“A Question of Values” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

Guardians DecalSomething that’s always fascinated me about mythology is the interplay and interweaving of the concepts of good and evil. In the earliest polytheistic myths, the concepts were twined together so intricately, it was clear that early man had a depth of understanding about the duality of both good and evil that later morality tried to divorce itself from. With the advent of more monotheistic religions, and polymorphic derivatives like Christianity, the waters of good and evil became muddled with absolutism, and the concept became one of holy vs unholy, and one could not be both, or have any kind of interplay between the two. The grey area between good and evil began to disappear, and would not re-emerge until the Age of Humanism.

 

However, even the most holy ancient texts of Christianity and monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam make reference to a deity that is both benevolent and wrathful, a protector and a destroyer. I wanted to explore this, and my Guardians, Inc series became the perfect vehicle for exploring the fine line between good and evil, and where religion loses the concept of faith and becomes zealotry, instead.   And, since I’ve always had a fascination with the concept of the Faustian Contract, I found myself very drawn to the creation of the character of Mephistopheles – a Para who is a demon/devil, but who has made his own deals, if you will, and has a code and set of rules he follows, even in his “business.” I came to really like this character, who straddles the line between what is inherently good in all of us, and what is drawn to acts many might consider evil… He is a necessary evil, and I find myself quite liking him. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he ends up turning up in more than one book in this series…

 

“A Question of Values” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 6) –

 

“What can I interest you in, today? We have a fine collection of Ch’in sculpture, or Berber rugs, perhaps?”

Jonathan stared the tall, emaciated-looking old man down. “I’m not in the mood for games, Mephistopheles. We both know you’ve got a lot more hidden away than a few illegal artifacts.”

Thin lips curved upward ever-so-slightly in a cool smile. “What you’re asking for is very expensive, Agent Caulder. Are you certain you want it?”

Jonathan laughed shortly. As if. “You and I both know you can’t make those kinds of bargains with me, Mephistopheles.”

The old demon sighed exaggeratedly. “More’s the pity, too. You’d make a fine addition to my collection. I could get a lot at auction.”

Mardi Gras tourists not doing it for you, anymore, huh?”

One thin shoulder shrugged up. “You know how it is. One vice, no imagination. No value, there.”

“Wouldn’t know. What I do know is, word has it you might have a lead on the whereabouts of Elizabeth Prescott.”

Mephistopheles’ slim brow raised. “Sweet girl. And very much not my type.”

“Too innocent for you?”

A chuckle answered that. “No such thing, my dear boy. Everyone has some kind of darkness, some price. Well, almost everyone,” he admitted grudgingly. “Young Miss Prescott is incorruptible.” His gaze narrowed on Jonathan. “You, however, have a price. You’ve had value for years, but I see that one — of little enough value, as vengeance always is — has been paid off in full. But you’ve got a new one, now. Much more valuable. Ah, love, maybe? Yes,” he nodded as Jonathan tensed. “Definitely love. I could help you out.”

Jonathan’s fists clenched. He wasn’t playing this game. “I don’t need your help. You even think about messing with her, and so help me God…”

A derisive chuckle met his unguarded oath. “It has been an eternity since the god of Abraham saw my showroom floor. We have an understanding, he and I. I don’t barter for that which is pure, and he doesn’t interfere with my…” He cleared his throat tellingly, “legitimate business.”

“Wonderful.” Jonathan wasn’t interested in any business that didn’t involve his case. “My sources say you helped someone ‘acquire’ Elizabeth.”

Mephistopheles tsk-ed regretfully. “Someone has been talking shop off the showroom floor. It is so difficult to find reliable help, these days.”

Jonathan laughed without humor. “You, complaining about vice? I don’t buy it.”

“You never buy anything,” Mephistopheles complained. “But I have hope for you. Someday, I’ll find the right price.”

Those words drove a cold spike through Jonathan. Mac had a stalker no one had seen yet. Could that be because they weren’t supposed to see? “What have you done?”

“Nothing, yet.” Mephistopheles appeared blandly unconcerned. “As for your Miss Prescott, don’t look my way. I had a Dark Court partisan inquire about acquiring her a few months back, but he didn’t like my price and I’m afraid I was required to have him removed from the premises. Rather forcefully, I might add.”

