@DeanFWilson Shares 4 Keys to a Successful Novel #WriteTip #PubTip #AmWriting

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There are four keys to a successful novel, and while one or more of these might be stressed over the others in any given book, their combination makes for something a reader will find difficult to put down.

Key 1: The Story

If you don’t have a good story, nothing will save the book. Generally speaking a writer needs one gripping concept that asks the reader a question, and then answers itself through the unfolding of the novel—or gives the reader the ability to answer the question him or herself by the end.

For example, what if the line between animals, humans, and androids was significantly blurred? This is one of the big questions posed in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick’s classic science fiction piece that became Blade Runner on the big screen. In fact, even the very title of the book (sadly lost in the film) asks a profound question that drives the story, and thus the reader, forward.

The reason the story is focused on a question is because mystery and intrigue are what pull most readers in, and keep them turning the page. It is that desire to find the answer that makes it impossible to put a book down, and is, indeed, the reason why the mystery and thriller genres are so popular, and why the likes of Sherlock Holmes continues to inspire to this day.

Humanity is questioning by nature, and it is largely our curiosity about ourselves and the world around us that has driven civilisation forward.

Key 2: The Character/s

You might encounter the notion of “story-driven” or “character-driven.” Sometimes a story is so good that it almost doesn’t matter who the character is—it’s the concept that matters. Other stories are less engaging, but the characters are so real and interesting that we just have to take a peek into their lives.

A good character not only propels the story forward, taking on a life of his or her own, but invites the possibility of numerous sequels. Think of, for example, the character of James Bond. While the various situations he gets into (in both the books and films) are interesting, it is largely the character itself that people are interested in. It almost doesn’t matter who the bad guy is, so long as we know that the martini-drinking and smooth-talking hero is along for the ride (preferably in an Aston Martin).

A well-developed character will not need to be prodded on by the writer, but will actively react to story elements as he or she encounters them. The most engaging characters, with the most interesting personalities, will stay with a reader long after the book is closed.

In fact, the fictional nature of the character may even be questioned by some readers, for whom such characters can seem more real than the people around them. We see this with some people who obsess with characters in soap operas, for example, and begin to warn the actor of situations in the show as if it were real life.

Key 3: The Suspense

A truly engaging story has risk. If Frodo could get on the back of an eagle and fly all the way to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, we would stop caring about the characters. It is their struggle, and the possibility of failure, that excites the reader into rooting for the hero, and investing emotionally in the journey.

Many great stories not only have the central quest that must be achieved, and the major risk associated with that, but a series of smaller hurdles that must be crossed. Sometimes these throw the entire endeavour into jeopardy, further engaging the reader.

Plot twists, cliff-hangers, and surprises are all tools designed to heighten the tension. Some of them answer questions, while others pose new ones. Will a certain popular character die? (Or, in the case of George R.R. Martin, will any of the characters live?) Can the hero cross the new hurdle unscathed, and will success in this minor battle affect the bigger war?

Tension can also be worked into a story in more subtle ways, by hinting to the reader that all is not quite right. We are familiar with this from horror movies, in particular, where lighting and music will be used to suggest danger.

Writers can do the same in fiction by associating key words or phrases, or a particular style of writing, with intense events. When this literary “score” resurfaces, it instantly communicates the same emotions to the reader.

Key 4: The Conflict

Conflict is the driving force behind most stories, with many of the risks and hurdles characters face coming from other characters, or situations created by those characters.

There is external conflict, such as the various forces of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, more immediate conflict, such as Boromir turning on the Fellowship, and internal conflict, such as Frodo’s struggle with temptation, amplified by showing just how far that internal struggle can go in the dual-natured Gollum.

Popular soap operas thrive on conflict. Whether it’s family disputes, martial cheating, backstabbing friends, or just plain old shouting matches, it is this kind of thing that makes people watch. The same is true for any novel, because a story without conflict is boring.

Imagine for a moment if the central question of a story was answered by all of the characters in the same way. With no disagreement, a major source of interest is lost. We stop caring about the characters, because there is no battle to win, and thus no real side to root for.

When a good story is populated by strong characters, and when that story is underlined by tension and those characters driven by conflict, the reader is in for a treat.

roadToRebirth (1)

THE DYING BREATH. THE DYING WILL. THE DYING HOPE.

After the catastrophe of the Call of Agon, Ifferon and his companions find themselves in the unenviable situation of witnessing, and partaking in, the death of another god—this time Corrias, the ruler of the Overworld.

With Corrias locked inside the corpse of the boy Théos, he suffers a fate worse than the bonds of the Beast Agon. Yet hope is kindled when the company find a way to restore the boy, and possibly the god, back to life.

The road to rebirth has many pitfalls, and there are some who consider such meddling with the afterlife a grave risk. The prize might be life anew—but the price might also be a second death.

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Genre – Epic Fantasy

Rating – PG

More details about the author

 Connect with Dean F. Wilson on Facebook & Twitter

Rik Stone & How “Birth of an Assassin Evolved” #Crime #AmReading #TBR

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How my Story Evolved

Nearly all stories have a general platform from which to launch into exclusivity. I wanted to write something that I felt hadn’t been done or at least something different to what I’ve read. Of course, there’s no such thing as a tale that hasn’t been told. All you can hope for is that you might create a unique twist. Mine was a simple enough idea. I would present a set of non-western characters. How is that different? Well, in the novels I’ve trawled my way through over the years I’ve found that even in the most exotic of settings there is an American or European hero to sort out the mess. If you read Birth of an Assassin you’ll see that needn’t be the case.

But what stage could I use for my story and what genre? Being a thriller addict the genre went without saying, but what about setting? Well, I have an uncle by marriage whose parents fled anti-Semitism under late 19th century czarism. My uncle passed on little odds and ends relating to the hardships Jewish people had at that time and I thought there might be a story waiting to be told.

I researched the period and there were lots of events that could easily be weaved into a single fictitious account. I’ll give a couple of examples to explain what I mean:

In the second half of the 19th century, a Jewish boy was conscripted into the army to fight on one of the many battlefronts against The Ottoman Empire. The boy was killed and tsarist police operating in The Pale, a barren stretch of land where the Jewish population was forced to live, came to the house of the boy. They didn’t tell the parents he’d been killed in action. No, they said he was a deserter, and that the family was left responsible for his crime. The parents were fined several hundred roubles. Their belongings were sold for 40 roubles, leaving the family with a debt of, yes several hundred roubles. This became ritual; they rebuilt and their belongings were taken and sold as payment towards the fine.

In the early 1900’s a Russian child was murdered. The Jewish population was blamed and a series of state supported pogroms followed, ending in Kishinev in 1903 where the worst of the persecutions took place. Later, it turned out the child’s family had been responsible for the murder – and police had covered it up.

I could go on, there were a multitude of travesty’s over many years. Enough to say, I collected the makings of a story, but looking into that period, I saw no believable way that anyone Jewish could possibly come out on top, so I worked my way through Russian history looking for a home for my plot. It wasn’t until reaching post war Soviet Russia that I found a window. That isn’t to say my hero wins out in Birth of an Assassin, but I needed a place where he at least had a chance. Unfortunately I had to take my protagonist’s religion away, but his burning ambition to be a part of the Red Army wouldn’t have worked with it.

So, I had someone to represent the Jewish population. Now, I needed a core of anti-Semitism: along came Otto to provide the conduit for my story.

If you read Birth of an Assassin you can be forgiven for not seeing my analogy. When all’s said and done it’s simply an adventure thriller with goodies and baddies. And if I were to itemise now what happens in the book against its past equivalent I would be giving you a series of spoilers.

Birth of an Assassin

Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.

Buy Now @ AmazonB&NKobo & Waterstones

Genre – Thriller, Crime, Suspense

Rating – R

More details about the author

Connect with Rik Stone on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://rik-stone.simdif.com

Enemy of Man (Chronicles of Kin Roland) by @ScottMoonWriter #SciFi #TBR

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CHAPTER ONE

HEROES weren’t sealed in space caskets and launched into the void—not while they were still breathing. Kin shuddered. Memories came at night; they came with regrets, fears, and nightmares only a man buried alive could understand. Heroes destroyed the enemy. Heroes saved the day and died before they could wear medals or explain what it was like to shed the blood of millions.

This room is too dark.

Kin needed to go outside and look at the sky, but the wormhole song, the distant groaning of a universe unraveling, reminded him of Hellsbreach—gunfire, plasma bolts, and nuclear explosions on the horizon. Better to dream of Becca, though she was the reason he volunteered for the campaign.

“Stop thinking of her,” Laura said.

