Friday, November 27, 2015

Indie Strong

You think you want a publishing contract, but you've released four novels independently without approaching a publisher or agent. You've come up through the ranks, learned a few things about editing, marketing, and cover design. You write because you love it. You're constantly working to improve. Maybe you even earned a small but loyal fan base. Then one day a publisher comes knocking. You're not sure you want to go that route, but these opportunities are rare. You're grateful. You sign. You realize you've given away your control.

Powerless isn't for everyone.

2011 I was indie strong, proud to be part of the new wave of emerging folks willing to say, "Hey, I don't care if you validate me. I'm an artist." 

Where did that person go? After a year of soul searching I realize she's always been here, wanting to put out traditional-quality books under her own name. Fatal Intentions is moving at breakneck speed after a year of crippling self-doubt and worrying about what will work for the market, the publisher, the editor you only know from a couple of phone calls.

I write for my fans and for myself.

I work harder for myself than anyone else will work for me, and I change my mind on a regular basis about everything except this one thing: Becoming a success.

I've worked with a handful of different people over the past four years, all of whom I'm grateful for and each of whom have contributed something different to the writer I've become and am still becoming. I've tried the Select route, tried the scattershot method, dabbled in paperbacks, marketed in every conceivable way, but the truth is when it's meant to be, it happens. My grandmother always said that. Fatal Reaction was a self-selling novel, the first in my short backlist. I was on a good trajectory before I lost sight of the self-made person I intend to be. My buddy, best selling novelist Vincent Zandri, said it best when he said I was much happier as an indie. Maybe I was too close to see that.

The telltale sign of a bad decision is when you answer the question, "If you had to do it all over again, would you do it differently?" with a resounding "Yes." I didn't make a bad decision. I would make the same choices I made the first time if I could go back and do it again because it taught me as much about myself as anything. I am thankful for the opportunity, and glad to be back with a new addition to Team Frisch who I hope will challenge me and bring out an even stronger voice in my writing. Fatal Intentions will release no later than January 1, 2016. If we can pull off a Christmas miracle, you might just get a gift on the 25th. Thanks to all those who have stuck with me, who have believed in me, and who cheer me on every day. You keep me honest. You keep me strong.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A New Day: News from Amazon Publishing

Today, only a week following submission, I received the news that Fatal Intention will not be published by Thomas & Mercer.

I do not believe this has anything to do with quality, rather it appears to be a quantity issue related to sales of Fatal Reaction, Fatal Intention's predecessor. There are no hard feelings and actually, there might be a bit of relief on my part; a sense of returning control. 

Fatal Intention is back in the hands of my trusted beta, Matt Schiariti, with whom I've workshopped my past few novels. He has been through one draft and is graciously commenting on any changes. I'd be lost without him, and am indebted to him (even when he delivers bad news). I will be contacting my copy-editor to get on the books for a line edit and proofread, and cover art is forthcoming. 

Unlike the eight month wait between contract signing and the release of the Thomas & Mercer edition of Fatal Reaction, Fatal Intention will be released hopefully by January. As this is new news, the release date will be dependent on everyone's schedules. I understand holidays are tough. Now for the tentative blurb:

"A year after Sydney Dowling’s murder, the killing begins again. Someone with medical training is working their way through the list of people connected to Sydney’s case, murdering them in such a unique way even medical examiner Dr. Kimberly Taylor is stumped.

Paramedic Anneliese Ashmore and Dr. Jared Monroe both have means and motive, but only one of them is being framed. With two people dead and another gone missing, police are under pressure to secure a suspect. Fortunately, the killer has left a cleverly crafted trail to Ana and Jared’s doorstep.

Jared is forced to confess his connection to the victims, but the incriminating truth only leads to his eventual arrest. With Jared behind bars, it’s up to Ana to disprove the evidence against him without getting jailed in his place.

Unfortunately for Ana, the closer she gets to helping identify the killer, the more likely she is to become a victim. While Jared faces prosecution, Ana faces the dangerous fact that someone close to her has fatal intentions."

The perfect mix of procedural, amateur sleuth, and romantic medical thriller, The Paramedic Anneliese Ashmore Mysteries will appeal to fans of Robin Cook, Patricia Cornwell, and Eileen Dreyer, keeping readers glued to the page as FATAL INTENTIONS takes revenge to a sexy, smart new level.

Subject to change, but you get the gist. If you're a fan of medical thrillers with a bit of romance, these books are for you. In the meantime, I am working on Departure, the third Strandville novel, which is fully outlined. The cover art for Departure has been done for months, urging me to finish the novel. I'm getting back to my roots, unfettered by contracts, obligations, and others' constraints. I'm looking forward to seeing how Fatal Intention does and am pleased to be bringing this one to my readers sooner than later.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Committing Stories to Paper

Without limits, I have ended up with now THREE story lines in multiple genres and at various stages of development. 

First and foremost there's Departure, the third Strandville novel that should be among the easiest to write. The characters (for the most part) exist and have two novels worth of history for me to build on. 