Meaning, of course, that one of Mephistopheles’ thugs likely vaporized him. Another potential suspect gone. Great.

“I would suggest,” Mephistopheles tapped his steepled fingers against his bony chin, “if you are looking for Miss Prescott, you look into her brother’s associations. Dear Maximillian has a very high price on his head.”

“You’re Only As Good…” : The Intersection of Trauma, Fiction, and Publication

I know it probably sounds pathetic to most people that I identify myself so much by my career as an author – especially since I’m not and likely never will get rich doing it. I know there are plenty of people who, no matter what they say to my face, probably think it’s a waste of my time, because it’s not liable to make me rich.

 

I’ve always identified myself as an author… For as long as I can remember (back to even before I could read or write in reality), I’ve had that facet of myself, that identity wrapped up inside me. In my tumultuous childhood, writing was a lifeline, and the only voice I really had.  Life traumas have left me questioning whether or not I should have ever published, but never whether or not I should have ever written.  I think that’s the part that confuses some people.  They think the two are interlinked, and that if one writes, one must publish.

 

Truth? In some ways, I was much happier with my writing, before I published. The self-doubt and self-loathing I’ve struggled most of my life with didn’t invade my writing world until I published the first time… That was when the inner chorus of “See, you’re not worth anything” and “I told you no one wants you” and the “Why do you bother?” grew louder… and every time someone looks down their nose at me about “wasting time” or my “hobby,” that chorus gets louder still.  Every time the icy shoulders come out or someone talks over top of me or changes the subject when I start talking about my books, the chorus becomes more insistent.  Every time I schedule/pay for time to advertise, only to have someone else horn in, and everyone instantly turns their attention to that other person’s work, the chorus becomes deafening.

 

Truth? For every one person I’ve received an e-mail from about how much my work has helped them (and yes, there have been a number… I’m not discrediting that) over the years,  there have been twenty who haven’t even given me or my work a chance, and who’ve done the “snake oil salesman” routine, and told me “how wonderful” my work is, like I can’t see through them, and like I don’t know they’ve never read a word… not even the free postings I’ve offered over the years (and I’m not saying anyone has to read anything I write… what I’m asking for is honesty. If you don’t read it, don’t tell me you think it’s “wonderful”… I’d much rather you just said, “It’s not my speed” than lie to me, thanks.).

 

Am I bitter? No, that’s not the word I would use. Bitterness implies being angry at someone else, or a system, and I’m not. I know how this game is played. The problem is, I’m no good at playing it. I believe an author’s work should be able to speak for itself, not that the author should be out there prostituting themselves for the next reader… I know it’s a shabby way to look at things, and I’m likely to get backlash for it… I’m aware of that. But my truth is built on identifying myself by my work… I’m ashamed to say I allowed other people to dictate the kind of work I did, when I first started out. I allowed publishers to “sex up” my books, even though it destroyed the foundation of those books and characters, and stripped me of my own identity at the same time.

 

Who am I angry at for that?  I’m angry at me. I’m disgusted with my naivete, that I thought that was just how the industry worked, and that I had to go along with every change. I’m thoroughly annoyed at myself for allowing others to convince me I’m not good enough, that my work wasn’t good enough, unless I stripped away everything that made it me, and instead turned it into some kind of printed-page porno.

 

There’s a lot more to me, and to my work, than I think too many people give me credit for… And yet, I’m left with that rising chorus that says I’m worthless as a person, because I’m worthless as a writer, and that the proof is all around me… And, these days, without my identity as an author, I literally AM nothing. I keep writing, because I know that if I stop, if I pause long enough to take a breath, that swelling wave of self-doubt and self-loathing will drown me. And this time, it might just succeed in killing me.

“Body Dump” – Excerpt from NIGHTSTALKER (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

Guardians DecalWhen a body turns up in the middle of a National Forest with no visible evidence of how it got there, but clearly having been torn apart, the case is instantly handed over to Bunker team to investigate. And when as the body count starts mounting, the only evidence they uncover points to the impossible. Only, Faith and her team have already learned, when it comes to their cases, nothing is impossible.

Witch Hollow brings together a wide variety of my life-long fascinations, from forensics and anatomy to the paranormal and mythological.  Add in characters who have literally snagged not just my imagination and interest, but also my heart, and this is fast becoming one of my favorite series to write.