Kin sat up in bed, dropped his feet to the floor, and watched her drift back to sleep. Her chest rose and fell, a silk sheet accentuating her curves. Her eyes began to move under her eyelids.

“You don’t even know who she is.” He ran a finger behind Laura’s ear and down her neck until she giggled in her sleep. He smiled. “I can share anything with you in moments like these.” He slowly pulled the sheet lower and she didn’t stir.

Laura would like the game—exposing her skin to the night air and staring until she sensed his attention and awoke, but he stopped, reaching to cup the side of her face instead. Lust didn’t mix well with the darkness still in his mind.

“I’d fail again, given the same choice. Could you commit genocide, Laura?” he asked.

“Hmm?” She struggled to open her eyes, it seemed, but pushed him clumsily away with one hand as she rolled onto her stomach, twisting the sheets as she moved.

“I still love her. You know that, right?” Kin said.

Motionless on the bed, Laura seemed not to breathe. The wormhole that dipped into the atmosphere quieted. Silence spread across the planet. Sea birds called to each other and waves gently touched the beach.

Kin pulled on his pants and gun belt, then picked up his boots and go-bag as he crossed the room. Outside, he pressed an ampoule of caffeine against his neck and injected it. Sleep wasn’t a friend. The intramuscular dose was meant to be injected in the gluteus maximus, otherwise known as the place Laura hung on for dear life when they were together, but Kin didn’t want to ruin the feel of her hands by sticking his ass cheek with a needle.

He watched the sky as he did upon awakening morning, noon, or night, hating the way the wormhole that dumped them on the uncharted planet seemed alive and sentient. Lightning flashed through the undulating red, orange, and purple tube of light as it climbed lazily toward the ring of moons around the planet. The moons, by contrast, soothed his spirit when he could stop thinking about the gaping mouth of the wormhole. They climbed vertically from the horizon like the underside of an arch, brilliant at night and hazy during the day.

Kin steadied his breathing, forcing his shoulders to relax as he studied the anomaly.

The Goliath came through that hole. The enormous exploration vessel had been designed to orbit a planet and send down shuttles, not descend to the surface. No one planned for the uncharted wormhole to catch the ship and drop it inside the atmosphere. Much of the ship broke apart and scattered along the coast. The survivors existed between the sea and the impact site of the main fuselage.

Each year, sand covered the available salvage, making building materials scarce. The thought of leading another scavenger mission bored Kin, though he knew the children looked forward to crawling into holes the adults couldn’t reach. He rubbed his neck and decided he was done with caffeine injections for a while.

Kin had grown more sensitive to his surroundings since the deadly campaign on Hellsbreach. He heard Laura roll out of bed, though the heavy curtains were drawn over the doorway and she was trying to be stealthy. The floor creaked and Kin guessed she paused to scoop her pants and shirt off the floor. He didn’t hear her tug zippers or take the time to fasten buttons. Their relationship wasn’t that formal.

The ocean breeze and crashing waves soothed his mind, but didn’t mask the sounds Laura made. To Kin, there were simply more sounds, distinct and easily identifiable. She would have been smarter to move when the surf broke, but he still would have heard her. Auditory discrimination was why he hadn’t been slaughtered by Reapers on Hellsbreach. They could sound like men, or wolves, or stalking tigers, but beneath the obvious sounds there was always a clicking in their throats.

Laura moved closer to the doorway but stopped, probably listening for him. He measured the pause and assumed she was peeking through the curtain. She wasn’t incompetent at stealth, but he knew her game.

She moved behind him, wrapping her arms around his trim waist and pressing her body against his. She gripped him hard with no pretense of romance. Perhaps she heard what he said about being in love with Becca. She pretended she wasn’t jealous, but she was. She bit his ear. He continued to lean on the rail, ocean breeze blowing on his face, solid wood under his feet. She bit his neck. He smiled. The bite hurt, but he pretended it didn’t.

“You put your pants on,” she said. “Did I tell you to get dressed and sneak out of my bed?”

“I would hate for the Fleet to send a rescue mission and find me out of uniform.”

“If the Fleet comes to Crashdown, I’ll tell them about you,” she said. Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke and she lingered with a kiss even as one hand went into the front of his pants. Kin smiled and shook his head minutely.

“Crashdown is a good name for this place.” He thought the planet was huge and extremely dense, because the gravity was heavy and the ocean horizon to the west was flat as a blade.

“Do you think I’m joking?” she asked.

Kin didn’t answer. He wished she wouldn’t try to provoke him. He had killed for less. She enjoyed rough sex, danger, and power. Kin was bored with two of the three. She released him, patting his ass before she walked away.  He knew she kept them all alive. She was a force of nature. He needed to meet a nice girl, someone like Becca.

The wormhole convulsed. Kin let go of the rail and stood straight. His hand went to the pistol hanging on his leg. Objects burst from the hazy opening high in the atmosphere. Most ships that crashed on this huge planet came alone—pioneers, explorers, or pilgrims fleeing persecution. Meteors were more common, but during the last three days, a variety of space junk and wreckage had splashed into the ocean and smashed against the mountains east of Crater Town. Somewhere in the universe, an epic battle raged and the debris drifted through the wormhole.

Pacing, Kin watched the sky until the wormhole began to puke earnestly. Small pops sounded in the distance, but he suspected they were explosive thunderclaps.

Damn.

Objects burst into the air close together, sounding like the chatter of machine gun fire. Pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.

That’s a planetary assault force.

Each cluster of fast-moving smoke trails were troopers in Fleet Single Person Assault Armor units. He had worn an FSPAA unit during his enlistment and recognized the formation. Several larger objects followed, flanked by more troopers in airborne assault mode.

Laura emerged from the doorway, paused to stare at the sky, and hastily buttoned up her shirt. “I’m going to the meeting hall.”

“Go to a bunker,” Kin said, but she was already running.

“Damn!” Kin estimated a division of Fleet troopers were plummeting toward Crater Town. He jumped off the side of the deck and ran to the lighthouse, sprinting up the spiral staircase. When he reached the top, he doused the light and picked up a horn.

A large ship emerged from the mouth of the wormhole, bow elevated twenty degrees too high and drifting sideways. The ship was still under power, laboriously righting itself as the atmosphere burned it. Kin watched pieces break off. He didn’t recognize the ship’s class or if it were built for entry into the atmosphere, but it was shaped like a Fleet vessel.

An armada of broken ships, huge things never meant to enter the atmosphere even if in one piece, were the last through. Kin sounded the alarm. Horns answered from every corner of Crater Town. Men, women, and children rushed from their homes with survival kits. He saw many running to the well to form a bucket line and parents rushing their children to crude fallout bunkers.

Two companies of assault troopers splashed into the water off shore. Two additional companies veered right while another two veered left of Crater Town as flanking elements. Four came straight at him. The command ship and heavy vehicles—Tanks, Strykers, and reconnaissance vehicles—fought for altitude. They soared over the town, landing near the Goliath half buried in the sand between the coast and mountains.

Kin picked up binoculars from the railing and tracked the progress of each assault force and the efforts of Crater Town’s people. About the time young men surrendered to Fleet troopers in seven-foot-tall armor, the space debris hit. The noise of the plummeting ship parts had been minimal from a distance, but as they neared, they ripped through the air, vibrating the tower where Kin stood. Troopers and townspeople ran for shelters, threw themselves on the ground, or gaped at the destruction. Earth exploded. Water erupted into steaming clouds of death. Fires rampaged like demons.

Kin risked a final glance toward the wormhole before descending the tower.

That’s not a Fleet ship.

He jerked the binoculars up.

No military emblems. No weapons. And it’s shaped like a blockade runner. 

He watched the small craft drift away from the others, seeming to sneak free of the chaos. Kin didn’t like the feeling in his gut. Dread hollowed him out. He thought of Reapers and stolen technology.

The faster Fleet vessels and plummeting debris posed the immediate threat. Kin knew it. He needed to ignore the small civilian ship, but understood Reapers hijacked anything that would take them from their home world. The creatures didn’t build ships and were notoriously bad pilots, but when they left Hellsbreach, they were on a mission of murder.

Kin forced his gaze toward the ships and troops already on the ground.

Don’t think of Reapers. Don’t think of Hellsbreach. Captivity. Death. I should have died. Kin steadied his breathing, unsure if it calmed him or merely suffocated his panic. Should have killed them all.

Sweat beaded on his forehead. He waited for Fleet ships to spot the stranger and destroy it, but nothing happened. The craft disappeared beyond the mountain pass. He wanted to go after it, but Crater Town took priority.

