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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, July 16, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: First Date

I read a novel excerpt as short story recently on the Narrative Magazine site that impressed me so much I thought I'd try something similar. This is from my completed (revision in progress) novel A Perfect Man. I'll add some more commentary to the end. If you're interested in more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

First Date:

"Chardonnay and Brie. Chicks'll be impressed every time!"

Albie's words echoed through Seth's head while he shopped, and since Julie wouldn't arrive for another half hour, he stopped by the wine and cheese shop next to the grocery store. If Albie had been married twice, he must have some knowledge of women, right?

Seth gasped at the array of Chardonnay – American, French, Australian, and even Macedonian – priced from eight to eighty dollars. Finally he grabbed one of the cheaper ones from the chilled case and went to the cheese cooler, where the brie selection overwhelmed him with double and triple cream, wine or whiskey flavoring, or chewy bits like dried fruit or herbs. He bought the only one he could afford, a basic double cream. He made it back to his place at 5:45 and found Julie waiting in front of his door.

"I got done early, so I figured I'd come over. Do you need help with your groceries?" she asked.

"Um, sure." He tried to cover the logo on the plastic wine and cheese bag by hugging it to his chest and felt the soft squish underneath his bicep – the Brie! Shit! The Chardonnay seemed to have been chilled to near-frozen, at least to his left nipple.

She grabbed the other grocery bags and shut the trunk for him. He followed her up the stairs, noting how her rear end swayed beneath the grey fabric of her skirt. The black heels showed off her legs nicely. He imagined her kicking the heels off and freeing her hair from its ponytail.

Julie put the bags in the kitchen and sat at his dining room table. She looked out the window at the small houses on the bluff across the street. "This isn't bad. It'll be pretty when the leaves change."

"I think so, too." Seth mentally kicked himself for not saying something more intelligent.

Julie unfastened the ankle straps on her shoes, stretched her legs, and wiggled her toes. "Man, I'm tired! Those heels are killer."

"I don't know how you women stand those," Seth said. "I bet I know what would help."

"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow and smiled.

"I'll be right back."

He debated offering her a foot massage, but instead went into the kitchen to retrieve the Brie and wine. Let her loosen up first. He didn't have a fancy wooden board or cheese knives, so he put the Brie on a blue plastic cutting board with a paring knife. At least he had wine glasses, although he preferred beer.

"Can I help with anything?" Julie asked. Before he could respond, he saw her looking at him from where she leaned against the door frame. She had unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse, and he could see the full curves of her breasts through the gap in her shirt. Her hair hung like a gold silk scarf over her head and shoulders.

"Brie?" he asked. His voice cracked. "I've got wine, too. A Chardonnay. It's, ummm…" He grabbed the bottle and looked. "A California. Napa Valley. I hear they're good."

"Great, I'm starving!" She put one hand on her flat stomach. "I didn't eat lunch today."

"Please, help yourself. I'll pour the wine."

"Do you have any bread or crackers to go with it?" she asked. "If not, that's okay."

Shit! Crackers! He looked through the pantry shelves and found some Saltines he'd brought with him from Atlanta. One of the sleeves was unopened, and he hoped they weren't stale. He put a few on the plastic cutting board with the slightly flattened cheese and turned to open the wine.

The counter seemed too small, the glasses too big. He imagined the wine bottle slipping and knocking the glasses into the sink or on the floor. The little pull-tab on the cork foil broke off when he got a good grip on it with his shaking hands.

He heard her chewing, and the hair on the back of his neck prickled. Was she watching him make a fool of himself? He set the butterfly corkscrew on top of the bottle, allowing the end to puncture the foil covering on the cork. He twisted the key and removed the cork through the foil, which flared out in jagged edges that he tore off. Triumph! He poured two glasses and turned to give one to Julie with a bow.

"Wine, milady?"

A drop of blood spattered on the white linoleum.

"Seth, omigod!" Julie pulled Seth's right arm so that he bled into the sink from the deep gash on his right thumb. He held the counter's edge with his left hand and bit the inside of his cheeks so he wouldn't throw up or pass out. Pain and humiliation warred in his chest while Julie ran water over it, but he got control and cleaned it as best he could with some antibacterial soap. She folded a dry paper towel to act as a temporary bandage.

"That looks pretty deep," she said. "Maybe you should get stitches."

"I…" The thought of a needle piercing his skin made Seth's stomach flip again. "I'm not sure I need stitches. Let me just sit for a second."

"Whoa, I've got you." Julie guided him to the couch. She took his shoes off and helped him lie down with his knees higher than his heart. The rushing sound in his ears subsided, and he wondered if she'd been a Girl Scout. Did they have naughty badges?

"Do you need anything else?" she asked.

He tried to say no, but his tongue felt like a piece of heavy, raw meat in his mouth. He looked at his injured thumb and saw that the blood had seeped through the bandage in a straight line. Damn! It throbbed with the heartbeat he could feel in the middle of his head.

"I think you're right," he said. "I think I need stitches." With that decided, he stood, and everything went black.

Author's note:

Before anyone asks, yes, I've cut myself on wine foil, although not to the point I needed stitches.

Here's the beginnings of the query blurb for the novel:

MFA student Karen is seeking the perfect man, both for herself and to star as the male lead in her novella project for Romance Class. Her classmate Seth can't seem to please the women in his life, and even his muse has deserted him. After he dreams he's in Karen's project and writes it from the male POV, the professor makes them work together. This horrifies Karen, who wants to win the best novella competition prize: dinner with her favorite author. Together they find that art may imitate life, but life can be infinitely stranger.