 

“Body Dump” – Excerpt from NIGHTSTALKER (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow) -

 

Linda lowered the camera from her eye with a frown.  “There aren’t any footprints.”

Faith glanced up. “What?”

“Footprints.” Linda gestured to the soft earth around them. “Aside from yours, mine, and Agent Caulder’s, there aren’t any footprints anywhere around here, and absolutely no tire treads. How did the killer get the body in here?”

Faith sighed inwardly as she realized Linda was right. Looking back down at the body, the sick certainty this was going to be another of Jonathan’s oddities clenched in her gut. “That’s not all that’s wrong with this scene.  The corpse has been mutilated, and the liver, spleen, and heart are a pulverized mess.” She poked around inside the torn-open abdominal cavity, and sat back on her heels with grim certainty. “And the posterior ribs and pelvis have been shattered.” She looked up at Linda again. “I don’t think he was dumped here. I think he was dropped here. From a considerable height, too.”

Linda looked up. “Passing plane, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Faith couldn’t help the doubtful tone of her own voice.  “If it was a low-flying, relatively slow plane. Anything higher than five thousand feet, and there’d be a lot more extensive trauma than this.”

“Like a biplane. Or a helicopter, maybe?”

Faith nodded. “We’ll have to test the hypothesis, but I hope you’re right.”

Linda snapped more pictures. “Why?”

“Because otherwise, I’m not sure I want to know what did this.”

 

 

Writing Crossroads and Publishing Options

I’m at a crossroads, of sorts, with my writing. I have two currently published series with books still due out, and two more under consideration. Over the past three decades I’ve been writing, and especially over the past decade I’ve been published, I’ve undergone a lot of changes and growth as an author, and now I find myself at a crossroads I can honestly say I never really considered hitting.

 

For most of my writing career, one of my major points of focus was to get published. It was a dream that kept me going, and writing, through some very difficult straits in my life. My drive was always to be published by an actual publishing house – whether small or big press didn’t matter to me.

 

In 2004, that dream became a reality. While my first attempt to publish had fallen flat before it even got a running start, in 2004 I started with a publishing house that was also in start-up. I have to admit, I was leery at first, but eventually was won over, and so began my journey as a published author. I was doing well enough, but I was also becoming disillusioned, and quickly. The publisher wasn’t a good fit (as I feared from the beginning), and the changes that were being made to my books and my vision for my career were disheartening. Then, in 2007, that publishing house closed its doors and I (and the other authors there) had a fight on our hands, getting our rights to our work back. That scarred me, made me even more wary than before. But I still had a dream to pursue.

 

The next publishing house to come along and request my work had a difficult time getting me to agree, but promises were made, and I eventually agreed to give them a chance. I should have known better, but when that also disintegrated, my growth was spiraling the wrong way. I was starting to question if it was even worth writing, anymore. Yet, I couldn’t give it up, either. Writing was part of my identity, now, and I knew I needed to keep going.

 

I found two wonderful publishers, who treat me and my writing with respect and dignity. Under The Moon currently publishes my Underground (Science Fiction) series, and Desert Breeze Publishing is running my Legends of Tirum (Fantasy) series, with optioning currently out on my Section Psi (Science Fiction) and Project Prometheus (Paranormal/Military) series.

 

However, I’m at a crossroads on the rest of my writing. I’m not sure what I want to do. I have series that I’ve spent a lot of time and effort developing, and having to completely re-edit because the first publisher to have them twisted them beyond recognition. I’m asking myself if I want to take a chance with a publisher, for these books, or if I want to just publish them, myself. The crossroad I’m at is a “maybe traditional publishing wasn’t the way to go” one. Would I be better off, and truer to my craft, to publish the books myself, under my own imprint, than to let someone else get to call the shots?

 

I just don’t know, yet. But, in the meantime, I’m keeping my options open. If a publisher can promise me not to alter my books beyond recognition, and leave me an open-ended clause that says if I don’t like the edits suggested I either don’t have to accept them, or I can yank the book, I’m willing to entertain letting them have an option at my Guardians, Inc. and High Stakes series. But I’m going to be stubborn about the changes I allow to these series… I think they have a lot of sales potential as they are, and I’m still kicking myself for my early allowance of the twisting they underwent.

