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I'm so excited that my lifelong dream of becoming a published author has come true. If you'd like to go straight to excerpts, descriptions, and buy links for my books, click on the covers below on the right.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: The Agency

The idea for this one came out of a conversation I had last weekend with a friend who asked what I wanted in a minion. Yes, I love my friends. If you know of any minions looking for work, please direct them my way. I promise I'll be nice to them as long as they behave.

This week has been insane with regard to work and getting ready for vacation, so I apologize to those whose #FridayFlash stories I didn't get to read and comment on yet from last week. I'm going to try to catch up soon.

The Agency

"What are you looking for in a minion?" Forrest raised his eyebrows and invited the individual across from him to impress him with something witty, clever, and original.

Instead, the dour man with the black lipstick and fingernails and raven feathers woven in his long, stringy hair said, "Unquestioning obedience."

"I've heard that before." Forrest added a cheerful upswing to "that" in his tone to make it sound less flippant. "Let me see what I can do to find you the perfect one. Will this assistant need to have any special skills?"

"Some rudimentary chemistry knowledge and a love of Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker." He shifted in his seat, and his long, charcoal-colored robe rustled.

"Ah, the classics!" Forrest tapped on his black (of course) keyboard and picked at a piece of feather that had drifted to land on his grey sweater vest while the profiles loaded. The Minion Placement Agency had a policy that their employees were never to look more threatening than the clients.

This particular client raised his eyebrows and inclined his head. Forrest surmised that he lacked a sense of humor, so that was noted in his profile. That would greatly reduce the intelligence quotient of whoever was placed with him. Smart minions needed someone who could joke with them.

"This will just take a few moments, Mr. Raven," Forrest said. "Could I have someone fetch you some coffee?"

"Yes. Black. Decaf."

Forrest nodded to Jeanine, the secretary who hovered nearby. Really, she was his boss, but they had to put on appearances. For female clients, they'd trade places, and Jeanine would even whip him a little.

"One coffee!" She smiled and handed the cobalt mug to Mr. Raven.

"It's decaf, right?"

"Oh, I forgot. It will take me a moment to brew a fresh pot. Is that okay?"

"No, Jeanine, it is NOT okay." Forrest rose to his feet and held his breath so that his face would turn red faster. "What kind of impression are you giving this gentleman of our organization? You can't even fetch coffee!"

"Really, it's okay, I can wait," Mr. Raven said.

"No, it is unacceptable! You're fired, young lady! I cannot deal with this gross incompetence."

"No, don't do that!' Mr. Raven stood to block Jeanine, who cowered away from Forrest's purported rage. "It's not her fault. You're being too hard on her!"

"Well, if it's okay with you, Mr. Raven," Forrest said and took a deep breath. The computer crowed to let him know it was done searching. "Ah, here we go. I'm sorry, we don't have anyone with the skills you're looking for right now." He smiled and mopped his brow with a white handkerchief. "Please forgive my outburst. We'll keep your requirements on file and let you know if we have someone come in who'd be a good fit for you."

After Mr. Raven left, Jeanine looked at Forrest and said, "Unquestioning obedience, my ass."

Forrest nodded. He noted Mr. Raven's reaction in the profile. "He was just a big old softy at heart. It's nice to know that whoever he gets will be going to a good home."

"Stop being so sentimental, Forrest. Run the search for real, and then fetch me a bagel."

"Yes, ma'am." Once again, Forrest hoped his profile would pop up as a match, but he knew he was too smart to be happy with Mr. Raven, who still lacked a sense of humor no matter how kind he would be. Forrest wouldn't be able to switch minionhood that easily, at least not this minute, but there was a Lady Sinestra coming in later...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: We Love Yankees

I thought I was stuck for #FridayFlash this week, but then I remembered this Southern Gothic tale I'd written for a writing group a few years ago. It's funny how experience changes your writing, especially over the span of years. That might make a good blog post at some point, so I'll just say now that I'm glad to have mostly kicked the "as" habit. For more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

We Love Yankees

The First Primitive Church of the Holy Redeemer had the prettiest garden in Sleepy Hills, Georgia. That’s what Missy Smythe thought as she walked down Main Street, camera in hand, looking for local color she could capture and bring back to her studio.

“You look like a young lady who’s going somewhere.” The pleasant drawl belonged to a tall man, grey-haired, with glasses, who knelt behind a hydrangea with a fist full of weeds. The plant had balls of flowers bigger than Missy's head, each one a brilliant shade of pink or blue. Bees buzzed around them.

