Tag Archives: Wedding Bell Blues

Pen names – do you or don’t you?

Those of you who have followed my posts on Mad Genius Club, know that I’m one of those writers who got started rather late in life. It’s not that I wasn’t writing. I’ve written stories for as long as I’ve known how to write.  If it weren’t for Sarah, I’d probably still be happily writing my stories and then shoving them in a desk drawer or under my bed. But she somehow convinced me one day to email her something I’d written. From that moment on, she became my mentor and sometimes my tormentor as she pushed me not only to write but to start submitting my work to agents and publishers. Then, when Amazon – followed by the other major e-tailers – opened up to sales from small presses and self-published authors, she convinced me to not only start working for Naked Reader Press but to submit my work to NRP for consideration.

Believe me, even though I work for NRP, I don’t get any special consideration. Not only does Sarah read and edit my work, but Kate has been tagged to be the first line. If it doesn’t meet Kate’s standards, it doesn’t go any further in the process without me fixing whatever was wrong.

But back to the story.

About a year or so after Sarah started beating me about the head and shoulders to 1) submit my writing to publishers and agents and 2) to quit having bonfires with my rough drafts (and I still haven’t forgiven her for that. Bonfires are nice. Fire good) the two of us attended the national RWA convention in San Francisco. I enjoyed many of the seminars, talked with a lot of authors and got a lot of pointers. I also picked up all the free books I could. And, believe you me, many of them were so bad that I knew I could do better.

So, while Sarah was off with her then agent attending parties or meetings, I holed up in our room and wrote.

I never meant to actually finish the story. I most certainly never meant to let Sarah, or anyone else for that matter, see it. Little did I know that the story had other plans.

A month later, I had a 90k word novel. Worse, Sarah had walked in on me while we were still in San Francisco and caught me writing. So she kept asking how the book was going. How long until it was finished? This is when I discovered she had a warped sense of humor. She was actually enjoying tormenting me about this book, this romantic suspense book – a genre a very rarely read, that had taken over my brain.

That’s when I made my second mistake. I told Sarah I’d finished it. I should have known that she’d want to read it. She did. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She didn’t care that I’d not written the novel for public consumption. She said things like, “you are your own worst critic,” and “you aren’t allowed to have a bonfire.” So, I gave in. The pressure was too much and I sent it to her – and to Kate who she had roped into the conspiracy to drive me insane.

Not too long after that, I had messages from both of them. They liked it. I’ll admit, I looked at the AIM windows and wondered when the aliens had taken over the bodies and minds of two women I liked as friends and who I respected as writers. They came back with a few suggestions on how to improve the book and I was convinced that meant it wasn’t worth the electrons it was digitally printed on.

Around this same time NRP came into existence and Sarah was already reading the writing on the wall about a lot of legacy publishing. She told me that she wanted the novel for NRP. She did her best to convince me that readers would like it. I wanted to know why she wasn’t sharing the good booze she was obviously drinking.

Okay, there was one other consideration back then. There was still a very large and ugly stigma to self-publishing or small press publishing, at least in the eyes of agents and publishers. So, a pen name, if I agreed to publish the novel, made sense.

We went back and forth about it for awhile. You see, here’s the issue. The book is fluff. Pure and simple fluff. It wasn’t like anything else I’d ever written. It was almost as if someone else had taken over my brain and my hands and written it while I looked on.

But it was more than that. I didn’t want that to be my first book. I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed as a romance writer (not that there is anything wrong with that. It just wasn’t what I saw myself being back then). So Sarah of the many pen names came up with a solution. Without batting an eye, she asked why I didn’t release it under another name.

I still wasn’t convinced but I’d promised long ago to listen to her advice as my mentor. Plus, what was the harm? If it was a closed pen name, no one would know it was me. I could release the book and then, when the sales tanked, I’d be able to tell Sarah “I told you so” and go back to writing what I wanted to.

Fate’s sometimes a fickle bitch. And she most certainly was this time. It took awhile but the book sold and sold well. Even now, after being out for several years, it continues to sell. Some months it is only a few copies and others it is much more. More than enough to make me reluctantly admit that Sarah had been right.

But I let the pen name sit. Oh, I put out a couple of short stories under it but no more novels. After all, that wasn’t me. I didn’t naturally write romance or romantic suspense, much less rom/susp with humor.

Enter Sarah again about a year ago. I’d hit a spot where I was having a hard time getting into any writing project. I’d tried different things and all I wound up with was a lot of starts and stops. Nothing seemed to gel. Finally, probably out of frustration because I kept whining at her, Sarah threw down a challenge. I had no problem writing the Nocturnal Lives series. So, since paranormal romance was the hot thing, she told me to write a PNR.

I knew she’d lost her mind. There could be no other explanation. Me? Write paranormal romance? No way. Absolutely no way. Unfortunately, my muse, evil bitch that she is, had other ideas. Over the next few weeks, a seed of a story took hold. Before I knew what was happening, the book was written. And, you guessed it, Sarah and Kate liked it and Sarah said NRP was going to put it out. No ifs, ands or buts. It was going to happen. But, since it was PNR and not Urban Fantasy like the Nocturnal Lives series, she suggested I bring it out under the pen name. I jumped at the chance to use the pen name because, yet again, a book had come out of me that I swear I hadn’t written.

That book, just like the romantic suspense before it, sold and sold well. Both have individually paid me more than I’d have gotten in advances from a legacy publisher. The second book in what is now an ongoing series is going to do the same, given time. That’s not something I can sneeze at.

For the last few weeks, as I finished Nocturnal Interlude and started preparing to work on my next project, I started thinking about why I’ve kept the pen name closely held for so long. I can no longer deny the fact that I write romance of different flavors, maybe not as easily as I do urban fantasy, but I write it. Looking back at Nocturnal Serenade and, more recently, Nocturnal Interlude, I see some of the traits of the pen name starting to bleed into those novels. No, they aren’t PNR – heaven forbid – but there is some romance. More than that, the plots are getting tighter and the pacing is better. At least I think so.

Over the last week or so, I’ve had several conversations with Sarah about whether or not it was time to come out of the pen name closet. I talked with Kate about it and even drew Cedar into the conversation. So, long story somewhat short, and with Sarah’s approval – heck, she’s actually kicking me out into public and slamming the door behind me – it’s time to stop hiding behind the pen name.

So, let me introduce myself. My name is Amanda S. Green. But I also write under the name of Ellie Ferguson. The name is a mixture of family names. Ellie was my great-great-grandmother on my mother’s father’s side of the family. Ferguson was the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother on Mom’s mother’s side of the family. Both are names I’ve grown up knowing all my life and together they have been a name I could be comfortable with.

