Thursday, May 30, 2013

Red Haired Boy 4 (prequel)

Howdy, all. quick book update: right now, looks like the release is set for this weekend. There’s gonna be a bit of a site overhaul (hopefully making it a little less cumbersome and a bit more professional looking) the day we announce it, which if all goes as scheduled, should be Saturday evening.

I’m not in love with what the printer did to the bottom margin. It looks like crap on this second proof. I’m not sure I can remedy that. I don’t know. We shall see. I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker, but it irks me.

I guess it’s entirely possible (probable) I’m obsessing.

Stay tuned,

Dorcas hoped he didn’t notice that she was following him. Maybe ‘following’ wasn’t the right word. It wasn’t that she was following him home per se. It was more that they both lived in the same building and she was simply keeping pace with him at a distance, keeping him within sight.

Staying close enough that he was within earshot in case she called out.

She always felt foolish doing this. It wasn’t the first time she’d kept pace behind Jargie Feckin’ Monahan as he made his way back to the “ Ald Brew’ry”, as he called it in his lilting Irish accent. In fact, it had become a habit of hers. If her brothers were unable to be there when it was time to head home, she’d wait until the gunman left the dance hall, let him get a bit of a head start, then slip out behind him and keep pace with him all the way home.

She’d die of embarrassment if he ever found out. But the truth of it was that even though he was a criminal, even though she knew he probably had blood on his hands, even though he represented everything that made living here awful, she knew that he wouldn’t hurt her and he’d help her if she ran into trouble on the street. That if she called out to him, he’d defend her.

You know your life has taken a strange turn when the presence of a Roach Guard makes you feel safer. She hugged her violin case under her arm and quickened her pace to keep up with his long legs. The compromises we have to make in this life...

She watched him make his way up the dark street ahead of her, a tall, lanky silhouette in the pre-dawn mist. He’s an annoying bastard...she thought, an involuntary smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. But he sure can dance. Her mind went back to the evening at Almack’s where she’d played with the band, and they’d played faster and faster as dancers dropped out, exhausted and laughing and shaking their heads. Monahan hadn’t, though. He never even faltered,  his feet stomping and sliding across the sanded floor, scuffing out syncopated rhythms to the music. He was beautiful to watch, his face alight with pure joy. Clearly, he’s not the disgusting animal I originally thought he was. She thought back to when they’d first met, and remembered how terrified she’d been he would attack her. She had no doubt that his horrible brother would have done exactly that, before Monahan had diffused the situation and had managed to send his brother away before the situation had escalated. It had been her experience that men wearing gang colors were to be avoided at all costs. Still, life is hard around here. Hard and cheap, and you either figure out a way to get by or you die quick and end up in a dustbin like a dead cockroach. She didn’t have to think too hard to imagine the kind of desperation that might drive a man to become hired muscle for criminals. Even if that man has a brave, gentle heart and a love of music and dance.

She frowned, shaking her head. Did I just think that about an armed thug?

She realized he’d stopped and she nearly stumbled trying to stop as quickly as he had. She shrank back as he stood there, his head turning as he surveyed the street before him. He looked to the side, but didn’t turn around. His hand strayed to the pistol strapped to his hip. Sudden fear sharpened her senses, crawled up her throat.

“Come here to me now, Miss Smith.” He said softly.

She gasped in surprise, hesitating.

He turned his head to glance at her, gesturing slightly with his free hand. “You don’t want to look alone right now.  Heed me, lass.” There was a quiet urgency in his voice. Heart in her throat, she covered the distance between them in brisk paces, her embarrassment replaced by fear  and uncertainty. Have I let my guard down too soon? Was my first impression of him the correct one?

“You need to walk close to me tonight, so you do.” He said, his eyes continuing to scan the dark street as she tentatively stepped up beside him.

She looked around wildly, seeing nothing. “Are there...”

“Aye.” He whispered. “Two of them. Boys, I think. Over there in that alley...see?”

He jerked his head towards the dark alleyway ahead. Indistinct shadows loomed, pooling around the rubbish and bins. “Petty thieves, I’m hoping. They noticed you, so they did. Don’t think they’ll come after the two of us together.”

She saw a dim gleam of movement on metal. Shivs. They're armed with knives. She felt the bottom fall out of her stomach and she turned to look at Monahan.

He unholstered his pistol and held his other arm out for her to take.