He left the tower and ran down the unpaved street twisting around ramshackle huts near the bay. Laura hurried from a building up the street, wearing a firefighting coat. She paused to tie up her hair, then pulled on heavy gloves. People carrying tools rushed from their shelters to follow her. She accosted a group of men held at gunpoint by Fleet troopers and ordered them to follow her.

The squad leader pointed at Laura and gave an order. Get back. This is Fleet business.

Laura elevated her chin and put both hands on her hips. She said something. I’m sleeping with Kin Roland, a murdering deserter and traitor to the Fleet. He’ll cut your balls off if I even nod your direction. Fleet business my ass. This is my business. These are my people. Kindly mind your manners, you faceless killer.

The Fleet trooper spread his hands in frustration and surprise. He yelled and thrust his gauntleted finger near her face. Listen you stupid bitch. You’re lucky I don’t blow your head off.

Kin couldn’t hear the conversation, but he could imagine it. He wasn’t surprised when the troopers released the people of Crater Town to Laura. The guards followed, seeming a bit dazed.

What the fuck just happen?

Don’t ask me. You’re the squad leader. Take charge.

I’ll take charge of your face with my boot. Stay sharp. Watch the work crew. I’ll watch the councilwoman.

Kin ran up the steep hill, knowing planetary assault forces demanded immediate compliance when they made planetfall. They were paid to shoot people. He feared Laura would push too hard. Inflexible and harsh standard operating procedures placed the interests of the Fleet before the welfare of local populations. He needed to warn her about what happened when people resisted. She won this scrimmage and freed her work crew, but needed to consider a softer touch when dealing with officers.

Then he realized she had a trump card. He believed he knew Laura. He believed she had been toying with him when she said she would expose him to the Fleet. Being wrong would cost him his life.

“You there, halt and identify,” a Fleet trooper shouted. His amplified voice echoed from the helmet speaker. He held a rifle and a plasma thrower, each connected to the armor by woven metal tubes. Kin ignored the trooper, who moved forward, weapons ready.

He slipped around the corner and ducked through a cloud of smoke, then circled the area until he was behind the trooper who continued in the wrong direction.

“Identify yourself,” Kin said, under his breath. 

enemyOfMan

Lost Hero

Changed by captivity and torture, hunted by the Reapers of Hellsbreach and wanted by Earth Fleet, Kin Roland hides on a lost planet near an unstable wormhole.

When a distant space battle propels a ravaged Earth Fleet Armada through the same wormhole, a Reaper follows, hunting for the man who burned his home world. Kin fights to save a mysterious native of Crashdown from the Reaper and learns there are worse things in the galaxy than the nightmare hunting him. The end is coming and he is about to pay for a sin that will change the galaxy forever. 

Books

Enemy of Man: Book One in the Chronicles of Kin Roland was written for fans of military science fiction and science fiction adventure. Readers who enjoyed Starship Troopers or Space Marines will appreciate this genre variation. Powered armor only gets a soldier so far. Battlefield experience, guts, and loyal friends make Armageddon fun. 

Movies

If you love movies like Aliens, Predator, The Chronicles of Riddick, or Serenity, then you might find the heroes and creatures in Enemy of Man dangerous, determined, and ready to risk it all. It’s all about action and suspense, with a dash of romance—or perhaps flash romance. 

From the Author

Thanks for your interest in my novel, Enemy of Man. I hope you chose to read the book and enjoy every page. 

If you have already read Enemy of Man, how was it? Reviews are appreciated! 

Have a great day and be safe.

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Genre – Science Fiction

Rating – R

More details about the author

 Connect with Scott Moon on Facebook & Twitter

Heavyweight by @MBMulhall #AmReading #LGBT #GoodReads

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Julian has visibly paled and is shaking slightly. I don’t know if it’s from anger or shock. Seeing him in such a state has my rage immediately abating, heading south for the winter. Weary, I run a hand over my face.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap…. I just… I’m exhausted and stressed, and to be honest, I’m not used to having people do things for me.” He’s still shaking like an autumn leaf in a strong breeze. Oh God. Did I break him? I grab his hand and half drag him around to the alley between the theater and the now closed drug store.

It’s dark, and no one can see us unless they step into the alley themselves. Without stopping to think of the consequences, I pull his shaking body close to me and wrap my arms around him. He fits perfectly against me, like a matching puzzle piece. I rest my chin on top of his head and tell him again I’m sorry for my outburst.

I realize his trembling has subsided. He’s not hugging me back, but he’s not trying to break free of my embrace, either. I’ve tread into very dangerous territory here. Unsure what to do, I slowly let my arms drop and take a small step back, where I meet the cold brick again.

What else is there to do other than apologize again and hope I didn’t royally fuck things up by hugging him? Hanging my head, I let the “sorry” slip through my turned-down lips and turn to leave the alley.

Before I can leave the shadows, his spry body is up against mine, pushing with such force that I can feel the rough texture of the bricks through my clothes. His long, graceful artist’s fingers are in my hair, roughly pulling my head down to meet his. Soft, warm lips meet mine in a gentle caress, unlike the frenzied actions of the rest of his body. He’s grabbing at my hair, rubbing up against me. My mind is in a complete fog.

It’s a fantasy come true. He nips at my bottom lip, surprising me. His wet, seeking tongue coaxes my mouth open, and I sigh as he explores the formerly uncharted territory. I’m acting on instinct, sending my own tongue out on an exploratory mission—Lewis and Clark have nothing on me. I taste the sharp tang of metal as my tongue touches his lip ring. It wakes me out of my hormonal haze.

Eyes wide, I push him away from me. My head spins wildly, looking to see if anyone has caught our tentative dance. Thankfully, there is no one waiting to cast stones at us. My head keeps shaking.

I have to do something. Say something. I know it’s going to hurt him, and God, the last thing I want to do is hurt him. I want to drag him down to the dirty ground and run my hands along the expanse of his sinewy frame, telling him how beautiful he is, how his kiss set my entire body on fire. But I can’t. I can’t let the secret out. No matter how much I want this man, how much I want to confide in him and learn about him and have him teach me… I can’t. I hope he can forgive me for what I’m about to do. I have to force the words past my still tingling lips. My traitorous tongue trips me up.

“Jules, I’m not… I’m sorry… but I’m not gay.”

heavyweight

Secrets. Their weight can be crushing, but their release can change everything—and not necessarily for the better. Ian is no stranger to secrets. Being a gay teen in a backwater southern town, Ian must keep his orientation under wraps, especially since he spends a lot of time with his hands all over members of the same sex, pinning their sweaty, hard bodies to the wrestling mat.

When he’s trying not to stare at teammates in the locker room, he’s busy hiding another secret—that he starves himself so he doesn’t get bumped to the next weight class.

Enter Julian Yang, an Adonis with mesmerizing looks and punk rocker style. Befriending the flirtatious artist not only raises suspicion among his classmates, but leaves Ian terrified he’ll give in to the desires he’s fought to ignore.

As secrets come to light, Ian’s world crumbles. Disowned, defriended, and deserted by nearly everyone, Ian’s one-way ticket out of town is revoked, leaving him trapped in a world he hates—and one that hates him back.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – LGBT, YA

Rating – PG-13

More details about the author

 Connect with MB Mulhall on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://keystrokesandwordcounts.wordpress.com/

I, Walter by Mike Hartner

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The map said we were about halfway down the French coast when, just after grog and tack, the morning sun helped Crow spot a commercial trader carrying the French flag. This two-masted ship was considerably smaller than ours. Its flag was flying crooked and the sayles were in poor shape, and Crow reckoned it was a crew of local pirates, trading in stolen goods from Spain and Portugal in a boat not meant to ply hard or long trips.

My first adventure at sea turned out to be rather uneventful. We captured the ship with very little effort, as the crew didn’t put up much of a fight. The reason that they weren’t capable of defending themselves any better was that they’d been on the ocean several weeks longer than planned. And they’d been stuck in calm seas much of that time and had needed to ration food and water for the past seven days.

After feeding the starving crew, we placed the men in our hold and lashed the ships together so we could control both vessels while we sayled. Bart decided we would head for Northern Spain, which was nearly three weeks away. Releasing the crew of pirates to the authorities would earn us a reward, and whatever goods were on board would get us even more money. Bart told me to search the captured craft thoroughly and bring him a list of the inventory.

A chest of money was in the captain’s room, but it didn’t hold much coin. A logbook sat on a desk, but I ignored it for now and went below to the midship level. Clothes were strewn under the boards used for beds, but I didn’t find anything of real value. Whoever this crew was, they hadn’t done a very good job of trading, at least for anything worthwhile.

