait.

As he waited for lunch to arrive, he flipped idly through the hotel’s tourist packet on the small sitting table near the door. A flyer announcing a special exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay—“An Artist’s Peace: A Retrospective of the Works of Picasso and the Influence of Pacifism”—caught his eye. The small pictures accompanying the announcement showed several of Picasso’s paintings and piqued Tyler’s interest. Given his recent experiences, an exhibit about peace was just what he needed. As soon as his father returned he would suggest that the museum be their first stop in Paris.

A knock on the door signaled that lunch had arrived. Tyler strode across the suite and opened the door wide so the waiter could wheel in the table. After thanking and tipping the waiter, he opened the large lid from the silver platter and gaped at the arrangement of lunch items.

There was a large salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, some pâté, rare beefsteak with green beans, a slice of camembert with fresh baguettes, and a fancy little French cake that, if he recalled correctly, was a Paris-Brest. It smelled heavenly. He sampled each part of the lunch before placing the rest in the room’s mini-fridge for later. Unable to resist, he grabbed the little French cake and moved toward the balcony. The sun was already high in the sky as the heat of the day had fallen over Paris.

A light breeze ruffled the curtains on the balcony door, and Tyler could hear distant sounds of laughter coming from below. He stepped out and took a deep breath, reveling in the smells, the fresh air, and the fact that he wasn’t breathing sand.

His stomach still grumbled a bit in protest after the light lunch, but he didn’t want to eat his first full meal in Paris without his dad. He knew his father was looking forward to a nice sit-down meal as well, since he’d mentioned that Tyler’s flight would get in just in time for a late lunch for the two of them. With a sigh, he glanced at his watch, then wandered into his father’s room to check once more that he hadn’t missed a note. After a thorough check of the room, he was certain that the only two items in the room, besides his father’s luggage, were the watch and the pen on the desk. He thought it a little odd that his dad had left these items behind—he couldn’t recall seeing the watch without it being strapped to his father’s wrist, and he was hardly ever without the personalized, engraved pen. Just as he put his father’s things in his pockets, the phone rang, and he reached down to pick it up. “You have a message that has been delivered, monsieur,” the concierge’s voice said in his ear. “Would you like it brought up to you?”

“I’ll come down and get it,” Tyler said. He was restless and wanted to get out of the room anyway. Most likely the message was from his father to figure out when and where they could meet. “Thank you. I’ll be right down.” He hung up and made sure he had his room key and his wallet before he shut the door behind him and headed downstairs.

He stopped at the concierge’s desk and gave his name once again. The concierge returned with two envelopes. “Both envelopes were delivered by messenger just moments ago.” He gave Tyler a polite smile, smoothed his suit jacket, then turned to answer a ringing telephone.

Tyler nodded and thanked him before stepping away to read his message. He ripped open the envelope to find a single piece of paper. “Tyler, you need to go home. Return to the United States and wait for me there. I can’t explain right now. Please do as I ask.” Tyler furrowed his brow. That didn’t make sense. Why would his father invite him here only to send him home? The note was cryptic and very unlike his father. Something seemed off. He looked around, making sure he was alone, before opening the other envelope that was addressed to his father. He hoped it contained something that would help him make heads or tails of the situation, but all it contained was a slip of paper with the name “Jacques DuBois” written on it and a phone number. What was going on? He walked back to the desk. “When my father left the hotel, was he with anyone?” he asked the clerk.

“I didn’t see him leave,” the clerk told him. “Sorry.”

He looked down at Tyler’s hands, and Tyler drew them closer to his leg so it wasn’t readily apparent that he had opened both envelopes. “Do you know who left the second envelope for my father?” Tyler asked.

The clerk shook his head. “No, I’m sorry.”

Tyler mulled the situation over for a moment, trying to decide on a plan of action, then said, “I’m going out. May I leave a message for my father in case he returns before I get back?”

The man nodded and gave Tyler a piece of paper, pen, and an envelope. Tyler quickly scrawled that he was going to wait for his father in Paris until he could speak to him personally and that he would be at the Musée d’Orsay if he returned to the hotel and wanted to join him. Tyler handed the note to the clerk and stepped back. Other guests were waiting, and the clerk looked apologetically at Tyler as he moved toward them.

“Thank you,” Tyler called, as he walked toward the front door. The flyer announcing the special exhibit on Picasso at the Musee d’Orsay gave him an idea for passing the time at least, until he could talk to his dad. His conscience pricked him, though, as he thought about his father’s note. Should he try to get a flight out of Paris and head home as his father had asked? There had to be a good reason for his request. Tyler went through the front door, shielding his eyes from the sun as he stepped onto the Parisian street. No, he decided. I’m here, and I really need to talk to my dad. With luck, he’ll be at the hotel when I get back, or we can meet up at the museum. Pushing the note deeper into his pocket, he started down the street.

Friday, August 26, 2011

First Page Friday

For those of you who are new, First Page Friday is a feature I run on my blog where a national editor we affectionately call Ms. Shreditor critiques the first page of submitted manuscripts to help aspiring authors. (Submission requirements are on the sidebar). Today, however, with the earthquake back East and work schedules for Ms. Shreditor, I have asked Angela Eschler, a renowned editor in her own right, to do the critique this week. Angela is a trusted editor (you can see her services and prices here) for many authors and I’m so grateful she agreed to guest-critique for us.

The Entry
by Brittany Larsen

My stomach fell to my feet as I pulled into the driveway. The light was on in Mom’s study! Blood rushed to my head as the thump thump of my heart began to pound so loudly it drowned out the song I'd just been humming along with on the radio. This night was going to end badly.

I shut my car door as softly as I could, hoping my arrival would go unnoticed, and made my way to the front door. In order to get to my bedroom I would have to pass the study, but maaaaybe if I tip-toed in I could make it far enough up the stairs to pretend I didn’t hear him if he called my name. I could sneak in the back door and hide out in the kitchen pantry until he went somewhere else. But what if, by some freak chance of bad luck, he decided to rotate the food storage and found me stowed behind the fifty pound barrels of wheat? That might be awkward.

Maybe I could just sit in my car until I saw the light go off. I turned back around, calculating the odds of freezing to death in my car against the odds of having to sit through the inevitable lecture that awaited me on the other side of the door. I had just reopened my car door when my inner voice, the one of Reason--she’s so annoying-- said “Seriously, Nicole. You’re almost twenty-seven years old. If you want to avoid your father then you should really just MOVE OUT OF HIS HOUSE!”

I groaned audibly this time, knowing Reason had got the best of me. Again. We’d engaged in similar conversations for years. Reason told me I should let my dad pay for college and graduate school. Pride argued we didn’t need his money. Pride won that battle. But when Dad convinced me to move back home last year to pay off school loans and save for my own place, Pride was swallowed and Reason won the war.

Angela’s Comments

Let’s dive into this review, with brief-ish points in no particular order of importance (other than the general categories).


--The opening paragraphs of the hook are on the right track. There’s something at stake in them (whether she’ll make it into the house without her dad’s lecture attacking her)—and immediate conflict. This makes us want to read more because we have questions. Good job.

--The main character has fun voice. It’s not crazy strong voice (or it takes a minute to kick in, so it doesn’t feel super strong at first), but it does make her seem like an individual that’s likeable and in an interesting situation we’re curious about. I think the voice would be even stronger if the first paragraph had a little more of her voice in it, and a little more word economy (addressed below). Nonetheless, we like her enough that we want to know more about her story, so we’ll probably read a little farther—which is exactly what you want from a hook.

--You did a good job of slipping in some of the heroine’s background without laboriously “telling” the reader about it. So we know a lot about her right off (age, education background, home life, and a little about her personality, etc.). The combination of a little background with the current, related conflict is great; we’re enticed to know more—what did she do that her dad would lecture her? What are her pride issues with letting her dad help her? For instance, are they major relationship conflicts with her dad or just personal self-reliance issues?

Questions, As Well As Thoughts on Upping the Impact:

How the hook could be even better:

--So the following questions could be answered in your narrative—or hinted at, which is better—with just a sentence each. So you say the night was going to end badly. How had it started? Was it great? She was humming along with the radio, so it sounds like a nice or neutral evening. Was it a fantastic evening that her dad was about to ruin? Could you increase the emotional impact on the reader by increasing it on the character through the use of a tiny bit more information? This is possibly a missed opportunity to add depth to her current situation.