Why, you might ask, am I finally revealing this? Because it’s time. By not being open with the pen name, I’ve been running the risk of losing readers who like the Nocturnal Lives series but who would like more romance with their shapeshifter stories. The same thing goes for those who have enjoyed the Hunter’s Moon series. There may be some of those readers who like mystery and police procedurals mixed with shapeshifter stories.

There is it. My secret is out and now I can’t hide. At least not unless I run faster than Sarah. (Looks around for a really good hiding place. Sighs. She’d find me. She always finds me.) I might not be completely comfortable about this, but it is time.

Welcome to my world and please no more pen names to hide behind because I have enough genres running through my head already.

You can find Ellie’s Amazon page here.

My Amazon page is here. (and I am working to get the pages merged.)

 

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Filling in . . .

Let me start by letting you know that I received an SOS from Amanda earlier this morning. There was something about it being morning, no coffee and and a raging headache. Let’s just say she wasn’t a happy camper. So, since I happened to be up — sort of — and, as she said, looking for ways to promote my latest book, she asked me to fill in. She did ask me to say she would be posting her thoughts on the YA article she linked to earlier in the week just as soon as she’s online again.

Anyway. . . .

If you guys hadn’t figured it out, I’m pretty new at this writer business. I’d tried some years ago to do it the old-fashioned way. I sent queries out to agents and publishers and got the usual canned responses. Since I didn’t know any better, and since my family didn’t look at writing as a “real” profession, I quit trying to break in and left my writing for my therapy. (Come on, I can’t be the only one who is in a better mental space when I’m writing than when I’m not.) Considering the fact that our family tree is populated with journalists, the attitude sort of surprised me but then I guess there is a difference between journalism and fiction writer (well, there used to be, but I won’t go into my opinion of most so-called journalists these days).

So, I acted like an adult and got a “real” job. Let me tell you, being an adult isn’t as much fun as folks want you to believe, at least not if you aren’t doing the job you want to do. Now, I’m not talking about wanting to be a racecar driver or pro ball player and you don’t have the talent or reflexes for both. No, I’m talking about when you have the need to do something and you choose not to for whatever reason. For me, the need was to write and I made the choice not to because of family pressure and, to be honest, the fact that I do like to eat regularly and have a roof over my head.

Then the day finally came when I realized that the publishing business had changed. Or maybe I’d just changed. I didn’t really care if my work came out from a BIG publisher. What I wanted to do was write and get my work out there for the readers to find. As sure as I’m owned by a mass of cats and dogs, no one was going to read my work with it stashed under my bed. So I started looking at what my options were and finally decided to go with Naked Reader Press — if they’d have me.

I was lucky. They not only wanted me but one of the first novels NRP put out was my romantic suspense Wedding Bell Blues. I knew even then that Sarah and Amanda and company were using WBB as a test case. If it did well, they’d want more from me. Fortunately, it did do well enough for them to ask for something else. There’s nothing like getting that call from your editor telling you that they want to see another novel from you.

Of course, this being Sarah, nothing is ever as easy as it seems. She wanted another novel, but she wanted me to try my hand at something a little different. Paranormal Romance was selling well. She wanted to see me making money, hopefully lots of it, and she’s a business woman. If I made lots of money, NRP would also make money. So, hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

I’ll admit, I fought it. I had never read a paranormal romance at that point. What I’d heard of them didn’t endear them to me. I like a book with a good plot and characters folks can relate to (even if one reviewer of WBB doesn’t believe a doctor can obsess about her daughters getting married). Writing a book that was just a series of sex scenes tied loosely together with an improbable plot didn’t appeal to me.

But, NRP wanted a book and I wanted to deliver one. So I started reading paranormal romance to see what I might be getting myself into. Some were good. A few were very good and a great many were downright porn. Then, in the course of all the reading, I realized I could write my kind of book and still call it paranormal romance. Sure, it wouldn’t have as much sex as some folks would expect and others would be put off by the sex it did have in it. But I’d learned one lesson very quickly with WBB: you are never going to please everyone who reads your book.

huntednewcoverSo, I sat down and started writing. Hunted was the result. To my surprise, it did well. Sarah — damn her — had been right. Paranormal romance does sell. What she didn’t warn me about was that the characters are LOUD and even more DEMANDING. They don’t want to let my fingers leave the keyboard any more than they are willing to let me try to write anything but stories set in their universe. Which is probably a good thing since Sarah, grinning like the evil woman she is, told me that I needed to write the second book in the Hunter’s Moon series ASAP in order to take advantage of how well Hunted was doing.

HUNTERSDUTYAnd that’s where Hunter’s Duty ( formerly known as Blood Moon and, in my less affectionate times kimchee junior) comes in. It’s the second book in the series — and, yes, the third book is already demanding to be written. Of course, being me, I’m trying to hold off as we wait and see what the sales for this book will be. Not that it is keeping my muse quiet. Oh no. SHE assures me the sales will be just fine and that I need to get started on Hunter’s Pride. Yes, she’s already given the book a title and has told me the basic plot.

Sigh.

So, here comes the push. You knew there had to be a push, right? Check my books out. Think of it this way. The more books I sell, the more Sarah gets to tell me, “I told you so.” That makes her happy and a happy Sarah is a Sarah who writes more. So, in a way, by buying my books you are also making sure Sarah writes more books for you to buy. See, it’s a win-win situation 😉

Seriously, I suck at this promotion stuff. Most writers do. So, if you’d like to see a sample of Hunted you can find it here.

You can find a sample of Hunter’s Pride here.

As for the rest of it, don’t keep shoving work under your bed or in the closet. Find yourself a good editor and then get it out there. We’re so lucky as writers to have so many different options for making our work available. Do your homework and choose which works best for you. But, if you have the need to write, write. There can never be too many stories.

 

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When stories run amuk

huntedcover

by Ellie Ferguson

Let me start by thanking Sarah for asking me to blog today. She’s had to listen to me almost as much as Amanda and Kate have as I’ve angsted over my last two books. Hunted, the first book in my new Hunter’s Moon series, wasn’t a book I ever meant to write. In fact, I was almost half way through a nice cozy mystery when the plot for Hunted hit me. It was like I’d been struck over the head, dragged to my desk and tied to my chair and threatened not to have any coffee or chocolate or good scotch until I wrote the book. Fortunately for my sweet tooth — I have to have my chocolate — the plot was so strong, the characters so there that it didn’t take long to write the book.