Toward aft, I found some larger boxes and some kegs. A few of these cartons contained very sparse foodstuffs, but most were empty or held cheap cloth. Some more boxes and kegs were stowed on the lower level: More cloth, of better quality this time, with bolts of linen of various dimensions, a few empty wine casks, a store of muskets and ammunition, and one small box with a pittance of coin in it that likely belonged to one of the crew.

Box by box, cask by cask, I moved slowly through the hold. A few hours later, deep in the bow of the boat, I heard a light snuffling noise. My first instinct told me it was a rat. I kept moving, knowing that ships had rats, and I hated the filthy vermin. But I heard the sound again, and this time I didn’t think it was made by a rat. So I investigated further, and hiding behind some boxes and shivering uncontrollably, was a girl about my age. This little thing was in tattered clothes, her long brown hair all over her face, and she looked considerably thinner than any of the starved crew. However, behind that tangle of hair and the dirt and ragged garb, I saw great beauty, and as I looked into her deep brown eyes, my heart skipped a beat.

I took off my pea coat and offered it to her. It took a few minutes while she fought against my help, but I was finally able to drape it over her shoulders. I hoped it would help her to stop shivering. It didn’t take me long to realize she wasn’t cold, she was terrified. I had to hold her tightly to prevent her from running off.

I asked her who she was and where she was going. She said something, but I couldn’t understand her. She began crying, and I put a finger to her lips to quiet her.

She started to fight me again. Even in her frail condition, it required quite a bit of effort to control her, since the harder I pulled the harder she resisted me. She didn’t want to come from her hiding place, and it was obvious that something or someone had scared her, and quite badly.

To remove her from behind the boxes, I had to pick her up and carry her like a sack of potatoes. She wasn’t heavy, but I had to stop several times as she was kicking at me with all her strength while flailing away and biting and scratching me at the same time. Thank goodness I’d given her my pea coat, for my protection. When we reached the top deck, I held her tight and stared deeply into her eyes. I don’t know why, but she relaxed and stopped fighting me. I clasped her hand in mine and slowly walked her across the plank to our boat.

I was wrong. There was something of considerable value on that ship.
I carefully moved her along the deck of our ship, and the crew was more than a little surprised to see a girl with me. I stopped at Bart’s door. She jerked her hand away from mine and smoothed down a part of her dress that the wind had blown up. When I brought her in to Bart, the look on his face was one of shock.
“She was hiding in the back of some boxes down in the hold,” I told him. “It was a fight to get her here, but I believe it’ll be better than leaving her on that ship. She doesn’t speak English, so I couldn’t even get her name.”
“What were you doing on that ship?” Bart asked her in a gentle voice.
She started speaking very fast, but I still couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying.
Bart said, “Sounds Spanish or Portuguese. We can find someone in San Sebastian who can interpret what she’s sayin’. I planned on docking there anyhow.” He smiled at her in a fatherly way. “Let me try and get her name.”
“How you going to do that?” I asked.
Bart pointed to himself and slowly said, “Bart.” He pointed at me and said, “Walter.” He pointed at her and asked, “Señorita?” and raised his eyebrows and opened his hand to her as a sign of friendship.
“Maria Castabel,” she said after a pause, but that was all she offered, at least that either of us could understand.
“Aye, now at least we know her name,” Bart said.
“Can I get her some food from Cookie? From here on out, until we find where she belongs, I’ll take responsibility for her.”
He waved us both off and out of his room. But as we were leaving, he asked me to tell two ensigns I knew to report to his office. One man was called Crab by the crew because he moved across the deck like a crab sidling from point to point. The other ensign was three inches taller than me and the spitting image of a willow tree, so tall and thin that I swear if he turned to his side he’d be invisible to most people who weren’t looking straight at him. We called him Fatboy just for the irony.
I hollered to them, “Hey, Crab, Bart wants to see you. You, too, Fatboy.”
They would be stationed on the captured ship until we made port.
Towing the boat made the journey a bit slower.
I took the girl to the galley for some food. “Eating for two are we now, Walter?” Cookie asked me, a smirk crossing his face.
“I found the poor thing starving. We’ve got to feed her and get her back to her normal health.”
One of the crewmen I’d seen only a few times but had never spoken to pointed to the girl and asked, “Aye, is that our dinner?”
He never saw the right cross coming that laid him out. As I connected with his jaw, I said, “Next time, mind your manners. That’s no way to speak about a young girl.”
Stunned, he got up, apologized, and we ate a meal of “surprise stew,” which was called that for two reasons. The first was because the meat was unidentifiable the way Cookie prepared it; the second because it was a genuine surprise that anyone would call a dish this watered down “stew.”
Following the meal, we went up to the midship area, where the large sleeping room was located. I showed her to a windowsill wide enough that she could easily fit on it. I also fashioned a makeshift hammock that I attached to the top beams next to the sill. An extra piece of sayle was all it was, but it worked quite well.
I motioned for her to climb onto the sill. When she did, I indicated to her to curl up and lie down to sleep. That night, and for the rest of the trip, I slept next to her. The first two nights, I remained in the hammock. But by the third night, I was restless and not getting a good night’s rest. I moved behind her on the sill. She said nothing and fell asleep easily, as did I.
Neither of us could understand the other’s language, but gestures worked. The quarters were cramped, yet she was protected and there was not a chance of anyone’s attacking her without going through me. In truth, the odds of that were slim, since I learned later that Bart had put out a warning for the crew not to touch her.
By the end of the first week, the two of us were getting to the stage of incidental body contact during our sleep. We were always fully clothed when we went to sleep, so it didn’t seem to bother her, and I enjoyed being close to her. I slept better in those few weeks than ever before.
After an early, pre-dawn breakfast–two days into my third week at sea–we docked in San Sebastian, the northernmost port in Spain. As the crew raced to market, Bart and I took the girl to the sheriff, who I prayed spoke English.
I heard the sheriff’s gasp when he saw her face.
I asked if he knew of her father and where she lived. He said in English, “Yes, her father is the Don of this whole area. He is patron to all of northern Spain, and he lives only two hours from here.”
I asked if he could find me some horses so I could see she got home safely. Bart nodded to him, and he took care of it immediately, his deputy saddling up three of the most beautiful horses I’d ever seen. When I asked about them, he called them quarter horses.
The sheriff volunteered to guide me to what he called a hacienda. I followed him, with Maria seated on a horse next to me. We rode through the rolling green hills of this section of northern Spain. For the first half hour, there was grass everywhere. However, for the next hour and a half, the grass gradually surrendered territory, eventually losing out altogether to scrub.
We were two hours into the trip when we came across a man of considerable stature sitting on a horse. He held up a musket and signaled for us to halt. He then motioned to us to come toward him. As we got closer, he saw the sheriff’s badge or recognized Maria, I didn’t know which, and gestured wildly for us to pass. Maria grabbed the reins from me and kicked her horse in the ribs. It galloped in front of the sheriff and me, and she soon reached her father’s hacienda just as he appeared at the door. She jumped off the horse and embraced him, as the sheriff and I followed her into the yard, but at a respectful distance.
The sheriff and I heard her chattering rapidly to her father as we dismounted. While the father was taking a good hard look at me, the sheriff said, “Maria is telling the Don that the ship he originally sent to bring her from the British islands was attacked and captured by pirates, who took her prisoner and stole the merchant goods on the other ship. They’d stayed out in the ocean to avoid capture by ships along the coast, but then the winds stopped and the ship couldn’t move, and when the food started to run out, they were forced to come closer to shore. But it was too late; their food had been gone for about a week when your ship captured theirs. The pirates were too weak to fight, and you alone were responsible for saving her.
Her father is now telling her that one of the crew from the original boat Maria was on had sent a letter to him saying that everyone on that voyage save him was dead, including Maria. The Don is telling her he never gave up hope, not wanting to believe she was dead. Now, as you see, he is weeping, and so is Maria.”
After several minutes, the father and daughter gained their composure and approached the sheriff and me. The Don was a few inches taller than I was at the time, and he walked with an air of authority and confidence. He talked to the sheriff for quite a while and then turned to me. He spoke in broken English that the sheriff helped him with.
“My name is Juan Carlos Manuel Rivera Castabel. My family has lived on this land for several hundred years. I’m prepared to give it all to you, because of your heroics in bringing my daughter safely home to me. She is worth more than all of my land and everything else I own combined.”

I put down the quill and wiped my brow. Unless a person has been in a similar situation, it’s impossible to understand the emotion associated with a statement such as that. Such emotion, such love, such caring.

I dipped the quill once more, and remembered.

