Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Writing Conferences--Putting Yourself Out There

If you are or have ever been to a writing conference, you know that there's a whole lot more to attending than just showing up. In fact, showing up is only the first step in getting the most out of the experience. Conferences serve up a smorgasborg of opportunity to boost your craft and your career. With so much out there in a snapshot of time, a little preparation may be in order.



1. Evaluate beforehand. What do you really want to accomplish? Are you a newbie to writing? Look at your story, talk to your critique partners and decide where you need help. Plotting? POV? Dialogue? Map out which workshops target your problem areas and go. Of course learning doesn't go to waste so if you want to check out that branding workshop, do it. But remember that sometimes focusing on what you really need serves you better. There really is such thing as "too much information."



2. Stay healthy. Drink plenty of water (air-conditioning is tough on the mucus membranes and stress tough on the complexion). Wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking more and standing longer than you thought. Blisters and lower back pain will last longer than the conference if you're not careful.



3A. Initiate conversation. Many writers are shy and reserved. I am neither. I have no problem with talking to total strangers on a line (it's one of my favorite things to do at Disney World even if it makes my hubby cringe.) Do it! Promise yourself to talk to one new person a day. This is half of the game called networking. Whether you're conversing with a multipubbed author or your waitress at breakfast, meeting people is essential to writing because your audience may be closer than you know.



3B. Listen. This is the other half of networking. And here's a not-so-secret secret: some of the best advice you'll get won't be at any workshop. It'll be on the elevator, or in a line, or at the bar later that night talking to an anonymous someone who's not anonymous at all now that they've handed you their business card. Yippee!! You've just gotten a request!



4. Be nice. Really. This is so obvious and yet overlooked all the time. Don't judge. Don't badmouth. Don't patronize. Just don't do it. Call it being professional or walking in fear of bad karma, either way be nice. Nice matters.



5. Have fun! Celebrate your creativity by joining in the conference activities. It's a great way to reenergize yourself and jumpstart your writing. Every year I drag up a friend or threeup to sing karaoke. It has nothing to do with music and everything to do with being free in company of people who truly understand me. Okay, maybe they don't understand me...but they are nice and listen and even clap at the end.



At last, an audience!



Talia

Monday, April 28, 2008

Writing Contests--Worth the Risk?

On the heels of the annual Romantic Times conference, here at the Diner this biweek we're going to be talking about conferences, contests and other things authors can do to put themselves out there beyond the "write it, submit it" circuit for the unpublished and the "write it, submit it, promote it" circuit for the published. Both contests and conferences are useful vehicles for authors at most stages of their careers, and since most of the authors here at the Diner are on the low end of the fame scale, I believe we're going to concentrate on the advantages for unpublished or newly published writers. But some of the staffers might surprise us, so hold on to your iced tea glasses!

For myself, I’m going to talk a little about the RWA style contests that abound and why you may want to consider them. They're the major, sometimes the only, fundraisers for a lot of RWA chapters, and there's a contest for every type of romance you can imagine, from spicy to sweet, from normal to paranormal. There are contests for first scenes, for sex scenes, for saucy scenes, for epic scenes. There are contests for query letters, for synopses, for five pages, for fifty. Most of them generate, for your money, at least two critiques from judges who are usually fellow RWA members and presumably familiar with the subgenre they are judging.

Of course, the quality of the responses you'll get varies even more wildly than the types of contests out there, but that's what happens when you release your book into the wild. It will happen when it gets published, too. The most wonderful critiquer in the world might get your manuscript, but also the most narrow-minded shrew you'd ever hope to meet. So is it worth it? That all depends on what you want to get from the contest circuit.

I started with contests after I'd joined RWA and finished my first novel. I had critique partners, but when I entered a few RWA chapter contests with A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH, I hoped to get impressions from complete strangers who knew the romance genre but did not know me. What would these people, my future audience, think about my manuscript after a cold read? Would enough of them enjoy it to confirm its market readiness? In other words, I was in it for the feedback. I felt it would be throwing money away to enter for just the off-chance I'd get in front of the final round editor or agent, although that would be a welcome shortcut should it occur.

I certainly got what I paid for. After the first few contests yielded a consensus of critiques (a rare and useful phenomenon), I revised the novel to be a romance instead of a fantasy with a romantic subplot and sent it back out. The revision finaled about 50% of the time, but when it didn't final, it inevitably received critiques from the Twilight Zone of Mean, so I retired it from the contest circuit. (And yes, as a Grammar Wench, former graduate student of creative writing, and Very Mean Person myself, I was and am capable of differentiating between "critical" and "crazy".) I then sent my second novel, SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST, to a few favorite contests and when it finaled, I retired it too. I know it can be tempting to rack up gold stars once your manuscript begins to glimmer, but I figured as soon as a manuscript finaled a few times, I'd achieved my goal of hitting enough people's sweet spots to present it to editors and agents. Plus, I'm not made of money and postage.

After those two, I continued to write but I didn't enter contests. My interests shifted to judging and coordinating due to my spotty and fascinating experiences with the ones I chose to enter. Right now I'm coordinating my local chapter's contest for the second year, but for several years I've conducted judge training workshops for my own chapter and others. The varied and occasionally offbeat critiques I got convinced me of the need to train people what it was and was not appropriate to say to a contest entrant. For example, telling a contestant not to quit her day job (yes, I've actually seen this urban legend of a comment written directly on an entry) is not going to help the author with anything, even if it helps the judge achieve her quota of bitch for the day.

Vitriol isn't the only problem. While some judges are inarguably nasty, other judges say nothing at all. Those judges, too, need to be encouraged and taught that they have valid viewpoints of a piece of writing that they can use to help the entrant in their quest for publication (in unpublished contests--published author contests are a different can of peanuts). All this is hindered by the fact that everyone's definition of what crosses the politeness line is going to vary, with some contestants being a great deal more sensitive than others. I myself am about a 3 on the 1-10 scale of sensitive, with 1 being a boulder and 10 being you know who--because we all know at least one of those.

In the end, RWA style contests aren't for everyone, but if you write romance, I do recommend trying them a few times from both sides--judging and entering--to see what you can learn about your writing and yourself. If you enter, keep an open mind and a positive attitude, no matter what your responses are. Once you get published, you're going to get reader letters and reviews that are worse -- and a whole lot better.

And if judge, resist the urge to snark. Save that for your book. I hear it's marketable.

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/

PS. My local chapter's Melody of Love contest is here: http://www.mcrw.com/ Accepting entries until July 2, 2008!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Excerpt: Every Breath You Take

She should have kept running.

Lia Brown slammed the door of her ancient Nova a little harder than was necessary, cringed, and shot a glance over her shoulder. Bright morning light reflected off the two other cars in an otherwise empty parking lot: her friend Jay’s Mustang and an unfamiliar white sedan.

"You’re paranoid," she muttered, as she started toward the currently empty nightclub. "Frank probably doesn’t even know you’re back in EastRiver, and he sure doesn’t know where you’ll be today."

Rehearsal. The band getting together to do a reunion concert. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around it, sixteen years was a long time.

A noise had her breath catching in her throat. She jerked around to see, and the uneven gravel caused her ankle to twist. A quick burst of pain shot up her leg into her bad hip, and her hand went automatically to the spot — as if touching it would help — while her eyes did another scan of the area.

"He’s not here," she reassured herself. More careful this time, she picked her way toward the building. Falling flat on her face wasn’t fun. She knew from experience.

Shaking off the surge of memories, she took one long breath of the fresh autumn air and pulled open the heavy door of the Riverside Lounge.

Coming from the bright sunshine of a beautiful Tennessee morning into the darkness of the interior blinded her. The stench of beer and stale cigarettes nauseated her.

She smiled. It was all familiar, this sensory assault, familiar from a time long gone. A time when things were simpler and more innocent. A time before she’d discovered just how hellish life could be. Her smile vanished like the naiveté she’d once had.

What the hell did she think she was doing? Wasn’t it Thomas Wolfe who said you couldn’t go home again? Whoever, they had better sense than she did.

She looked around her, trying to get her bearings. The currently unoccupied nightclub was a single huge room, dimly lit, filled with round tables and chairs upside down on top of them. The familiar sight tore at her heart and had her yearning for a time long past.

Then she heard Jay’s voice, and a smile touched her face. She saw him, in the slightly better light of the dance/stage area toward the back of the club. As she started in that direction, she realized he was why she was here. He’d talked her into coming back home to Tennessee three months ago. He’d made sure she had a place to live, in a duplex apartment his aunt owned. He’d been a friend when she needed one, and was the brother she’d never had.

Who was that man he was talking to?

"You and your network can shove it up your ass!"

Hearing Jay yell sent shivers down her spine, and she backed against the nearest table.

"Look," the stranger said, "I know you don’t want me here, but I am. I guess we’re both just going to have to live with it."

He wasn’t yelling. In fact, the voice was deep, melodic. Interesting.

A spike of curiosity swept through her in spite of an intense desire to run. She edged in the direction of the door — and bumped into a table. The noise was loud enough to cause both men to look in her direction, leaving her with nothing to do but smile and say, "Hi!"

Jay rushed toward her, pulling her into his signature bear hug. "Hello, sis."