Another issue that could be used to increase the stakes in the character’s life is why Reason won on the most recent discussion—moving back with her dad after grad school to save up. What precipitated her need to do that and suddenly give up her pride? No jobs to be had? (How would she save up then?), some personal trial that has complicated her life? Her mother’s death/parents’ divorce? I ask that because there is mention of a mom’s study, but no mention of “parents” waiting up—just a dad. Since just Dad is reasoning with her to take money, move in, etc., we’re thinking her mom is missing from the scene. But she can’t have been missing too long or that wouldn’t be “mom’s study,” which means her absence is supposed to be noted by the reader, thus could be affecting the character.

The point I’m getting at is that the hook would be fantastic if we not only saw the little hint of conflict you already have, but also saw a hint of something much bigger at stake than a lecture from her dad. Is she about to lose a relationship, about to end her relationship with her dad due to family or personal stress, or is something even bigger at stake in her life? Right now the reader has mild curiosity, but if you want compelling page-turning curiosity, you want to hint at even bigger things right out of the gate. The quick little read I always suggest for any writer who wants to produce a killer hook is the book Hooked, by Les Edgerton. Check it out and up the stakes for your character right off.

--I haven’t read more than the first page, so you may not do this, but remember—not too much background info as you move forward. You’ll lose the story momentum/tension you’ve set up.

--It kind of throws the reader off to say the light was on in Mom’s study, but then suddenly talking about “him.” It’s a little confusing at first. (Just say “the study” rather than Mom’s if Mom isn’t important here, or say “There was a light on. Dad was waiting for me in Mom’s study again” or something so that we know right off it’s not Mom waiting in her study—which is the natural inference the reader draws as they read that first line about the study.)

--The use of “odds” needs adjusting. It’s the odds of dying (due to freezing to death, which you’ve hinted at) vs. the odds of running into her dad (and then the lecture). But when you say the lecture is inevitable, it changes it from “odds” to a sure thing. So you need to lose the word “inevitable” and maybe change “having to sit through” to “running into dad before I could escape to my room” if you want to use that fun line about calculating the odds.

--A logical question the reader asks: Is there a reason her room would be a safety zone? It sounds like dad is determined to talk to her, so why would her sneaking upstairs save her from his eventually coming up after her if her called her name (which presumes that her heard her come in)—even if she did get to her room and pretended she didn’t hear?

--Word economy in the first paragraph: Your first line is really your first impression so to speak (the glimpse of the lovely girl with her hair blowing in the wind, metaphorically), and the first paragraph is that closer look at the first impression—where the reader decides they’re committed to that first impression and want to get to know it better. Your first paragraph is a little less “voice” than the rest of the page and a little more clunky with too many not-super-interesting words. The emotions seem a little forced/cliché given the age of your character (more on the character and the first paragraph below). So try to imbue the first paragraph with the character’s voice, and cut down on the words to deliver a smoother introduction to the reader. Or at least make the words convey a little more information and some of the voice or character’s personality within that word count—make the words work harder to give more to the reader.

Here’s a shot-in-the-dark example (I’m not trying to be brilliant here, so please don’t overly judge it):

“He just couldn’t leave it, could he? I didn’t even need my headlights to pull in. The driveway was illuminated by the light in the study. The radio sing-along competition I’d been having with myself ended on a bad note. Clearly I was the loser, and this night wasn’t going to end well after all…..” (Do you see what I’m trying to do here? Start right off with the antagonist and make us intrigued immediately with what his motives are and what he can’t leave alone. Throw in some unique personality in her response to realizing he’s there, rather than the standard stomach dropping/heart speeding. There’s also a tad bit of humor intended in the word play of “bad note” to hint at her funny personality right off. Adding “after all” to the end implies something good had been happening before. It’s just a tad bit of change in the intro, but it makes the opening a little more intriguing, hinting at more information than the original, and rewording the setting and her reaction so they are slightly more distinctive. Oh, and it saved you 2 whole words.)

Let’s talk about genre:

--So I’m leaving this discussion for the end, so that anyone who doesn’t want to read a semi-long treatise on chic lit and LDS market vs national market can sign out.

First off, this book seems intended for the LDS market, due to the mention of food storage in the pantry (basically, there are things that are not explained in the narration, so there has to be a reader assumption you are counting on). So I am assuming the book is written for the LDS market, not about an LDS girl for the national market.

So I have two cautions about writing successfully in the LDS market given the age/voice of your character: Make sure that whatever your character is dealing with is an adult-like issue and that it involves romance. I note these two things because light women’s fiction that is serious/family drama or literary does not sell well in this market and the publishers frequently reject it; and any book that seems to be YA (for young adults under 20) is also dead in the water in the LDS market, generally speaking.

The reason I want to make sure your “voice”/character is very clearly for adult readers is that adult readers are THE majority of the LDS bookstores’ clientele. Not teens. Mostly women. And they usually want adult romances. So when I read your opening paragraph, I worried a little that your character seemed a tad too young in voice. Here’s why that worry crossed my mind: What would a dad be lecturing a 27-year-old about that could be that stressful to her? Getting lectured is sort of a juvenile (teenage) fear. It’s one thing to roll your eyes at a lecturing parent, which is the adult response when your parent hasn’t figured out you’re a grownup, but your character describes her stomach dropping and her heart pumping faster. This makes her sound like a teenager. Also, exclamation points are very “teen” voice—representing an overexuberance that is generally attributed to the younger-than-27 crowd.

So, with that caution being sounded, you never know what will suddenly flourish in the market. So throw caution to the wind and write what you love, but be aware of the current market if you want to be published in it.

With all that being said, I am going to dive into a discussion of your genre, but touch on how it is looked on in both the national and LDS markets, because the markets respond differently in some areas and because most authors either start with the LDS market and then try to take their work national, or vice versa. Since I haven’t read the rest of your story, I don’t know how your main character develops and how her voice grows, but being aware of the following should help you solidify those things and your plans for the right publisher. So here are my two cents on your genre:

--So your character’s voice sounds fun/youngish, but the character is post college. Her current first-person, funny/slightly sarcastic voice, plus her age, makes this chic lit. For the LDS market, this genre is claiming fans right now (but the level of sarcasm, etc., from the national market chic lit might be different). For the national market, that genre is dead anyway. There are editors trying to create a definable market for this particular age of character—making it a subgenre all its own, one that isn’t about romance right now—but currently the chic lit category seems to be what your character falls into, and that’s disappeared for now from the national scene. (This happens all the time in both the LDS and national markets: a subgenre gets hot, the market gets flooded, and then it’s totally dead and no one will publish it anymore. Best-selling authors lose their contracts in those games. Then wait 5 to 10 yrs and it’s hot again but with a slightly different angle.)

Here’s a quick definition of chic lit in pure form: The protagonist is speaking in first person narration; the narrator is usually funny but also a little sarcastic/snarky (some editors also say “whiny”); the setting/plot often involves importance given to: money, social status/connections, fashion, boyfriend ownership, a nine-to-five job/life of some kind; the male hero is usually wealthy to some degree and also honorable, and must earn her love after mishaps and miscommunications; and the heroine lacks many of the things of importance listed above, as well as makes lots of mistakes/experiences mishaps, and is an empathic character at heart (also honorable in a best-friend kind of way). Sounds kind of Jane Austenish? It is. Bridget Jones’s Diary—the first big chic lit I remember—was a spinoff.

So what happened to all those funny, voice-ful, romantic books with characters in the 20-30s? They morphed into variations of genre under “light women’s fiction.” Some authors blended genres (worked in suspense or mystery or paranormal) or included quirky plot or character twists (like the Janet Evanovich empire with her funny Stephanie-Plum-Bounty-Hunter heroine), etc. Or there are many examples in the fantastical/paranormal/funny romance department. Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton would be an example that is still in first person, but it’s silly paranormal with the male POV alongside the female. Much of these books existed before chic lit (probably both examples I just gave), but the chic lit authors had to join the ranks of the genre benders when the chic lit phenomenon died.