So, I wrote my first paranormal romance. It was a departure, of sorts, for me. My first novel, also from Naked Reader Press, was Wedding Bell Blues, a romantic suspense novel. I had a lot of fun writing it but even that wasn’t what I saw myself writing. In my mind, I’m a cozy mystery writer. Oh, I might add in a nice suspense novel here and there, but mystery is what called to me. The only problem with that is no one told my muse.

It seems my subconscious had been leading up to Hunted. One of my two short stories is an urban fantasy. The other one is a fantasy of sorts. And then, when I wasn’t looking, I was hit by Hunted that demanded not only that it have the urban fantasy elements but also the romance, hence paranormal romance.

Still, as I finished the novel and sent it off to first my beta readers and then to Sarah for editing, I tried convincing myself that Hunted was a one off. It wasn’t going to be a series. Oh no. It was a lark and now I could go back to what I really wanted to write. Silly me. First, Sarah told me that I wasn’t done with the universe. Then, as if just waiting for her to give it permission to come storming back, the universe overtook me again and the second book in what is now, I guess, a series hit me right between the metaphorical eyes.

Like Hunted, Blood Moon (working title) looks to be a quicker write than a lot of my other work. Also like Hunted, it has its own form of torturing me. I’m a plotter. It’s something Sarah has tried to break me of because I try to plot out every little detail. She says it’s because I don’t trust myself as a writer yet. Me, I say it’s because I want to know what’s happening BEFORE it appears on the screen in front of me. It can be very embarrassing if your child — or worse, your parent — is looking over your shoulder and you are suddenly writing a hot and heavy sex scene and haven’t realized it.

At least Hunted let me do some plotting ahead of time. I generally knew what was going to happen from chapter to chapter. Oh, it threw me for a loop from time to time, but not like this one. Blood Moon tells me I can plot out the next chapter. Then it lets me write the chapter according to my notes. Then, as I sleep, my muse — who is an evil muse I’m beginning to think — changes the chapter and I wake up having to completely rewrite the chapter. Rinse and repeat each day.

That is so very different from my normal writing style that I’m afraid I may be driving Kate and Sarah insane with snippets and needy emails wanting reassurance. They have assured me it’s good so far and remind me that I went through this same sort of lack of confidence about Hunted which has turned out to be, by far, my most successful title to date. As for Amanda, well, she has threatened to hurt me if I don’t quit whining and just finish writing the thing.

All this is, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, a way of hopefully enticing you to go check out Hunted. I’ve linked to the Amazon page for it, but you can find it on iTunes, All Romance E-books, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and more. It will also be available in print in the next few weeks. Yes, I’m doing the happy dance — like so many, actually holding a printed book of mine makes it real even though I know an e-book is just as real as a printed. It’s just that I’m old-fashioned that way.

Here’s the opening scene for Blood Moon, due out the end of summer. I hope you enjoy!

*     *     *

“Lady, I said to hold still!”

The cop, who looked all of thirteen, held me against the hood of his squad car and finished cuffing my hands behind my back. As he did, lightning flashed overhead. I turned my head and stared down the alley, praying it had just been my imagination, that I hadn’t seen movement in the dark shadows. Damn my bad luck and the cop’s even worse timing. If only he’d been a few minutes later, I’d have finished the job and been well away from here.

Don’t get me wrong. Under different circumstances, and most definitely with a different partner, I might have actually enjoyed being cuffed. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of role-playing between two consenting adults. But neither of us were playing and I most certainly wasn’t consenting – at least not in that way.

Hell, all I wanted to do was survive the next few minutes and the possibility of that happening grew smaller with each passing moment.

God, I hate my job sometimes.

With the cop’s forearm still holding me against the hood of his car, I blinked through the rain and sniffed. Nothing. Not that I really expected anything different. The wind had shifted again, blowing toward the alley. That, along with the cop’s fear and the smells of the car engine, made it almost impossible to scent my prey. Not good, not good at all.

Still, there was one small blessing. The cop was human. That meant the stench of death clinging to me didn’t call out to him. He couldn’t smell its foul odor any more than he could read my mind. Fortunately, science hasn’t progressed that far. The last thing I needed was some gung-ho cop mucking about in my mind, especially considering my activities of the last half hour.

The dark of night combined with the rain also helped. It kept him from seeing any blood that might have splashed on me during the kill, just as it kept him from seeing the bruises that marked my face. Nor could he see the way my jeans were torn at the left thigh where the feral managed to get in one good bite before I’d slit its throat. Both the bruises and the bite would heal soon enough. What worried me was what forensics might reveal should the cops decide to check my clothes or do too close of an examination of the alley.

Well, I’d worry about that later – assuming there was a later.

“Look, officer.” I tugged ineffectually at the cuffs and then tried to straighten, only to be slammed back against the hood. The sharp, bitter taste of blood filled my mouth and I spat, sorry the rain would wash the results from the hood. Damn it, this was getting old fast.

A clap of thunder sounded overhead, rattling the windows in nearby buildings and drowning out anything he might have said. Unfortunately, it also drowned out any sounds that might have come from the alley. The alley I could barely see as the rain beat down even harder. By the time I saw anyone, or anything, emerge from the shadows, it would be too late.

I’ve always known death would come for me one day, but I’d planned to meet it head-on, fighting. I wasn’t one to “go gently into the night.” Now it looked like I’d meet it head-on, but there’d be little I could do about it.

Lightning streaked across the sky, followed almost instantly by a clap of thunder. The storm was right on top of us and didn’t seem to be moving anywhere fast. I sensed more than felt the cop fumbling with his radio. Taking advantage of his inattention, I twisted slightly, sliding out from under his restraining arm. Before he could react, and probably shoot me for trying to escape, I turned and straightened. But I didn’t move away from the squad car. Instead, I planted my butt against the fender and stood there, looking to my left, never taking my attention from the alley.

Another flash of lightning – damn, Mother Nature was pissed about something tonight – and the shadows near the mouth of the alley shifted. My breath caught and I fought the urge to move. The instincts born of a hunter tried to force me toward the alley, toward my prey. Common sense and a strong desire to survive stopped me. Even so, my wrists strained against the cuffs. My heart pounded. Fear, stronger than any I’d felt in a very long time filled me. Like this, I was helpless and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Wasn’t it enough I’d been forced to kill that night? Did I have to die as well?

“Damn it, lady, I told you not to move!”

The cop’s voice cracked as he dropped his radio and fumbled at his hip for his gun. If the situation wasn’t so serious, it might actually be funny. Maybe it would be in a decade or two. But for now, it was deadly serious and even more dangerous.