There was no reason to be scared of Jay. She’d known him forever. No way would he hurt her. Still, she had the urge to shove him away and run. Would she ever feel safe with a man again?
He pulled back, and she managed a smile.

Jay draped an arm around her shoulders and walked her over to the man he’d been arguing with. "Lia, this is Eric Weiss, from the Classic Music Network. Weiss, this is my sister and co-vocalist, Lia Brown."

He was broad-shouldered and several inches taller than Jay’s five-ten. He had dark hair and eyes, was well dressed; and his gaze was currently raking her light brown hair, green eyes, and five foot, two inch, curvy body. She suddenly gained a new sympathy for the animals in a zoo.
"You’re the other lead singer?"

Jay gave her shoulders a quick squeeze. "Lia’s a great vocalist. We’re lucky to have her."

"What instrument do you play?"

She wanted to run away. Instead, she forced her chin up a notch. "I just sing."

Weiss raised an eyebrow, while he continued to stare. "I see."

"Don’t let that ‘just’ fool you," Jay said, "she sings like an angel."

Weiss turned the scathing look on Jay.

Jay ignored the man, as he walked toward the side of the dance floor, where his guitar leaned against a chair. His arm was still around Lia, so she had little choice but to go along. Even if she would much rather run for the door.

Once away from Network Man, she whispered, "Maybe this isn’t a good idea."

Jay turned to her, his green eyes nailing her with their gaze. "You’re a big part of Celebration. We can’t do this without you."

"And I’m not really your sister."

An expression she couldn’t quite name crossed his face, and then he grinned. "Close enough." He put his hands on her shoulders. "And if Celebration is going to have a reunion concert, you absolutely have to be part of it. Besides, it’ll be fun."

"I guess." She glanced toward the man in the expensive clothes, who sat at a nearby table looking through some papers he’d pulled out of a briefcase.

"Oh hell, you aren’t letting that suit intimidate you, are you? I argued with the network for a month, but they insisted on sending us a babysitter to make sure the group is ready." He rolled his eyes. "They wouldn’t budge on the six weeks of rehearsal, either. That’s a ridiculous amount of time. They know as well as I do that we could be ready in two."

Insecurity flipped her stomach. "I’m not sure I could."

"Baloney, you’d be fine."

She put her bag on a chair and pulled out her sheet music. Sixteen years was a long time. Would the group really be able to recapture the magic?

Dark eyes sent their accusing stare toward her, and a lump swelled her throat so she couldn’t breathe. Who was she kidding? She had no business trying to pretend she belonged here.

Copyright 2008 by Cheryel Hutton

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ruby's Letters - Excerpt


Emma and her men are working in an old Brooklyn Heights brownstone when she breaks through a hundred-year-old brick wall used to close up a fireplace. Ever since then, strange things start to happen...


“Okay, lunch is over, guys. I’d like to get this liner done before we call it a day.”

Emma took a swig of her coffee and tossed the remains of her salad into the trash. “In the meantime, I’m going to check the cellar coal bin to see what repairs that needs.”

“You want me to go?” Mike asked.

“No, I’ll check it out. Bart might need you up on the roof. He was having trouble with the winch earlier.”

Throwing her empty coffee cup into the trash, Emma made her way down the steps that led to the bottom-most floor.

Halfway down the stairs, the moldy air enveloped her. It was eerily quiet, except for the distant shouts of the working men and music.

As soon as her booted foot touched the dirt floor, goose bumps rose on her arms as she made her way over to the coal bin.

The room was mostly dark, the only light coming from the open hatch facing the street. She scanned the area with her flashlight. The room was the same size as the floors above, but since there were no interior walls, it seemed much larger. It was empty save for a few bits of coal and a stray broken chair and table. The cinderblock walls were a dingy gray and cobwebs hung in dramatic display.

Emma had been in hundreds of these cellars and never felt like this, her heart pounding, short shallow breaths. She scolded herself for being so silly.

A musky scent filled the room.

The aroma was rather pleasant, but the feelings it produced were not. The hair stood up on the back of her neck. Someone reached out to touch her.

She spun around.

Emma.”

She fell back with a heavy thud, her breathing shaky and rushed. “Mike? D-d-did you c-c-call me?”

No one answered.

Her body trembled as she rose from the earth. That voice hadn’t been a male’s voice, but a soft urgent whisper, distinctly female.

Swallowing hard, she leveled the flashlight again and aimed it at the bin.

Get out.”

“Stop it!” Emma cried. “C’mon guys, this isn’t funny.” Again no one answered. She listened closely and could hear her guys off in the distance.

“I swear, Ryan, if you’re doing this to get back at me for not turning over that newspaper, I will end you!”

Determined to get her job done, she turned back to the coal bin. She checked the mortar joints, noting they looked in need of pointing. She jumped back. Something rolled towards her. She cried out, but her cry turned into a self-mocking laugh as a mouse ran against the wall. The squeaking sound it made was oddly comforting.

Feeling much better, she continued her task. This will teach me to watch Ghost Hunters right before bedtime. She had no idea why Mrs. Morris would want to restore this old coal bin. It’s unlikely anyone would ever come down here. It would make for a good place for a wine cellar or maybe a place to store wood. If Mrs. Morris could manage to keep this place cool and dry, it would season the wood very nicely.

Her rodent friend let out a loud, painful squeal before it darted into the darkness.

Emma jumped to her feet, the air around her closing in, turning to ice. She could see her gasps of air, like puffs of smoke leaving her body and fading into the room. Gripping her flashlight, she once again scanned the room. The light flickered and died. How was that possible? She had only changed the batteries that morning.

She struggled to breathe. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a red mist. Despite the dim light, it glowed. It spread from a small orb, to take up the whole corner of the room.

Frozen with fear, she willed her legs to move, but they remained motionless. What is that? What’s happening? Every cell in her body worked on achieving one goal . . . getting out of there.

And fast!

With all the strength she possessed, she forced her legs to move. Emma turned to run, but a dark figure blocked her way. She screamed.

“Hey, are you okay, boss lady?”

Emma wanted to weep at the sound of Carlos’s concerned voice. Her flashlight flickered on, the air grew warmer and the red mist disappeared.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” she answered, though her panting and pounding heart begged to differ. She couldn’t remember the last time her body shook so violently.

“Are you sure? You screamed when you saw me. I admit I make womans scream, but only inside the bedroom.”

Never in her life had she been so happy to hear his crude remarks. “I know, it’s just this house. I guess finding that body is making my imagination run wild.”

“You can use your imagination with me anytime.” He winked.

She smiled slightly. “I’m sure your wife would love to hear that.”

“You could tell her, but she will no believe you. She thinks I am—how do you say—perfection?”

Knowing full well Carlos would die without his Elisa, she simply nodded. “Close enough.”

His face grew serious and he put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Do you want I should check the bin myself?”

She shook her head. “I can do this. I was just being silly.”

“It is not bad to ask for help, boss lady.”

“I know. I’ve been told that before.” She licked her suddenly dry lips.

He groaned. “Oh, don’t lick your lips like that.”

Emma let out a pent-up laugh and shooed him from the cellar. The odd feelings and cold were gone, but she still finished as quickly as she could. Even though she couldn’t see him, she was certain Carlos hovered nearby.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fire of the Dragon excerpt

Scene setup: Jill Donahue has tumbled through time by way of a magical dragon tapestry she found in a strange vintage clothing shop. After landing in a medieval village, the peasants decide to sacrifice her to the local dragon instead of one of their own. At this point--even though she’s witnessed the fire-breathing dragon transform into a very real, very naked man before her eyes--Jill is still in complete denial of exactly where and when she is.

“So, what’s your name?” the maid asked.

Baelin returned to stand by the fire, the dancing flames holding his attention as memories of the life he once had drifted out of reach just as the rising smoke disappeared into the rocks high overhead.

“I was once called Baelin of Gosforth.” He looked down at her where she sat. “Now I am only called Dragon. Beast. Devil.”

The girl averted her eyes and ran her finger around the rim of her goblet. “I see. How about if I just call you Baelin?”

“That would please me greatly.”

Setting her wine down beside her, the maid stood and held out her hand to him. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Baelin of Gosforth. I’m Jill of Richmond.”

He looked at her outstretched hand, surprised she would offer it to him when it was no longer necessary to suffer his touch. He took her delicate fingers in his and bowed over her hand, lightly brushing the smooth knuckles with a kiss.

“I am honored, Lady Jill.”

She smiled at him as he straightened. “Wow, you don’t see that much anymore.”

“See what, my lady?”

“Never mind.” She resumed her seat and he moved to sit on the furs on the opposite side of the fire. “And it’s just Jill. You don’t need to ‘lady’ me.”

“No matter your station before, as long as you are under my protection, I shall treat you with the respect and esteem a well-bred lady deserves.”

“Well, that’s very formal of you. Ms. Manners would certainly give you a gold star.” She picked up her wine and fingered the hammered design on the side of the goblet. “So, how about telling me exactly what the heck is going on around here?”

Baelin stared into the flames. How much to tell her? For the moment, she seemed calm. Dare he risk upsetting her again? The truth was more than most of the maids could grasp.

“Perhaps you should rest and I will explain all to you in the morn.”