Second, Estranged (working title) is a family saga murder mystery that I have written a prologue for (not because I think starting a book with a prologue is a good idea, but because it sets the scene for how the character dies and I needed to do a little discovery through writing). I'm not sure I'll use it and until I decide, I'll keep thinking on it, making notes, and working out where the story starts so I don't end up mired in rework later. I have to commit a handful of characters to paper, but am excited to be writing a novel featuring an author character.

Third is a yet untitled thriller that will be named after a fictional haunted location. I have a lot of research to do on this one, and while I know the purpose of the story, the setting, and a bit about a few major characters, there are a lot of gaps to fill before I start writing.

Fortunately we're heading into winter and there's football season to add to my writing time, which is more plentiful than I take advantage of. 

A few months ago I was active in my One Hour One Thousand Words writing group where a fellow member, Marissa Farrar, was finishing what feels like her billionth book this year. I started doing what no author should ever do and I compared my backlist to hers. We've been writing roughly the same amount of time but she seems to be far ahead of me and I felt I needed to catch up. In acting on the feeling that I needed to write faster, I found myself writing less and below my potential--forcing my art.

I had a setback in September where Fatal Intention had gone to my beta reader, the talented Matt Schiariti, and he fired a few shots across my bow. I was dicing with disaster: too few words, too little secondary character development, and he basically told me he felt short-changed as a reader. I couldn't believe it. I though I had done a solid job over the course of probably five drafts working out a great mystery. The mystery was never in question. 

I was tired and in the back of my mind I thought about Marissa and how she had probably finished another two novels while I went back to two more months of revisions. MAJOR revisions. In the sidelines I had had a conversation with a bestselling author buddy who I won't call out by name because I'm not sure he'd want anyone to know his troubles, but his editor had put him through his paces on a recent work-in-progress. He ended up doing some serious cuts and writing ten thousand new words or so to make his novel sing. He seemed pleased with the end result.

Faced with a similar problem, I had to make a choice. I went with taking a brief break and returning to the story with one goal: perfection. I had to throw time out the window to reach my quality goal. If it took me another six months to be proud of this story, so be it. Hawthorne said, "easy reading is damn hard writing." I haven't heard a truer observation. I'm  not kidding myself. I know perfection isn't an option, but what I had to , again, was to take the seam ripper to the novel to fine-tune it. I cut several chapters and am rivaling my buddy for his ten thousand word rewrite. Down to the last seventy pages, I think the juice is worth the squeeze.

I intend to get Fatal Intention to Thomas & Mercer by year's end, working on these other three novel ideas in the meantime and shifting my approach as I have done several times over the past few years. Before the advent of popularized self-publishing, it would take authors years or tens of years to pen their opuses. I think the key ingredient I was missing this time out was down time. I need to let drafts cool off between revisions. I'm hoping that after all this rework, writing three novels at once will give me the space to do just that.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

October Frights Blog Hop Giveaway Winners!

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Big congratulations to everyone and thank you for entering the October Frights Blog Hop Giveaway.

Anne Michaud won the 2-book paperback set. Everyone else should have already received their codes and instructions for their free audiobook and audiobook sets (I packaged Cure and Afterbirth for those randomly selected winners of Strandville novels). I hope you all enjoy them!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Horror Hop Post: What Scares You?

Enter a hospital on its last night in operation. Feel the claustrophobia set in as the final patient, a violent inmate, is brought in for emergency imaging. Experience the terror that comes with finding out he might not be what he appears, and he's after your family. This  book unsettled me in the best possible way. You will never, ever look at Thomas the Tank Engine the same after this.

So, what scares you?

If you're a horror superfan (and I am) there has to be a sweet spot. Haunted houses? Murderers? Psychopaths? Apocalypse? Or maybe you're a fan of splatter and gore? 

I like almost all of it, though there are some hooks that get me every time.

1. Haunted houses. 

Poltergeist (and only the original) is hands down my favorite with Amityville a close second. There has been a lot of debunking of the Amityville haunting over the years, but I'm a sucker for the Lutz and DeFeo lore.

2. Anything underground.

As Above So Below, The Descent, and even The Descent 2 all have the same thing going for them: atmosphere. You can't be underground, deprived of all creature comforts, forced to rely on only your fortitude and not sense danger. The catacombs? Yes, please!

3. Backstory.

This goes hand in hand with haunted houses and haunting, but the tragic history of buildings, locations, and even people fascinate me. Stephen King's Rose Red is a classic example of backstory well done.

What doesn't do it for me?

The sex/horror trope that's been popular for years (and seems to be cropping up rather quickly on AHS Hotel). I do not enjoy the Hostel movies and I'm not a fan of anything beyond the first Saw. Even that's a stretch. Torture, to me, is depravity. There's nothing new in that.

I don't get into the new franchises for the most part and am sad to see movies like Sinister getting sequels when the original was so perfectly independent. I will probably watch the second one only because I rarely pass on newly released horror.

The best horror, in my opinion, is horror that makes you think and therefore fear (often with an unknown component that cannot be controlled). Craig DiLouie's Suffer the Children  was probably the best thinking horror novel (and twisted take on vampires) that I've read in recent years. During The Herod's Event ALL children die, simultaneously, only to resurrect some time later. How long the children rejoin the living for is up to how far the parents are willing to go to obtain blood sacrifice. How far would you go?