Missy smiled. “I don’t know about going,” she said, “I’m just trying to get home." She’d had a fight with her boyfriend Beau at the Country Bear Jamboree in Disney World, and he'd canceled her ticket and left her there. After renting a car and heading up I-75, she took a random exit in South Georgia just to drive in the shade, and here she was, walking down Main Street with dwindling hopes of finding a coffee shop with something frozen.

The man took off one of his leather gardening gloves. “I’m Rick,” he said and held his hand out, “the pastor.”

“I’m Missy. I’m just passing through.” She shook his hand. It seemed cool in spite of the day's heat.

“Well now, Missy, no one just 'passes through' Sleepy Hills. Why don’t you come to the Church tonight? We’re having a covered dish, and we’d love to have you.”

“A what?”

“A covered dish, when everyone brings something. But you’d be our guest.”

“Oh, a potluck! That’s what we call them at home.”

“And where’s home for you?”


The corners of Rick’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. “We love Yankees around here. We even use Yankee fertilizer on our garden.”

“It’s lovely.” Missy tilted up a crimson hibiscus flower as big as a dinner plate. “I’ve never seen flowers so big! Or bright.”

“It’s the perfect place for them to grow, here in front of the house of God.”

Missy released the flower and with her friendliest smile excused herself. She wasn’t in the mood to talk about God today. In fact, she’d been having sinful thoughts about what to do to Beau when she got back home. Maybe she'd stay a while, make him worry about her…

Main Street brought her into town, where she found an old-fashioned Confectionary Shop. The smell of freshly baked bread lured her in.

“May I help you?” asked a petite woman, her hair a helmet of gray curls frosted with the flour that hung in the air. The white lace curtains in the windows blocked out more light that Missy would've thought possible. The cookies and cakes slumbered inside the glass cases like lumpy gremlins. A large black fly bumped against the inside of the window with a buzz-thunk.

“I think so. Do you know where I might find a hotel?”

The woman cocked her head. “Are you new in town, honey?”

“Just passing through. Pastor Rick invited me to a covered dish tonight at the church, and I need a place to stay.”

The woman smiled. “Well, then, you’ll likely be staying at the church.”

“Oh, do they have a guest house?”

“Somethin’ like that.”

Missy watched the flour motes drift in the dim sunlight streaming through the windows. “He didn’t say anything about it.”

“You’ll probably be invited to later. Most Yankees are.”


“And I’ll even bake some of my special cookies for the occasion. We like Yankees here.”

“So I’ve heard.”

Missy felt a droplet of sweat trickle down the back of her neck. The air that swirled the flour didn’t touch the oven-like heat of the store.

“Can I get you something, honey?”

Missy shook her head. The air pressed her eardrums and shot fingers of pain through her temples. “I think I’ll go now.”

“Take a cookie, dear.”

Missy reached for her purse, but the woman shook her head. “Welcome to Sleepy Hills.”

Back in the full sunlight of the sidewalk, Missy took a couple of deep breaths and tried to calm the raised hair on the back of her neck and arms. Something wasn’t right about this place. But they liked Yankees, so she kept walking and munched on the cookie, which tasted of ginger and something else she couldn’t place.

Missy walked back to where she thought she’d parked, but the rental wasn’t there.

A deep breath, then another. Stranded in a weird Southern town with nothing but her camera and her purse. Check that. Her camera. She’d lost her purse. She walked back the way she came, but she didn’t see it, and the Confectionary Store was closed. She couldn’t even find a pay phone. Finally, she went back to the church and knocked on the door.

The wooden door of the church, pitted and scarred from a hundred years of humid summers and dry winters, swung in.

“Hello?” she called. No answer. The air, cool and inviting, drew her in. She found a pew and decided to wait until Pastor Rick re-appeared. Someone couldn't just disappear forever, right?

The late afternoon light streamed through the stained glass windows and colored Missy, the pews, and the flagstone floor of the church in splotches of crimson, green, and gold. She reached for her camera, but her clumsy fingers wouldn’t work. The colors ran into each other, mixing and melting until a black vortex sucked them in. It, too, faded with the buzz-thunk of a fly against the window.


Pastor Rick found Missy slumped against the corner of the pew and gave her a shake. Nothing. The girl’s shoulder felt cool.