“No.” She sent a stern look his way. “I think I’d like to hear it now. As you can tell, I have nothing better to do at the moment.”

“Very well.” Baelin took a deep swallow of wine before beginning his tale. “When I was a young knight, I was cursed by the Dark Witch.”

Lady Jill blinked twice, then shook her head. “Wait. A witch? As in the spell-casting, broomstick-riding variety?”

“She has servants to sweep her hall but aye, she is a sorceress, with the gift of spells.”

“O-kaayyy.”

“Her warriors captured me in battle and when I refused to become her...servant, she placed a curse on me, turning me into the very creature I hunted.”

“And I’m guessing that would be dragons?”

Baelin nodded. “The Dark Witch has found a way to hold sway over dragons, using them against mortal men in her fight for control over the land.”

Lady Jill looked uneasy. “And do you believe you’re under this witch’s ‘sway’ now?”

“Nay, she only has power over me when I am in dragon form and within the boundaries of her realm.”

Her gaze darted to the wings folded against his back. “But you’re still part dragon right now.”

“Aye, ‘tis true that in human form I still retain some of the dragon’s power but until the next full moon, she has no control over me.”

“I see.” Lady Jill rotated the goblet between her palms. Baelin sat silent, waiting for the questions he knew would come. “So how long have you been this way?”

“Two hundred and sixteen winters.”

“Winters? You mean years? As in 216 years? Amazing.” She made a clucking sound with her tongue. “You don’t look a day over thirty-five.”

“I only appear that way. In truth, I was born in the year of our Lord, 978.”

Lady Jill held up her hand and shook her head. “Hold it. Stop the video and hit rewind. Did you just say you were born in 978?”

“Aye.”

She stared at him for the longest time before speaking. “My God, you’re serious. You really believe this. Everything you just said--you actually believe it’s true.” She shook herself as if a sudden chill had swept into the cave. “And I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation. It’s gotta be the wine going to my head.”

She set her empty goblet down and stood. “Look, you seem like a nice guy and I’m sure when they get you back on your medication, everything will be fine.” She rubbed at her forehead as she began to pace. “Shoot, maybe I need to be put on heavy meds. This is a warning sign of an impending mental breakdown if I ever saw one.”

She walked back and forth by the fire, speaking more to herself than to him. “You know, I’ve seen some weird stuff in my life. People do strange things to their bodies all the time--full body tattoos, piercings to body parts that should never be pierced, even metal balls implanted under their skin. Heck, I wouldn’t put it past someone to have bat wings surgically attached to their back.” She waved her hand in his direction.

“The medieval village...well, I’ve heard those reenactors can take their parts a little too seriously. That’s easily explained.” She stopped, looked pointedly at him, then began walking again. “I’ll admit, the dragon part, that’s not so easy to reason away.”

She suddenly stopped and stared at a shield propped against the side of the cave. “I know. I bet this is all part of some sex slave ring where sicko guys get their kicks living out their Dungeon and Dragon fantasies.”

Baelin watched in stunned silence as Lady Jill’s eyes grew round as goose eggs and she covered her mouth with her hand as if to hold back words too incredible to utter.

“Oh God, that crazy saleslady is probably some kind of pseudo-madam sex slave trader. I knew it smelled weird in that place. I bet she drugged me and sold me into some kind of warped, medieval role-playing sexcapade.”

Spinning in a circle, she glanced around the cave. “Yes, that has to be how I got here. And the drugs would explain the flying dragon hallucination. It all makes perfect sense in a weird, demented way.”

Lady Jill finally stopped on the opposite side of the fire and eyed him with suspicion. “You’re not going to dress up in a chain mail diaper and have me spank you while you call me ‘mommy’, are you?”

Baelin had never been so confused in his life. The woman chattered so fast, it was almost as if she spoke a foreign tongue. All he could do was shake his head and hope it was the response she wanted.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Seeking Truth - excerpt


Seeking Truth
Chapter 1 - May 1146

His stallion’s hooves pounded like the beating of his heart as Lord Eaduin Kempe shook damp black hair from his eyes. A gentle spring rain fell. It felt like a driving storm; like the driving storm in his soul. The presence of his beloved foster mother blunted the emptiness of his keep, but if he lost Judith. . . Nay. He wouldn’t think on it. All had seemed normal with her, so well did she hide her pain. Was he blind? How could he have missed something of such import? Eaduin rode grimly, determined to find aid. Today.

Her screams of pain in the night had nearly broken him though she’d been the one to endure the suffering. Judith could not endure another night like the last, nor could he. He wouldn’t accept his helplessness in the face of her agony. He must do something. Even now he heard her screams echoing in his ears, bringing tears to his eyes which mixed with the rain to fall down his cheeks. He brushed both away impatiently.

His horse leaped a ravine, clearing it easily. He needed to find help quickly. He sighed. When he’d asked Judith to whom he should apply for aid, she’d sent him to the Abbey of Blessed Virgin to seek vérité. He didn’t need to find truth; he needed medication to dull Judith’s pain but despite her pain her will was as strong as ever, so to the Abbey he rode. He didn’t matter any more, only Judith did. He glanced ahead, catching sight of the spires of the Abbey’s central chapel over the treetops.

His guard captain, Godwin, who was his half brother and Judith’s eldest son, rode at his stallion’s left flank. Godwin was a better horseman than Eaduin was; certainly, a better man. For years, Godwin had been his closest friend and ally. Regardless of what came his way, he knew his brother had his back. Eaduin thanked God for him.

They’d been five miles on the road, and would need to return that night, because neither of them could bear to leave Judith alone for longer. They approached the gates at a gallop, but pulled up when the gates remained closed. Eaduin’s stallion sidled restlessly as his brother hailed the guards atop the gates.

"Lord Eaduin Kempe wishes to speak with the Reverend Mother on a matter of grave urgency." Godwin shouted.

Eaduin smiled faintly. It was just that voice which made Godwin’s squires jump to do his bidding, and it drew the immediate attention of the watch.

"Lord Eaduin bloody Kempe will find no welcome here!"

He grimaced, before looking up to see the old guard peering over the ramparts. "I seek no welcome from you, Artur Pecke, you insolent cur! How dare you swear within these sacred walls! Open the gates! I will speak with the Abbess. NOW!" His roar echoed off the stone, making the old man wince then scowl.

"And what army will see you past this gate!"

Eaduin swore under his breath. He just had to assign his father’s former guard captain here, hadn’t he? The old bastard hated him. Bloody hell! He pulled his strung bow from his saddle and an arrow from his quiver. He knocked it, taking aim in one smooth movement then sighting on the stupid man’s head.

"I need no army, old man. Let me in and live to see the sunset!"

Eaduin knew the wily old guard could easily duck before the arrow even reached him, but Eaduin was out of patience. He heard Judith’s cries in his ears and had no time to parlay with a self-important idiot.

"Open the gate, you fool!" A voice inside the gates yelled.

Eaduin relaxed his drawn bow, his breath releasing with a hiss. He recognized the authority of Mother Anne’s voice when he heard it and so did Sir Artur. The clack of the windlass rattled loudly as the bridge lowered and the heavy doors opened ponderously. How ironic it was that his orders and his money barred his passage, for long had he given money to afford protection to these brides of Christ. Eaduin spurred his horse, quickly traversing the bridge. He stopped in the courtyard with Godwin at his side, dismounting then handing the stableman his reins.

"Treat them kindly. They’ve been run hard and will need to make a return trip shortly." The chief stableman knew Eaduin well so he offered a respectful nod before leading the horses away.

Eaduin turned to face the concerned face of Mother Anne. "Why are you here, my Lord Kempe?"

"I need a healer. Where are your sisters who serve?" Eaduin strode toward the hospital, but the Abbess planted herself directly in Eaduin’s way.

"Why do you seek a healer? What help can we give you that Mistress Judith can not? After all, she has been the teacher to most of our sisters in the use of herbs and healing."

Eaduin’s rubbed his face, trying to hide the anguish he felt. Mother Anne stepped forward placing her hand on his arm to offer comfort. "Lord Eaduin? What is it?"

"It’s Judith. She’s very ill but none of us has the skills to help her."

"Is it fever?" She tensed, her expression reflecting worry; whether for Judith or her own people he didn’t know.

He shook his head. "Nay, she’s hidden her illness from all of us. Recently, she collapsed. We have tried to follow her directions to offer her relief, but none of us know what we are doing. We are as likely to kill her as cure her the way we blunder about, but it might almost be a mercy."

"Did she say what the illness is?"

"She looks far gone with child, yet there is none. She has treated herself for months but her syrup of poppies will ease the pain no longer."

He could see the Abbess’ confusion with his poor description. This was completely outside his area of expertise and his ignorance appalled him. He shook his head, his eyes filling with tears again. He blinked before they spilled, lest Sir Artur taunt him.

"You are sure she’s not with child?"

"Certain. God forgive me but I hadn’t noticed how she had loosened her gowns and ceased to wear belts at her waist." He shook his head in self-disgust. "God forgive my selfishness…" He met Mother Anne’s serene blue gaze in chagrin. "She needs aid. Judith is in grave pain which nothing relieves. I can’t… I can’t bear listening to her screams. It tears out my heart."