The other way to spin the genre is to keep it straight romance, but take out some of the traditional chic lit elements (maybe adding in something else instead), and this may be what the LDS market is selling as chic lit, from what I can tell. Since careers and high fashion (and other worldly things) aren’t supposed to be super important to LDS gals, the LDS chic lit out there right now is slightly different in the details, but the bones are the same. And it seems the blended-genre chic lit isn’t the thing even though the national market supports it (and it didn’t sell well several years ago in the LDS market when some talented authors were writing it). For the LDS market it’s more the straight romance that readers want.

So you’ll see the same straight romance in the national market, but the funny voice and younger adult character will be written in third person rather than first, say, or she might not be too snarky/whiny in her humor, and/or she will maybe deal with slightly different issues than those of original chic lit. For example, Shannon Hale’s Austenland is an example of this modified chic lit (third person, not super snarky, etc.) And the books might also include both the male and female point of view—which I don’t think I’ve seen in the LDS market yet. (Anyone? Add a comment to the post?)

So, a good example of the new chic lit for the LDS market that’s selling well? Melanie Jacobson’s The List. Here’s a link to the plot summary.

If you can pull off the same level of fun voice, unique plot, compelling characters, etc.—heavy on the romance—you’ll probably have a winner in the LDS market.


You’re on the right track—just be sure you understand the genre you’re trying to excel in and how to keep up with or beat the competition for the readers you’re targeting. Best of luck no matter which market you tackle!

I’d like to thank Brittany and Angela for their time and effort. See you next week!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finding Writer Friends

One of the best things I did as a writer was to find other authors and connect with them. Sometimes writing can be a lonely business and it is fun to be able to commiserate with people who understand this. I also love being able to talk crazy plot ideas, serious characterization, and international incidents and settings and not have people look at me funny (like I'm a little crazy. Or they're bored. Or like they've heard it a million times. You know what I mean.) Especially if I'm out to lunch and a great idea hits me, I want to be able to talk about sinister plots to take over the world and not have it be awkward. Fellow authors make it fun!

My author friends have also become trusted critique partners, shoulders to cry on when a rejection comes in, and the first people at my door with celebratory chocolate when the contract comes through. Writing can be so difficult one minute and so rewarding the next, it just makes such a difference to have friends to share it with. Of course, if you want friends, the first step is putting yourself out there to find the wonderful writers who are in the same boat.

I have met so many of you from the SixLDSWriters and a Frog blog, and then on this blog, at different writers’ conferences, at booksignings, through my publishing company, and from my time as an editor and journalism teacher, and I’m so grateful for all of you, both writers and readers, and your support of all my different projects.

So, in the spirit of finding more friends, I have decided to do something a little different and broaden my horizons by participating in RachWrites Platform Building Campaign. This is a campaign to bring the writing community together and I’m really excited about it. I’ve already met some really great people and I’m looking forward to walking this “campaign” trail. (It’s a lot more fun than any real-world political trail going on right now. Haha) If you are interested in seeing what it’s all about you can find out more here

So go check it out! I think it will be fun.

Do you have a lot of writer friends? Do you have more in real-life or online? And if you are a new writer friend, feel free to introduce yourself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Before I report in for Word Count Wednesday, I wanted to ask you all a question. I downloaded a book that was being offered for free on Kindle. You know, who can pass up something for free, right? And the back copy looked good, so it seemed a win/win all around. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The typos were glaring and the story just dragged and dragged until I wanted to poke my eyes out with a spork. I did get to the point where I wanted to stop reading, (and I should have) but I kept thinking it was going to get better since there was so much potential. Sadly, for me, it just didn’t ever gain traction.

So, here’s my question. Any of you out there who do the free book thing on Kindle, are most free books like that? Have you found that the reason they’re probably free is that they’re not that good? Is it a matter of, you get what you pay for? I’m really curious about this and what others’ experience has been.

As for Word Count Wednesday, mine was low again this week. Only 457. But I’m still taking the advice from last week and counting it a success. Babysteps, right? Every step is one step closer to those magical words, “The End.”

So how did you do this week?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Hearts Through Time

The book I wanted to review this week was Hearts Through Time by Marie Higgins. This is a fun little romantic mystery that pulls you in from the start. Our main character, Nick, is trying to start over in both his personal life and his professional life. He is confronted by a woman from the early 1900s who says she was murdered and needs him to help solve her murder so she can cross-over. It is an interesting premise that kept me turning pages as they both follow leads to find out what happened to her and her father’s money.

I really liked the setting and the mystery. The romance felt a little rushed at times, and some of the dialogue was a bit overdone in places, but I thought the author did a great job with showing the differences in the time periods and how the characters reacted to a different set of values. It sort of reminded me a bit of the movie “Somewhere in Time,” but with a murder to solve added in. I do have to say, I really loved the mystery aspect of it best of all. The author is quite skilled at drawing out the anticipation of how it’s all going to end and that alone makes it a book worth having. So, if you’re looking for an entertaining afternoon read, Hearts Through Time is the novel for you.

Here is the back copy for it:

When a woman claiming to be a ghost from 1912 appears in Nick Marshal's office and begs for help in solving her murder, he thinks he has lost his mind. A scandal that rocked Hollywood almost destroyed his law practice, so he doesn't need any more fireworks as he rebuilds his life. Still, he is intrigued by Abigail Carlisle's plea, and he needs clients, even if this one insists she's dead. The more secrets Nick uncovers, the deeper he falls for the beautiful ghost.

Abigail believes Nick is her heart's true desire, but how can happily-ever-after happen when she's already dead? The more time she spends with him, the more real she becomes, until Nick can finally touch her.

In a strange turn of events, Nick is suddenly whisked back to 1912, two weeks before Abby's murder, but she doesn't remember him. When he attempts to win her over so he can save her from a tragic destiny, Abby thinks Nick is courting her for her inheritance. But even if he can rescue her and make her trust him again, how can they be together forever?

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Grateful Attitude

With the beginning of a new school year, I've been reflecting on a lot of things and today is one of those days where I’m counting my blessings.

I’m grateful for all the time I’ve had with my college age daughter this summer.

I’m grateful to see how excited my kids are to go back to school.

I’m grateful for a healthy body that allows me to reach for my dreams by writing books and seeing them published.

I’m grateful for a supportive husband who is always there for me.

I’m grateful for air conditioning because when our electricity went out this past weekend and we were all sweating buckets, I really missed air conditioning. (I know, I would have made a horrible pioneer.)

I’m grateful for chocolate because it’s my comfort food and it tastes really good. It can also be placed on a lot of other foods to make them taste better.

I’m grateful for computers and for the delete key because I’m old enough to remember typewriters and correction tape (liquid paper was also my friend for blotting out mistakes) and I hated having to retype everything when I needed it perfect.

I’m grateful for supportive friends, ones that I’ve had for a long time, and ones that I’ve met through this blog.

I'm also grateful for another book review of Ribbon of Darkness that appeared this morning. I think I should hire Tristi Pinkston to write my back copy. She did a great job. You can read the review here

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sample Sunday---First Chapter of On the Edge

On the Edge
Copyright 2011

Chapter One

Dylan walked along the Kampala road, his feet aching, his camera bag slapping against his hip, and the only thing he could think of was how badly he wanted out of the counter-intelligence business. The last two intelligence gathering missions–or to be more politically correct, threat assessment directives--had been just like this, with one thing going wrong after another and he was tired of it. Of all the times for his jeep to have engine trouble! With each step his feet ground into the road, his frustration evident.

He absently rubbed the scar just underneath his collarbone and above his heart. Getting shot had changed his perspective on his career with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He knew it wasn’t what he wanted to do in life anymore and he needed to get out and find something else. He planned to tell his boss, Andrew Blythe, as soon as he got home from Uganda. Dylan couldn’t remember the feel of his own bed beneath him and he wanted to go home, to regroup emotionally, something that every good agent needed to do once in a while–to get in touch with their emotions.