I looked at the man and then at the sheriff and said, “Please tell Mr. Castabel that I’m honored and touched by his offer. But taking responsibility for his daughter was the very least I could do. And returning her safely to him has been an honor. I do not want or need his money, because doing the right thing is its own reward.” I wondered where all that came from, and bowed.

Don Castabel bowed to me in kind and came forward to shake my hand. He gripped it tightly, and then hugged me and kept repeating the word “Gracias.” Even I understood its meaning, and at that moment it was I who was close to crying. I was able to fight off the emotion, but it wasn’t easy.

He bade us all inside. His hacienda was a one-story construction, generous in length and considerable in width. The dining room was huge, bounded by the kitchen on one side, three glass windows on another, a hall to the servant’s quarters on a third side, and a wide opening to the main living area. The quality of the furnishings and the tableware only further confirmed that Juan was an aristocrat, and that if I ever wanted to be worthy of his daughter, I would need to work very hard.

We ate a hearty lunch with him before I announced it was time for me to return to my ship. Maria gave me a long hug and brief kiss and said, “Gracias.” The moisture in her eyes and her soft lips made me believe that she might feel something for me. I knew I felt something grand for her. She turned to the sheriff and he translated, “Please come to see us again as soon as you can, and you must let us show you our thanks for what you have done.”

The Don watched with a wry smile. He insisted that I carry a pouch and a letter back with me. How was I supposed to refuse this man? I waited for him to write the letter, then bowed and shook his hand, and with the sheriff translating, I said, “I promise to come back as soon as I possibly can.”

The sheriff laughed as he translated Don Castabel’s reply. “You’d better. For both me and Maria.”
On our way back into town, it seemed that we were racing the sunset. Fortunately, we arrived just before dusk turned to dark.
As I was about to head to the ship, the sheriff told me, “Don Castabel has insisted, no matter where you stay in this town, or where you eat, I’m to inform the merchant to put the charges on his bill. He has instructed me to tell you that you’re to be given a great deal more money than what is in that pouch. You obviously aren’t aware of how much you have affected him by doing the honorable thing.”
I returned to the boat and helped load on another week’s worth of fruit before nightfall halted the crew’s labors. Before I went to my bed, I stopped at Bart’s office.
“Aye, Walter.” He paused, obviously expecting me to say something. When I didn’t, he asked, “Well, how did it go?”

To Be Continued….

Walter Crofter was born into Elizabethan England.
In a country and a time where favor and politics were both deadly, can an honest boy stay true to himself?
Especially given his family background?

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Genre – Historical Fiction/ Romance

Rating – PG

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Weigh Anchor (The Curious Voyages of the Anna Virginia Saga) by J. L. Lawson @J_L_Lawson

Standard

1

Unbroken

John ambled back to the house from the driveway. He stood on his porch with an odd expression on his face. He turned and went back inside to rejoin Virginia—his publishing agent and guest.

He regained some of his composure from earlier in the day. “Thank you for your patience. Now what would you like to ask first?”

Ginger looked back to the front door and with an overwhelming sense of curiosity asked, “Who exactly were those people? You said distant family? I certainly felt right at home around them; it was a very comfortable feeling.”

He looked to the front door and porch; the last several months flooded his memory, “They would say that they were just ordinary people. However, I can personally attest that they are in fact: most extraordinary individuals.” He let go of his recollections and focused on her. He saw her very clearly for the first time; smiling he offered, “Take that necklace you’re wearing,” her fingers went instinctively to it from long habit, “I happen to know a story about its little agate pebble that just might surprise you.”

“Is this a part of your manuscript?” Ginger was very interested now, “We can kill two birds with one stone if you wish to elaborate—I’m all ears!”

He began, “It seldom appears to the casual observer that any thing is truly out of the ordinary, save on those rare occasions when the extra-ordinary sneaks into everyday life…”

He added another couple split logs to the fire and they settled into comfortable seats. “To understand the whole context of the story,” he reached for the cup of coffee that had grown cold, yet he took a sip and smiled as he continued, “I should begin by explaining: Wang Fu Kong was the youngest son of a Chinese entrepreneur. He inherited a portion of his father’s fortune. In order to avoid losing it or his life at the hands of his greedy brothers, he sailed into the sunrise looking to make his fortune in the New World. Once in San Francisco, he promptly adopted the name of George Livingson…”

Through the evening, through the night, even throughout the next morning and into the afternoon, during coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks, he regaled her with the tale of all the generations of Livingsons just as it had been told to him. When he got to the parts that mentioned her own family’s roles in the story—the Spelmans, Bessamers and Mastersons—he noticed she closed her eyes as if to etch those histories into her memory forever. The story of ‘Papa’s Pebble’ naturally held her spellbound. They were sitting quietly after he’d brought the story up to the present—omitting the delivery of the watch and his father’s medal only minutes before she’d arrived.

“I wasn’t even told that I was adopted until receiving this little trinket…” she dangled the pebble at her throat absently.

John then listened to her tell him of how she returned home from the reading of her mother’s will with the information of her birth mother’s real name, who her mother had really been, and of her own actual family… somewhere. How, when she returned to Indiana and confronted Harvey and Peggie, her adoptive parents admitted what they had done when driving home from an auction the foggy cold night she was born—How they had encountered an overturned bus, a pregnant woman giving birth on the grassy shoulder of the road, and of taking the woman and child into their car with the intention of traveling to a hospital. Then how, since they couldn’t have children, their desire for a child of their own overwhelmed them at the cost of the woman’s life.

Ginger felt again the anger and vitriol that always arose in her with that recollection, “I am thankful they are now long dead,” she admitted without emotion. “That may sound heartless and ungrateful, but it was confusing and difficult while they were still alive.” She looked at his face and recognized there was actually what appeared to be compassion behind his eyes.

She demurred, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’ve certainly been analyzed and therapized enough to have gotten through these emotions… but…” He still held her in his gaze without judgement. “Harvey was a nice man, really; he was just spineless when it came to Peggie’s whims and demands. Peggie was doting to the point of obsessive and could never understand why I was so rebellious. I was smarter than both of them put together; I despised being trotted out to ‘perform’ for their family and the few friends they had. She wanted a Barbie; she got me instead—I was a real disappointment. She told me so often enough… She wanted a girl-doll and I was a hoyden with a mind of my own. She screamed at me; slapped me around when screaming didn’t work, then sobbed to her husband to ‘do something about that tomboy’.” Ginger was digging her fingernails into the cushions of the sofa and suddenly realized it. She took a deep breath, tried to smile and sat back with her legs crossed and arms folded.

John was nearly in tears. Her emotions weren’t too far from those he’d carried for years, but from different causes. He said softly, “I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. You see, no one paid any attention to me; there were no parents, no expectations, no one to disappoint, no screaming or abuse at all. I was simply alone: surrounded by other kids; most of them actually did have parents—but parents who couldn’t afford to feed themselves let alone their children. So they ended up where I was: in the orphanage. I had all of the same disgust and anger that it sounds like you had. I was disgusted and angry at the world at large, or the parents I didn’t have, or fate… hell, I didn’t even know who to be mad at, and that was hardest part I guess: just not knowing…” He was suddenly as quiet as she now was.

Ginger’s thought, ‘Jeez, I had it bad, but at least I had someone to blame and be mad at…’ Aloud she said, “The Amoursons were conscienceless bastards, but at least they weren’t faceless—I knew who to detest and attack: Peggie!” She realized she was saying that out loud because John’s head came up and he was looking at her. She softened and sat forward, “When I was finally told the story of my real mother, that I was essentially stolen at birth… I felt liberated and justified—but at the same time I felt very alone. After the confrontation with Harvey and Peggie I went on to college and tried to forget. But the realities of my childhood constantly haunted me. There was: what to do at holidays, the stacks of unopened letters from them, and the infrequent messages on my answering machine…” She softened even further, “They did provide me with everything they could afford—however misguided and twisted Peggie was. It’s just that once I was told the truth, I only wanted so desperately to have been able to have my own mother instead of them!”

They both stared out the windows into the lengthening shadows of evening. John said quietly, “…John Doe is the only name I have known. You weren’t told the truth of your birth and real family until you were eighteen—I am forty this year and was just told yesterday that my name is actually: John Robert Backhouse of a remarkable family and startling lineage. That I was—just as you were—lost at birth.”

As he showed her the watch, the medal and his ‘alleged’ birth certificate, Ginger’s eyes widened. It hadn’t occurred to her for a even a moment that that long story wasn’t just for her benefit alone.