Since it's horror hop time, share your favorite in books and movies to be entered to win. Tell me, horror hoppers, what scares you?

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Girl in The Maze: A Novel Review

The Girl in the MazeThe Girl in the Maze by R.K. Jackson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for providing a free copy of THE GIRL IN THE MAZE in exchange for my honest review.

THE GIRL IN THE MAZE started off as a promising debut novel, but fell apart during the rush flash forward ending.

*SPOILER ALERT* Martha, who had been wanted for Lydia’s murder, who was reeling from her mental illness, ended up composed, healthy, and off the hook with an unsatisfying explanation that felt like an afterthought.

The salacious story of Shell Heap’s slavery roots did not seem nearly shocking enough for people to die to protect the secret of Amberleen, not in 2015. Had this story been written decades ago, maybe. Even then…

The author did a great job setting up a complex landscape steeped with culture, did a reasonable job making Martha a character that readers could root for, and then sidetracked with Vince who felt like a device for dropping psychotherapy knowledge on the reader.

Vince’s initial connection to Martha felt genuine, like he was her lifeline, but her reaction witnessing his murder felt weak, glanced over.

Jarrell’s initial role in exposing the Shell Heap takeover made me wonder how he factored in. Since he seems to have been there to help Martha when she fled from Lydia’s I wonder why there wasn’t more about his background. And the fisherman Martha ran away from? That whole scene was pointless. We could have seen her drawing protective figures elsewhere.

I really feel like this plot needed another pass.

So much time was spent on tipping the Shell Heap deal on its ear that I can’t help feeling frustrated that in the end, it just vanished. Shell Heap will be preserved. Why? And why isn’t Martha on trial? It’s stated that her mental condition protected her from some court proceedings, but the court hearings themselves happen off-page during the flash forward. Also, I’m confused by how Jarrell returned. His falling six stories off a lighthouse and surviving the landing during an enormous flood/storm seemed unlikely at best. And Morris? Why isn’t there more about the aftermath of his being swept away?

The author wrote some beautiful descriptions. In fact, he described everything in rich detail. It made it hard to tell when something was truly important.

What started off as a compelling story took a turn for the worst somewhere after Jarrell and Martha’s split when Morris targeted Jarrell. I get Morris’s role in facilitating the land deal, in making it look like Shell Heap had an unsavory criminal element, but I don’t understand how he went from a greedy lawman to a cold-blooded murderer.

From that point forward, there were a lot of poorly tied up ends. There were a lot of unlikely happenings—including Vince being let into an evacuated area because there was a nearby exit. One minute he has MapQuest directions, the next he has GPS, and yet another he has a map. He gets the information on Martha as the mysterious caller traced by his answering service? Doubtful. They’re not the police. They’re hired secretaries, and in the event of a psychotherapist taking an administrative leave, his patients would be routed to a covering therapist, not be forced to leave him a message. How Vince found Martha during an evacuation crisis when an entire police force couldn’t to that point is beyond me.

Was THE GIRL IN THE MAZE well written? Yes. The author clearly has a talent for descriptive prose, but where he fell flat was plotting, pacing, and attention to detail. A lot of time was spent on unimportant details while critical ones were barely touched upon. For that, I rate THE GIRL IN THE MAZE three stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Horror Hop Short: BITTER

Snow blanketed the windshield of the '83 Cadillac, packing the wipers and cutting visibility by half.
The clock said five AM, though with the winter sun rising, Amy knew it had to be later. She shifted in the passenger’s seat, listening to Leonard Skynard on the radio and trying not to think too hard about the last several skids.
The desolate roads weren’t fit travel, the plows barely able to make a dent in the storm.
Passersby were few and far between.
If they wrecked, she was as good as dead.
Jackson smeared his hand across his grimy sweatshirt and pushed in the lighter. A filterless cigarette dangled from his lip, resting against his unkempt beard.
Those hands will never be clean, Amy thought, trying to bring her surroundings into focus.
Brown melted into white melted into gray.
Alone in a vast, rural nothingness.
Amy pulled her seat belt tight across her chest.
“You’re going to love the new place,” Jackson said.
The last three had been terrible, her days spent in captivity countless, yet innumerable. Time didn't exist in Amy's world, not since her abduction. She didn’t acknowledge Jackson, listening instead to the half-full gas can sloshing behind her seat, the fumes of which were making her sick.
“Did you hear me?” Jackson said, his whisky-soaked breath hot in her face.
"Watch the road," Amy said, shying away from the stench.
Their last home had only a bathtub, one Jackson had rarely used. He smiled, his cracked front tooth hanging at an odd angle, ready to fall out.
"I'm fine." He pulled so far back into his lane that he crossed the yellow line, headed straight for a full size diesel truck.
Look out!       
Amy was too terrified to form the words. She reached across Jackson and jerked the wheel, over-correcting.
The tires skidded, catching in the snow dam lining the country road's shoulder.
Jackson fought to bring the car back around, but it was too late. Ice topped with snow topped with ice made it impossible to stop the slide.
Amy braced for impact.
Jackson’s hand hit her chest hard, holding her tight to the seat as the car went end over end down the steep embankment.
Amy's stomach lurched, releasing a pungent, bilious stream.
“Jackson!” Bitter vomit punctuated her scream.
The car rolled to a stop, with her pinned and Jackson's body limp in the driver’s seat.
With no cell phone and no way to signal for help, Amy’s only hope at escaping with her life appeared dead. Her body ached, her muscles tensed, and her bones were wrecked from the impact.
“Jackson, please. Wake up. I need help.”
The shattered window let in a stream of sobering air that froze her gasoline-soaked sleeve. She drew a deep breath and forced herself to move. Her right leg was numb, pinned beneath the pile of junk that had been thrown forward by the crash. Dizzy and nauseated, it took all of her strength to pull her foot free. When she did, she was sure her leg was broken. There was a palpable separation midway between her knee and ankle. She braced herself, biting on her shirt as she forced the pieces back into position, wrapped her leg, and dragged herself in a military crawl away from the car.