He sighed and adjusted the camera bag over his hip again. His cover for this mission had been that he was a photojournalist capturing the medical failures and successes of private hospitals in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. The only drawback was carrying around the blasted camera bag. It was awkward against his hip and making it sore, but walking was his only option at this point. The road was empty and would probably remain so at this time of night. In the daytime it was teeming with people, vehicles, and animals. When Dylan had first arrived he was amazed at the number of people driving small herds of goats and Ankole cattle on such a busy road. Especially among the chaotic driving–on the wrong side of the road for a Canadian driver—that included not only buses, slow-moving trucks with men lounging on top of the loads, taxis and the like, but also had carts, bicycles, mopeds, and bodabodas, a type of motorbike. Near midnight, however, it was dark and silent.

The nighttime darkness in Africa never ceased to amaze him, the inky blackness consuming everything but the millions of stars twinkling across the sky. The only light on the earth was the occasional candle or kerosene lamp in a hut, but even they were usually extinguished when he came near. The Ugandans outside of Kampala were a cautious people and he couldn’t blame them. The country was in turmoil and had been for many years. It just paid to be cautious. He pushed the luminescent light on his watch and saw that it was 10:30 p.m. As he crested a small hill, he could see the lights of Kampala in the distance and knew that if he were to reach the Mulago hospital before midnight, he had better pick up the pace.

As the long grass near the side of the road brushed his ankles, he could hear the rustling of the nocturnal wildlife as they began their hunt for food. The lush greenery that abounded in the hills surrounding Kampala provided well for the wildlife it supported. Plants and animals were found in plenty in this part of Uganda. On the Kampala road however, they didn’t seem to stray too close, but they did let their presence be known. Dylan was careful to stay on the road, watching for any animals that may mistake him for a snack. He patted his shoulder holster under his light jacket, reassuring himself that his gun was still there if he needed it. The shoulder holster and the camera bag would make it awkward to run, but he started jogging at an easy pace. He didn’t want to miss this appointment.


Elizabeth glanced at the clock for the millionth time, knowing she had nursing duties to attend to in the hospital, but not able to help herself. What could be keeping Dylan? She’d told him he needed to be at the hospital promptly at midnight so he could take pictures of the truck unloading the new medical supplies. It was nearly midnight and he wasn’t here yet. Each time the door to the stairwell opened she turned, hoping it was him, his green eyes and confident smile coming toward her. Her heart fluttered a little thinking of him. She had been hoping he would come a little early so she could take a break from her duties and they could talk.

Being with him the last six weeks had lifted her spirits. He had been so easy to talk to from their very first meeting, his easygoing manner and quick smile attracting her immediately. He had a light about him, she couldn’t pinpoint what it was exactly, but it drew her to him. Her usual walls of suspicion had come down as she intuitively felt she could trust him, something that rarely happened in her line of work, since she dealt with so many criminals.

She had been given a difficult assignment in Africa, trying to win the confidence of the hospital administrators and become a member of the inner circle. As a CIA agent her job was dangerous, but she was good at it and prided herself on that. She’d worked hard over the years to prove that she could do the job and usually she could blend in and feel in control of her surroundings quickly. Uganda had been different, though. It had taken several months before the owners of the private hospital would even speak to her, much less trust her, and the conditions she faced every day in the hospital ward were heart-breaking, especially watching the suffering of the children.

Dylan had come at a time when she’d needed a friend, but she had to be careful that he didn’t interfere with her job. The first few times he asked her out she’d refused, citing her duties as her excuse. He’d taken on the challenge and offered to help her around the hospital. It was a gallant gesture and she had taken him up on it, immediately leading him to the triage area. A child with a cut on his head was bleeding profusely, waiting for stitches, and Dylan was asked to hold a compress over it. He’d been all right until the child threw up and then he’d almost lost it too. Elizabeth had taken over for him, instructing him to sit down. After the child was taken care of she’d gone back to find him. He looked so forlorn that she had agreed to go out with him.

She smiled at the thought of the time they’d spent together. Smoothing her shirt and trying to straighten her ponytail, she remembered how he’d playfully pulled on it last night right before he kissed her for the first time. It had been so long since she’d let a man into her circle of trust it had been disconcerting for her, but exciting at the same time. She couldn’t wait to see him again. When he was around all thoughts of her dangerous assignment were thrust aside. She was playing with fire, but told herself that since nothing was happening right now anyway it would be okay to spend time with someone. She knew she was rationalizing, but it helped to ease her conscience.

She walked back to the nurse’s station and watched the seconds tick by on the large clock behind the table. She hoped he’d hurry so they could have a few moments alone.


An hour and a half later Dylan entered Kampala. It was a big city, but the buildings were somewhat dilapidated with a run-down, inner-city feel, the once colorful signs and facades on the shops worn and faded. Some “shops” were made of corrugated metal, most had living quarters in back and a small yard with corn or bananas growing in the front. Dylan had to walk carefully and squint in the dark to make his way through since there were no streetlights in this part of town. During the day there were always large amounts of people around, some ready to sell you something or other, trinkets, piles of fruit, or paintings. But at night, people mostly stood together talking or were trying to get home.

He zigzagged around several buildings and clubs, finally arriving at the hospital, tired and out of breath. He immediately climbed the long flight of stairs to the ward where Elizabeth worked. He smiled at the thought of her. She had been the one bright spot on this trip. His job took him away so much he’d never really had time for a relationship, and he definitely didn’t want to date anyone in his line of work. Elizabeth was a breath of fresh air, and had been from the moment he’d met her six weeks ago. She was warm and friendly, always ready to lend a helping hand. That’s what made her a great hospital worker because she was knowledgeable, people were drawn to her and she seemed to instinctively know how to make those around her feel at ease. Everyone that he’d talked to in the hospital praised her and she was looked up to for her innate leadership abilities, which was evidenced by the fact that the hospital administration had recently asked her to be their public relations coordinator.

Her new job had made it an easy decision to use her as his inside contact at the hospital. But as he befriended her and spent time in her company, she became more than a contact. He truly wanted to be around her. Dylan had invited her out several times before she finally said yes, as if she was giving in to something she knew she shouldn’t do. He reached the top of the stairs, out of breath, but excited to see Elizabeth again.

Opening the door that led to the ward, he immediately saw Elizabeth standing in the middle of the large room, surrounded by several African women. Her bronze skin still contrasted with their darker skin, making her appear pale though at home she would have a healthy tan. They were all trying to look at the paper in Elizabeth’s hand and she was pointing to several different rooms on the floor, apparently dividing out some nursing responsibilities for the night. Her long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, her glasses slightly slipping down her nose each time she looked up from the paper. He smiled nostalgically, remembering the night before when he’d gently pulled on that ponytail, tipping her face upward so he could kiss her. The memory warmed him.

During their conversations, Elizabeth had told him how she’d come to Africa as an aid worker. She said she felt out of her element here, but it didn’t seem that way. Most people were drawn to her and Dylan thought it was probably her happy spirit that made everyone want to be with her, including him. She looked up from the women, pushed her glasses back onto her nose, and turned to smile at Dylan. “You made it,” she said. “I was beginning to wonder.”

He stepped toward her, the other women scattering as he did. “The Jeep broke down again so I had to walk. Sorry I’m late.”

She shrugged. “Don’t worry, it seems everyone is running late tonight. The trucks aren’t here yet either.”

He put his bag on the floor, happy to get rid of its bulk. “Can you take a break then?”

Elizabeth leaned over a large table to a woman sitting behind it and told her she’d be taking a break in the lounge and to let her know when the shipment arrived. She turned back to Dylan. “I’d like that. Let’s go down to the lounge.”

Dylan took her hand. “Why do you call it that when it’s a room with three metal chairs and a tilted table? The word lounge implies to me that there would be a couch and a television.”

“Well, we lounge there, so we call it a lounge. It’s not what’s in a room that counts, it’s the spirit of it, right?”

He squeezed her hand. “It’s sort of like saying, it’s the thought that counts, eh?”

Elizabeth smiled, squeezed his hand back and led him down the hall, her ponytail swinging, walking past what looked to Dylan like several delivery rooms where women were in various stages of labor. Elizabeth seemed unperturbed by the moans and screams, but it was upsetting to Dylan.

“Shouldn’t someone be in there with them?” he asked, his tone worried.

Elizabeth shrugged. “There are only two doctors here tonight. They do the best they can.”