Her thoughts flashed, ‘Oh my God! What was I thinking?! That this whole tale of the Livingsons was just a salve for my own wounds… That all this was about me! Ginger-girl! How self-centered are you?! Cripes! Whose daughter are you really? Peggie’s girl after all?! Grow a Conscience! This guy is hurting too! There are other people in the world besides the great and wonderful Ginger…’

Aloud she said, “You mean the Backhouses… like from the story?! Just as I am Virginia Kaitlyn Belle Spelman from those Spelmans…”

The implications were boggling. It was one thing to hear family stories and want so badly for them to be real—to be your story too; it’s another thing entirely to know they are very probably real—that one is finally: not alone.

John interposed cautiously, “If this story is true, then there is a large piece of evidence remaining—besides your necklace and inheritance, this watch and medal of valor… and this birth certificate. I am supposed to be receiving registration papers in the mail for a yacht! If my guess is correct… I mean if I really am the great-grandson of Aaron and Hipolyta Livingson Backhouse… through their son William Henry and Eleanor and son Robert Henry…”

Ginger had one of those minds that absorbed nearly everything; she was way ahead of him, “…Then the yacht in question should be the Bodhi!”  she said excitedly. “A sixty foot metal-hulled trimaran built in Gotland, Sweden in the late thirties or early forties.” They sat quietly for a long while occupied in their own thoughts and speculations—already very weary from the marathon story-telling then fully exhausted after the emotional turmoil relived during the personal confessions.

She mused aloud, “I wonder what my grandparents did with their yacht the Tygress?”

He was no longer one of her publishing clients at all—why she was sitting with him in his house had been wiped from her attention entirely. He was a fellow traveler struggling through the maze of their mutual revelations.

“Do you suppose we could find out?” Her last words were almost incoherent since she was yawning while trying to speak.

John must have been equally exhausted; he asked, “You said you would only be in town these two days?”

She smiled and stretched her full frame across the sofa, “I do have some leeway on that score;” She yawned again, “I’ll call the home office and have someone else cover the other few appointments…” then she yawned still again.

He offered something she didn’t expect, “You’re welcome to stay here if you wish. There is a rarely used guest room on the other side of the house…” now he yawned, “…has its own bathroom and everything.”

He yawned again, “I have got to go get some sleep or I’m going to fall down right here.” He was already heading for the stairs as if her still being there was moot.

Ginger was too tired to think of a reason not to accept the offer. She was a grown woman after all and could sleep anywhere she wished. She heard the sound of a door closing upstairs; she rose and stumbled toward the guest room. She fell onto the bed asleep.

She had been in the publishing business most of her life. Now at thirty-one she still had the habits of sleeping little and working long hours. Rising from the bed before dawn, she found the light switch in the bathroom and closed the door. She took off the clothes she’d been wearing for two and a half days and stared at herself in the mirror. The image that stared back was of a tall auburn-haired woman with lingering freckles across her nose and cheeks, wide shoulders and long legs. Her body was well-toned from weekly trips to any nearest gym—in whatever town or city she happened to be in at the time. She leaned forward and looked more closely into her own eyes.

“Those green eyes are a little redder this morning Ginger-baby, great for holiday decoration but this puffiness is not very attractive at all!” She turned sideways to the mirror and inspected her profile. Putting her hands to her rear end she muttered, “And this is not where I need more ‘puffiness’ either—too much sitting!”

She ran the hot water for a bath and found a fresh bar of soap, shampoo and towels. “At least John keeps his house well supplied for guests.” She slipped a foot into the water, “Aah…” then once fully into the tub, she relaxed, “…heaven.”

Just as the sun began to turn the morning sky into a rosy promise, she padded into the kitchen in a borrowed robe and was greeted by the cat. “Good morning little one,” she smiled and picked up the purring furball. She looked at the counter and range.

“Your pet, John, certainly has proper taste in morning beverages…” and she went about preparing the coffee press for service. While the kettle of water was left to heat up, she went back to the room and retrieved her cellphone. A glance at the time and after a moment of figuring time zones, she dialed her boss to leave a message for him to call her back when he got into the office.

With a cup of hot coffee in hand she went back to the den, curled her legs under her and began reading through John’s notes for the book. Mocha followed her every step, hoping for a new napping lap.

“Kitten, it appears the story he told me over the last couple days wasn’t too far from exactly what’s written here… good memory!” She picked up another notebook and began perusing its pages as well. “This material didn’t make it into his story however…” She gazed at the charts, symbols, marginal notations and descriptions as she flipped through the pages.

She looked up when John ambled from his room. “You look like crap, Mr. Doe-Backhouse!” she snickered.

He looked at her and tried to smile as he headed to the kitchen. She called, “Coffee’s made. I didn’t know if you had a favorite mug or anything; I just grabbed one and poured.”

He took a first sip and answered, “Whichever one I’m holding at the time… and still has coffee in it… is my favorite.” He looked at what she was holding in her hands.

Ginger was a little self-conscious at what appeared to be snooping through his things. She covered quickly, “I thought this was part of your story notes… my mistake. Sorry.” She wasn’t, but she was polite at least, she thought.

John did smile now. “Those are the results of a part of the story I didn’t tell you,” he said cryptically. “You wouldn’t have believed me if I had; so what’d be the point of that?”

Ginger was pragmatic. “I am used to judging that sort of thing for myself,” she answered calmly.

“But neither am I trying to pry.” She changed subjects, “I left a message with my office; they should be calling back…” she looked at the gold watch on the end table, reached and opened it, “…in about half an hour or so.” She became all professional, now that she was rested and herself again—that she was in fact sitting in his den, wearing one of his robes, after spending the last three days in his house without leaving for a moment didn’t faze her in the least. “Now why don’t you tell me how you were thinking of presenting this story of yours. What person, what tone, what voice?”

She knew if she stuck to business her mind wouldn’t wander, but it did.

‘John’s actually pretty good-looking,’ she thought, ‘Tall, broad shoulders, slightly receding hairline but distinguished looking. Nice hands, strong looking with powerful forearms, and his face was shaven, a couple days ago at least. I wonder if he’s ever been married? Is he in a relationship? Forty and single… Is he gay?’ She snapped out of the wayward thoughts which she’d tried to avoid; he was speaking…

“…so I figured I’d write it out as it was told to me. Just like a campfire story or something.” He sat down and appeared to be waiting for her to respond.

Ginger picked up the watch again. “Well, unless I have been dreaming the last few days… it is an epic sort of tale. That would seem to be a good approach to take…” she read the inscription aloud. “Time is the uniquely subjective phenomenon. What exactly does that mean?”

John stared at a spot over and past her head. She waited for some response to her last distraction. He answered, “Generally you can take it to mean that time is experienced by each person differently. But the meaning that was intended by the fellow who inscribed it, I think, was a bit more esoteric than that.”

She felt a sudden pang of comprehension and lifted the notebook with the diagrams and charts. “Does it have to do with these other notes of yours?”

He nodded, “Yeah I’m pretty sure it does. But I’m not personally to the place where I can make much more of it than that: Time isn’t what we’ve always supposed it to be…” he shrugged in surrender. Her phone rang and she hopped up and ran back to the guest room where she’d left it.

John ambled back to the kitchen and glanced at the calendar on the refrigerator. “It’s Thanksgiving today!” he announced to Mocha who was just taking over the warm place on the sofa so recently made available. He went to the cupboard and looked it up and down, then he opened the fridge and did the same.

Ginger sauntered back into the room and announced, “I’m cleared for the foreseeable future from work…” She had also taken the time to redress. “Look, I don’t want to wear out my welcome, but I am dying to see if those registration papers arrive… and… I would very much like to travel to Port Isabel and see it for myself!”

There, she had said it. She had argued the point with herself: that she was a stranger to this guy, that she was just his publishing agent, that all these stories may not be true. But if they were! ‘I could never forgive myself for not finding out…’ she told herself. ‘Besides, I would like to know a little more about John…’

John simply smiled and said he’d love the company. “I just realized that today is Thanksgiving! And since you may very well be the closest thing to family I have anywhere, except the improbable existence of some extremely long lived relations…”

He stopped abruptly and queried, “Last night, and just now, almost the last thing you said… Did you really say: …could we find out about the yacht?” He put special emphasis on the ‘we.’

Ginger felt a little exposed. ‘Did I say that? Must’ve been caught up in the moment…’

She answered quickly without looking at him, “Uh huh.” Then followed with a rapid patter as she grabbed for her scarf and hat, “I’ll just pop into town and deal the motel I didn’t use. Yay expense accounts!” she turned back and grinned self-consciously.

‘Good, he hasn’t kicked me out yet. And it appears he doesn’t have a significant other; her… or his… name would have come up in connection with a holiday plan…’ Her mind raced and before she knew it her thoughts escaped into words… “John are you gay?”