 

So, let the bargaining begin… You can reach me via e-mail. If I don’t have any option requests by the time the first book is finished, I’ll take that as a sign I’m doing this myself.

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The Underground insignia.

The Underground insignia.

“A Question of Trust” — Excerpt from LOVE ME TO PIECES (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

Guardians DecalWhile I know there are other projects I really should be working on, for some reason this series has totally captivated my attention. I love these characters, and where they’re taking me, as a writer. Over the years, I’ve become more and more adept at and involved in the process of what I call Character Continuities – series that carry the same core characters throughout. I like the concept better than I do series with books that just end with the resolution of a certain storyline. I always find myself unsatisfied with the outcome, wondering where those characters went from there, what the rest of their story is.

 

With Guardians, Inc’s Witch Hollow series, I get another chance to keep the story going, and every day, I find a new reason to love these characters.

 

Excerpt from LOVE ME TO PIECES (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book # 9) –

 

Faith sighed as she pulled in behind Jonathan’s truck and saw him, seated on her front porch steps, turning his cell phone end-over-end in his hands. She should have known her escape from the Bunker wouldn’t go unnoticed.

Levering herself from her car, she snagged her purse and headed for the house. “What are you don’t here, Jonathan?”

His worried frown stopped her at the foot of the steps. “Where have you been? Joyce called me in a panic two hours ago, saying you weren’t in your office, and she couldn’t reach you on the phone. I’ve been trying for the past hour and a half, and it kept going straight to voicemail. You have a stalker, Mac. You have to know disappearing like that scares the hell out of people. Out of me.”

She glanced away, guilt settling over her. She was so distracted, lately, she forgot about the stalker. Contrite, she muttered, “Sorry. I had an appointment.”

“What?”

“I was at the doctor’s, okay? I turned my phone off.”

The worry in his eyes ratcheted up another notch as he sprang to his feet. “What’s wrong?”

She smiled in tender exasperation. While it was great he cared, sometimes his protective streak got a little overwhelming. “Everything’s fine. This was a scheduled appointment.”

He looked like she just punched him in the chest, and there was definite hurt in his eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She blinked at him, confused. “Why should I have?”

“Unbelievable!” He scrubbed a hand through his hair as he paced away from her, clearly agitated.

“You’re angry.”

He turned, pinned her in place with his glare, before turning to stare out over the yard, again, his hands clenched on the porch railing. “Yeah, I’m angry. When are you going to let me in, Mac?”

His words smacked her, and she barely bit back the gasp of pain as the accusation settled in her chest and stung her eyes. She was such an idiot, to not see it sooner. Jonathan invested himself emotionally in their cases, despite his best efforts to maintain objectivity, so why wouldn’t he do the same, now? Guilt twisted in her.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, moving to his side. She laid one hand on his back. “I’m so used to dealing with my life alone, I guess I’m having trouble remembering I’m not alone, this time.”

He turned to look at her again, the anger gone from his gaze, as a smile spread slowly over his face. “It’s okay, sweetheart. We’re okay.”

It was her turn to look away, even as she gnawed her lip anxiously. He might not feel that way once she told him the rest. Partnerships were built on trust. How long before her secret ripped theirs apart?

“Burned Alive” – Excerpt from DEATH MASK (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

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Don’t ask me why, but this storyline totally captivates my attention… I think it’s the unusual element of it, even for a paranormal crime… but DEATH MASK is quickly becoming a favorite project…

(WARNING: This excerpt contains graphic information)

DEATH MASK (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow):

“Wait a minute. You’re saying he… set himself on fire?”

She shrugged helplessly, looking up at him from where she crouched by the body. The smell of burned flesh and wood hung in the air, and she didn’t like the undisturbed nature of the scene. This level of trauma, there shouldn’t be a structure still standing. Yet, everything appeared undisturbed. She had nothing else to go on, yet. “There’s no evidence to suggest anyone else was in this cabin with him. The flesh was completely immolated on his right arm, and the burn patterns on the remaining bones suggest he was holding a lit match in a hand doused in accelerant. Other than that, the rest of the burn damage is inconsistent and scattered. At first glance, I’d say he probably died of inhalation trauma. I won’t have anything more definitive until after the autopsy.”

Jonathan loosed a low whistle. “That’s dedication. Who would do something like this in an isolated cabin in the middle of the desert, with no witnesses? I thought self-immolators did this kind of stuff as protest, or to make a public point of some kind.”