Dylan walked behind her, meeting the eyes of several men sitting in the hall. They looked hollow and lifeless, the whites of their eyes magnified by their skin. Dylan smiled as he walked by, but it was not returned, until his eyes lit upon a young boy about ten. The boy returned Dylan’s smile and gave him a little wave as he watched Dylan and Elizabeth move through the crowd in the hallway. Standing on his tiptoes so the boy could still see him, Dylan waved back.

Elizabeth had stopped walking and Dylan noticed her eyeing a small well-dressed man coming down the hall toward them through the wave of people. She nodded her head toward the older man, then led Dylan to a doorway. “Wait in here,” she said. “That’s the man in charge of the shipment. Looks like we’ll have to take a rain check on our lounge date,” she said, laughing and touching his arm briefly, then turning to shut the door.

Dylan rubbed his arm slightly where the warmth of her hand had been and stepped further into the sparsely furnished room, sitting down in an old metal chair. He opened the bag and picked up the camera, adjusting its weight and moving the lens different ways as if to put it into focus. He put it on the table and sagged in his chair. Dylan pinched the bridge of his nose, his body tired. All I have to do for this mission is verify the information and make the threat assessment. Maybe take a few pictures for proof and I can get out of here, he thought to himself. I’m going to tell Andrew it’s time. The only sadness to that was the thought of leaving Elizabeth.

He closed his eyes briefly, his legs still having small muscle spasms from the last ten miles of having to jog here. Telling Andrew would be hard. Andrew Blythe had been his mentor at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Dylan knew the CSIS had been Andrew’s home for most of his adult life, especially after his wife had died, but Dylan realized he didn’t want an all-consuming career for himself. He felt like he was ready for a new direction in his life, one that included a wife and a family. He wanted to settle down, find the new direction he was looking for and he didn’t know if Andrew would understand that. He looked at the camera lens on the table and wished his life could be that easy to focus. Stretching his neck, he hoped Elizabeth would hurry.

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Page Friday

I hope you’re all having a wonderful week. I just love First Page Fridays, don’t you? Let’s get right to it today.

The Entry
by Jessica Patterson

I got a phone call this last week that I’ve been expecting for the last few months. One of those phone calls. My friend Billy was on the other end of the line and hearing him made me want to run out my back door barefoot through the dirt over to the ponds. But the two inch thick calluses on my feet that got me through then were gone and I had no backdoor to go out anyway.

“He’s gone Mona.” I can’t explain it physiologically, but I’m pretty sure there is a phenomenon where a human’s internal organs can combust and be absent from the human body completely, then ten seconds later miraculously reform.

“Does it feel different?”


“Just pretend you are in touch with your emotions and feeling loquacious. What is it like not to have him there?”


“Just because you don’t choose to use it very often doesn’t mean I don’t know you know the English language Billy. Just answer my question. So there was no earth shuddering or volcanic eruptions or stars falling from the sky or thunder or at least some dark clouds?”

“The weather was fine Mona.” I didn’t believe him.

“I just think that the town would feel a little colder or more hopeless – or maybe a little less cosmopolitan.”


“Do you miss him? I miss him a lot.”

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

This sample has a lot going for it. The dialogue establishes a real intimacy between Billy and Mona. We know from the opening paragraph that they are friends, but the dialogue tells the real tale. These two people know one another very well, and they have known one another a long time. There is a natural flow to their dialogue.

At first, I didn't know how to feel about the use of "loquacious"; even given the subsequent explanation, it felt somewhat forced. Is Mona fond of using "big words"? Does Billy make a habit of downplaying his own intelligence? This could be a character-establishing detail, but as presented it's a bit confusing. I did, however, like Mona's comment about Billy's choice not to use the English language very often; after all, by this point Billy has only spoken five words. He is, it would seem, economical with language. (And we all know how fond I am of economy of language.)

I particularly liked the text that follows "He's gone, Mona." (Notice the inserted comma here.) There are some places where I would rephrase (e.g., "be absent from the human body completely"), but I like this sort of introspection. We learn a lot about what Mona is feeling without ever being told explicitly. Instead of saying something like "I felt shocked," which would get the job done but likely bore the reader, she resorts to metaphor to convey her shock.

I'm having a hard time getting a "read" on this story, though, if you'll pardon the expression. I can't guess at where this story is going. Is it a romance between Mona and Billy? Who is "he," and why is he gone? If Mona has just learned that "he" is gone, how can she miss him a lot already? It's difficult to understand her viewpoint when what she's responding to is still so unclear.

The page could use a good copy edit. There is some missing or incorrect punctuation and some awkward word choice in places. Tightening up some of the syntax would make for a smoother read.

One final suggestion: Instead of establishing that this phone conversation happened last week, why not just start the story at the time of the phone call? Starting with a blow-by-blow flashback of an earlier conversation doesn't quite work for me. A slight shift in timeline would allow the reader to jump in at the moment of impact.

Thank you, Jessica for submitting, and thank you Ms. Shreditor for your time. As always, I’m so grateful to everyone for their participation. See you next week!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Writing Tip--Purge the Word Clutter

You know how at the beginning of the week I told you I was cleaning out my basement? I was sitting down there, going through box after box and I was thinking to myself, “Why did I save all this stuff?” (Okay, I was really thinking why did my husband save all this stuff. All the stuff *I* save is important and wonderful.)

But I got to thinking how sometimes that’s how it is with our writing. At one point, we think we need all those adjectives and “just” and “very” and “that,” but then, after we’ve walked away for a bit (see last week’s writing tip) we come back and go through things and realize we don’t need it and it's just cluttering up our work and keeping us from being our best. Now is the time to go back and purge all those things from our precious manuscript.

Sometimes purging can be difficult because we get into a mindset that we really NEED those words, or that's how I write and I can't change, or that's my favorite word, I don't want to delete it! All of those excuses are keeping your manuscript from being its best. You've got to be ruthless and cut, cut, cut. It might hurt a bit, but your writing will be stronger for it. (My favorite word is "just." I always have to do a search for it in my manuscript, and I'm always SHOCKED by how many I use.)

So today I’d like to give you a few hints for words that can be purged from your manuscript, giving it that fresh, clean feeling that every agent and publishing house is looking for.

Clutter Words to Find and Eliminate

It's not an all-inclusive list, but here's where I would start.

Clean out those clutter words! Delete words like: just, that, seem, only, very, finally, really, still, and suddenly. They're generally weak and not something you want in your manuscript.

Take out pretty much any adverb (words ending in “ly”). They’re just lazy writing words and you want your writing to have some punch! So, instead of saying, “I’d love to,” she said brightly. You could give it more punch with, The brilliant smile said it all. “I’d love to,” she said. Or something like that. You get the picture. You can show your story, be in the moment, and give your character depth when you don’t use adverbs.

Take out dialogue tags. If there’s only two people talking, you probably don’t need the “he said/she said,” tags. Be careful, though, you don’t want to take out so many of them, your readers get confused as to who is talking. Make sure you have your scene anchors in place.

And the last one to look out for, “there was.” If you say, “There was no way this was going to end well.” It’s passive sounding and lacks being in the moment. You could cut out the “there was,” with “This was not going to end well,” and even that gives it a little more punch.

Whew. It's quite a list, but don't feel overwhelmed. Take it a little at a time, and I promise you, as you get rid of the clutter, your writing will feel more crisp and you'll feel so much better.

So, start taking a look at your word clutter and purge, purge, purge. You can do it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Word Count Wednesday

Before we talk about Word Count Wednesday, I am so thrilled to tell you about some of the book reviews that are coming in for Ribbon of Darkness. I’m listing their links here so if you’re interested you can go see what everyone is saying!

Laurie Lewis did an in-depth review and said that, “with topics pulled straight from today’s headlines, “Ribbon of Darkness” is a satisfying read for adults, and a safe read to hand off to their teens, and better yet, it would make a perfect family read.”

You can read the entire review here

Mary Walker reviewed it and said, “Ribbon of Darkness by Julie Coulter Bellon is a fast moving international thriller involving terrorists, pirates, bombs and a promise of romance.”

You can read the entire review here

Debra Erfert said, “RIBBON OF DARNESS receives 5 STARS for suspense, excellent writing, and tender, sweet romance.”