“Well, Miss Ida May, we have another one.”

Ida May, flour still in her curls, shook her head. “Poor dear, the heat must’ve gotten to her.”

They exchanged a knowing smile.

“What should we do?”

“I’m sure she’ll be comfortable resting for eternity in your garden.”

“True. Yankees do make the best fertilizer.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: A Balance of Souls

Vampires are interesting because they're conflicted, and I've gotten tired of the whiny ones. They're not my usual thing, but I guess every spec fic writer has to do a vampire story at one point, so I consider this to be my "getting them out of my system" tale. Comments welcome, as always! For more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter

A Balance of Souls

Elizabeth fled to the orchard. She ignored the cries of her nurse behind her, "Lady, stop! Please, Lady, listen to your mother!" At sixteen, Elizabeth was too old to listen to her mother, especially when she had such horrible things to say.

Once sure she had outrun the elderly nursemaid, Elizabeth slumped against a gnarled trunk. Nurse never came into the orchard after dusk, and the sun would set any minute. The dying light of the day gilded the west side of the trees and cast dark shadows to the east.

Once she caught her breath, she yawned. Every night for the past month, she'd woken to see a figure standing at the foot of her bed. The apparition itself wouldn't have bothered her so much – perhaps it was her guardian angel, or the day's patron saint – but for the smells of blood and gunpowder. It reminded her of when her father and brothers would go hunting and come back bloody and reeking of death. Sleep had become hard to find.

What would be worse, she wondered, to be lost to the dark creatures that hunted in the orchard at night, or to be sent to the Convent of Perpetual Sorrow? Wasn't there a third choice?

"Your father lost everything when his cargo ship sank last month," her mother had told her that afternoon. "We have nothing for a dowry or education. Mother Margaret will accept you into the convent with this." She held out a gold Rosary with pearl Hail Mary beads and diamond and ruby decade beads.

If only they had sold the Rosary, they would have had enough, but it had been her great-grandmother's.

"But Eric's parents have plenty of money! They won't care if I don't have a dowry."

That's when her mother had taken Elizabeth's face in her cold, dry hands. "Eric was killed in the war, Elizabeth. A month ago. They just found out."

Tears slipped down Elizabeth's cheeks, and she slid to the ground. She didn't remember the rest of the conversation or running out of the house, only when her feet had met the dirt path to the orchard where she and Eric had courted under Nurse's watchful eye.

She raised her hand to wipe her eyes. She heard clinking and saw that she held great-grandmother's Rosary. Her mother must have handed it to her before she told her about Eric.

The pearl beads slipped through Elizabeth's fingers. "I'm lost. Hail Mary, the Lord is with you, help me find my way…"

A tall figure stepped out of the shadows between two large trees, and Elizabeth shrieked, then looked closer. She rolled to her knees, breathless at the sight of the face she thought she'd never see again. "Eric? You were killed in battle."

"So they say." He lifted her chin with cold fingers. She could barely make out his face in the waning light. Yes, it was him, but there was something strange...

"They said you were dead. They gave your sword and gun to your father." She rose to her feet and stumbled before she regained them. The Rosary clinked and swung with her drunken motions. "I… I can't marry you. There's no money for a dowry."

"Even if there was, it's too late for that," he said. "Things have changed. I've changed."

She felt her mouth press into the thin line that was her mother's disapproving expression. "What do you mean, you've changed? Your parents have plenty of money! And they'll be happy to see you."

He shook his head. "Not like this. I came to say goodbye, Elizabeth."

She touched his cheek. It was so cold! He lit a match, and she saw in the seconds between when the flame flared and faded that he had changed. His skin, always pale, now was white, and his sad smile showed her…fangs. Nurse had been right! Vampires did hunt in the orchard after dark.

She gasped and stepped back, crossing herself with the Rosary. "Who did this to you?"

"It was a creature, a man dressed like a looter, who crossed the lines after the battle. He found me. He asked if I wanted to die. I said no, and that's when he did it. If I had known…"

"Have you killed anyone?" she asked. "Oh, Eric, your soul! You'll go to Hell!"

"No, only animals." He looked away. "But time grows short. I feel the thirst."

"Stay with me tonight," she said, remembering Nurse's stories. She came up with a plan to save him. "You can be gone in the morning. And I shall go into the convent and pray for your soul."

He nodded. They talked all night of their childhoods, and the plans that they had made for when he got back from the war. Elizabeth saw the sky lightening to the East.