Praying I wasn’t making a fatal mistake, I tore my attention from the shadows shrouding the alley and focused on the cop. Maybe he really was as young and inexperienced as he looked. The way the hand holding his gun shook seemed proof of it. So did the fact he hadn’t secured me in the squad car while he checked the alley. He might not have told me what he thought he’d seen me do, but I could make a pretty good guess.

At least if he’d followed standard procedure, I’d be out of the rain. Instead, he had me standing there in the rain, cuffed like a common criminal.

Believe me, I might be many things but common I’m not and that’s something he’d soon discover if he didn’t get us out of there.

I waited, expecting Volk to appear from the shadows at any moment. He’d already surprised me once tonight and it had come close to costing me my life. He might still succeed, thanks to the cop. At least I’d had the satisfaction of knowing I’d dealt with one of Volk’s ferals before everything went to hell. But damn it, Volk had already cost us so much. How many more would die before we managed to kill him and contain the rest of his followers?

I closed my eyes and fought for control. My hunter wanted out. She knew the danger we were in and railed against it. She knew how to deal with this foolish human and she knew how to deal with Volk. All I had to do was release control and let her loose.

Part of me wanted to do just that. God, how I wanted to. But cuffed as I was, it would be beyond foolish. I couldn’t shift with my arms secured behind me. At the very least, my shoulders, and probably elbows and wrists, would be dislocated in the shift. More likely, they’d be broken. Neither result would heal quickly. Besides, Hollywood had a number of things wrong about our kind, not the least of which was the process of shifting between human and animal. It wasn’t quick, nor was it painless. I had no doubts that before the shift was over, the cop would have put a bullet in my brain and that would seriously suck.

The sound of leather scraping against the pavement seemed to fill the air even though the cop gave no indication he’d heard it. My eyes snapped open and I once more focused on the shadows down the alley. I tensed, ready for flight. I’d risk a bullet in the back to facing Volk with my hands cuffed behind me.

Death was close. I could feel it. How long would it toy with me before finally striking?

A moment – or an eternity – later, I exhaled slowly. Whether I shivered from the cold or relief, I didn’t know and it really didn’t matter. But my guess was on relief. After all, no monsters – human or shifter – had emerged from the shadows. Better yet, I was still alive. Maybe my luck was improving. I doubted it, but one can always hope.

Not that I was about to relax just yet. I knew Volk. I’d been tracking him for more than a month now. I’d seen what he could do and knew he wouldn’t hesitate to send one of the ferals in first to distract the cop so he could personally deal with me. Fear once again licked at the edges of my self-control and I fought it down. I had to stay calm and I had to figure out some way to convince Officer Do-Good to get us the hell out of there.

Most nights, the last place I wanted to be was a jail cell. Right now, however, the thought of being safely locked behind solid walls and strong bars sounded very, very inviting.

“Look, officer,” I began again as the sounds of a distant siren reached me. It wouldn’t be long before others joined us. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. “I don’t know what you think I did or who you think I might be, but I was just out for a walk. You’ll find my ID and motel key in my back pocket if you’d just look.” I let a hint of frustration creep into my voice. He’d expect it and God knows I certainly felt it.

“Lady, I read you your rights. I suggest you exercise the right to remain silent, because there is no way you were out for just a walk. I saw what you did!”

Great, just great. My luck was running true to form. I’d been stopped by Billy the Boy Scout, always true to duty. I’d lay odds he was one of those who always believed what he saw, no matter what the truth might be. Hell, with my luck, he also believed everything printed in the paper or reported on TV because the media would never lie or show bias.

Well, if he wasn’t careful, I’d shatter all his illusions. It was bad enough he’d cuffed me and hadn’t followed procedure by securing me in the squad car before securing the scene, something that might just keep us both alive a bit longer. The fact Volk still lingered in the area only made matters worse. When the wind had shifted a moment earlier, I’d caught the scent of him: that foul, carrion-like scent I’d learned to associate with him long ago. I’d felt his amusement in that moment. I’d become the mouse to his cat, most definitely not a position I enjoyed. If Officer Do-Good didn’t do something soon, I would because I did not want to die in this back alley.

No more than five minutes could have passed from the time the cop had cuffed me and his back-up arrived, but it had been five of the longest minutes of my life. In that time I’d gone from anger and frustration at being interrupted before I could finish dealing with Volk to bone-chilling fear and I’d had just about enough. The only thing keeping me from doing something that might be exceedingly foolish was the thought of how it wouldn’t accomplish anything but cause more trouble, trouble no one would thank me for.

I dipped my head and tried to wipe the rain from my eyes with my shoulder – Have I said I hate being cuffed?  It’s damned inconvenient – Then I turned my attention to the car now parked behind the squad car. Interesting, it wasn’t a marked unit.  Instead, it was a black SUV. To the untrained eye, it looked like any of a number of other SUVs on the market these days. But I didn’t have an untrained eye. I saw the reinforced bumpers and other special after-market add-ons that told me it had to belong to one of Coyote Springs’ detectives.

The driver’s door opened and a man stepped out, a very tall man. A man who, the the quick flash of lightning, looked like he was as much at home in a gym as he was patrolling the streets. He wore black slacks, black shirt and a DSPD windbreaker.  His shield hung from a chain around his neck.  He paused long enough to frown up at the rain before closing the distance between him and the uniformed officer in long, quick strides.

Then the wind shifted again and every instinct was once more on alert. The scent of the newcomer was more heady than the most expensive cologne. My other self, the white tiger that had been fighting for release, pressed once more against my control as she recognized one of our own. This newcomer, this mountain of a man, smelled of the grasslands. Whether that was good or not had yet to be seen. Like the normals, shape-changers have their bad seeds.

God, I hoped he really was one of the good guys.

At least he looked like he knew what he was doing as he looked first at me, his eyes sliding over me before he focused on the deeper shadows of the alley. Nothing about his expression or the way he held himself betrayed his thoughts. Surely he’d realized what I was. It was possible he hadn’t and, if that was the case, I didn’t want to call attention to my true nature. So I reasserted my control over my tiger and prayed the newcomer got us far away from the alley and soon.

Instead, he turned his attention to the uniformed officer and motioned for the younger man to join him. After a quick warning for me to stay where I was, the young cop complied. I leaned against the fender of the squad car, wondering what was going to happen next and not liking how they kept me standing there, wet and cold, while they talked.  I strained to hear what they said but couldn’t quite make it out.  There was something about “patrol”, “flash”, and “blood” and that was all.  Nothing I hadn’t expected.

“Did you find anything when you searched her?” the newcomer asked, turning to look at me with the jaundiced eye of a cop who’d been on the streets long enough to know just how fatal it can be to take anything for granted.  “You did search her, didn’t you?”