She smirked at him in spite of her fear, raising an eyebrow at his offered elbow. “Aren’t you worried about being seen with a colored girl on your arm?”

“Not unless you’re worried about being seen on the arm of a ‘filthy mick’.”

She winced, remembering the first time they’d met and she’d threatened to stab him, and then awkwardly grasped his bicep.

“You know, lass.” he said amiably, as if they were not walking past knife-wielding robbers and possibly worse. “I don’t mind if you walk with me. You don’t have to do all this sneaking around.  In fact...can I just stop pretending’ I don’t know you follow me home every night?”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reader-Suggested Prequel: Boccioli di Rosa

“Piet!” Peter was dragged unwillingly out of his book by the sound of his grandmother’s voice.“Pietro!”
She was calling from the kitchen, where the smell of supper wafted forth, permeating the house with the scent of rosemary and bacon and garlic. 

He’d helped Es and Vee pick tomatoes all morning, and now he just wanted to rest and read a bit. “Si, Nonna?”

“Vieni qui. Come in here and finish pinning the hem of Esterina’s dress” She said in the tongue of her native Rome. Nonna knew precious little English, and spoke even less. Almost exclusively, she spoke Italian. Peter’s father didn’t allow his children to speak Italian, even among other immigrant families. Even at home among themselves. “We’re an American family now,” He’d say, his accent heavy and his language halting and hesitant. “We belong here. Don’t give anyone a reason to say you don’t.” For the most part, they all even went by American versions of their own names. There was one exception to this rule, and that exception was when Nonna was involved in the conversation.  Nonna wasn’t going to change, and nobody expected her to.

“Va bene, Nonna.” He got up from the leaning overstuffed chair, cringing and inspecting his hands. They looked filthy, but after the vigorous scrubbing he’d given them, the coal dust that remained blackening his nails and his knuckles was evidently there to stay. If it didn’t come off then, it ain’t gonna come off on Es’s dress. He grabbed the ragged, dust-blackened sheet that lay crumpled on the floor and hastily tossed it back over the chair, carefully arranging it so that it would protect the threadbare brocade from coal dust tracked into the house by his weary brothers returning home.

He stood, catching his breath, feeling the healing stitches in his hip and side pull and pinch. He couldn’t say he particularly missed being in the mine, but sitting at home with the women and children embarrassed him, made him feel weak and useless. The gasses and dust from the explosion had damaged his lungs, and he was short of breath and a little lightheaded. Still, he was alive in a warm house that smelled like red gravy and bread, with people he desperately loved. He’d get his wind and his strength back, and things would return to normal eventually, and he’d look for work. He headed for the kitchen.

Es stood on a chair, having carefully slipped into the pinned dress Ma was in the process of making her.  She’d grown into a pretty young woman, with long, nearly black hair and luminous brown eyes. Peter wondered if the new dress had anything to do with the Fazzone boy she’d been seeing. I hope not...but if I was bettin’...

Her face broke into a smile when she saw him. “How do you feel today?”

He smiled back, shrugging, and sat down in the chair besides the one she stood upon. “Oh, like I might want to do some pinning.”

She stuck out a foot and nudged his shoulder gently with her toe. “Yeah, you look like that’s what what you want.”

He chuckled, grabbing the pincushion and sizing up the unhemmed bottom of her dress. “Va bene, allora. Stand still so I can do this.”

“You want some bread with gravy, Piet?” Nonna asked him without turning around. She stood at the stove, stirring the enormous pot with a wooden spoon, releasing a cloud of fragrant steam.

Peter’s stomach rumbled. “After I’m done here, Nonna.” He said in Italian. “I don’t want to get Es’s dress messed up before Fazzone even sees her in it.”

“Maybe it’s not for him. Maybe it’s for me.”

He took hold of the gingham and deftly folded it to the outside, carefully leveling the crease with his fingers. He grinned to himself, not raising his head. “Right, Sweetheart. That you went out with him twice in the same week you bought this fabric was a complete coincidence.”

“It was!”

“Va bene, how’s this?” He pressed the crease he’d made against the top of her foot. That’s gonna fall right there.”


Peter scowled, jerking his head up so he could look at her. He held the crease firmly against her foot. “Whadaya mean, ‘higher’?

She rolled her eyes at him as if he were being intentionally thick. “I want it shorter. Make the hem higher.”