You can read the complete review here

And of course Jennie Hansen’s review in Meridian Magazine where she called it an intriguing thriller with a rapid-fire plot. That link is here

I just feel so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read my book and give me feedback about it. I appreciate all the effort and I hope you know that. Thank you so much!

Now on to Word Count Wednesday. I have to admit that it was a little tougher to fit writing in this week. However, I did manage 890 words. At this point, any words at all are almost a miracle, so I’m glad I can at least post that I did something. (In other news, my mom came through her surgery and is doing well, my basement is clean and almost ready for new carpet, and my kids are ready for school! Yay!) So, no chocolate for me this week since I was under a thousand words. Next week for sure!

How did you do this week?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: Wings

I've been working on finishing this book for a while, but once I finished it I wanted more. It was just one of those kinds of books where the beginning was a teensy bit slow, so it was easy to put down and then I didn't get back to it as quickly as I wanted to and time slipped away . . . well, you get the point. Once I got into it though, I was turning pages as fast as I could to see what was going to happen. (I finished it standing in line at my local junior high school, waiting to register one of my kids. That's how much I wanted to see how it would end!)

Wings is about a girl named Laurel who finds out she is a faerie. She has a special mission and we quickly find out there is danger looming. I love how the author makes Laurel so realistic in her teenage mind, (since I'm the mother of a fifteen-year-old, it all rang true!) with her decision-making about her own life and how she is torn between two boys.

I also loved the rich setting and the way the author leaves subtle clues as to how Laurel interacts with the world around her, further validating the idea that she is a faerie and how that all works in a human world. Especially in the first half of the book, the innocence of Laurel and her surroundings is emphasized, (loved all the biology explanations!) but that is quickly contrasted in the last half with the discovery of danger and the fact that Laurel must make some difficult life-changing decisions.

There are several more books in the series and honestly, I think I might go buy the next one today. It looks really good! And Wings had the sort of ending where you turn the last page and say, "wow, I really want to know what happens next!"

This is a YA book (yes, I've been reading a fair bit of that lately) and it is a quick, entertaining, getting-to-the-end-of-summer read. I wouldn't hesitate to pass it on to my daughter or nieces.

Here's the back copy:

Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words.

Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.

In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Like Sands Through the Hourglass . . .

I spent the weekend cleaning out my basement. Yeah, it’s about as fun as it sounds. Unfortunately, I am a paper hoarder (mostly any paper my kids have done at school, art, church, etc.) and my papers have multiplied somehow so I have a lot of boxes of paper. It was sort of fun to go through some boxes though and see papers my daughter had colored in kindergarten (she’s a college sophomore now) and see how much she’s grown.

It sounds so cliché, but it did make me wonder where the time had gone. People always used to tell me back then to enjoy my kids because all too soon they’re grown and gone (my first five children are all two years apart) and I used to smile and think to myself, sure it goes fast. For you! And I didn’t believe them. But now I do.

So, today, I’m going to tell you, enjoy your kids when they’re little because all too soon they’re grown and gone. I know you don’t believe me when you’re in the throes of diapers and bottles and everything else that goes along with young children, but it really does. And pretty soon they’re gone to college and on their own.

Did you plow through that post hoping you’d see the winners of my contest? Did you think I forgot?

Well, here is the moment you’ve been waiting for. (And just to certify, all names were chosen at random.)

*drum roll*

The winner of one of my titles: Through Love’s Trials, On the Edge, Dangerous Connections or Ribbon of Darkness is----


Congratulations! If you will email me ( your choice and your addy I will get that right out to you.

And the grand prize winner of either a first chapter edit by Ms. Shreditor or a secondary character in my next book named after you is----


Janice if you will email me ( what your choice is, I will let you know what the next step is.

Congratulations to the winners and a big THANK YOU to everyone who entered. I really appreciate everyone who helped me spread the word.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sample Sunday--First Chapter of All's Fair

Here's the first chapter from my LDS suspense novel, All's Fair.

Chapter One

"You’re a disgrace to this family.”

Kristen Shepherd angrily shoved her full wedding skirt away from the stick shift, forcing it into down into first gear so she could get some traction on the muddy mountain road. Berkshire County Massachusetts was known for its incredible beauty, but all Kristen could see was a few soggy feet in front of her. Her father’s words were a refrain in her mind, the background cadence to her frustration over the situation she was in. His voice echoed over and over, making her clutch the steering wheel until her knuckles were white. She needed to concentrate on maneuvering the small mountain road through the pouring rain, but her thoughts were going in every different direction. Michael’s deception and her father’s statement made her feel like that backwards teen she’d tried to leave behind so many years ago—the girl who seemed incapable of making good decisions. Why? Why hadn’t she seen any of this coming before now?

Pursing her lips, Kristen mentally shook herself. She was a grown woman, not a child. She was a rising star in all the political circles in Washington, she was polished and educated. What her dad thought shouldn’t matter, but it did. That was one of the reasons she’d come back to Boston to be married, a teensy part of her wanting to prove to everyone, including her father, that she’d made something of herself. And instead, it had only confirmed what they’d always said about her. Poor Kristen Shepherd. Such a disappointment to her father. Not like her brother Brandon. Everyone was so proud of him and how he was a doctor, serving his country in Iraq. A little sob escaped from her throat when she thought of Brandon. She needed him here. He would give her a hug and know exactly what to do. Blinking back the tears, she willed herself not to cry. She wouldn’t give her father or Michael the satisfaction. It was bad enough she’d run away from the church, leaving her fiancé, her father, and all the guests, but she’d needed to get away as quickly as possible and she headed for the one place she’d always felt safe—the cabin.

With darkness fast approaching, she was straining to see, willing her tires not to slip in the mud. Wishing desperately for the wipers to go faster, she once again adjusted the ridiculously full skirt of her gown away from the stick-shift. “Why couldn’t I have chosen something plain and simple?” she murmured to herself.

Her attention momentarily distracted by the volumes of skirt hindering her, suddenly the car lost traction and skidded dangerously close to the edge of the road. She didn’t dare look at the ravine below. “Oh,” she cried out. Her heart thudded into her chest as she braked carefully, while trying to maneuver closer to the mountain. Just as she regained traction and was moving forward again, the car suddenly stalled. Kristen took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “No, please,” she muttered to herself. She turned the key again, hoping it would start. After three more tries she was praying it would start. The next turn of the key only produced a clicking sound and her headlights dimmed each time it clicked. Looking at the white satin pumps she’d spent weeks picking out to perfectly match her dress, she sighed and opened the door. “I can’t be more than a mile from the cabin,” she said firmly. “I’ll just have to walk.”

As soon as she stepped from the car she was drenched. Her upswept hairdo was falling down, the ringlets now hanging straight and straggly around her face. Her gown streaked with the mud as she hiked the skirt up around her knees and her shoes squished in the gooey muck. She shook her head and looked toward heaven. “Please don’t let this day get any worse,” she pleaded as she started up the road.

The lace and satin she had admired herself in just hours ago, now did little to protect or warm her body. Shivering uncontrollably, she just concentrated on putting one freezing foot in front of the other, willing herself to hurry. The wind and rain whipped through her, not allowing any escape from the cold, cutting water. She tried to walk on the side of the road, more in the grass, but even that didn’t help. Idly, she wondered if this was punishment for leaving Michael at the altar, but discarded that thought as soon as it appeared. After the phone call at the church that had exposed his deception, she’d had no other choice. Briefly closing her eyes, her fiancé’s face came unbidden to her mind.

Michael Forbes. The man she had given her heart to and who would have been her husband by now. A bitter smile came to her face when she thought of how easily she’d fallen in love with him. He was a man who was used to getting what he wanted and she had been intrigued by his air of confidence from the very beginning. He’d traveled the world, he understood the craziness of politics that was her daily life and that was something she’d never had before. Her stomach clenched into knots at the self-recrimination she now felt at being so thoroughly deceived by him. How could she have been so gullible and trusting? She thought she knew him inside and out, but that had all come crashing down with that one phone call from her bank, moments before their wedding.