“No, sir.”  In the light form the head lamps, I could see the uniform swallow nervously.  “I secured her and figured it best to wait for back-up before doing anything else.”

Oh my gods, he was worried I’d yell sexual harassment? Give me strength.

“Please tell me you at least secured the scene.”

“N-no, Chief Kincade.  I didn’t think I should leave her unattended.”

For a moment, Kincade said nothing.  I’m not sure he could.  Frustration and disbelief radiated from him.  In the light from the two cars, I saw how his right hand fisted at his side.  I might be the one cuffed, but Officer Do-Good was the one in real trouble.  Not that I had much sympathy for him just then.

Kincade took another step forward until he was standing almost nose to nose with the uniform.  “Let me get this straight, Officer Snyder.  You arrested this woman you say you saw kill someone.  You cuffed her and I assume you read her her rights.”  Officer Snyder gave a jerky nod.  “But you didn’t search her and you didn’t secure the scene, even though it’s raining and any evidence there might be is being washed away.  Worse, you didn’t check to see if there might be someone in need of medical attention further down the alley.  Nor did you check to see if she might have an accomplice hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shoot you and free her.”

“I-I—“

“Stay here.”

With that, Kincade moved to stand before me. His left hand closed around my left arm and he gave a slight tug, just enough to let me know he wanted me to come with him. Since he was moving toward his SUV and not the shadows of the alley, I was happy to oblige. Not only would the SUV keep the rain off of me, it would offer some protection against Volk should he still be nearby and decide to strike.

“Lean back,” Kincade said after helping me into the back seat.

I did as he said and watched as he secured the seat belt across my waist. He cinched it tight and then gave it a tug to make sure it wouldn’t loosen. Then he bent. Before I could react, much less ask what he was doing, he shackled my ankles, the short chain running through a metal loop in the floor.

He straightened and quickly glanced over his shoulder to where Snyder stood looking miserable as the rain continued to beat down on him. “I don’t know who you are, lady, but I know what you are. I also smell the blood on you. As soon as I check the alley and make sure you haven’t left me a mess I can’t explain away, we are going to have a chat. What you tell me will determine whether you go to jail and get to call your lawyer or you go straight to my clan leader to explain why you’re hunting in his territory without permission.”

Mouth suddenly dry, all I could do was nod. He gave me a long look before slamming the door, locking me inside the SUV. I might be dry, but I might just be in more trouble than I’d been in before. Hunting in another clan’s territory without permission from the local clan leader could a capital offense. My own alpha had assured me he’d see to it my way was cleared wherever my hunt took me.

But if he hadn’t, facing Volk might actually be the lesser of two evils. It wasn’t long before Kincade emerged from the shadows.  Relief filled me — well, relief and a touch of worry — and I watched as he once more approached Snyder.  It was easy to see that Kincade hadn’t found anything to substantiate what Snyder had reported, not that that helped me. Kincade had smelled the blood on me. As a shape-changer, he’d know it was the blood of one of our kind. Hopefully, he’d remember to tell his alpha that. Killing one of our own kind was a serious offense but not the automatic death sentence hunting a normal would bring down on me. Still, I was relieved he hadn’t come across Volk. Hopefully, he’d be able to convince Snyder he’d made a mistake and I had done nothing wrong. Then, if my luck continued to hold, he’d call his alpha and find out I was authorized to be in their territory and they weren’t to interfere with my hunt. If that happened, and I knew it was a very big if, I’d soon return to the hunt.

At least for the moment, I didn’t have to worry about becoming Volk’s next victim.

Kincade said something to Snyder that had the uniform hunching his shoulders and staring at his feet like a kid getting a very effective dressing down.  Then Kincade nodded to the squad car, the implication clear. He stood there, watching as Snyder moved slowly away from him, feet dragging through the water. Part of me felt sorry for the kid. He’d had the misfortune of stumbling upon something he wasn’t prepared to believe in, much less understand. Then he’d been dressed down by his boss. My night might have sucked, but it had been even worse for Officer Snyder.

“We both got lucky,” Kincade said as he slid in behind the steering wheel. “The rain washed away the most obvious evidence of what you were doing in that alley and whoever else was with you or your target got the body away before anyone else could see it.” He slid the key in the ignition and a moment later we drove off with a squeal of tires. “But you are a problem I have to deal with. Name and clan?” The last was snapped out and I knew better than to keep quiet.

“Maggie Thrasher, Kansas clan, Wichita pride.”

He nodded but said nothing else. Instead, he radioed into Dispatch that he was transporting the suspect to County. My heart beat a bit faster. Surely he wasn’t really going to do that. County jail meant not only fingerprinting me and taking my photo. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, it meant the cops could — and, with my luck, would — take a DNA sample from me. That was one of our kinds’ biggest fears. Modern science had finally advanced to the point where it was quite possible some overly-ambitious lab tech would spot the difference in our DNA from normal human DNA. Once that happened, our secret would be out and none of us wanted to risk the panic that was sure to follow.

Shape-changers might be stronger than normals and much more difficult to kill, but we also were in the vast minority. That’s why we have always done our best not to let our existence be known. We’ve seen what fear can do to people. We’ve seen it in our own kind when a new shifter form suddenly appears. If our existence became public knowledge without the right groundwork being laid, there would be bloodshed and too many on both sides would die.

“Where are we going?” Did he hear the worry in my voice?

“To see my alpha. He’ll either tell me you are cleared to be here or he won’t. For your sake, you’d better hope you’ve told me the truth and he knows why you’re here and has approved it. We had trouble with hunters coming here without permission last year and trying to take his mate against her will. He won’t take kindly to another hunter coming here without prior approval.”

I swallowed once, mouth tight, as memory of my own clan leader telling us about his visit to the Texas clan and the reasons for it. I’d known then that Declan hadn’t told us everything. There were gaps in the story about how the clan leader for the Northern California clan had hunted for a female shape-changer for years, ever since she’d spurned his advances as a fifteen year old after her parents’ deaths. He’d somehow discovered she was living in the Dallas area and had sent hunters after her, without notifying the Texas clan leader of their presence, much less getting his permission for them to be there.

But there was one thing I remembered very clearly from that night. When Declan told us the names of the clan leader and his new mate, I’d been stunned. Not by the fact the Northern California clan leader had died in a fight with the female alpha of the Texas clan. Not even by the fact the Californian had tried to kill the Texas clan leader. No, I’d been shocked by the identity of the female alpha. I’d never met her, but I’d heard about her all my life. She’d been my older sister’s friend during the summers when Eileen would visit our grandparents in Oklahoma.