* * * * *

“Do you want her bones or her body?”
Dr. Alaine White carefully folded the brittle note and slid it into her lab coat pocket.
“Everything okay?” Jean, a middle-aged ICU nurse with gray-brown hair and a reassuring smile, appeared in the doorway of the empty inpatient room.
“I’m fine, thank you.” Alaine wiped her swollen eyes with the back of her hand. “I just need a few minutes alone.”
Jean nodded and closed the door. Having known each other almost fifteen years, Jean was one of the few people Alaine didn’t need to explain herself to.
Fourteen, Alaine thought.
Her daughter, Amy, would be fourteen in May. She had been so small, so easy to lose in the crowd.
Alaine lifted the blinds and stared through bleary eyes at the increasingly heavy snowfall. Time stopped as she relived that afternoon in fine detail. Seconds turned to minutes, drawing her into the past until duty called.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Jean said, “but—”
The overhead speaker sprang to life, the female voice strong and loud. “Trauma team to the emergency room. Repeat, trauma team to the emergency room.”
It was time to save a life.
“I was coming to tell you.”
Alaine dried her tears and hurried into the hall. Her white lab coat flapped behind her and the stethoscope around her neck bounced against her chest as she ran toward triage.
Jean struggled to keep up.
“What’s the call?” Alaine said, the beginnings of an adrenaline high setting in. The sad memory of her lost daughter faded into the background, leaving her on life-saving autopilot—a coping mechanism that had, at one point, been her only reason to live.
“MVA, male, severe burns.”
MVA, motor vehicle accident.
Alaine expected to see her share given the storm. “Age?” she said.
“Paramedics couldn’t say.”
The brisk winter air licked Alaine’s face raw as she stood in the glow of the white ambulance back-up lights, waiting for her patient.
The unmistakable, rancid smell of melting flesh clung to everything as the rear doors opened. The young paramedic gagged as he slid the gurney and its lifeless passenger into the cold.
“I have a John Doe,” he said. “His pants pockets are intact, considering, but there’s no wallet and no ID.” Alaine lifted the blanket to see the man’s clothing melded with the charred skin beneath it.
He wasn’t physically on fire, but his skin was still burning, she knew that.
Burns eat until they’re finished.
Until they’re full.
The man’s face and hair were reduced to a raw, black and blood mash and his fingers were eaten past their tips.
“Bay 2,” she said, openly mouthing a stick of mint gum to offset the smell.
Two uniformed officers, Matt and Roger Princeton, followed closely behind her.
“Alaine,” Roger, the father, called out to her. “We need to talk.”
“Not now, Roger. I’m a little busy.”
Small town emergency rooms didn’t run like those in the city.
Everyone knew one another.
John Doe’s heart monitor squealed. He was in v-fib.
Cardiac arrest.
“No you don’t,” Alaine said. “No one dies on me. Get them out of here.” She called over her shoulder, asking to have the father and son team removed. Jean coaxed the officers aside. “Clear!” Alaine set the pads and charged the defibrillator. Nothing. She silenced the alarm. “Clear!” Come on, Come on. A thin electronic line announced the victim’s retrieval. “Not on my watch,” she said, looking smugly upward. “Get me a room in ICU.”

* * * * *

The soothing whir of the life support machines contrasted the late night quiet. Alaine checked John’s IV bags and changed out the empty antibiotic. He was marginally stable and heavily sedated, but alive … and she needed him to live.
She needed them all to live.
“My name’s Alaine,” she whispered into John Doe’s ear, having gotten used to the burnt flesh smell. “I’m going to do everything I can to get you walking out of here, but you need to stay strong.”
“How is he?” Blond-haired, blue-eyed Matt entered the room, his nose and mouth covered. At twenty-three-years-old and an only child he was too young and too over-protected for his line of work.
Alaine had known the Princeton family for years and knew well that these were the exact kind of situations Matt’s mother wanted him protected from.
Roger walked in behind Matt, wearing the same stern look on his wrinkled face as he had the day of Amy, her daughter’s, disappearance. A blue uniform cap hung from his fingertips, the line of which had been imprinted on his silver hair.
“He’s here,” Alaine said, “That’s more than I expected. Any luck with the ID?”
Roger shot Matt a look of silent warning.
“Nothing yet,” Matt said.
“What about the car? Can’t you run the plates?”
Matt shook his head. “Dead end. The car was reported stolen six months ago.”
“We’re here to collect prints and clothing,” Roger said.
Alaine looked at the thick bandages covering John Doe’s hands and shook her head. Allowing them to touch him risked him contracting a life-threatening infection. “No contact. I’m sorry.”
“We’re going to have to compromise on this one, Lanie. It’s important.”
She hated when Roger called her that.
“Wash your hands,” she said, handing him a pair of rubber gloves. “His clothes are over there in that bag, but his prints are gone. Fingers will be too when he’s stable enough for surgery.”
Jean knocked on the door, bundled in full winter gear. “Bob’s on his way with the truck, Alaine. Can we give you a lift?”
“No, thank you,” she said. “I’m going to stay here tonight in case anything goes wrong.”
“Are you sure?”
“Maybe you should go with her,” Roger said. “Get some rest.”
“I don’t need rest, Roger. I’m sure,” Alaine said to Jean. “Thank you for the offer. Drive safely.”