Tears began to fall; he brushed them away with annoyance. He noticed the old guard captain staring at him and expected to see laughter in his eyes at his show of weakness. Instead he saw shared pain, which startled him. Mistress Judith was beloved of everyone in the area, it seemed.

Eaduin felt selfish in his need for his foster mother. After all, Judith had given life to Godwin and his brothers and sisters, yet she was Eaduin’s salvation. He owed his sanity and conscience to her, for without her he would have become a monster like his father and his half-sister. Both of whom now suffered in the fires of hell. Though he might pity their souls, they deserved their suffering. If not for Judith, his fate would have been the same.

Judith... He must help her. Someone here must consent to help. He wouldn’t leave without aid-no matter what he had to do to receive it.

"When did you last sleep, Lord Eaduin?"

He paused in thought, trying to remember. Since he had no idea, he ignored the question. "It matters not. Will you send someone to her? Please?"

Eaduin could see apology in the Reverend Mother’s face as she readied a refusal. Before she could speak, he dropped to his knees on the hard ground in front of her in the supplication of a penitent.

"I beg you, for Judith’s sake. Let me rot when the time comes, but for the love of God, don’t allow Judith’s suffering to continue. She doesn’t deserve it. Isn’t the pain she endured at my father’s hands enough?"

Eaduin beseeched the normally stern Abbess, whose eyes filled with tears spilling down her cheeks. Anne knew the truth of Judith’s suffering at Osweald Kempe’s hands. Mother Anne took a deep breath. "Judith ordered you here?" Eaduin nodded. "What did she tell you, my lord? Exactly…"

"She told me to come to the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin to seek vérité. Mother, I have no need of truth at this time. I need a healer."

"In this case, they are one and the same."

"I don’t understand."

"I know. But you will, my son. Rise. Let us go find the healer you seek."


###
©2008, Francesca Hawley

Friday, April 18, 2008

Vacation Letter


Dear Diner Folk,

OK, sorry for the scrawl but, I don’t have time to type a letter. Since you are reading this please assume I can not report for my shift. If I’m not back in a week, please give my spare uniform to Brenda to wash.

Kiddo, Take my apartment keys from my purse, go up stairs and bring in my mail please? Oh, and would you send the letter propped up on the bookcase – it’s the rent check. Thanks Kid.

I found very something interesting in the game cupboard, and have to find out where it leads. I’ll be back as soon as I can. If this is what I think it is, it may explain a few things, like why the game of Mancala has been so widely circulated around the world.

It’s played in almost every country, by so many names, yet no one knows how to play the darned thing! It’s the world’s most ancient game, and quite likely, the simplest. Ancient playing boards have been found in some of the world’s most remote places, Carved on a huge block of rock in the ancient Syrian City of Aleppp, on columns in Karnak in Egypt and in the early tombs along the Valley of the Nile. There are boards in the Theseum in Athens, carved in the rock ledges along the caravan routes on the ancient world, and of course, all over Africa. Inlaid with gold and precious stones they have been found in Asia, in the Caribbean, the Baltic Region, Bulgaira, Serbia and Greece. The nomadic Inuit Peoples of North America play the game using ivory or wood and pellets of rock, shell, stone or seed. There is even a board carved in the stones of a remote Castle in Germany.

OK, that being said, there’s more to our little Mancala game board than
you might think upon first taking it out of the cupboard. For one thing the picture
on the cardboard box here, does not show the minute carvings along the outside rim, nor does it show the tiny symbols and inlaids on the side of each “house.” Has anyone noticed that the cups revolve???

These all may be explained away, buy a maniac gamester with a knife, but there is one unexplainable odd thing. My father was a Palaeobotanist; that’s a botanist specializing in prehistoric plants. Our little game board is made of wood from the Wattezia plant – the world’s earliest tree species, only found today in fossils that have been determined to be 300 million years old. Did I say that our little game board is still very much wood?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thirteen Tips About Writing From Anne LaMott's Bird By Bird


The more I write, the more I appreciate the advice Anne LaMott shares in her books. Today I’d like to serve up 13 of my favorite tips from “Bird By Bird.”
Anne titled the book after instructions her father, also an author, gave her brother about a bird report he was struggling to write. Her father basically told Anne’s brother to take the report one bird at a time. Anne employs that advice in her book’s structure, delving into areas of writing one step or one subject at a time.



Thirteen Tips About Writing From Bird By Bird

1.) Start writing.
2.) Write something even if it’s mediocre or less than smooth. All first drafts tend to be feeble.
3.) Set a small, attainable goal -- like 300 words. If you write more, great. If you achieve the goal, pat yourself on the back.
4.) Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, trying too hard for perfection can ruin your writing. Perfectionists can freeze themselves by being too self-critical.
5.) Write about things you know. Tap into your memories. Look back into your life experiences. You actually have far more information in your head than you might imagine.
6.) It’s okay if you don’t know how things will turn out when you start writing. Part of writing is discovery along the way.
7.) Try to know the characters you write about. Think about them when you’re not writing. Ask yourself such questions as, “What would this character write in a journal?” or “What would this character eat?”
8.) Anne says, “Plot grows out of characters.” If you know your characters and you set them in a place and ask them to interact, plot will follow, she says. Things will happen and that can lead to a plot.
9.) If you practice listening to people, your dialogue writing will improve dramatically.
10.) It’s okay to start over.
11.) “Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.”
12.) Listen to your inner voice. It guides you in knowing what to do.
13.) Jot ideas on note cards. Or find another way to record those brainstorms of yours. Don’t trust them simply to memory. Ideas can vanish or lose their intensity, just as morning’s dense fog dissipates by noon.


If any of these tips sound interesting, check out Bird by Bird. Anne elaborates and expresses these bits of wisdom with more wit and skill than can be found in this blog. And she has the answer to how a writer knows that his or her manuscript is done. I’m not going to share it with you, but it’s in her book. Plus a whole lot more.


In the meantime, this is your chance to pass along some writing wisdom.

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone
who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow
Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your
Thirteen in others comments. It's easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings,
comment links accepted!




Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Free Pie Day, Part 2

From Part 1

-- for Talia

The scene that met my eyes on the patio was not what I expected. I don’t know why things that happen at the Diner continue to surprise me, but even so, this was a shocker.

Talia was standing beside the brick oven brandishing her giant spatula like a sword as two young men menaced her. The tall, dark haired one was flipping through pages of an old book in a very menacing way while the shorter blond was crumpling an empty bag of pickling salt with menacing twists.

Our pickling salt, might I add. I recognized the brand.

Surely these weren’t her helpers?

“If you take one stop closer, you’re going to feel my wrath.” Talia threatened. “There’s nothing here for you.”

Gosh, if they weren’t her helpers, I hoped they weren’t customers. I’d spoken with Tali about her occasional possessiveness of her culinary creations before, and FPD wasn’t a great day to revisit that argument. But instead of jumping in, I decided to see how she’d handle it. Maybe our practice sessions about letting the pie go would kick in.

“Don’t try to protect your fellow demon.” The taller one spread the book wide and held it in front of him, his finger on the page. “We’re sending you both back to Hell where you belong.” Then he began chanting something in a language that sounded vaguely like Latin.

I knew Talia had a tendency to adopt strays of all species, but this was the first I’d heard about her aiding and abetting a demon, not to mention being one. Anyone who thought Talia belonged in Hell had obviously never tasted her brownie cheesecake.

“Demons being protective is kinda weird,” the shorter one said. “Maybe it’s her spawn. I mean, they don’t look alike, but she could have taken human form.”

Talia shot them both a disgusted look. “It’s not a demon, it’s a dragon.”

“There’s no such things as dragons,” the blond scoffed. Then he glanced at the tall one. “Right, Sammy?”

Sammy, frowning in a way that looked habitual, continued to read the non-English mantra, his deep voice rolling out the long vowels like he really meant it.

“This has gone far enough. I’ve got work to do and you two are interfering.” Talia kicked at the circle of salt around the brick oven, and tiny pellets sprayed the two men.

The blond’s jaw dropped, and Sammy quit chanting to stare at Talia in amazement. “You’re not supposed to be able to... How’d you do that?!”

“With my Converse, you idiot.” Talia kicked more salt, and they flinched, holding up their arms to protect their faces from the crystals.

When the salt stopped flying, the blond grabbed an old, long-barreled pistol from the back of his pants, where it had been hidden under his scruffy leather jacket. “I don’t know how you were able to cross the ring of salt, but you can't escape a bullet from the Colt. Stay back.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. A gun?” Talia exclaimed, echoing my thoughts. I girded my loins to linebacker the blond and disrupt his aim. The Diner being what it was, I didn’t want to involve the police unless I absolutely had to.

At the shock in Talia’s tone, Grim the dragon popped his head out of the back of the oven where he was supposed to remain hidden, the secret to Talia’s perfectly baked goods.

A secret we at the Diner were loathe for anyone to discover.

Blast and double blast. That explained a few things.

“Uh, Dean,” Sammy said. “I think you’re worried about the wrong demon.”