With that came memory of the clan leader’s name. Kincade. Obviously Chief Kincade was some sort of relative. Whether that was good or not, I didn’t know. I just hoped the clan leader and his mate were morning people. Unless I was very wrong, we’d be at their place long before the sun was up. Then I’d have to hope Declan had done as he’d promised and filled the alpha in on my mission and why it was so important I be allowed to work in the Texas territory. If not, well, Volk would be the least of my worries.

And I still hadn’t had any coffee.

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The Road to Digital Publication – Part 8

Fist off, I want to thank Sarah for stepping in last weekend to give us that wonderful post on covers. For those of us who have been brought up shopping for books in bookstores, or even at the local grocery store or Walmart, covers have often played a role in getting us to pick up a book to read the blurb or skim the first few pages. Covers are still an important part of marketing your e-book, although perhaps in different ways. That said, if you have a generic cover that doesn’t catch the reader’s eye when they go to the product page or see it in the “If you liked this, you’ll like that” recommendation list, folks won’t click through to buy your e-book. The same can be said if your cover screams “Amateur!”. So, if you haven’t read Sarah’s post, please do so.

Today will be the next to the last post in this series. Next week, I’ll do a quick wrap up and try to answer any questions you might have. So, if there are any topics I haven’t covered, leave a comment and I will do my best to cover it next week.

Now, on with the post. . . .

I’m not going to do a lot on titles, mainly because I think Sarah is going to do a blog post about them, but do have a couple of thoughts. First, your title needs to clue your reader into the genre of your e-book. Let me begin by saying I am the absolute worst at coming up with titles for my own books. Nocturnal Origins titled itself. I didn’t try to change it because it did what I wanted it to. It cued the reader into the fact that this was a book with supernatural overtones. Now, I’ll admit it might, on its own, make the reader think vampire but not necessarily. Added with the cover art, it was pretty obvious (at least to me) that this was an urban fantasy (or contemporary fantasy) with shapeshifters.

One thing I do when settling on a title, either for myself or for Naked Reader Press, is check to see what else has that title. Just because there’s another book or a song or movie with the same title doesn’t mean I automatically toss out a title. But, I do look to see how many items have the title and if any are the same genre and have bad reviews. Yep, I worry about the stink of something rubbing off on my work.  Also, if there are too many things with the same title, I worry about my e-book being lost in the search engine if the person making the query doesn’t add qualifiers to it.

Another thing to keep in mind, with an e-book, you are working with limited real estate, so to speak, when it comes to displaying your title. So shorter is better. You can have a sub-title, ie: Book One in the XYZ Series, or a further descriptor of the book. But it will become muddled on the e-book thumbnail, which is the first thing your potential reader sees. So, keep that always in the back of your mind and go back to read Sarah’s post on covers.

The next thing to consider is pricing. Yes, yes, I know. There is no consensus on this. There are those who say you should never sell anything longer than a short story for less than $2.99 and a novel should never be sold for less than $4.99. On the other hand, you have buyers who won’t spend more than $0.99 for anything, no matter what the length, from a self-published author.

Now, before you start thinking you can get past that prejudice by forming a DBA and having your own “publishing company”, let me add a word of warning. If you are doing this, and I do advocate it, you have to choose a name that sounds legitimate. Don’t use your own name. Don’t add .com at the end of the “house” name. If you write vampire stories, don’t name it Blood and Fang Press (Yes, I have seen something similar). Don’t call it My E-book Press (and, again, I have seen something similar). Remember, folks buying e-books are usually pretty internet savvy and they will and do google a publisher to see if it is legitimate or not. Not must screams amateur more loudly than naming your “publishing company” along those lines, especially if someone googles it and finds there is no website for the “company”.

Along this line as well — yes, Sarah, I’m talking to you here — if you put your work up on Smashwords and you have a DBA you are using, be sure to have a page for your press. Just as you have an author page there, you need a “house” profile page. This is especially important if, like Sarah, you have multiple pen names. That way, if someone searches for one of your pen names, they will see a live link for the Press as well and can click on it to see all the titles you have published, no matter how many pen names you’ve used. This works as well for Amazon and, I assume, for B&N, although its search engine leaves a lot to be desired.

Back to pricing. My recommendation for those who have not yet garnered a following, is simple. Short stories are $0.99. Novellas are $1.99 or $2.99. For all of these, be sure to note in the product description that they are short stories or novellas. It is amazing the number of folks who will give negative reviews because they liked the plot but it was too short. They wanted more. You will really get this if you are seen to be overpricing for your work. First novels should be no more than $4.99 and my gut feeling is they should be no more than $2.99. Note, I said first novels. And, before I hear the cries that first novels published through NRP are priced higher, they are. But we aren’t having to fight the uprising in some quarters against self-published authors. Yes, I know this does fly in the face of advice given by others, and I’m not saying it’s wrong. What I am saying is that right now, with the abundance of books and short stories being offered for free through the KDP Select Program on Amazon, you are having to fight to get your just released e-book into the hands of readers being offered hundreds of freebies every day.

Does that mean I think you should immediately offer your new title in the the KDP Select Program. Not only no, but hell no. The program, which is offered to anyone who is publishing their work through Amazon KDP has some downsides. The first is that you can’t offer your titles anywhere else during a 90 day period. My recommendation is to put your work out in as many markets as possible to start. See where the bulk of your sales happen over a period of months. While the vast majority of my sales come from Amazon, it isn’t always the case. So don’t go into the program without doing your homework first.

Also, based on personal experience and on talking with other writers and readers, there’s a trend I’m seeing. Because of the number of titles being offered each day, a lot of people are simply skipping over those titles that 1) are easily identifiable as self-published by new authors, and/or 2) have no reviews, and/or 3) the product description is poorly written or formatted. So, make sure you have legitimate purchaser reviews up, favorable ones, before putting your e-book into the program. By legitimate, I mean from people who have actually read the book and who don’t have the same last name as you. Sock puppets are usually discovered pretty quickly and have been known to be reported to Amazon.

As for product descriptions, well, those are difficult and I’m not sure there is a good rule of thumb. When it is a short story, say that. Give the reader warning. If it is a short story that also appears in a collection or anthology, note that. If you are putting out a collection, list the short stories with a brief description of each title. Note I say brief. Give enough of a synopsis, whether for a novel or for a short story, to give the reader a flavor for what the e-book is about, but don’t give too much detail because there will be those who will expect the book to be exactly like you’ve described. AND they will give you a negative review if they feel your description mislead them.