His amused distrust of Joey Fazzone started flaring into mild dislike. On one hand, it annoyed Peter that the Fazzones were shop owners instead of miners. He knew it was stupid and unfair of him to feel that way, but he couldn’t help it. On some level, the scars and stains and callus marking his skin and that of his brethren were trophies of having paid their dues, as being part of a brotherhood. On the other hand, he thought ruefully, inhaling deeply and paying attention to the aches and twinges of healing trauma in his own body. If she married him, she wouldn’t have to worry every time he left in the morning if she’d be a widow by nightfall. And who knows what I’ll be doing myself later on. I sure as hell ain’t gonna be working for Whitehurst anymore. Not after breaking his nose...and....well, I don’t remember trying to strangle him, but everyone says I did. In any case, I ain’t sorry.  He shook his head, focusing on his sister Esterina’s face.

She raised an eyebrow, glancing at the crease he continued to hold to the top of her foot. “Well?”

Be nice if I don’t end up having to thrash Fazzone, wouldn’t it? Might work out if he minds himself around my sister.

He tweaked the crease with his fingers, dropping the hemline even lower over her shoes.  Grinning wickedly he jabbed the pin into the fabric, holding it fast. “Yeah, Sweetheart, I think this is just about perfect, too.”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Movie Review: The Warrior's Way

"This is the story of a sad flute, a laughing baby, a weeping sword. A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived a warrior. A warrior with empty eyes."

Some time back, a wonderful friend named Pam Slice called me on the phone. She said to me, “Look, you gotta watch this movie, The Warrior’s Way. You will think I am nuts and wonder why I told you to watch this movie for about ten minutes or so. So tough it out and just go with it a bit and you’ll get why I told you to do this.

Now, something I’ve learned in my life is this: Pam Slice knows what I like. So when she tells me to read a book or to watch something, it nearly always behooves me to do it.

Pam was wrong. No, not about me liking it, she got that part correct. She was wrong about me having to wait about ten minutes to like it. I liked it within about twenty seconds, if it even took that long. She knows how dearly I love westerns (particularly ones that bring something new and unusual to the table). But I think she forgot two other things I really like. One is comic books. The other is Kung Fu movies.

So if you saw this movie poster, you probably wouldn’t think it was for a western, would you?

It is. Like Pam says, give it a few minutes. Here’s another version of the poster. Yes, those are ninjas in the background.

The story begins in 19th century Asia. The protagonist, Yang (played deliciously by Dong-gun Jang) is an assassin who refuses to kill the last member of a rival gang, who happens to be a baby. This defection marks him for death, and he flees to America, searching for his old friend Smiley, who he believes is living in Lode, a broken down Old West town. There he meets an assortment of interesting townsfolk, including Lynne (Kate Bosworth), an intense, adventurous young woman who worked with Smiley in the local laundry, Ron (Geoffrey Rush), a gunslinger-turned-town-drunk, and Eight Ball (Tony Cox), the leader of the carnies from the now-defunct carnival that once dominated the town.

Yang and the now-orphaned baby girl have come to Lode to escape their enemies, but Lode has dangerous enemies all its own. Yang must now choose between the peace he desperately craves and defending the town he’s grown to love.  

The movie is a treat for the eyes. It very much has the feel of a beautifully rendered graphic novel. I felt as if I were watching artwork come to life frame by frame, and given that I suspect a huge amount of the scenery for this movie was done in CGI, I suppose I was. It has a dreamy, surreal, almost fantasy flavor to it. There is something about the giant derelict Ferris wheel rusting amidst the scouring, shifting desert around it that evokes something wistful and half-remembered deep in my subconscious. It, and the entire crumbling town seem like some weird American Ozymandias slowly being swallowed by sand and apathy and forgotten, taking their occupants with them.

I absolutely love the cast in this movie. I love that it doesn’t have the usual standard cast of characters you find in most westerns. I love the fact that the female lead spends most of the movie wearing men’s clothing and always has dirt on her face. I love that she is strong and capable and takes charge.  I love that she’s playing opposite an Asian actor (Dong-gun Jang is actually South Korean, but still.), because that’s not something you see very often. Thinking about it, you don’t see it pretty much ever. I’d go into more detail here, because I have quite a bit to say on this particular point, but I don’t want to include any spoilers if you decide to watch it (which I strongly recommend you do). I love that the movie’s cast is filled out with quirky carnival folk. And, of course, I love Geoffrey Rush. Is he ever in anything where he’s not great? And I love the fact that it contains one of those toe-curling love scenes that comes and goes in an instant and consists of a glance, a kiss, or a breathless quip about something else entirely (my favorite one of all time being the line in the movie The Last of the Mohicans where Hawkeye says "I'm looking at you, miss.").