Dean shifted the gun from Talia to the small dragon, who hissed. “Badmen chasing meez through the park. I's spit at youse!" He inhaled deeply, preparing to hack a fireball that wouldn’t help convince these guys he didn’t belong in Hell. Grim might have limpid pools for eyes, but he also had some serious brimstone and halitosis issues.

Talia clanged the side of the brick oven with her giant spatula, startling the creature. “We don’t have time for that. It’s Free Pie Day. Quick slacking and get back in there. You still owe me after you-know-what.”

With an “Ack!”, Grim popped back into the oven, and I heard the faint but distinctive rumble of dragonfire.

The blond blinked a couple times and lowered the gun. “You’re baking pies? Free pies?”

“That’s what free...pie...day generally entails.” Talia enunciated each syllable as if speaking to someone new to the language. “You two hounding Grim on his smoke break have seriously interfered with the pastry supply. Unless I miss my guess, any minute now, my manager is going to... Oh, hi, Jody.”

I suppose that was my cue it was safe to chime in without getting shot. Or salted. Or fireballed.

Sam and Dean--what were they, surf rockers?--both jumped at the sight of me lurking in the doorway.

I waved. “I came to check on the pie progress. We’re digging into the reserves and we’ve still got an hour to go.”

“Grim and I have a batch almost toasty and another ready to go in. Or we would, if somebody would quit threatening to banish us to Hell.” Talia opened the brick oven door and peered into the red, glowing interior.

“You’re not demons?” Dean asked. “Pie-baking demons?”

Sammy’s lips tightened. “Don’t be stupid, Dean. They aren’t going to admit they’re demons.”

“Nobody here is a demon,” I said in my best soothing-the-irate-customer voice. “We’re employees of The Otherworld Diner. Maybe you’ve heard of us? No? Well, we’re famous in these parts. And Talia here is part of the reason. Talia and her pies.”

Dean studied Talia, her cheeks pink from the heat of the oven, then me. He put his gun away. “She did touch the salt.”

A nod from me, and Talia slipped her giant spatula beneath the first golden brown, perfectly dragon-baked pie and floated it out of the oven. The men’s eyes followed Talia’s actions as if drawn by magnets. Pie magnets.

The sweet, enticing scent of crust and contents filled the air, and even my mouth watered. There was nobody in the world, except maybe Talia, more sick of pie than I was right now.

“Fellas,” I said, when I had at least part of their attention, “can I interest you in some free pie in return for your silence on the manner in which our brick oven gets heated? Demons, from what I understand, are evil, supernatural beings bent on taking over the world, and Grim couldn’t be further from that.”

“I could eat,” Dean said.

Sammy punched him, but he was watching the pie with puppy dog eyes as helplessly as Dean.

“Let’s get you a booth.” I took each man by an arm and urged them into the Diner. Over my shoulder, I called back to Talia. “Bake them the special pie. The caramel nepenthe delight.”

Sam’s pointy nose twitched and his lips thinned. Again. He tried to tug his arm away, but I held on tight. In a poncy voice, he said, “The word "nepenthe" first appeared in the Odyssey of Homer. Literally, it means "the one that chases away sorrow". It’s thought to be an opium derivative. I don’t think we’ll be eating--”

“Really?” I interrupted, my eyes wide. “We’d heard the part about nepenthe chasing away sorrow. That’s why we call it that. It’s so good, you’ll forget why you’re sad.”

I led the bemused men through the kitchen, where Francesca’s assistants gave them evil glances and refused to let her so much as look at them. Out front, Brenda cleaned a corner booth. Cheryel served them ice tea and ChinaMeli distracted any other customers who might have noticed Sam and Dean got to cut line.

When the pie came out of the dragon-powered oven oozing fragrant steam like a hotsprings, I dolloped vanilla ice cream on top and set the entire pie tin between the two men, who were, quite frankly, both on the thin side.

They stared at the pie, then me. Sammy in particular looked like he figured the pie contained poison.

I grabbed a fork, elbowed them aside, and shoved a luscious bite into my mouth. One bite wouldn’t affect me, and if it did, it would only mean I’d forget how stressful FPD was and we’d have it again next year. When I didn’t turn green, choke or keel over, Dean wielded his own fork and dug into the caramel and melted ice cream.

“Wow,” he said, his mouth full. “Sammy, you gotta try this.”

More fastidiously, Sammy sampled a pea-sized crumb, but when it melted in his mouth (that’s what Talia’s crust does), he scooped a larger bite. And then another.

“So we have a deal?” I asked Dean. “Pie for silence? Anytime you’re in town, more of the same.”

“Ish good pie,” he said, his cheeks bulging like a chipmunk. He grinned at me with good-natured enjoyment and added another forkful to the mass.

“Deal,” Sammy said, licking the tines of his fork.

After they finished the entire plate of caramel nepenthe delight, we kindly led them to their vehicle, a black muscle car, and whispered in Dean’s ear that he had an appointment in Wisconsin. We haven’t seen or heard from them since, although we’ve started keeping an caramel nepenthe delight on hand, just in case.

***

Recognize the pop culture reference, anyone? :)

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com

Monday, April 14, 2008

More Free Reads -- Enjoy!

This biweek at the Diner, we had so much fun posting fiction we're going to do it again. Some of the staff will be posting more prompts, and some will be posting 1000 word excerpts from their own writing. At the Diner, we don't usually go on and on about our own stories in specific, so we thought this might be a change of pace.

If we are doing more than sharing -- ie, if we want focused critical opinions -- we will specify at the beginning of the excerpt what type of feedback we're looking for. Maybe a reaction to the worldbuilding. Maybe a question about what happens next. Maybe an opinion on whether or not this particular trope is overdone. Some might do query letters, and some might come up with brand new variations on the theme. Either way, it should be an interesting two weeks.

After this introductory post explaining the purpose of our biweek, I'm going to share the first couple pages of a piece of short fiction I've been twiddling with. Tomorrow, our staff member Talia is taking some family time, so I'm going to post the remainder of my prompt from last week, as the story involves Talia and her position at the Diner. After that, I never have any idea what wildness the ladies will come up with, but it never disappoints.

So stay tuned!

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Truth is In Here...

The lunch rush was just getting started, and by rush I mean total pandemonium. It’s always busy around at the Diner at lunch time, but I’ve never seen it quite like it was that day. And in the middle of all this, HE walked in. An odd looking man, dressed in a gray suit, white shirt, plain navy blue tie and a long black coat, he looked to me like he was some sort of military man. The aviator sunglasses sticking out of his pocket contributed to the effect.

You may ask yourself, why was it I noticed so much about him in the midst of a very busy time in the diner. Honestly, I didn’t at first. I saw the black coat and the great posture as he walked into the diner, but it wasn’t until I went to get his order that I noticed something was wrong. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hand trembled a bit as he held the menu. I thought maybe he was exhausted, maybe from a stakeout or something. Somehow, though, I knew it was more than that. He ordered coffee and apple pie, and I revealed my motherly instincts by asking if he maybe he should have something more substantial. He looked at me and a bit of a smile twitched at his lips. "Just pie, thanks." I smiled back, and went on with my work.

Okay, I’ll admit that he had a great smile. Even just the tiny one he gave me had my womanly hormones kicking into overdrive. Look, I’m happily married, but I’m not blind. Just don’t tell my husband. Leprechauns tend to be the jealous type. Of course he’s a natural flirt, but that’s "different". Right. Snort.

Enough about me. Back to Special Agent Fox, that’s his name. He told me later, after the lunch pandemonium, and after he’d had a gallon of coffee and about twenty pieces of apple pie—causing a pie shortage that didn’t go over well with the other customers, let me tell you!

Anyway, after things quieted down I went to tell him we were out of apple pie and he asked me to sit down. I was intrigued by the man, so of course I sat. "Are you all right?" I asked him. He nodded, but I could see from his expression that he was lying. He was still trembling, but that could be from all the caffeine he’d had. "Is there anything I can do for you?" I asked.

"Can you keep a secret?"

I chuckled. "I’m the epitome of secret keeping."

He smiled then. It was a sad smile, but big enough to show me just how handsome he really was. "I’m a M.I.B.," he told me.

My breath caught in my throat. Men In Black, my worst nightmare...I mean the worst nightmare of aliens currently residing on the planet Earth. "Why are you here?" I asked, cringing at the squeak in my voice.

"For coffee and pie," he said, and his smile reassured me—a little.

"I’d better get back to work," I said, and started to slide out of the booth.

"They aren’t aliens."

I stopped in mid slide. "Who aren’t?"

He leaned over the table and lowered his voice. "The little gray men. They aren’t aliens. They’re fairies."

"Fairies?" I didn’t worry about the squeak in my voice that time. Anybody would have squeaked over that little piece of information. Then I forced a smile. "You’re putting me on."

He shook his head as sadness filled his eyes. "It’s true. We’ve known for many years, but we encourage the outer space alien stories to throw people off track."

"Okaaay." I started sliding toward the edge of the seat again. After all, anybody could wear gray suits and black coats and own aviator sunglasses. Even crazy guys.

He grabbed my arm and I almost jumped though the roof. "I’m telling the truth," he said.
I looked into his eyes then, and I realized he at least thought he was—which didn’t preclude his being crazy. But then, the FBI ID card he had looked mighty real to me.

"You can’t tell anybody," he told me, as worry filled his lovely green eyes.