The genre is Romance. Yeah, I got 40,000 words into it, and nothing strange had happened yet! Comments on excerpt and query blurb are welcome.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: The Agency -- A Wish and a Dragon

I'm lucky to live in a place where new restaurants open frequently, and many of them last. Since you first met Thomas Forrest and Raven, Thomas has been emancipated (click here for that story), and they're about to open a pub at the edge of the River Styx. For more Friday Flash Fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

"All set for the soft opening!" Thomas Forrest gave the Russian Blue granite bar a final swipe with the damp but soft cloth. The bar rumbled under his hand – purring? He shook his head; he'd never get used to Magic Stone™. Although its slogan "Find out just how magical it is!" had intrigued him at first, it usually meant there was some sort of nasty surprise waiting. He only hoped it wouldn't hack up a stoneball on opening night.

"Good, good." Mr. Raven smiled and emerged from the office. He still wore his long, feathered cloak and black nail polish, but Thomas understood that his new boss' attire was more parody of supervillain than fashion sense. "A good night will ensure we have enough to cover the first mortgage payment on this place, although I still cannot believe we acquired it at such a reasonable price. Any responses to the bartender ad yet?"

"No, although I can't imagine why."

"Nor can I. You really outdid yourself with the decorating."

"Thank you, sir." Thomas looked around. The dark blue-gray granite bar top seemed to grow out of the hammered metal base. Purple- and red-cushioned booths lined the walls under diamond-paned windows open to the wooded parking lot and broom stand. At once modern and magical, it was the place he'd always dreamed of managing.

Something appeared at the end of the bar with a Pop! Thomas and Raven approached it carefully, a plastic bowl-shaped container filled with murky water. A dark gray face with whiskers peered over the edge.

"I got your bartender right here!"

"Bert!" Mr. Raven held out his hands like he was going to embrace the – catfish? "How was your assignment on the Other Side?"

"Eh, the usual. Saved the girl, got the demon, got fried in the end."

Raven winced. "Again? I hope the pay was at least decent."

"Lousy. Four chicken biscuits and a wish." The fish splashed some water from its container, and Thomas had to wipe the bar again. It hissed.

"There, there," Thomas wondered if it would eat fish.

Raven raised his eyebrows. "A wish? That's different."

"New HR policy. Budget's tight, so they've gotten cheap. You should see the fine print on it."

"A-hem!" Thomas cleared his throat. "I don't believe we've met." He held out his hand and remembered the fish probably couldn't shake it.

"Yeah, I'm Bert, sometimes minion to Archangel Raphael."

Thomas arched an eyebrow. "How were you a minion? You can't even give foot massages!"

Bert looked at Raven. "Who's this punk?"

"He is the manager of this public house, recently minion to the Witch Jeanette."

"Oh, you got a used minion, huh?"

"I prefer the term pre-owned, I mean, emancipated!" Thomas took a deep breath. "And how could you be a bartender? You can't even mix drinks!"

"Telekinesis, buddy."

Raven arched an eyebrow. "As much as I admire your abilities, Bert, I don't know that this would work. You still need to be able to move around behind the bar to take orders."

Bert opened his mouth to respond, or maybe to take a breath, but a flash of lightning and sulfur smell made them all gag. A dark figure slithered through the door. The emergency candles flared to life, and all six eyes turned to the five-foot-tall lizard in the middle of the room.

"Evening, gents!" It said in a sibilant voice. "Nice place you have here." Nictitating membranes slid horizontally across its black eyes when it blinked. The hair at the back of Thomas' neck stood – this strange green creature had some strong magic behind it.

"We're not open yet," said Raven.

"I'm aware of that. Who's in charge here?"

Thomas pointed a finger and Bert a fin at Raven.

"This here public house is in the territory of the dragons. That means we need certain, shall we say, assurances to protect you from our hungry brethren and associates."

"You mean extortion fees." Raven's voice was flat.

"However you want to call it." The lizard handed Raven an envelope. The human opened it, and both his eyebrows lifted.

"This is impossible!"

"Ah, but that's the deal with the land, guv'nor. The spell says: 'When patrons are served by human hands, a dragon's fees protect the land.'"

"Wait a second…" Thomas stepped forward and steeled himself against the small dragon's gaze. "Your spell says human hands. What about a fish's?"

"Fish don't have hands."

"But Bert has a wish." Thomas looked at the catfish. "Would H.R. be amenable to it?"

"Helluva way to waste a wish," Bert grumbled, but he subsided when he saw the look of despair on Raven's face.

"Then do it."

Bert closed his eyes and whispered the spell: "Payment be due for helping the divine, magical forces grant this wish of mine."

Thomas felt the power gather in the room. The dragon watched without expression.

"I wish to be able to take the form of a human at will without losing my magical creature identity."

The fish seemed to inflate from the inside and burst his container. He grew and unfolded into a short, stocky man with thick beard that disappeared into his chest hair. His bulky forearms were also covered in thick, wiry black hair, but Thomas could see anchor tattoos on them. Bert the bartender wore black pants and a white shirt with sleeves rolled above the elbow.

"Your loophole is noted, but be sure that the Master Dragons will not be satisfied for long." The large lizard disappeared, and the lights flickered on.

"Great thinking, Thomas!" Raven clapped him on the shoulder. "And thank you, Bert! I cannot tell you how much it means to me that you used your wish to help me out."

"Is it too soon to ask for a raise?"

Thomas sighed and wiped the spilled water off the bar, which stayed strangely quiet.

"Hey, newbie!" The new bartender called to him. "Why don't you get in the kitchen and make us some chicken biscuits?"