Her thoughts screamed, ‘Oh god, I can’t believe I just blurted that out!’

John’s blank expression said a lot; he answered, “No Virginia, I am not gay. Neither do I have a girlfriend, nor have I ever been married—came close once. So, now that we’re acknowledging the elephant in the room… Miss Amourson-Spelman? Is there some lucky fellow… or lady… out there waiting for your return?”

Ginger blushed, “Call me Ginger. And No! So far no one has been able to stand being around me long enough to appreciate my finer qualities!”

‘Essentially true…’ she thought, ‘unless I count the boyfriend I had in college—he stuck around for all of two months.’

John was already speaking again. “…anyway, I have all the fixins for a turkey dinner. It would be my pleasure if you joined me for this holiday meal. We can wait for the alleged registration papers to arrive. If these folks are as punctual in this matter as they have been with the other items, I’m sure we won’t have to wait long.”

Ginger smiled and excused herself and ducked into the bathroom. She came out with her coat, scarf and hat on, “I’ll be back before long.” John watched her step jauntily to her car and roar out of the driveway.

Ginger was surprised at herself. ‘The reason no one has stuck around very long Ginger-baby is because you’re too unpredictable… that’s what they’ve said before. And now look at you: You’re practically inviting yourself into this guy’s house and life… Girl, why are you doing this!?’ Her feelings were confused but she knew one thing, and answered herself: ‘If there is a chance of finding any of my family—John is the key.’ That’s what she told herself and ignored the rising ‘other’ emotions just below the surface.

After checking out of the motel, and while she was in town—since the gas station was the only place open on account of the holiday—she filled up the car and bought the only day’s papers that were available. When she got back to John’s house and pulled into the driveway, instead of blocking the turnaround, she backed in next to the red Land Cruiser.

‘This must be his truck…’ she thought, ‘I wonder if he’s the outdoor, rugged camping type? He should have a gun locker and rod racks somewhere in the house…’ She hauled her traveling bag onto the porch as John opened the door and lifted it from her hands easily.

“I’ll take it to your room… If that’s alright?” he announced uncertainly.

Ginger nodded—that was the best she could do. The smells from the kitchen were absolutely heavenly and she was already heading to the pots and dishes for nibbles. He came up behind her while she was ‘testing’ the turkey, “I don’t have ‘old family recipes’—for obvious reasons—but I have my own dishes that I have made since I was twenty…”

She blurted out candidly, “I can’t cook!”

Odd, she realized she was actually slightly embarrassed all of a sudden; though it had never bothered her before.

“I never learned how to do any more than make coffee and spoon out ice cream… Oh and I can make popcorn in the microwave, or follow directions for frozen pizza. That’s it!” She made her best ‘Aren’t I cute anyway’ face.

John grinned and moved close to her; she tensed, thinking he might brush against her or whisper something… He just needed to stir the gravy. She exhaled and chided herself for acting like an adolescent. ‘Pull yourself together Ginger-girl! Just because a man asks you to a home-cooked holiday dinner doesn’t count as foreplay!’

He was speaking again, “…You seem kinda distracted Ginger. Is there something on your mind? Not that you need to ‘bare your soul’ to me or anything… I just hope you’re comfortable is all.”

“Oh I’m fine, really,” she hedged, “The kitchen smells bring back memories of holidays long past is all. I’m comfortable… I am comfortable.” She added, almost surprised herself at the truth of it. ‘I really am. Hmmm,’ she thought.

Aloud she added, “Do you have any music in the house?”

“If you open that cabinet over there under the bookcase…” John said pointing with his elbow, “…you’ll find all that I still have of cassettes and records. My CDs are in the opposite cabinet.”

She was going to find out more about him now. ‘You can tell a lot from a person’s taste in music…’ She looked in the first cabinet: some classical, some musicals, a few bands from the seventies, a lot of solo artists… same for the cassettes. She went to the newer stuff in the other cabinet. ‘Here we go…’ she thought, ‘a bit of new age, vocalists from the forties and early fifties, holiday music compilations, soundtracks, Dylan, the Dead, Brightman, Taylor, Brown, Nelson, Clapton, Enya, Beatles, Stones… Alright John is a good guy…’

Aloud she said, “How about some Christmas tunes?” and she selected the compilation of original recording artists singing the old standards. She set it to playing and adjusted the volume just loud enough to hear—quiet enough for conversation.

“Just in time,” John said, “Your dinner awaits,” and he held out a chair for her. “Would you like some wine? I have a few choices in whites. Turkey: white meat—white wine—That’s the extent of my oenophilic knowledge. Except the word: oenophile…”

She heard herself giggle. ‘Giggling! Ginger?!’

“Anything white will be grand. I like the sweeter ones…”

He toasted their good fortune at finding their families’ identities, and she toasted their ‘new partnership,’ “…in the book I mean…” she added hastily.

‘Geez Ginger-girl! Why don’t you just seduce him and get it over with!’

“Mmm. This is great!” she mumbled as she carved bites from the wonderful assortment on her plate. She got to what looked like cornbread dressing and put a large forkful in her mouth. Alarm bells rang, steam shot from her nose and ears. She grabbed for the water glass. Waving a hand over her seared and lolling tongue, she said, “Holy…!”

He chuckled, “In Texas, cayenne isn’t a condiment it’s an ingredient…”

She contented herself with everything else on her plate and smiled happily as she dished out a dollop more of potatoes and gravy. “This is all so good!”

“Thank you, ma’am. To top this I will be juggling apples later…” she giggled again.

‘Ginger! What is up with you?!’ Then she noticed how he was eating. Every bite was chewed appreciatively and he made a visible point of taking regular breaths. ‘This guy just gets more intriguing…’ she mused.

After she helped to clean dishes, they were again settled in the den at a nice fire. The wine was loosening her curiosity and she asked, “Tell me John Robert Backhouse, what will you do when we find that the yacht in Port Isabel is the Bodhi? Are you just going to sail off and write more stories?”

John looked back at her with his piercing pale green eyes, “That depends…”

She sat up a little, “Depends? Depends on what?”

“I have sailed before… a little twelve foot Sunfish, but I don’t think I have the know-how to just cast off and handle a sixty-foot yacht. Then there are the questions of: Where to go? What else will I write? …Just to name a few things that would ‘depend’ on,” and he held her gaze.

“Don’t look at me: I can drive a car well—and fast, but I’ve never even set foot on a boat before. Unless you count the ferries in Puget Sound, or the Staten Island ferry…”

He chuckled, “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in learning?”

‘Alone? In a sailboat with you? For who knows how long?!’

She sat up, “John! Are you making a proposition?”

He demurred, “I can’t help thinking that if I am to ever find more answers about my family…”

She interrupted, “And my family…”

He continued, “…And your family, then I just can’t get around the thought that it will probably be at sea… and on that boat.”

Ginger had known this man for all of three days now. She had no idea if he was a wolf in lamb’s clothing, if he was nuttier than a fruitcake, or if this was all an elaborate and amazing ruse. ‘But he couldn’t have known anything of my history before I stepped up on his porch… hell, I have never told a soul. And this story does explain all these little tokens: the pebble necklace, the watch, medal, Birth Certificate… not to mention how we both had the childhoods we had…’

Taking a deep breath as if ready to accept her fate, Ginger answered, “If that’s the Bodhi, and if there are lessons we can take: I’ll learn.” ‘What am I saying…’ “And what’s more, Mr. Backhouse, as long as we’re diving down the rabbit hole together, I have a question for you!”

He seemed to be uncertain his expression said he didn’t know whether he should smile or run.

‘Uh oh, I’ve seen that expression before… usually followed by the phrase: I’ll call you sometime, or words to that effect. Oh well… here goes:’

“John, I’m terrible at this,” she hedged, then plunged in head first, “But do you really think you will still want me around after I’ve asked too many questions, after I’ve ignored your kindness and generosity for the umpteenth time, after I’ve yelled at you, kept you awake with my snoring, not cleaned the dishes, come home late without calling—again, taken you for granted and generally treated you like dirt?” She gasped for breath. All that had come tumbling out before she lost her nerve.

‘There’s that expression again. Damn! why couldn’t I just let a good thing alone? Where did that not come home late come from?!Why must I get everything in writing? What is my problem?! No wonder no one ever sticks around…’ Then he was speaking.

“Ginger, you don’t know me anymore than I know you…”

‘Oh God here it comes…’

“But what I do know is this: if this story is as real as it appears to be, and I am who it seems I am… just as you know who you are—then we are from a lineage of remarkable people and I would be forever ashamed of myself and thoroughly regret letting the opportunity to get to know you slip on by, if once you were this close…”

She checked her wince, ‘Wait; did I just hear what I thought I heard?!’