For example, the description for Ellie Ferguson’s Wedding Bell Blues mentions how the main character has to deal with, among other things, the best man for her sister’s wedding who is very handsy. There is a review that knocks us because that reader expected the best man to play a major part in the story and he doesn’t. We threw that bit into the description, not because we meant he was a major player but because it helped set the scene for the distractions the main character was having to deal with. In other words, he was a gnat she’d usually swat but couldn’t just then because of her sister’s upcoming nuptuals.

So, shorter can be better, as long as you give a fair feel for the novel or short story. Also, you don’t want to give too much away. Think of it as what you’d see in the TV Guide if it was a TV show. Or as if you are giving a 30 second pitch for it.

One more thing to remember, not everyone will be reading the blurb on their computers. Many will read it on their smart phones, tablets and e-readers. So keep in mind they may not continue paging forward if the description is too long.

Finally, keep on top of any changes in the “contracts” you agree to wherever you sell your e-books. Don’t do as someone I read the other day who openly admitted she’d violated the terms of her contract with Amazon by offering her titles free on other sites but not there. Why had she done this? Because she couldn’t figure out how to offer them for free before the KDP Select Program began. She obviously couldn’t be bothered to call or e-mail Amazon. Nor could she be bothered to simply google the question or ask on fb or her blog. She simply violated the terms of her contract. Now, it’s true Amazon doesn’t usually take action against an author who does this. However, if an author makes a habit of it — and if they are very public in telling people what they are doing — Amazon can and will send an email telling you to either abide by your contract with them or remove your title from their catalog. Instead of violating the terms of her agreement, all she had to do was lower the price elsewhere, then report the lower price to Amazon (there’s a handy button on every product page where you can report a lower price). It will usually lower the price and then put it back to normal when you ask them to (yes, there are times when this doesn’t happen, but not often.)

Just as you are responsible for knowing the terms of any contract you sign, and knowing if that contract has been amended, you have the same responsibility with regard to the contracts with Smashwords, B&N, Apple and Amazon.

As I said, I’d like to wrap up this series next weekend. So if you have anything you want me to discuss, leave a comment to that effect. Later, after the series is older, I’ll pull it together, edit it into an easily navigable format and make it available either here or on my blog. I’ll let you know when it happens.

So, the floor is yours. And before I get accused of not promoting my own material, go buy Nocturnal Origins or its sequel, Nocturnal Serenade. Please. My doggie and kitteh need food 😉

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An experiment in progress

by Amanda S. Green

Last month Naked Reader Press made the decision to take one of its titles into the new KDP Select Program. For those who don’t know what the Select Program is, it is basically a gamble. It allows small publishers and self-published authors to take their titles for free for a period of up to five days every three months. It also allows the titles enrolled in the program to become part of the Prime lending library. Prime members can borrow one book a month for no fee and there is no due date. The gamble is that to be part of the program, you can’t sell the title through any other outlet, including your own website, and you don’t know what your cut of the monies put into the lending program will be until after the fact.

There’s another gamble with the program as well — will the readers be able to even find your title when you take it free? This was a real concern for us because the number of free books offered each day have gone from single digits to low/mid double digits to hundreds each day. For example, there are approximately 350 new free titles today. So, instead of jumping right into the program when it was announced, those of us at NRP watched and waited and looked for trends.

What we saw confirmed, in a very unscientific way, my suspicions. Those books that seemed to move up in the free book rankings were those with titles that looked like book titles and not descriptions (see my comments on titles here). Books that had good reviews moved up the charts. Books with catchy descriptions moved up the charts. In other words, books (and short stories) where the small press or self-published author took the time to make the listings look professional did the best.

So, the bosses and I sat down and talked. The benefits of taking a title into the program were clear — exposure for the book as well as for any other titles by that author. The drawbacks — the book would only be available on Amazon for at least 90 days. More than that, there was no guarantee the novel taken into the program would sell. Since we are here to make money for our authors, we still hesitated.

Then I got a call from one of our authors who’d read about the program and wanted to know if we were going to try it. I’ll be honest. Ellie’s call surprised me. Not because she wanted to know if we were considering the program but because she wanted to know if we’d consider putting her novel, Wedding Bell Blues, in it. Instead of answering — because, frankly, I wasn’t sure what the answer would be — I asked her why she wanted to put WBB into the program. After all, WBB was selling well in most of our outlets. Her answer surprised me because it showed she’d given the idea a lot of thought before calling. She wanted to use the program to help promote her next book which will be coming out in February.

This is where I have to admit it’s a book I hadn’t heard about before. Why? Because she pitched the book right there on the phone. We already had several books from her under contract. But, as writers everywhere know, sometimes plots grab you and won’t let go. That’s what happened with Ellie. So she’d been spending every free moment writing this book and hoping we’d want it. If not, she was going to put it out herself. Needless to say, we wanted it.

Anyway, back to the conversation. Her proposal was that we take WBB into the program and see how it worked. If it didn’t work, no harm and no foul since it was her idea. If it did, well, that would be good for all and it would, hopefully, help build interest in the new book.

So, we took  Wedding Bell Blues into the program. And held our collective breath, especially when we started seeing other bloggers talking about how the program was a no-win proposition for writers and publishers. Now, after two weeks in the program — and after five days of the title being free — I can report that it has been anything but a no-win situation for us. While it hurts the capitalist in me (shh– I said the dreaded C word) to give away anything for free, I know that is also the best form of promotion. And it seems to have worked. I’m not going to get into exact numbers, but I can tell you that WBB not only hit the Top 100 free e-books on Amazon, it made it to 119 on the paid chart (it may have gone higher and I missed it). It has consistently been in the Top 10 Police Procedurals and Romantic Suspense. It has pushed the sales of Ellie’s two short stories, Free Surprise in Every Box and Predator or Prey. The increased sales of WBB have more than made up for any sales we’ve lost by taking the title off-sale in other outlets.

Based on this, we’re going to be taking two more titles into the program over the next few days. Both are the first books in different series. The first will by my own Nocturnal Origins. Origins has a wonderful new cover — thanks, Sarah! — and will include new material. It will be promoting Nocturnal Serenade that will be coming out later this month. A short story in the same universe, Nocturnal Haunts, will be coming out next month.

The next book going into the program will be C. S. Laurel’s B. Quick. As with Origins, it will have some new material included. The sequel, Quicksand, will also be out later this month. Quick Change Artist, a novella, will also be coming out in the next few weeks.

As you can see, none of these titles are new. Why? First, we want everyone to have a chance to grab our titles in their preferred formats, without having to go through converting them. For another, well, we’re figuring most readers are like us. When hit with hundreds of new titles to choose from each day, their eye automatically goes to those titles with favorable reviews. Let’s face it, new titles don’t have reviews.