She nodded. “That’s consistent with a self-immolation profile, yes. But this victim doesn’t fit that profile. Look around. Everything is neat and orderly, but there’s absolutely no religious iconography, no symbols of any kind of obsession or devotion that typically leads to that kind of behavior. Self-immolators typically have fanatical social or religious ideologies, and they either make a public spectacle of the immolation, or they leave some kind of very deliberate and obvious statement of intent or reason. Look around. There’s no TV, no evidence he received the newspaper, or any heavily politicized or religiously fanatical magazines or literature of any kind. I don’t see any reason for him to do something like this to himself.”

“Maybe it was a suicide.” He sounded doubtful.

“Self-immolation is a very painful and slow way to die, Jonathan. Suicides are typically looking for an escape from pain, not a way to cause more of it. If he just wanted to kill himself, there are a thousand more efficient ways to achieve that.”

“So, you think he was murdered.”

“I can’t say definitively, at this point, but that seems the most logical conclusion, yes.”

“Mac, there’s no one around for miles, and nothing else burned. This place is untouched, except for that.” He pointed toward the body and the darkly charred spot on the unfinished wood floor beneath it.

“I don’t understand it, either,” she shot back in frustration. “Not yet, anyway. I have to get him back to the Ranch. Once I do a proper autopsy, maybe we’ll know more.”

“Or maybe this is just the beginning,” he muttered as he stashed his notebook in his jacket pocket, already headed for the door. His off-hand remark sent a chill through Faith. After all, she had no answers for him. Nothing she could back up with scientific evidence, anyway. And they both knew what that meant.

“Eviscerated” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

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Watching Faith and Jonathan’s characters develop and learn to trust each other, over the course of these books, is some of the most fun I’ve had with a series, to date. Particularly Faith, as she comes to grips not only with her developing relationship with Jonathan, but also with the evidence of the paranormal her involvement with Jonathan continues to drop in her lap. For a woman so terrified of the paranormal she’s gone out of her way to declare it non-existent, being faced with evidence to the contrary is a difficult thing to accept.

So far, she’s only faced villains who involve the paranormal. Can she trust Jonathan enough to accept someone involved in the paranormal as a victim?

“Eviscerated” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 6)

“Max didn’t do this, Mac.”

“What makes you so certain he’s not responsible?” Faith whipped around to glare at him. She was getting sick of his refusal to accept what was right in front of them both. “So far, all the evidence says Maximillian Prescott is the killer.”

“I know Max, okay? He doesn’t operate this way.”

That brought her up short. She expected him to bring up some kind of psychic mumbo-jumbo about reading Max’s mind or something. “What does that mean?”

“Max is Covenant-bound. And he’s been around long enough to abhor unnecessary bloodshed or cruelty.” Jonathan eyed the eviscerated corpse pinned to the parking garage wall with railway spikes. “This would take someone with a sick mind to even come up with. You’ve talked to Max. Do you really think he’s capable of it, or are you just being disagreeable because of me?”

Faith crouched beside the decedent’s mutilated feet under the guise of examining the damage, but she was aware she didn’t fool Jonathan for a second. They both knew she was hiding her discomfort with his accusation from him.

“Whatever did this, it hardly left much in the way of flesh on the feet. Almost as if it started there, and worked its way up.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “And no, I don’t think your friend is capable of that. I’ve never seen trauma that presents quite this way, before. It’s not even ritualistic. It’s almost like something was… eating the feet, and then just scraped the rest of the flesh and organs from the body.”

Jonathan frowned. “How do you know that?”

She jerked her head toward a bloody mound in the shadowy corner near the support beam. “Because who or whatever did this left them all behind.”

Jonathan shined his flashlight over the darkened corner, and grimaced. “That’s just nasty.”

“On that, we agree.” She studied the feet a moment longer. Strangely, just enough tendon had been left attached to keep all the bones in place. Almost as if the killer knew exactly what he or she was doing. She frowned. “This body was posed. Our killer knows anatomy.”

“That seems kind of obvious, since they helped this guy out of his skin like an old suit.”

“Yes.” She rose to her feet, still frowning. “What I don’t understand, yet, is why.”

See how this unusual partnership begins, in SIGHT UNSEEN, coming soon.