Straightening her back, she pushed down her heartache and concentrated on her anger. She wished she had her laptop with her so she could see if he’d done any more damage than what she was already aware. Knowing he’d tried to empty her bank accounts and have it all transferred to the Al-Rahji bank in Saudi Arabia was bad enough, but Michael was in charge of the finances for all the campaigns the company ran all over the country. Would he have dared to embezzle from Strom and Pierson? As a political consulting agency, image was everything and they didn’t need the scandal. Sighing, she shivered both from the enormity of it all as well as the cold. Why did Michael even have accounts in Saudi Arabia? Was this his first attempt at fraud? She doubted it. But she couldn’t say anything until she had proof and if his reaction today was any indication she’d have to dig deep. He had barely seemed fazed by her accusations, the only indication he was even upset was his jaw clenching and his brown eyes turning hard and angry, daring her to say another word. Something big was going on here and she was going to find out what it was.

Shaking her head in frustration, Kristen was still trying to process what had happened, but just couldn’t fathom the depth of his deceit. As she stumbled through the sticky mud in shoes that were not meant for hiking, in a dress that seemed to weigh more and more by the minute, exhaustion began to overtake her and she wished for nothing more than a hot shower and a warm bed. Squinting through the downpour, she thought she saw the fence that separated their cabin from the neighbor’s property. “Thank you,” she breathed, her relief within sight.

Refusing to take one more step on the muddy road, she decided to climb the fence and walk through the property, hoping that the trees would give her some shelter from the rain as she walked the rest of the way to the cabin. Hiking up her skirts and gathering it together in one hand as best she could, she stepped on the first rung of the fence, steadying herself on the wooden post. She was using the momentum to swing her leg over when her dress caught. Hearing a terrible rip, she tumbled out of control, landing in a heap on the other side. The tears began to well in her eyes and she lay back in the mud. “Why? she yelled, pounding her fist into the muddy ground that surrounded her in its oozing, watery grip.

Kristen tried to sit up, but only seemed to sink further into the mud. I wonder how long it would take for someone to find me if I just laid here and died of hypothermia, she thought to herself. Would anyone even miss me at this point? As she was contemplating her next move, a shadowy form suddenly appeared above her. “Can I help you?” a low masculine voice shouted over the pounding rain.

She looked up, startled that anyone was out here on this sort of night. Sitting up quickly, she realized how vulnerable she was. Squinting through the darkness, she demanded, “Who are you?”

“I’m Ryan . . .” he stopped. “Kristy, is that you?” He offered his hand to help her up. She stared at the hand for a moment, recognizing the man it belonged to. He still had dark, curly hair, though it was matted to his head with the pouring rain, and as he ran his hand through it, she could see him staring at her. He looked almost the same as she remembered, but something was different. His face seemed more angular now, she realized, and the dimple in his chin more pronounced.

Kristen groaned, rolling her eyes toward heaven. I specifically recall asking you to not let this day get any worse, she thought. “Yes, it’s me,” she said loudly, ignoring his hand and getting awkwardly to her feet on her own. “What are you doing up here?”

She watched his eyes travel the length of her, seeing the surprise at her appearance. He motioned behind him. “I thought I heard something so I . . . “ he stopped. “Where are you headed?”

“I’m going up to my family’s cabin for a few days.” she said stiffly. “For some solitude,” she emphasized. “But my car broke down and I had to walk. I’ll just be on my way.”

“I don’t think so,” he said calmly taking her arm. “You’d better come home with me.”

“I will not,” Kristen gasped. “Let go of me!” She twisted out of his grasp and began walking toward her cabin. “I don’t need your help,” she said over her shoulder, just as her pumps got lost in another soggy mud puddle, causing her to fall to her knees. He was instantly beside her. “Leave me alone!” she shouted, and to her humiliation the tears that had threatened to fall began in earnest.

He took her by the waist and helped her to her feet. “Kristy,” he reasoned. “Your father hasn’t kept electricity or food at your cabin for years. If you come with me, you can have a hot bath, some food to eat and a good night’s rest. I’ve got my sister’s kids over for the night, you’ll be perfectly safe.”

Kristen closed her eyes. She knew she’d be safe with Ryan. In all the time she’d known him, he’d been a perfect gentleman. Opening her eyes and looking into his concerned face, she knew she would agree. A hot bath did sound much better than a cold sponge bath. But in the same house as Ryan Jameson? That was asking too much. “How do you know my father doesn’t keep electricity up here?” she asked suspiciously.

He started walking, his arm around her shoulders propelling her to walk with him. “I come up here regularly, and I talk to your father quite often. More often than you, I’d wager,” he said glancing at her meaningfully.

Kristen scowled. She didn’t need him analyzing her life. “That’s none of your business,” she said, pursing her lips.

“Well, it’s good to see you haven’t lost any of your spunk,” he said with a laugh. “How’s your brother?”

“Fine,” she ground out, the scowl never leaving her face. This wasn’t how she’d pictured the day when she saw Ryan Jameson again. Of everyone in this town, she’d wanted him to see what she’d made of herself the most. Taking a deep breath, she rubbed her shoulders, trying to generate some warmth. Nothing about this day was going according to plan.

Ryan didn’t say anything else and they trudged along in silence, the lights of his family’s cabin closer and closer. Kristen didn’t think she could walk another step and the shivering just wouldn’t stop. Even though Ryan had tried to draw her into the crook of his arm for warmth, she’d declined and he’d let out a snort of frustration before shrugging off his slicker and putting it around her shoulders.

“What are you doing out here anyway? Are you running away again?” he murmured close to her ear, as he helped her with the slicker, but she was too tired to answer.

Her senses were overloaded and exhausted. She stumbled in the mud, and Ryan caught her. He swung her easily into his arms and started toward the house. Kristen protested, but he shook his head. “I am not going to let you die of hypothermia because you’re too stubborn to see when you need help.”

“I’m not stubborn,” Kristen argued. “I’m just fine on my own.”

“Kristy,” Ryan started, but stopped as he adjusted her weight in his arms. “I’m not going to argue with you about this. We’re almost to the house and I don’t want to have to drag you in unconscious.”

Truth be told, Kristen felt weak and her body didn’t seem to be obeying any of her commands anyway, so she gave up and relaxed. Within moments, he’d carried her into the house, through the living room, grunting slightly before depositing her in front of the bathroom door. “There are fresh towels in the closet. I’ll go see if I can find you something else to wear.”

Kristen closed the door behind her and tried to undo the row of tiny buttons that stretched all the way down her back. She couldn’t do it. Closing her eyes in frustration, she sat on the edge of the tub. There was a rap at the door. “Is everything all right? I don’t hear any water running.”

There was no way she wanted to tell Ryan Jameson the problem. She didn’t want his help. But the tub looked so enticing and she was wet, muddy and tired. She opened the door a crack. “I can’t undo all these buttons to get out of this dress.”

It was obvious Ryan was trying to hide a smile. “I’ll go get Jennifer,” he said. Within moments he was back. “You remember Alex’s oldest daughter Jennifer?” he asked. “She’s just turned six.” The girl looked sleepy, but she smiled at Kristen.

“It’s nice to meet you, Jennifer,” Kristen said, resisting the urge to pull on one of her long pigtails as she’d done so many times to the child’s mother. Jennifer reminded her so much of Alex, it made her miss her old friend all the more “The last time I saw a picture of you, you were a little baby! You look a lot like your mother.”

Jennifer wrinkled her nose and nodded. “Everyone says that,” she said simply. “Uncle Ryan said you need help with your dress.”

Kristen turned around so Jennifer could see the buttons. “It’s all these little buttons. I can’t reach them.”

Jennifer rubbed her hands together as if getting ready for the task. “Is this your wedding dress?” When Kristen nodded, Jennifer tilted her head, assessing her appearance. “You got it all dirty.”

“I know,” Kristen said. “I’m not planning on using it now.”

Ryan had been standing there listening to the exchange, but at her words he ran his fingers through his hair and abruptly turned, setting down the package he was holding on the counter. “I’ll go get some hot chocolate going,” he said as he walked away.

Jennifer shut the door and stood on a stool to begin undoing the buttons. Kristen watched her in the mirror stifling a laugh. The girl had stuck out her tongue between her teeth and was deep in concentration. “Don’t mind Uncle Ryan,” she said conspiratorially. “My mom says he’s grouchy because Aunt Victoria’s not here anymore. We came to cheer him up because all he does is work, work, work.”