"I want to come with you," she said.

"What?" He looked at her with narrowed eyes.

"Let me join you. There's no life for me here, and I'll die in the convent!"

"Are you sure?"

She nodded and offered her neck, the spot where he had often stolen kisses. She gasped when she felt his fangs slide through her skin, and she let him drain her as she kept one eye on the sky.

"Now you," he said. He bit a pair of holes in his wrist and held it to her mouth. She turned her head away.

"Elizabeth, drink!"

Her vision swam, each breath an effort. "No."

"But you said…"

"I'm saving your soul, Eric," she said. "Wait for me, my love." The rim of the sun peeked over the horizon and shone through the spaces between the leaves. She closed her eyes so as not to see him burn, but she heard and smelled it, the popping and sizzling, blood and gunpowder. She curled her fingers around the Rosary and prayed, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now at the hour of our death…"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book Review: The Golden Cockerel by Kenneth G. Allen, Jr.

It's hard to write, finish, and revise a book, and it takes courage and money to get it out there if the author wants to take the self-published route. Readers who are interested in self-published books but who don't want to waste their time on low-quality ones need a place to go for reviews. My goal is to post a review of a self-published book two or three times per month so that authors and readers can connect with each other. I'm also going to try and get author interviews so that readers can meet the people behind the books. At first, reviews and interviews will be posted separately due to time constraints. Oh, and I'm going to try and keep things fun, so be warned.

A disclaimer: I'm going to start with books by authors I know through real-life connections and through Twitter. If you're interested in getting your book reviewed and are willing to be interviewed by an otherworldly catfish, please email my assistant at bert{at}ceciliadominic.com or follow Bert on Twitter and message him there.

Title: The Golden Cockerel: A New Odyssey
Author: Kenneth G. Allen, Jr.
Genre: Historical Fiction with Paranormal Elements

The title of Kenneth G. Allen, Jr.'s novel The Golden Cockerel: A New Odyssey seems ambitious, but after reading this tale of adventure, lust, battles, and celestial influence, I believe it is warranted. Set in the Roman Empire of the first century A.D., The Golden Cockerel follows the adventures of landowner Gaius Petronicus and his fourteen-year-old slave Justinian as they cross the Mediterranean in search of Gaius' kidnapped daughter Portia.

Justinian, really Justa, disguised as a boy to increase her value, is a member of the new Christian religion and has the power to heal. Gaius still follows the Roman gods. In many books set in this or similar eras, the author's religious agenda shines through, but Allen does well in balancing the two, and he stays out of the way of the story, which is neither pro-Christian nor pro-Pagan. The characters' cleverness influence the storyline more than the gods' actions, which helps to avoid tiresome Deus ex Machina plot twists.

Allen's research pays off in a novel that comes across as authentic both with regard to setting and culture. No fear of Americans running around dressed as Romans in an earlier time! I caught myself being angry that Gaius and crew could kidnap a woman from a savage island with the plan of selling her into slavery in what seemed to be a callous manner, but that was my American principle of individual freedom clashing with the Roman mindset of "if you're not a Roman citizen, you're fair game." It helps that later on in the book, Gaius comes up against the same principle, but turned against him by a greedy politician.

I only have two complaints about The Golden Cockerel. First, the story starts a little slowly, but it picks up quickly as it allows us to know the characters. Second, speaking of characters, keeping track of the large cast can be difficult, especially of the ones who drop out for a bit and come back later. The book may have benefited from one less subplot, as well, but Allen does a good job of tying them all together in the end.

With regard to formatting and quality, my compliments go to Dog Ear Publishing. Allen speaks highly of them, and the book itself is a work of art with great cover design and line drawings at the beginning of each chapter. Allen also provides a list of Latin terms at the end, but most of them can be figured out from context.

The Golden Cockerel is a fun journey through ancient Rome with believable characters and a nice balance of Christan and Pagan influence. It's definitely worth the seventeen bucks and is available on Amazon.com.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My first guest post! and Call for blog links

I'm so excited! My first guest post is up at the Peevish Penman -- Articles about Writing blog. The stages of grief aren't just for death and dying anymore (but it really is a lighthearted article). Thanks for the invite, Carrie!

This brings me to another topic. I'd love to get a list of favorite writing blogs for the sidebar. So, if you have one or know of a good one you'd like me to check out and link to, please let me know.

Have a great week!