* * * * *

Roger used the brush end of a scraper to clear the snow from the cruiser.
Alaine wouldn’t budge and he didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth about the life she was attempting to save.
“You almost blew it in there,” he said to Matt who was brushing off the windows. “Alaine’s not stupid. She can tell when something’s wrong.”
“What about you telling her she should get some rest? You don’t think she knew you were trying to get rid of her?”
Roger climbed into the driver’s seat and fastened his seatbelt, depositing the snow-covered tool on the passenger’s side floor and rolling down the window. “You coming?”
Matt stared up at the ICU, the passenger seat covered with snow. “I don’t feel right not telling her. She has a right to know.”
We don’t even know. We have two unidentified bodies.”
“One of which is a corpse.” Matt got into the passenger’s seat, his body heat melting the snow beneath him. “What if the body in the morgue is Amy? What if that man Alaine is taking care of is Jackson Hobbs.”
“Don’t you go starting trouble, Matt. I’m warning you.”

* * * * *

The morning sun shone over a fresh foot of snow, the light bright through the inpatient room windows.
Alaine was awakened by the fierce alarm of another in a line of cardiac arrests.
Not again.
“Code Blue room 415. Repeat, Code Blue room 415.” The overhead page called the crash team, announcing “Code Blue”, the term for a patient in cardiac arrest.
Alaine sprang from the bedside chair and retrieved the crash cart.
“Clear,” she said, out of habit, manning the defibrillator. She applied one pad to John’s chest and the other to his ribcage, administering the shock.
John twitched, his bandaged hands rising and falling with the whole body spasm.
The second charge brought back the critical line on the monitor.
John was back by the time the crash team arrived.
“Dr. White, I’m sorry it took so long,” said Jamie, the team’s thirty-something leader. Brown haired and brown eyed, Jamie stood six-two and rail thin. “We had another code on the second floor.”
“It’s all right,” Alaine said. “He came back easy this time.”
“This time?”
“John and I have been at this all night.”
“No offense Dr. White, but it looks like it.”
Alaine caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. Her bob-length hair stood on end where it had been pressed against the back of the chair. Her mascara bled into the fine lines around her eyes, magnifying the bags surrounding them.
“I’ll stay with him if you want to take a break,” Jamie said. “Go grab some coffee and a shower. John’s not going anywhere.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “What if … ?”
“His vitals are stable.”
Alaine checked the monitor and seeing Jamie was right, reluctantly agreed. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Take as long as you need.” Jamie settled into her chair.
Alaine nearly tripped over Matt in the hallway.
“I was looking for you. We need to talk,” he said.
“Where’s your father? Is he all right?”
“He’s fine. Please, before he shows up. He doesn’t know I’m here.”
Alaine unlocked the call room door down the hall and closed the door behind them.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
“You might want to sit down.”
“For what?”
“Alaine, please.”
She took a seat on the wooden bench, facing him. The suspense was killing her.
“There’s no easy way to say this. I promised I wouldn’t … I …”
“What is it, Matt?”
“It’s about John Doe, your burn victim. Last night when we came to ID him you asked me if I ran his plates.” Matt drew in a deep breath and wrung his hands. He was stalling. “There’s a right and a wrong way to handle this, agreed?”
“Handle what?” Alaine snapped, tired and impatient.
“The car was registered to Roberta Hobbs.”
“Jackson Hobbs’ wife?”
Police had found Roberta’s body with the letter the day after Amy went missing.
Do you want her bones or her body?
“You can’t mean that … it’s him?” Alaine’s voice trailed off to tears.
“I don’t know,” Matt said.    
“You’re telling me that man I’ve been saving all night is the same piece of shit who took my daughter?” She was overcome with equal parts sadness and rage. “Did you see her? Did you find Amy?”
Matt’s expression morphed into some likeness of the one she remembered from when he told her they had closed the missing persons case. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize!” She pounded his sturdy chest with her fists. “Not for this. Please tell me Amy’s alive.”
Matt subdued her attack and pulled her close. “I’m so sorry.”
Alaine drew herself into the fetal position and sobbed. “I need to see my daughter, Matt. I need Jackson Hobbs punished!”
“We’re going to make this right,” Matt said. “I promise.”