“Would you repeat that?” she ventured. He took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling.

‘Oh Crap! I’ve done it again… and I was so close this time!’

“Miss Spelman-Amourson, I don’t know what ‘too many questions’ even means—I have a bunch myself. I am used to being ignored—one of the charms of growing up an orphan. If you yell at me, it may be because I exasperated you—something I’d like to not do. I probably snore loud enough to drown your own snores out. I already have a habit of cleaning dishes myself—I don’t give it much thought. If you come home late and haven’t called—I’ll wonder I’m sure, and worry no doubt—but that is the kind of suffering I’ll take over loneliness any day. As for taking me for granted and treating me like dirt—I don’t believe it for a second—I do have a few pleasant qualities which may keep your interest and engender kindness from you.”

It was Ginger’s turn to stare. “Uh… No one’s ever said that to me before… In fact, I…” She was instantly lost. This was an unknown frontier. “…What was the question?”

That brought a loud laugh from him, “Actually I merely asked if you would be willing to learn to sail! I’m not sure where the questions about snoring, or coming home late came from…”

She blushed to her toes.

He added seriously, “But your instincts are right.” He took another deep breath, “I am very attracted to you… In fact I’ve been trying everything I can think of to get you to stick around longer… to… to stay here as long as you can… with me.” He looked for all the world like he would break into a million pieces if she made the slightest move. She was very careful not to let that happen.

“Uh, honestly… John… I’m very attracted to you too.”

‘There that wasn’t so hard was it? Go on Ginger-girl: Truth.’

“I don’t know if it’s ‘proper’ or not to skip the months of ‘getting to know you,’ but I’m willing to risk it.” ‘

Whew! I’m pretty good at this…’

“I’ve warned you as best I can—I am not easy to get along with…”

He crossed to sit next to her on the sofa and said softly in imitation of her own words, “I am used to judging that sort of thing for myself. I hope you don’t mind if don’t just take your word for it…”

She whispered back, “You are so doomed!” She put her hand to his neck and pulled his face to hers then kissed him.

When he regained his breath, he said “GingerKat, I think we are going to have to learn to sail!”

The next day was Friday. They woke up in the same room, went down stairs and had coffee, got ready to go out and they went into town. He added her to his own bank account—over her protests.

“You don’t have to do this… I am financially very sound on my own. I have a little flat in New York… in Chelsea—which I rarely occupy—I have been on expense accounts for the last… forever, so my paychecks just go into the bank and pile up. Really John, this is sweet of you but so unnecessary.”

John was just smiling all the while. “GingerKat, you noticed the amounts on those few accounts you just signed onto?” She nodded. “When I left the corporate world, I wasn’t a Rockerfeller or anything, but I had plenty to get the land and build that house…”

She interrupted, “You built that house!?”

“Almost entirely with my own hands, yes. Anyway, I don’t have many expenses so those balances don’t vary much. But that wasn’t the point of adding you onto them! I introduced you as my wife to the Account Manager when we were at the bank.”

She smiled in spite of herself, “Yeah, I didn’t really think I’d ever hear someone saying I was their wife. It was a really nice thing to hear, even though…” It was his turn to interrupt.

“…Honey, this is Texas. That wasn’t just a nice thing to hear… that was a legal act of marriage in this state. I wasn’t being poetic or romantic; I am now your common law husband!”

Her mind raced. ‘Wow, and I thought I was impulsive! Ginger-girl you’ve got a tiger by the tail… Hold On Tight!’

Aloud she said, “Oh.”

An Honest Man

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Genre – Metaphysical/Fantasy/Action Adventure

Rating – G

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Website http://voyagerpress.org/

Weigh Anchor

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Genre – Science Fiction/Metaphysical/Adventure

Rating – G

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The Elf & Huntress

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Genre – Science Fiction/Metaphysical/Adventure

Rating – G

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Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.

The Photo Traveler (The Photo Traveler Series) by Arthur J. Gonzalez @arthurjgonzalez

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* * *

By now I’m about a half-mile from home. Saddlehorn. A small town midway between Reno and Carson City. I can already see our development coming into view up ahead. The grid of one-story, single-family houses. I’ve always wondered why you never see any people outside. It just adds to the overall depressing vibe of this place. The doors are always shut. The windows always covered. You’d think the whole place was a ghost town, or some high-crime area. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the swankiest area in town, but there aren’t any crack dealers or prostitutes living there, either.

I fan the front of my shirt to try to release the sweat from my torso and glance at my watch. Seven-fifteen. And not one single phone call from anyone. That pushes my anxiety into hyperdrive. Usually Jet can’t stop himself from calling me and threatening me. The “Just wait until you get home!” thing. But no calls. No texts. This can’t be good at all.

The moment I open the front door, I see him slouched on the living room couch, his legs spread wide apart and his worn-out brown leather cowboy boots planted on the carpet. The ivory ceramic table lamp on the end table bounces yellow light off his dead expression. I can’t hear a single noise except for the heavy pounding of my heart in this prison that’s my home. But he isn’t looking at me. He’s staring at the wall above the plasma TV. I know what that means. Great.

“You got any idea what time it is, boy?” he snarls, never taking his eyes off the wall. Before I can say anything, he shouts, “And you see the damage you did to that car? I just bought the damn thing for your sister and you gotta go an’ ruin it already?”

I edge along the wall, past the tacky walnut-framed mirror that he had cobbled together and Dina had stained and decorated with seashells, and continue toward the stairs. I know I need to stay out of his reach. As I make it to the first step, I say, “Sorry. I’ll find a way to pay for the damage.”

Jet chuckles and nods. He still hasn’t once looked at me. Suddenly he heaves himself off the couch and glares at me. “You gonna ‘pay for’ it? Where you gonna get the money when you ain’t got no job, shithead? You’re livin’ in this house, right? Under my roof, huh? You better get it into your head once and for all that you goddamn better start playing by my damn rules, boy! Whatever I say, you’re gonna do! Better start gettin’ your act together ’cause I will break that pretty little face of yours.”

As I take another step up, he moves toward me with a look of death seeping from his tired brown eyes. I stop still. The hairs on my arms are standing on end, and I wonder for a split second whether this is how a rabbit feels the moment before a wolf attacks.

Then something in me snaps. With every ounce of boldness in me, I spit it out. “I wish you were the one who’d died!”

The fury on Jet’s face is demonic. He grabs my jeans at the ankle and yanks me down. As I tumble down the stairs, my camera bag flies off my shoulder. It crashes onto the floor, and I hear my thousand-dollar lens shatter.

He grabs my ankle again, pulls me down onto the grimy living room carpet, and flips me over onto my back. The dust from the grimy fabric settles into my eyes and makes them burn. Then he straddles me and pins me down with his knees over my arms. I kick and struggle to free myself, but he’s six feet of muscle and belly, and there’s no way. He slams my head on the floor, pressing the back of my skull against the rug so hard that it burns. Then he then grabs me around the neck and starts choking me.

He brings his face so close to mine that I can smell the stale beer on his breath. “I’m tired of you thinkin’ you got some worth in this home. You’re a useless piece of shit that nobody’s ever cared about. Not me, not Dina, not Leyla! Not even your goddamn grandparents! We never shoulda taken you in! I shoulda never listened to them! You ain’t never been a real Hillstone, and you ain’t never gonna be!”

My face is turning red. I keep on struggling to break his hold, but the blood is rushing to my head and I can’t breathe. I’m seeing flashing spots in front of my eyes, as if somebody’s taken a photo of us with one of those bright, exaggerated flashes.

“You think that’s an insult?” I manage to gasp, and I grab one deep breath and spit right in his eyes.

He’s so startled that he lets go of my arms and rears back on his heels. “You little fucker!” he shouts. He swabs at his eyes and then lands a direct punch to my face that knocks the breath out of me. I grunt, momentarily paralyzed as the pain explodes all over. He’s knocked the breath out of me. I can’t move, but I manage to grab one short in-breath before he hauls himself to his feet and kicks me in the ribs. The stiff, pointed toe of his cowboy boot stabs me like a knife. The last bit of air whooshes out of my body. He grabs my shirt, drags me to my feet, and throws me against the wall. I’m as limp as a puppet. I can’t say a word. My brain is too busy channeling all the waves of pain flooding through my body.

He pushes his face close to mine. His sweat splashes against my face. He bites down on his lip and snarls, “You just messed things up for yerself real bad!”

Photo Traveler

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Genre – Young Adult Science Fiction

Rating – PG

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