There will be other titles going into the program over the next several months, assuming the trend we’ve seen with Wedding Bell Blues continues. As I said, we’re here to make money for our authors, not take it out of their pockets. If the increased sales trend doesn’t continue, we won’t continue with the program. However, like Amazon or not, they are the elephant in the e-book world and most of our sales do come from there. So, if we can increase sales there, we owe it to our authors to try.

As with just about everything in publishing these days, nothing is set in stone. I’ll report back on how the experiment goes. However, for now, I really, really like what I’m seeing and Ellie is ecstatic with the increased sales she’s seeing. But only time will tell. . . .

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Guest Post — Ellie Ferguson

by Ellie Ferguson

Hi, guys.  I’m back.  Like a bad penny, I keep turning up.  But don’t blame me.  Blame Amanda and the other folks at Naked Reader Press who think it’s important that I blog.  You see, I’d much rather be hiding at my desk, happily writing my next book.  Social media scares me.  Well, not exactly but I still haven’t gotten the hang of it.

Anyway, the nice folks at Naked Reader suggested I let you in on what I’m working on now.  I won’t say the suggestion was made with a pointed boot, but Amanda did mention something about a kick to a certain part of my anatomy if I didn’t.  Since she looked really serious when she said it, I decided not to argue.

So, let me introduce you to The South Will Rise Again. It’s a bit different from what I’ve done before.  It’s part mystery, part ghost story and part romance.  It isn’t about the Civil War, at least not directly, nor is it about the issues that led to that dark time in our country’s history.  The title comes from a line in the book where the main character comments that when folks say “the South will rise again”, she isn’t sure they meant what’s happening in her home town of Mossy Creek.  And no, it isn’t a paranormal romance, at least not in the truest sense of the word.  As one of my beta readers said, it isn’t “lady porn with sparkly vampires”.  In fact, there’s not a vampire in sight in it.  Nor is there a werewolf or shape shifter.  What there is is a long time mystery that has to be solved before our intrepid heroine finds herself disappearing as permanently as her parents did almost twenty years before.

This book has been a bit of a trial to write.  Not because I didn’t like the characters or the plot.  I love them, more than is probably wise.  No, this has been a difficult write because it has only wanted to be written in the dark of night, usually around 2 AM.  The problem with that is I’m not a night person.  There isn’t enough tea in the world to keep me functional at that hour.  As a result, I was late turning the manuscript in and I blame it completely on my characters.  It’s their fault.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

To peak your interest — I hope.  Oh boy, do I hope – here is a very short excerpt from TSWRA.

*   *   *

Eight years ago, I made my escape.  With my acceptance to the University of Kansas in hand, I said my goodbyes to my aunt and ran just as fast as I could away from the town where I’d grown up.  With each hour that took me further and further from my childhood home, the stronger my conviction became that I’d never move back.  Sure, I’d go home for visits.  But there was absolutely no way I’d ever willingly return for more than a few days at a time.

Well, what can I say?  My plans were all set.  I graduated with my B.A. and I was accepted into graduate school at Texas Tech University.  I’d initially hesitated because that brought me closer to home.  But, reputation aside, Lubbock proved to be perfect.  The flat land of West Texas didn’t’ bother me, nor did the sandstorms when you’d swear New Mexico, and possibly Arizona, were blowing through.  With the exceptions of those Saturdays when the Red Raiders played a home football game, the town was quiet enough to keep me studying instead of finding ways to get into trouble.

Not that I need any help with that.

Graduation came and went — and so did my job.  Resumes went out as did the contents of my bank account.  Which is how I managed to wind up right back where I started.  Despite all my plans, the need to work brought me back home when nothing else could.  Now I’m not so sure it was a good idea.  Especially since it seems like I might be losing my mind.

Maybe I already have.

One

 “Melanie, you have to watch out!”

Mrs. Simpson grabbed my arm and held on with a fierce grip.  Her pale blue eyes burned with a passion I’m sure her husband would have enjoyed seeing at least once in awhile.  But why she’d chosen to turn it on me here, in the middle of the Piggly Wiggly in beautiful downtown Mossy Creek, was beyond me.

Hopefully, it would stay that way.

“Ma’am?”  I couldn’t help it.  My Aunt Rosalee had raised me to be respectful of my elders and Mrs. Simpson was certainly that.  She’d been my first grade Sunday school teacher twenty years ago.

“They’re here, Melanie.  They’re here.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper, so soft I could barely hear her.

“Who’s here, Mrs. Simpson?”

They are.  They walk amongst us and you have to watch out.”

Oh, wonderful.  That certainly cleared things up.  They are here, whoever they are.  Why couldn’t I learn to keep my mouth shut and my head down?

“Sure, Mrs. Simpson.  I’ll keep an eye out for them.”  Right now, however, I’d better keep an eye out for Mr. Simpson or anyone else who could take her off my hands.

“You just watch yourself, Melanie.  Or they’ll take you too.”

With that, she turned and bustled off.  That’s the only way to describe it.  Head and shoulders forward, rear end sticking out as if she was wearing an old-fashioned bustle, she hurried down the aisle away from me.  All I could do was stand there and stare.  I’m sure my mouth was open.  Fortunately, the manager at the Piggly Wiggly frowns on his staff letting flying insects in.  Otherwise, I’m sure I’d have caught something.  Finally, I closed my mouth – no, not with a snap.  That’s not only silly, but it would hurt – and turned my shopping cart in the opposite direction from the one Mrs. Simpson took.  Shopping done or not, it was time to get out of there before something else happened.

The problem is, this sort of thing had been happening with disturbing frequency ever since I returned to Mossy Creek a month ago.  At first, I simply put it up to the fact that, well, most folks here are a bit different.  Secretly, I think it’s because most of them have never left the town for more than a few days.  Worse, that’s how it’s been for generations.  You’re born here, live here and die here.

But not me.  No, siree.  I’d made my escape years ago, college-bound and determined never to move back.  Unfortunately, the realities of a down economy and, with my luck, some arcane forces I’ve never heard of combined to change my mind.  Since I didn’t relish the thought of flipping burgers at some fast food joint or running a cash register at the local big box retailer, I’d finally given in and accepted a job with the county attorney.

And, figuratively kicking and screaming if not literally doing so, I’d moved home.

*   *   *

The South Will Rise Again will be published this December.  In the meantime, you can find my first book, Wedding Bell Blues, on Amazon, BN.com, Smashwords and other retailers.  It is free at most of them until the end of September.

 

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