* * * * *

The siren blared as Roger sped down the interstate, the ambulance closing the gap behind him.
“Come on, Matt. Pick up the phone.”
Voice mail.
He had already left several messages.
Roger slammed the phone shut and looked for mile marker 262.
She has to be here.
He spotted the bend in the guardrail and waved Josh, the paramedic, over to the shoulder. Fresh snow blanketed the crash site.
“What makes you think she’s down there?” Josh gathered the requisite supplies and a gurney.
“Blood on John Doe’s shirt matched the body we pulled from the trunk. The body’s not Amy’s, and the cause of death wasn’t fire. It was stabbing. Coroner called me himself.” Roger sank knee deep in the embankment. “Blood on the dash is Amy’s and it couldn’t have gotten there unless she was in the front seat.”
The sun reflected off the untouched snow.
Josh strapped the supplies to the gurney and hoisted it like a sled over the rail, following Roger’s lead. “There aren’t any tracks.”
“Snowed like hell last night and with everyone down here, maybe we didn’t see them.” His foot stuck beneath the icy crust and he near tugged off his boot.
“How could she have survived the cold?”
Roger scanned the landscape. “She would have needed shelter.”

* * * * *

Alaine took a vial of potassium chloride from her lab coat pocket and rolled it between her hands. She had gone from devastated to vengeful in a matter of minutes, planning John’s death as soon as the shock wore off. “His heart’s been touch and go all night, Matt. No one would think anything of it.”
One untraceable dose and he’ll get what he deserves.
“Don’t even say things like that,” Matt said, wiping his sweating palms on his pants. “Maybe my father was right.”
“Roger knows me well enough,” she said. “You probably should have listened.”
“I thought you should know who the man might be.”
“And now that I know, what did you expect me to do? You tell me you found Amy and that she’s...” Dead. The word caught in her throat. “I can’t let him get away with that.”
“I said no such thing. The body we found might not even be Amy’s. You need to give us time. Let us get a positive ID. Trust us to handle this.”
“How long?”
“Until what?”
“Until you know for sure?”
“We might know something already. Let me call and see if my father’s heard anything from the lab. He put a rush on everything.” Matt reached for the cell phone holster usually on his belt. “Shit. I left my phone in the car. I have to go get it. Tell me you won’t do anything stupid, Alaine.” She didn’t answer. He lifted her chin with his finger. “Promise me,” he said. “Or you’ll ruin both of us.”
“I promise,” she said, though she wasn’t sure she meant it.
“Wait here for me. I’ll see if there’s any news.”

* * * * *

Roger trudged through the foot of snow toward a hill a few hundred feet from the road. The crash site had been cleared, but the charred trees and crime scene tape told of the accident less than twenty-four hours old.
Fire and police had worked through the night, but had come up empty. A fresh coat of powder erased almost all signs of them having been there.
“Anything?” Josh called from the far end of the tree line.
Roger shook his head. “Amy,” he shouted. “Amy White!”
“Look, Roger! Over there.” Josh raced through the pines and fell to his knees, doggie paddling with his gloved hands.
Roger ran as fast as he could toward something red in the snow.
The tip of a bright red scarf hung from a dead tree branch that had broken under the weight of the storm. In the cold dark, with no reason to believe anyone was out there, it could have been easily missed.
Smart girl.
“She’s here.” The scarf marked the opening of a narrow cave, concealed behind pine boughs packed with snow. “Oh my God, Roger. I can’t believe it.”
Roger helped Josh clear a path to the lifeless body below.
She looked enough like her mother for Roger to recognize her.
Amy lay in a partial fetal position, one knee curled toward her chest under a down jacket. Her other leg bent at an improbable angle. Blood dotted the snowy ground, but not enough to be fatal. Amy’s face was half-covered by the fur-lined hood. Her lips had turned blue.
Josh slipped his hands under the coat and pressed his two fingers to her neck. “She has a pulse. It’s weak, but she has a pulse.” He unpacked the bag on his back, unloading heating blankets and hot water bottles.
“We have to pull her out,” Roger said.
“We have to warm her and ease her out,” Josh argued. “If we move her too quickly, she’ll develop an arrhythmia. She’ll die.” He put the hot water bottles between her clothes and her skin. “Amy, can you hear me?” She was non-responsive. “Amy, blink if you can hear me.” Her teeth chattered, a good sign all things considered.
“We’re wasting time. We need to get her to the hospital.” A decade of doubt, of Roger wondering what he could have done differently to save the girl culminated in a single perfect moment. He thought of Alaine, of how she reacted when Amy’s case had been closed, and couldn’t believe his luck.
Only when they gave up did they find her.
Josh positioned a Reeves flexible stretcher as close to Amy as he could get. “Be careful, her leg looks broken. On the count of three.”
Roger looked for a hold that didn’t come near her injury, settling on supporting both legs with his arms underneath.
“One … two … three.”
Roger lifted the frail girl, limp in his arms.
“Easy, Rog. Easy.”
“I’m being as easy as I can be.”
Josh tucked the blanket around Amy and checked her pulse. “There were too many calls this morning for the station to send me with a partner, Roger. I need to be in the back of the ambulance with her. You’re going to have to drive.”