"I was serious about being able to keep secrets" I assured him. He looked deeply into my eyes for a long minute, then nodded.

As I watched him gather his things and head toward the door, one thought kept swirling through my head. Boy did he blow a perfect opportunity.

Chuckling, I went back to work.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Free Pie Day, Part 1

FREE PIE DAY

"Hey, lady, I want another piece of pie!"

I glared at the smurf-lipped kid seated in booth 17 and said, in my meanest voice, "No."

The kid's face scrunched up like a shar pei. He opened his pie-hole, literally, and let out a wail that would have put James Brown to shame.

"Junior, honey, don't cry." The mother, a pointy, thin woman wearing an expensive twin-set and pearls, shoved her piece of free pie to the screaming child. "You can have mine. It's not on my diet."

The kid dove in, bits of fruit and crust exploding to either side of him and littering the already disgusting table. Behind me, Brenda, our bus person, muttered imprecations under her breath about "pigs in pokes" and "no home training".

Ah. Free Pie Day at the Otherworld Diner. Normally we balanced our staff across several shifts, but on this particular Saturday night every one of us bustled around the restaurant, doing whatever job needed doing even if it wasn't ours. We had to. On FPD, the customers lined up on the sidewalk like we were an exclusive New York nightclub from the moment we opened until the moment we closed, at which point we shooed the unfortunate souls who hadn't made it inside by our cut-off time.

I was usually happy to be the person who did the shooing, anxious for FPD to come to an end. At our owner Debralee's insistence, we closed the day after FPD, so everyone could recover from their exhaustion and their hatred of the pie-eating portion of the human race.

When Elvis began to sing "Hound Dog" on the jukebox, I knew there was only one more hour until closing. We'd programmed the juke to spin up a tune on the half-hour if it wasn't already in use. As if summoned by the King, Jeannie burst through the front door from the sidewalk where she'd been handing out free slices in hopes of thinning down the line. She shoved several empty pie boxes that looked like wolf-dogs had torn them to shreds into the oversized recycling bin by the juke.

Okay, I could do this. We could do this. Normally the staff prefers I don't wait tables, as surly as I am, but on FPD, we needed even my help. And really, all I had to do was hand out pie. I didn't refill drinks, take orders or get people ketchup. I just handed out pie. Pie, pie and more pie. I handed out eight slices to a bunch of slavering mongrels who couldn't possibly appreciate the subtle flavors and delicate crust of Talia's peach delight at the speed they inhaled it. My tray bare, I sidestepped ChinaMeli and Cheryl, wait staff extraordinaire, and darted behind the counter, where Maggie was stuffing packets of decaf coffee into a canister with an irritated gleam in her eyes.

Aaaaaaand, speaking of pie, which pretty much everyone in our filled-to-capacity restaurant was doing, our pie case was empty.

Uh-oh.

"Maggie, are there any pies up?"

Maggie shook her head. "Just a couple hot beefs and a chef salad."

Maggie had been slicing the pies Talia and her helpers baked and then placing them in our pie case for me and the other ladies to distribute. Our cook, Francesca, also had assistants tonight, some strapping dudes who kept kissing her. I peeked through the order window and saw the typical FPD kitchen madhouse but no explanation for the lack of pie.

"I'm going in," I said to whichever staff members could hear me. Employees who braved the kitchen area on FPD were sometimes not seen for hours if Talia or Francesca roped them into service. They no longer used ropes, though, after the incident.

I pushed the swinging door cautiously and entered the back of the restaurant. Francesca and hunks were frying and chopping and stirring, and Lori was running the industrial dishwasher, her hair frazzled.

"How's it going out there?" Lori asked.

So that's where Lori had gotten off to. I checked her ankle to make sure there was no rope and gestured rudely towards the front. "Full of pie cretins. Hey, we're out of pie."

Lori's eyes widened in horror, because running out of pie on FPD was detrimental to everyone's wellbeing. "Scary. Talia's out back. Actually I haven't seen her for a while. Should we nuke the frozen pies?" We kept a pie stockpile in one of our deepfreezes -- recently sterilized of a green, glowing mold that wasn't a health hazard but did have interesting properties -- for just such emergencies.

"I'm going to check on Talia first." We probably had enough to get through the final hour of FPD, but I hated to clean out the stash. "Maybe thaw ten."

"Gotcha." Lori finished loading the dishwasher and disappeared into the deepfreeze.

The rear door led to a small patio where we kept our specialized brick oven. Beyond the patio was the gate to the back alley and dumpsters.

The scene that met my eyes on the patio was not what I expected. I don’t know why things that happen at the Diner continue to surprise me, but even so, this was a shocker.

Talia was....

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Looking for Decaf Coffee



#29. Did you just see a ghost out of the corner of your eye when you
were bustling around behind the counter, making coffee??


It figures, the one morning I wake up late and have to rush around before the breakfast crowd comes in, the coffee isn't cooperating. Where are those damn filters and why aren't the decaffeinated packets where they're supposed to be?

As I search for the elusive unleaded java a sudden chill stands the hair on the back of my neck. I swing around and notice something move from behind the counter into the back storeroom.

Perhaps Talia had come to see what I was doing?

I hurry to the kitchen to find our baker elbow-deep in flour, kneading the morning biscuit dough.

Huh. Maybe Debralee had come in early?

I make my way to the owner's office. The knob turns easily in my hand. I ease open the door and peer into the dark room, the light from the hallway offering little visibility. As my eyes adjust I walk over to Debralee's desk, searching for the lamp.

Two fluorescent-green orbs fly toward me. My heart pounds in my ears.I shriek, frozen. I wait for the cold and the sound of howling, but instead I feel something soft rub against my arm and hear loud purring.

I laugh at my silliness as I bury my hands in Debralee's cat's fur. "Daisy, you scared ten years off my life."

Suddenly, loud banging comes from the storeroom. I run from the office and duck as a can of peaches flies past my head. I scan the room and gasp when I see an apparition of an angry man floating through the air and hurling baked goods.

A ghost! Is he lost? Is he dangerous?

Does he want coffee?

"What are you doing?" I ask. "Why are you destroying our pantry?"

In a flash, the spirit soars across the room to bring itself almost nose-to-nose with me. Fierce cold wraps itself around me and the incredible energy emanating from the ghost makes me nauseas. I dare to look at the being and gasp at the rage on its face.

"Why do I do this?" he howls. "Because the craw fish you served me ended my life!"

My heart jumps to my throat as does my hand. "Oh, my--wait a minute. We don't serve craw fish."

The tight ire from his face melts into a frown of confusion. "You don't?" He scratches behind his ear, then reaches into his back pocket and produces a transparent piece of paper. "This isn't 896 Main Street?"

I shake my head and then smile as a thought occurs to me. "This is The Otherworld Diner. I think what you're looking for is Another Dimension Cafe."

"Ah." He folds the paper and replaces it. "Well, then, I guess there's been a mistake. Sorry about that."

I wave away his apology. "Happens all the time."

"I guess I should be going." He turns toward the back door.

"Hey! Who's going to clean up this mess?"

He stops and lingers in midair. "Oh, yes, sorry."

The spirit quickly cleans up the scattered cans and baking goods.

"Can I go now?" he asks, checking his watch.

"Yes, have fun haunting the cafe."

With a salute, he vanishes through the wall.

Talia emerges from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. "Who were you just talking to?"

I study her for a minute, then smile and shrug. "Myself."

"Ah," she said, looking rather bored.

I make my way to the front counter and just as I reach the coffee makers, packets of decaffeinated coffee rain down on my head.

~Maggie

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Wolf in Mutt's Clothing

Diner Prompt #28: Due to health code restrictions, the only animals in the Diner are supposed to be Seeing Eye dogs. What do you do when the "blind" customer with the badly behaved Seeing Eye dog reveals that he or she is not blind? What is really going on?

As you can tell so far, we get all kinds of characters (sometimes quite literally) walking through the doors of diner. That's never more so than when there’s a full moon out. Let me tell you about a particularly interesting couple we had in here not too long ago…

There I was, working the weekend shift. It was a Saturday night, the time of evening after the early birds have flow back to their the nests and before the happy hour crowd stumbles in with the after-buzz munchies. Most of the tables are filled with our loyal regulars, enjoying Francesca’s wonderful blue plate specials.

Then they walked in.

Normally the diner has a seat yourself policy, but the attractive blonde woman with the backpack and dark sunglasses stood at the door, waiting. Her companion was large and furry, of the four-legged variety, and wearing a service dog harness. I figured she might need help finding a table, but before I could get to her, the dog tugged her along, guiding her between the booths along the windows and the tall chairs lining the counter to the last empty table in the diner. A table in my section.

As I made my way over to them, I couldn’t help but notice the dog wasn’t your typical service dog. He was huge, with a shaggy brown coat and long, floppy ears. Not the typical German Sheppard or Golden Retriever you’d expect in a service dog, I couldn’t begin to fathom what breed he was--somewhere between a wolf and the hound of the Baskervilles would be my best guess. But as I got closer, what I noticed the most was his eyes--one blue, one amber. They weren’t warm, scratch-me-behind-the-ears eyes, but intelligent and penetrating as he watched me approach, the kind that could see right through a person to their very soul.