And I think the number one thing I like about this flick is the fact that it is, above all else, a character movie. I’m one of those people who cannot get into a movie unless it is character driven. I don’t care about cast, special effects, or action. I don’t care about genre, although naturally I’m going to gravitate towards Westerns. I care about characters. That this movie is that in addition to being visually stunning makes a must-see.

If you give it a go, come back here and let me know what you thought of it.

BOOK UPDATE: I had hoped to have the book available for purchase this week, but there were a few technical problems and we just decided that rather than rush it and have all this stress and make hasty mistakes, we were just going to take our deadline off. In all honesty, it’s This Close. THIS CLOSE! And the little nit-picky crap we’re having to address is driving me nuts! Every time I think we’re done...we’re not. I just spent all morning having to tinker with a page spread issue in the first couple pages of the print version. I actually ended up going “screw it” and expanding Chapter 1 to make the left to right page spreads work better. So in addition to having a nice clean copy and extra artwork, the purchased versions (both print and electronic) will have little bit of extra material in what is now the Prologue (you all know this chapter as the poker game) and in Chapter 1.

I had NO IDEA of the maddening little details involved. This has been a learning experience, that’s for sure. Hopefully, we will learn enough doing Book 1 that Book 2 will be easier. I am hoping I won’t have to tear my hair out anymore.( I’ve already torn it all out, but you know...) It’s not as simple as just uploading stuff.

So, two weeks, tops. Keep your fingers crossed. You all will be the first to know.

I’m going to be gone and unavailable next week, so it’s unlikely I’ll be posting anything new until the week after. I will, however, be answering emails and other correspondence.


PS: I wasn't going to include the movie trailer, because frankly I think it includes too many spoilers if you want to see the movie for yourself. But I just noticed it was still tacked to the end of the post (I had it here while I was working on the post as a sort of "quick review" for my own use.). If you want to have a look, knock yourself out:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

All That’s Best Of Dark And Light (Reader-Suggested Prequel)

Fiona could hear the axe splitting logs against the big, chipped stump out behind the kitchen. She sighed heavily, pushing back the damp curls clinging to her forehead with the back of her hand. It was a hot summer and she’d have been much happier if she could sit out on the porch while she shucked the bowl of pole beans she was going to make for supper.

But he was out there. The man her uncle hired on a semi-regular basis to chop wood. He was out there scanning the yard for a glimpse of her, and when he saw her, would stop working and stand there slack jawed and gaping, staring. She avoided even looking out the window. She didn’t trust him, and didn’t want to give him any reason to speak to her.

She didn’t know where Uncle Ras was and Mr. Devereaux, the stocktender, had gone into town to talk to the blacksmith there.  And the new hire, Mr. Peltier, was nowhere to be found. The idea that she was alone in the kitchen, and that the man outside knew it, unsettled her. I don’t like how he leers, how he undresses me with his eyes. I don’t know anything about him and I don’t trust him. She peeled a long, green fiber from the edge of a pole bean hull and flicked it into the bowl she’d put on the table to catch scraps.

The rhythmic cracking of the axe outside stopped. She froze, glancing warily up from her task. He’s going to come in here. He’s going to come in here wanting a drink of water. She scowled. “Bloody hell.” she hissed under her breath. She went to the sink, grabbing a clean glass as she went. I’ll just get him one so he won’t have to come inside. I’ll just set it out on the sill for him. She worked the pump handle up and down, hastily filling the glass. I appreciate the work he’s doing for us...but he makes me nervous...and...

She opened the window shutter, set the glass down on the sill, and did a violent double take. That’s not...that’s not...

Mr. Peltier, who her uncle had just hired on, stood in the yard holding his hat and mopping his face with what looked like his wadded-up shirt. His coal black hair, bound in a gleaming braid, hung down his back as he leaned the axe against the stump and turned to look at her.

With some effort, she snapped her gaze from his bare chest to his face. It didn’t help. The image of him half naked in the fiery blast of the sun seemed to be burned into her retinas. If he was anything except utterly comfortable in his skin at this moment, he didn’t show it. And why shouldn’t he be? There’s nothing about him to be self-concious about. He looks like a Greek god. I might be struck blind after this.