* * * * *

Alaine dismissed Jamie, who had been watching John Doe in her absence, and closed herself into his room. She tried waiting for Matt, but something had willed her to move, to act on the pain tearing her apart inside. She had waited over ten long years for the opportunity to right the biggest wrong in her life.
She wasn’t about to let him take that away from her.
John Doe lay silent, save for the gasping sound of the respirator filling his smoke-damaged lungs.
“Jackson,” she whispered. “I know who you are and I hate you for what you did to me.” Her heart pounded, aching with each blip of the vitals monitor. She reached over and turned off the alarms on the machine, glancing briefly out the window at the emergency bay below.
Matt’s car was visible in the parking lot, the motion through the windshield telling her he was inside.
She knew she didn’t have a lot of time.
She took the potassium chloride from her pocket and a syringe from the supply cart drawer, drawing up more than enough to irritate John Doe’s already fragile heart.
“This is for Amy,” she whispered, injected his IV and waiting.
John’s heart rhythm changed and then silently flat lined.
Tears rolled down Alaine’s cheek, the terror of being found out as a murderer mixing with the sheer relief of administered justice. She looked down at the man’s lifeless body, thinking about how she’d tried to save him, and only regretting that his final hours hadn’t been filled with more pain.
The overhead speaker crackled to life, the familiar call alerting her to something else wrong. “Trauma team to the emergency room. Repeat, trauma team to the emergency room.”
A call.
It was the perfect distraction.
She hurried out of Jackson’s room, leaving the now deceased body to remain undiscovered, and worked out a story as to why the alarms might have been off. Given John Doe’s lack of identity and his fragile condition, it would be easy enough for anyone to believe he had died of natural causes.
Adrenaline kicked in as she forced her way to the front of a pack of staff crowing the ER.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Does anyone know what the call is?”
The nurse nearest to her just shook her head.
The ambulance backed in to unload.
“Alaine! Alaine, wait!” Matt rushed toward her, red eyed.
“Matt, what’s going on?”
A smile spread across his face. “You’re not going to believe this.”
Roger emerged, snow-covered, from the driver’s side and limped toward them. “Did you tell her?”
“Tell me what?” Alaine said. “What’s going on?”
Josh opened the rear door of the ambulance and in the swirling light she saw the familiar face of her motionless daughter.
“Amy’s alive,” Roger said. “The body we found wasn’t hers.”
Alaine dropped to her knees and stared in disbelief.
Matt bent down beside her. “I just got the call,” he said. “The body we found belonged to Jackson’s girlfriend. Amy must have gotten away before the fire broke out.”
“But John Doe is definitely Jackson Hobbs?” She needed reassurance to quell her guilt.
“That doesn’t matter now,” Roger said.
“Tell me it was him,” Alaine cried. “I need to know it was him.”
“Alaine, what did you do?” Matt said.
Alaine closed her eyes, weeping into her hands. She didn’t care who was watching. “I—”
“Alaine? What did you do?”
The overhead speaker crackled to life. “Code Blue room 415. Repeat, Code Blue room 415.” 
It was Jackson’s room.
Someone had found his body.

Copyright ©2011 by Belinda Frisch
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 2, 2015

Annual Hop Tradition: Horror Movie Screenshot Trivia

It's that time again, folks. Time to prove you're a horror superfan. Guess the movie from the screenshot, leave your answers in comments and be entered to win a set of Strandville audiobooks from Audible (Cure and Afterbirth). One random person who gets all five correct wins!






Thursday, October 1, 2015

Horror Blogging: zOctober and October Frights Horror Hop

Welcome to my absolute FAVORITE time of year, fall. Bring on the cider doughnuts, the pumpkin carving, and the horror movie marathons. Costumes, candy, and genre blog hops, too!

This year I'm participating in both the October Frights Horror Hop hosted by fellow horror gal Clarissa Johal and the zOctober event hosted by Toni Lesatz, blogger extraordinaire and master of the totally awesome book review blog My Book Addiction .

The Horror Hop runs 10/1-10 and features almost fifty horror authors, all hosting giveaways. The list of participating authors appears in my sidebar. Click any link to start hopping. The link list should appear on every page, directing you where to go next.

zOctober runs the entire month and features some of the most talented voices in zombie fiction, many of which will be guest posting on Toni's blog. There are tons of giveaways and an interactive Facebook event that offers the opportunity to live chat with each of us.

Join me live on October tenth. I'll be discussing... whatever you want me to. Ask questions or chat all things zombie. For example, what's your take on Fear the Walking Dead? I'm re-watching last week's episode as I prep this introductory post because my husband fell asleep on it. What do you think of Nick? Or of drug addicts as sympathetic main characters in general? How do you think the show is doing as an outbreak tale? What would you do differently? What would I  do differently? If you stop by on the tenth, I'll tell you.

Also, I'll be talking about DEPARTURE, my next installment in the Strandville Zombie Series, and taking recommendations for my reading list. I have Phillip Tomasso's VACCINATION up as my next zombie novel and I'd like to pick up something by Jonathan Maberry. Come tell me which zombie novels you love and why.