Instead of resting on the floor by her feet like most guide dogs do, the hound padded around to the other side and jumped up to sit on the bench seat across from his mistress. The wolf-dog arched a furry eyebrow at me, as if waiting for me to comment on it, and I arched mine right back at him.

Okay, I mentally told him, you can stay there, as long as you don’t start licking things you shouldn’t. This is a family restaurant, buddy.

He cocked his head at me, and I could have sworn he smiled, but it was hard to tell through all that fur.

“What an interesting dog.”

The lady smiled. “Yes, he is.”

He angled a paw the size of a sledge hammer up and proceeded to scratch an itch on his neck just below the collar. Man, I sure hope he doesn’t have fleas.

“Not your usual breed for a service dog, is he?”

“No, he certainly isn’t.” She shook her head. “He’s special.”

“So, would you like me to tell you about our menu?” I made a mental note to suggest to Debralee that we should have some braille ones printed up.

“No thank you. Rex can pick for us.”

“Rex?”

“My dog.”

“Oh.”

I watched as the wolf-dog appeared to read the menu lying on the table before him, then he placed his mammoth paw on one column.

Not quite believing what I was seeing, I looked and read the item he seemed to be pointing to. “The double-decker cheeseburger?”

“Oh, Rex. Not again. You had a hamburger last night. How about something else?”

The dog whined, then did a big canine huff and glanced at the menu again, shifting his paw to another item.

“Roast beef?” I said, then looked at the woman. “Good choice. It’s one of our specialties.”

“Wonderful. We’ll take two. And a slice of blueberry pie for dessert, if you have it.”

“We sure do. Comin’ right up.”

I went to put their order in, but couldn’t help glancing over in their direction every now and then. The blonde carried on a one-sided conversation, but the dog appeared to listen intently to every word she spoke.

When Francesca called “order up,” I took their food over to them, setting a plate in front of her and then the dog. He wasted no time diving in, slurping up roast beef, gravy and mashed potatoes with a gusto that would do a Hoover vacuum cleaner proud. I was surprised he didn't belch afterwards.

No sooner had I left them to their dinner when I spied the lady scooting the pie over to the dog. He devoured it in three bites. Imagine that. I didn't know dogs liked pie.

After a while, I made my way over to check on them. “How’s everything?”

“Delicious.” The woman felt the face of her watch with her fingertips. “Oh, dear. Just look at the time. It’s almost sun set. We need to get going.”

I looked at the half-eaten meal on her plate. “Would you like a doggie bag?”

“No, thank you. I think he’s had enough. Could you point us in the direction of the restrooms?”

I did out of habit, belatedly realizing she could not see the motion. Rex jumped down off his seat and bumped his cold, wet nose against my leg before going around me to her side. The lady picked up her pack, scooted out of the booth, and she and the wolf-dog made their way to back.

I was just refilling a cup o’ joe for one of my regulars at the counter when the woman came out of the ladies room, followed by a tall, handsome man dressed in thigh-hugging jeans and a light blue button-down shirt, the cuffs rolled up to reveal strong, tanned forearms. He had dark, wavy hair and a face that could make a nun take a second look. But it was his eyes that had me nearly dropping the coffee pot. He had one blue one and one amber one. Just like the dog, which was now no where to be seen.

“The pie was excellent,” the man said as he paid the bill. “Blueberry is my favorite.”

I glanced from the empty booth, to the rest rooms, to the couple standing before me. “You were…and now you’re…”

“I told you he was special.” The lady tucked an errant lock of hair behind the man’s ear and he arched into her touch as if begging for more.

As they turned to leave, the man placed his hand at the small of her back, guiding her toward the door with loving care. He opened the door for her and she paused, turned back to me and smiled.

“While I may not be able to see…” She pulled down her dark glasses and winked at me with a cloudy, sightless eye. “I’m not blind.”

Amazing what a full moon can do.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Did anyone misplace a health inspector?

I found this little guy - Roscoe something - muttering about alternate dimensions and quarks, which you know I know nothing about. I put him in the staff break room, because he's talking in circles and drooling really bad and I don't have time to push him out the back door right now. If someone could take care of the poor man (you can do what you want), I'll get back to what I was working on.

I've been cleaning up the booths in front and I found some notes about an agent, Kristen Nelson. I'm trying to decipher them. Apparently, whoever was writing stuff down was eating the cherry pie AND drinking hot chocolate from the looks of the mess on these crumpled papers.

Here's what I've gotten so far, and it should help anyone who's doing pitch sessions in upcoming conferences/conventions:

For a 10-minute pitch session:
1. Plan on a two-minute pitch, then be prepared to ask and answer questions.

2. You don't have to memorize it; no one knows your story better than you, so just talk about it.

3. Use the back cover of a book for inspiration for your pitch.

4. Ask questions about the genre, the company they're with, the publishing industry or anything else you need to know.

5. Take a deep breath and be yourself. The pitch isn't life or death. Your writing will speak for itself.

There's more, and I'll continue to decipher, so just ignore me if you see me hunched over in my back booth. I've got to get the rest of the notes figured out... but first, I think I'll have a piece of cherry pie.

Don't forget to take care of Roscoe!
Jeannie

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Holding Out for a Hero


Holding Out for a Hero


35. A customer starts hitting on you big-time. Who is it, how do you feel about it, do they have an ulterior motive beyond your essential hotness, and what happens next?


"Hey, Cesca. There's a customer out here who'd like to talk to you." Jody leaned uncertainly against the door of the kitchen.

"What about?"

"Dunno. He said he wanted to talk to the cook. That's you."

"Great. Probably wants to bitch."

"Don't think negative. Maybe he wants to compliment the food."

Francesca raised her brow. "Ya think? Really?"

Jody grinned. "Better find out. And remember, be nice."

"Until it's time to not be nice?"

"Yeah."

Francesca nodded and took a deep breath, looking down to note the dusting of flour on her shirt. No time to clean up so he'd have to take her as he found her. She walked out into the nearly deserted diner.
She'd been winding down after the dinner rush and thought she was home-free. No such luck. She glanced at Jody, who pointed to a booth tucked back into a corner. As she rounded the back of the booth, she felt her stomach hit the floor and her throat close up. What the hell was he doing here?

He smiled. A perfect smile. A perfect smile to match his perfect blond hair and perfect blue eyes. He rose from the booth and bowed. Damn! From his gorgeous royal blue medieval tunic to his navy colored trews down to his black leather boots, he exuded confidence. And sex.

"My lady. A pleasure to see you again." He took her hand, turning it to press a kiss to the tender inner flesh of her wrist.

"Can't you leave me alone? Even for a little while?"

"Nay, my lady. You hold the key to my fate and happiness."

"But I'm busy right now."

"And I'm waiting. I've been waiting since you began with Eaduin. Finish with him and give me your time and attention. I deserve the happiness you've afforded him." He looked down at the ground, suddenly seeming uncertain in a boyish sort of way. "Don't I?" His soft voice tore at her heart. What was she going to do with him?

"Yes of course you do. But..."

"There are no buts, my lady. I must have your full attention. Enough of this sneaking about longing for more from you." He stepped forward and pulled Francesca close. "You hold my life in your hands. For pity's sake, end my waiting."

His mouth covered hers. Warm and wet. His hands stroked her body and excitement surged through her. She wanted to give in to him. Thoughts of him had plagued her for days...and nights. She could get started with him. Just make plans. Think about how to make him happy.

No. If she gave herself an inch, he'd take a mile. They always did. She had to follow one path at a time. None of this hopping from bed to bed and man to man. She wanted to make a commitment.

She pulled away from his warm embrace. "Your brother still needs me."

"Not if you write 'The End.' Just write it. Finish it."

"I can't."

"You can. Just go home tonight, sit down at your computer, and write the end of his damn book. You've written him pages and pages of hot sex. Meanwhile, I've gotten into bed with a servant wench. Once. Once in four hundred bloody pages!" Godwin Kempe paced, running his hands through his long blond hair. He whipped around to face her. "Do you know how much I ache?"

"Yes, I do. I ache too, you know. It's not easy to give away a hero you've fallen in love with to another woman."

He sighed, trying to appear contrite. "I know. Really. But I want my heroine and only you can give her to me. Please finish my brother's story and start mine. I'm counting on you, my lady. You're my only hope."

Godwin brushed her lips with his and disappeared.

"Who was he?"

Francesca turned to Jody. "My next hero. He's grumpy right now because I'm dawdling over ending his brother's story. He wants me to start his. In fact, he's rather insisting on it."

Jody grinned. "Naughty hero."

Francesca grinned back. "Yeah. I guess I'll just have to write some strong conflict with his heroine so he has to work for her. Work really hard. That'll teach him."
"Ah. A writer's revenge."

"Yes, and we all know revenge is a dish best served cold. It's a damn good thing I'm a very good cook."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sharpened Queens

Five…four…three…two…one…latched. Last customer out the door and gone. Hello four-day-weekend, and good-by fried onions! Cookie, I can’t wait to get out of here, go upstairs to my apartment and take a long hot bath. I’ve got the new Sue Monk Kidd novel in my bag and I mean to spend the evening lounging in my jammies with my feet propped up in front of the kitchen stove watching frozen dough turn itself into warm delectable dark chocolate chunk cookies.