“Good afternoon, Miss Lewis-Smythe.” His white teeth gleamed in his burnished face, his cheek dimpling as he smiled. “Is that for me?” He put his hat back on and hung his shirt on the handle of the leaning axe.

“What? Oh!” She held the glass out to him, stunned out of her gobsmacked state. If she’d thought he was a beautiful man the first time she’d laid eyes on him back at Fort Bridger, he was nigh unbearable now. For all her misgivings, he’d turned out to be a rather pleasant-natured young man, polite and smart and possessing a quiet humor. Her initial opinion of him, that like most of the other Army personnel at Fort Bridger, he’d be rude and overly familiar with her, could not have been further from the truth. She couldn’t decide if having him here every day would end up being a good thing or a bad thing. “Yes. Here.  It took her a moment to collect her thoughts. “Where’s Mr. Yarl?”

“Thank you.”He took the glass and nodded at her. “Mr.Devereaux told him we didn’t need him today.”

“Oh? Why is that? Fiona’s voice was slightly unsteady as she watched him tilt back his head and drain the glass, the white hairpipe and silver choker he wore and the pale feather in his hair gleaming against his glowing skin.  His face grew serious as his eyes returned to her face. “You don’t like him around the place.”

She raised an eyebrow, a little embarrassed at so bluntly being called out for having uncharitable thoughts. “Why would you say that?”

“It’s true, isn’t it?” He shrugged. “We didn’t like him here, either. I didn’t like how he looked at you." His black eyes were unreadable wells and seemed to search her thoughts. " I don’t trust him.” He mopped his face with his shirt.

“You two sacked the man my uncle hired to chop wood?” She couldn’t honestly claim that this news offended her, but she still found it a little shocking.

He shrugged again, returning the glass to her. “Whatever you want to call it. I told Mr. Devereaux I’d chop wood for you. So he paid Yarl for the time it took him to get here and sent him home.”

Fiona watched him stoop and start loading split firewood into the canvas carrying sling, feeling the back of her neck starting to sweat anew. Unlike many of the rough men out here, Mr. Peltier had the lithe poise of a dancer, easily slinging the load of wood over one sculpted, masculine shoulder. She watched the subtle ripple of strength across his ribs as he straightened up, gripping the canvas strap at his chest with a strong, graceful hand.

Again, she forced her gaze back to his face, and again, doing so failed to help her focus her thoughts. “What...” She cleared her throat. “What about when we run out of firewood?”

“If Mr. Lynch doesn’t dismiss me and Mr. Devereaux for unhiring his hired man..." A self-aware smirk dimpled his brown cheek as his bottomless eyes again met hers. "I’ll still be here tomorrow. Where do you want me to stack this?”

UPDATE: My parent's dog, Lily (again, I swear that's a coincidence) has been reunited with my folks! Going on a phone tip from this morning, my Dad's handyman Patrick spotted her. She is exhausted, smelly, hungry, and soaked, but she's alright and back home with the people who love her! Thank you for all the good thoughts and crossed fingers!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Personal Post: Missing Dog

My parent's dog went missing on Monday. Probably stolen. I just don't know. I've been roaming around the woods and roads all week.

Got this week's post about half written. I've been working on another reader request for you.  Last night got a tip the dog was at the shelter. Looked exactly like her. Picked up in same area.

Went down there this morning first thing. Not her.

See, this is why I no longer have a pet. I can't freaking do this. Not even my dog, but still...
I dunno. I'm gonna try to finish. It's kind of my big "screw you" to the world. But it's likely gonna be later on I get it done. I'm having a hard time concentrating right now. This morning really rattled me. I was holding it steady until this crap this morning. Sorry.

I have to go to the other shelter as soon as I get off here. Just came from one (I suspect what I smell that is so unpleasant is probably me). Nothing like the scent of piss, fear, and desperation to add to an already bad day.

Anyways, think good thoughts.

For my Columbia, SC area readers, please be on the lookout for a large female black lab, kind of overweight at 80 pounds or so. Greying muzzle. Answers to "Lily" (I swear that is a coincidence). Was last seen wearing a red collar with rabies tags. Very friendly. Went missing right at the intersection of Lower Richland Boulevard and Ridge Road. Offering 300 bucks for return, no questions asked.