“Well, that’s nice of you to come and spend some time with your uncle,” Kristen said, hiding her own reaction to the news she had just heard. Was Ryan divorced? Or had his wife passed away? Why hadn’t anyone said anything to her? “Did your Aunt Victoria go to heaven then?” she asked carefully.

“No. My dad said once that she’s going to the other place,” Jennifer whispered dramatically. “But my mom said she is just a lost soul and that Aunt Victoria hurt Uncle Ryan really bad, but it’s a hurt that you can’t see. That’s why we visit him a lot.” She jumped down from the stool. “All done,” she announced.

“Thank you,” Kristen said as she turned around and the fabric gave way. Jennifer’s chattiness reminded her of Alex and all the times she and Kristen had whispered their secrets about her older brother Ryan and Kristen’s older brother Brandon.

“No problem.” She rubbed her eyes. “Uncle Ryan said you’d be sleeping in my room. Don’t worry about making noise when you come in. My mom says I can sleep through anything.” Jennifer opened the door. “How come you’re not getting married?” she asked slowly.

Kristen bit her lip, her emotions about her almost marriage still close to the surface as she contemplated how she wanted to answer the little girl. It was all so complicated. “I just need to think about some things,” she finally said, her voice little more than a whisper.

“I’m going to marry Aaron. He’s a boy in my class,” she informed Kristen, not seeming to notice Kristen’s reaction to her question. “And when we get married I’m going to have a princess dress and lots of flowers.” She walked down the hall, still talking about the Cinderella dress she would have at her wedding. Kristen smiled wistfully. If only life would stay as simple as it was when she was six.

Kristen shut the door and locked it. Turning on the water, she stripped away what was left of her ripped and muddy wedding dress. Sliding into the water, she closed her eyes, luxuriating in the warmth. She looked around the bathroom noting there was not a trace of femininity anywhere. No lacy towels, no cute hand soaps in different shapes. It was stark, and clearly reminded her that Ryan was no longer married. Why would that matter to me? she thought, but her emotions betrayed her. Even after six years Ryan still evoked feelings in her, feelings she was determined to squelch. Kristen willed herself to think of something else. She sat up and undid some of the pins that were still in her hair, and the long blonde curls spilled down her back. She lay back down, the simple gesture making her arms ache. She closed her eyes, her mind running through the events of the day--Michael’s angry brown eyes watching her walk away, her father’s hard, cold stare, and then Ryan.

Kristen sighed, a mental picture of Ryan and his little sister Alex coming to her mind. She and Brandon spent every moment they could with the Jameson family—until Ryan’s twenty-fifth birthday party. That night had changed everything.

Rubbing her eyes as if that would erase her thoughts, she decided she’d feel better after a good night’s rest, so she washed her hair quickly and climbed out. Unfolding the bundle Ryan had left on the counter, she realized they were a woman’s pink satin pajamas. Probably his ex-wife’s since his sister wouldn’t ever wear something like this, she thought. The memories of Ryan’s sister Alex warmed her. She’d missed talking to her. With a sigh, she dried herself and put on the pajamas. They were a little small on her 5' 8" frame, but they’d have to do. She draped her ruined dress over the shower curtain rod, mopped up after herself, and peeked out the door. Ryan was nowhere to be seen.

She turned down the hall to the beautiful living room Ryan had carried her through earlier. She’d always loved this room whose center point was a large stone fireplace. Smiling, she recalled all the times she and Brandon had been visiting with the Jameson’s, laughing and roasting marshmallows around that fire. She drew closer to the crackling warmth, hoping it would help dry her hair before bed. That’s how Ryan found her, her backside toward the fire, wrapped in one of the sofa blankets his mother had crocheted.

“I’ve brought you some hot chocolate,” he said amiably, his 6'2" frame making her feel small and protected. “I don’t want you collapsing from hypothermia or something.”

Kristen smiled wryly, tipping her chin to look up at him. “I think we’d know by now if I had hypothermia.” She took the mug from his outstretched hand, noting that his hair was still damp and curling slightly at the back. He’d changed out of his wet clothes, and was wearing jeans and a faded Harvard Law School T-shirt. He looks comfortable, she thought. “Thank you.”

He sat down in the overstuffed leather chair across from the fireplace. “So, do you want to tell me how I found you in a mud puddle, wearing what I think was a wedding dress?”

“No,” she answered quickly, all traces of a smile gone. “I’d really rather not talk about it,” she added, trying to take the harshness out of her voice. Turning around to face the fireplace, Michael’s angry eyes came back to haunt her thoughts.

Ryan got up and stood behind her. “It’s okay,” he said. “I won’t pry. If you do want to talk about it, though, I’m here.”

She shrugged and folded her arms. “I’m fine, Ryan. Really.” Or I will be once I can sort this thing out, she thought.

“Kristy,” he started, but sighed when he saw her stiffen. “Why don’t you sit down?”

She glanced up at him, and at the sincere concern in his eyes, she sat down in a large overstuffed chair. Ryan didn’t say anything, just sat down in the chair opposite hers and watched the fire crackle as it died down to embers, slowly sipping his hot chocolate.

“Do you remember the last time we were up here?” he asked softly, still keeping his eyes on the fire.

Kristen closed her eyes for a moment at his words. How could she ever forget it? “Not really,” she lied. “It’s been a long time. My life has kept me pretty busy.”

“I’ve been following your career,” he said. “You’ve done all right for yourself.” Crossing his legs, he looked at her. “I think things really took off for you after you joined Strom and Pierson.”

“Yeah, that was a good move,” Kristen agreed, a little surprised to hear it from his own lips, but secretly glad that he knew anything about her career. “They’re the top political consulting agency in the country.”

“So how does a girl like you go from being a campaign writer for any obscure campaign across the country to being interviewed on CNN when your candidate lost the party nomination for President?” Ryan gave a little laugh. “I never would have imagined it.”

Kristen bristled. “Well, that doesn’t surprise me. Weren’t your comments to me six years ago pretty much along those lines?” She ducked her head and took a sip of her hot chocolate, wincing and hating the fact she’d let on that she remembered. She wanted him to think it hadn’t mattered to her.

Ryan held up one hand, and drew his eyebrows together. “No, I don’t recall exactly.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “Kristy, that night was really confusing for me and . . .”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Kristen said, cutting him off. “It was so long ago. It doesn’t matter.”

Ryan looked at her as if he wanted to say more, but he didn’t. “I thought you did great in your CNN interview. I only caught the last half, but your answers were smart and you knew all the right things to say.”

Kristen was glad for the subject change. She was definitely more comfortable with this line of conversation. “That’s my job, Ryan,” Kristen said as she stood. “And I’m good at what I do.” She set her mug down on the table beside her.

“You’re not the little kid I remember,” he said, rising to stand next to her. “I thought I knew everything there was to know about Kristen Shepherd.”

“There’s a lot of things about me you don’t know, Ryan,” Kristen retorted, turning her back to him.

“I’ve wanted to apologize to you for a long time, Kristy. I hope you know that. But you seemed intent on cutting ties with everyone you knew back here.” He slid his finger around the edge of his mug as if he was nervous. “Why you haven’t kept in contact with Alex at least? She’s missed you, you know.”

Ryan spoke softly, but his words were like daggers in her heart. She’d missed Alex, too, but it was just too hard to face the Jameson family. She tried to shake off the memories and focus on the present. She wasn’t a shy and backward girl anymore. She was a professional businesswoman, who was confident and capable. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said, moving away toward the hall.

He touched her arm, willing her to look at him. “I really am sorry,” he said. “I never meant to hurt you.”

Kristen’s ears burned. “Don’t bother, Ryan. I think we’re beyond this now.” She pushed her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath. “It’s been a long day for me. If you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”

Ryan nodded his head. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” He set his mug down next to hers. “Your room is just down the hall. I thought you could sleep in Alex’s old room. There’s two single beds in there and Jennifer is in the other one. Benjamin and I will be in my parent’s old room. Do you remember where everything is?”

She nodded her head. “Don’t worry, Ryan,” she said as she started down the hall. “I can take care of myself. Good night,” she murmured, the irony of it hitting her. Those were almost the exact words she’d said to Ryan when she’d left six years ago.