Do you need more of those bundles?

Here, let me wash my hands again and I’ll help you roll the utensils into napkins for Monday. Ouch, darn, jammed my finger on a fork tine.

Hey Cookie, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.

Does the chess board only play with Milton Bradley plastic chess pieces or will any replacement brand do? With summer coming up I thought I’d look through rummage sales for a few games. Since the major pieces need replacing nearly every week, that must get expensive…uhm…Simon says relax, kiddo.

Has anyone ever watched the board on Wednesday nights? Do you know if it plays an entire game or do the queens just chop off most of the pieces’ heads and let some of the pawns go?

You have to stop drinking the coffee here Cookie, you’re buzzing like a mosquito in a mayo jar.

I’ll get more spoons.

You know I was a news reporter for the journal right? And one of my columns was a bi-weekly on our cities history? Well, most of my column came from research downtown. The library has a nice little section in the back, on how the city got started. Lots of documents, and letters and things. Did you know this was the first three-story building here in 1806? And the owners’ wife Louisa Frederickson was the co-founder of the suffragette movement in the city? And there were regular chess games in the Gentleman’s Smoking Club every Wednesday night? So, was this part of the building the Gentleman’s club?

Hey don’t leave! Alright, alright, I’ll stop asking questions if you calm down.

Why are you getting your knickers in a twist? So what if we have a chess set that likes to have a little game on Wednesday nights. I’m not blind you know. I noticed the Queens’ swords were sharpened even before I started work here.

I was just thinking that it must have been pretty lonely for Mr. Frederickson at home, because one of his letters to his son claims his wife went to visit her sister in Boston in 1812. She didn’t come back here, because Mr. Frederickson married again in 1821, after being granted a divorce on grounds of abandonment.

Funny thing is, in those days that kind of divorce could be granted only after a spouse was absent nine years. So, that means the Mrs. didn’t come back after 1812. Just out of curiosity I asked a connection of mine to run a search in the Boston census records for 1813, and the Mrs. isn’t there. In fact, she isn’t anywhere in Massachusetts in 1813.

Mr. Frederickson was above suspicion, being an up-standing member of the community. Lots of his money was in this town. His name is actually carved up on the bricks of this building, you know. He must have had a lot of friends.

No, that’s alright; you go ahead and go home. Have a nice holiday. Recover your nerves! I think I’ll stick around a little bit longer after all, maybe clean out the rest of the game cabinet. The Monopoly set could use a good sorting out.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A funny thing happened while you were on break. . .

Health inspector Roscoe Leaperwitz dropped by yesterday. He wanted a tour so I showed him around. He’s a pretty nice guy. Turns out, he’s going to be a best-selling author as soon as he can write his novel. It will be a cross between real life adventures like “Ghost Hunters,” and the world of “Cthulhu,” based on the writings of H. B. Lovecraft.

I suggested he read, “Bird by Bird,” because it could help him get his words flowing. I gave him my copy.

I thought everything was going really well but then we got to the walk-in cooler.

Roscoe went right to that weird, glowing green mold that runs up the wall at the back of the shelf containing frozen fish fillets and French fries. He got so excited he started to wheeze. He made me help him shove the shelves out of the way so he could examine the mold. I figured it would be okay because the mold’s not black and it certainly hasn’t affected the cockroaches.

Oh, yeah, the roaches did scurry around a bit when we moved the shelves, but Roscoe didn’t seem to mind.

He clapped his hands together and flushed red with excitement. “This is what I’m talking about! The intersection of our worlds. An aperture.”

“Huh?”

I looked away for a second. Maybe he wanted a date and I started figuring out how to turn him down.

When I glanced back, he’d drawn some symbols on the wall with his grease pencil.

He placed his hands on the glowing lines of mold and muttered something about a “monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space.”

The overhead light flickered and suddenly a green haze filled the freezer. I ran to switch by the door and flipped on the exhaust fan.

When the fog cleared, Roscoe was gone. I haven’t seen him since.

Can I get written up for that?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Too Many Kids Can Spoil the Pie

A customer comes in with a passel of kids and doesn't seem capable of restraining them. What havoc do they cause and what do the Diner employees do about it?

It was just another morning at the Otherworld Diner. Me in my lonely office filling out order forms for pie filling, Jody writing up the specials of the day, and Maggie refilling the coffee mugs of two midmorning regulars. Then she walked in. You could tell right away she was a mother, the enormous diaper bag, the wild look in the eyes, the five children she immediately started barking useless orders at, they were all a dead giveaway.

Only seconds passed before I heard it, the piercing wail of a toddler followed by a loud crash. I got up, arming myself with a loaded broom before venturing out into the disater area I had once called my diner. Jody was chasing a blond in pigtails out from behind the counter while Maggie had cornered twin redheads in matching overalls. Maggie has her own small passel and was using the only surefire method to capture a couple of wild boys. Two of Talia's glazed donuts and they followed her like she was the holy grail in an apron.

Just as I reached the far corner of the counter, I was ambushed by a screaming midget who grabbed my leg and hung on for dear life. This made walking difficult, but I had to get out there and help my staff. I dragged the leg along like a lead weight, knowing that I'd be paying the chiropractor good money before the day was over. I managed to limp my way to the mother, and watched as single tear slid down from her eye. The baby in her arms just cooed and giggled like nothing had happened. I guess ignorance is bliss.

She opened up her mouth and it was the same old story I'd heard a million times before. "They canceled school, just because the plumbing broke, they canceled the whole day."

I pulled the toddler off my leg and got her settled in a high chair. Maggie stashed the twins on one side of our longest booth, happily eating those donuts. The blond in pigtails was the real criminal. Her victim? The only Boston Creme Pie we had left. Jody led her over to the table and she gave me the defiant stare from those cool blue eyes. Absolutely no remorse.

"I'm five, and today is my birthday!"

So what are you gonna do? Maggie made her a hot fudge sundae and we all sang the same old song.

After lunch they were gone and I finally got the chance to breathe. As I returned to the safety of my office I heard Jody whispering to Maggie. "If they come in again you just tell them you never saw me because I'm running our the back door." Not a bad idea if you ask the likes of me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Diner Prompt #38

Premise: You unlock the Diner first thing in the
morning and discover an individual inside who isn't supposed to be there. Who is there and what are they doing?


Talia Pente stood outside the back door of The Otherworld Diner and enjoyed the early morning quiet. This was her favorite time of day: 3 AM. The marathon beer pong tournaments were over with the respective winners and losers crawling home to sleep it off or pay private homage to the great porcelain god and quiet, finally reigned.

She slipped her key into the lock as the last notes of karaoke faded on the cool morning breeze. Indulging in a deep breath, Talia savored this solitary time. She turned the key and stepped into her private sanctuary where nothing more was asked of her than to measure simple ingredients, mix them to specifications and bake them with loving attention. No whining from the spoiled and powerful rich who demanded the opulent and outrageous simply because they could. No, here at the diner the clientele were decidedly common. A good thing since Talia was common, too. She’d been reminded of it enough in her lifetime.

Her co-workers were hard-working and asked few questions when they did chance to see her. Bakery work needed completion long before the first patron pushed open the front door. That suited Talia just fine.

She flipped on the light.

“What the---?”

Cabinet doors hung at odd angles like broken limbs, revealing insides of toppled and battered cans. Dry goods bled sugar and cornmeal from gashed plastic bags. Overturned pots, smashed eggs and volcanoes of flour littered the floor like a culinary battlefield. The smell of vanilla—priceless Madagascar vanilla, no less—hung in the air heavier than LA smog setting her stomach churning like a Waring blender on high.

She dropped her purse and ran to save the last drops of precious extract when she caught a flicker of movement in her peripheral vision. On reflex her hand shot out, snagging the end—a tail end.

"Gaaaxxx!!! Too much light!! Meez eyes! Ack! Ack! Ack! I's spitz at youse!" The blinded dragonette snapped and hissed but since Talia had a firm grip on his tail and he was only the size of a ferret, she skipped th whole fear-for-her-life thing. Instead, she gave him a firm shake that sent his jagged teeth chattering.

"Don't even think it, buster. I'll put you down, but I want a damn good explanation for all this, got it?"

He nodded, going limp as she set him on the counter.

“Grim, what in the name of the stars are you doing here? I haven't seen you since...well, in along time."

A loud, snotty sniffle was the dragonette's answer.

"Grim?"

The young dragon scrambled into a sitting position and turned his huge, round eyes the color of Bermuda waters to hers.

Talia felt her anger fade. She was just a sucker for dragons. Especially this one. No doubt his owner lost him yet again. But when a small sob broke from her diminutive captive, she wondered.

"Tali, my faultz. Mine!" Grim blubblered.

"What are you talking about?"

"Helpz him, Tali. For me, pleeze?"

The niggle of panic she felt exploded into a firestorm of fear. "Logan?"

"He hurtz, Tali."

"Show me. Now."

Grim took a flying leap off the counter, glided under the pass-thru and out to the booths. Talia followed, not daring to breathe

:)

Talia ( who may be posting a part deux, maybe??)
 
ja