Throughout the month of October, I'll be doing giveaways here and will do my best to uphold the tradition of fun horror-themed games. I am going to try to nab an author interview or two and we'll see how good everyone is at "guess the horror screen shot." How well do you know your horror movies? Test your skill. There might just be a prize in it for you.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Learning from Experience: Five Novels and Still Finding Ways to Improve My Process

It dawned on me after receiving a message from an old friend that I have had such a pendulum shift in acquaintances over the past few years I take for granted that everyone I know knows what goes into writing a novel. I'd say ninety percent of the people I chat with online are other authors. We commiserate about our toiling, about editing and marketing, and we compare notes on what is and isn't working for us. Rarely do we talk about our process as it's different for everyone.

I thought I'd sketch out how I write a novel so my readers know why it takes a year to get my next book, and to maybe start a conversations on what my author friends do differently.

The first thing I do when I sit down to write any new novel is evaluate everything in my idea bank. 

The idea bank is a collection of rough thoughts written on anything and everything: in notebooks for other novels, on sticky paper, on index cards, and on random scraps of paper. I hate to think how many of these are lost somewhere or have unintentionally been thrown in the trash. 

Sometimes after picking an idea from the bank, I realize it just doesn't work, often on a substantial enough level that I have to throw the idea out completely. Sometimes that realization comes too late. There is no bigger disappointment than trying to pull together a novel that you realize after fifty thousand words isn't coming out as intended.

Vetting novel ideas takes days, sometimes weeks as I try to mentally work out how to get from point A to B. Not every idea is going to run novel-length. Not every idea is original. Some are going to be easier to write than others. Some are going to be easier to sell. Being a successful novelist is as easy and as hard as writing a book everyone talks about. I'm searching for that sweet spot (aren't we all?).
Five novels later, I'm still deciding what genre I am most comfortable in. The next few books, with the exception of Departure, are mysteries or thrillers. I think I may have found a home there.

Once I settle on an idea, I start outlining.

Make no mistake, I'm a plotter-pantser hybrid. When I say I "outline," I mean I jot down as many rough ideas about the overall story as I have at the time. This is an ongoing process that starts with index cards and ends with a notebook when I'm sure there is enough to the idea to pull off eighty thousand or so words. Often this notebook is filled with scribbles, ideas that just didn't make the cut. Once I start writing, new ideas form--better ideas--and I run with them when they do. I strive to make my characters' lives more interesting and difficult. No one wants to read a story about a bunch of imaginary people who have it easy. Nobody.

Then I start writing.

I'm a full-time author, and beginning to wonder if I shouldn't change that title to part-time author and full-time editor. My sixth novel, Fatal Intention, will be the last before a major process change. I can't believe it took me six novels to realize that I'm editing too close to the completion of a final draft. I finish writing a novel and go back to the beginning within a day or two.

I've read in about every writing magazine or how-to book that you need to let a novel cool off before reworking it. I don't know why I ignored that bit of advice for so long. Don't get me wrong, you don't have to wait, but you'll make many more subsequent passes and by the time a book is actually complete it will feel like that old piece of bubblegum you've chewed tasteless. It's painful, unproductive, and frustrating.

Revising takes longer than writing.

I can put out a rough draft in three months if I push myself. What I can't do is self-edit in that time. I am hoping that giving more breathing time between initial completion and revision remedies that. After some tough love from my beta, I'm approaching what I think is the final revision of Fatal Intention. He's a saint for reading it again, and I hope he loves the changes.

Then comes the hard part.

After I've written, revised, listened to my beta, revised again, and self-edited, comes the big decision: indie publish or submit to a publisher. As a new hybrid, there are a few more doors open to me than three years ago. Submitting comes only after substantial soul-searching. I do what feels best for each book. 

Fatal Intention will be submitted to Thomas & Mercer as part of the Anneliese Ashmore series. Also, I do expect that in time there will be a book three. I have some ideas, but have wrapped up the mystery in book two so that I'm not leaving anyone hanging while I work on other things. I've spent a couple of years with these characters, grown attached, I guess, and don't feel their stories are done yet.

Departure will be self-published, though I don't have a tentative date and don't want to commit to a deadline I might not meet. It's coming, that's all I can promise at this point other than when it does, it'll be my most righteous Strandville  novel yet. Don't forget to check in on October 10th during the zOctober live chat if you have questions about where Departure is headed.

Did I say that was the hard part?

I might have misspoken. There's another facet to being an emerging author that new authors might not consider when they decide to enter the shark-filled waters: Sales.

Perhaps the most elusive part of this business is what makes a book sell. What gets people talking? How many people does it take to make a book successful? What amplifies audience reach? 

I don't know. I don't think anyone does. I write the story asking to be told, I put it out there, and I hope it resonates. I am thankful for every reader I get, but have not yet reached the point in my career where my books sell themselves. I strongly believe that if I persist, I will get there. Three years is a drop in the publishing bucket. Writing is a long game, a labor of love, and each author will have a unique experience. Regardless of sales, of success, of reviews, I'm doing what I have always wanted to do, every day, and for that I am grateful.

It would be awesome if some of my author readers would link back with response posts. How do you write a novel? What do you do differently? What have you learned over time? Readers, is there more or less to novel writing than you thought? Weigh in in comments.