“I Solemnly Swear…” – Fiction Writing and the Pitfalls of Promise

As an author, there’s one rule I hold sacred above all else in my writing — Be careful what you promise.

I’m not talking about deadlines.

I’m not talking about telling people when a book will be out.

What I’m talking about are the promises we, as writers, make to our audience. Promises about circumstances. About events. About characters. About relationships.

These are sacred promises. We have asked our audience to put their faith in us. To willingly, and with absolute trust, follow us along a twisting path through our characters’ lives, to learn about them, to laugh with them, cry with them, fall in love with them, and perhaps (in some cases) die a little with them.

Along the way, we have to be careful of the pitfall of “I promise…” Unless we are prepared to follow through — to perhaps abandon our entire creative endeavor based on a bridge we swore to never set foot upon, to never cross, and certainly never demolish behind us.

We can never promise what we are not prepared to deliver, or are uncertain our characters can deliver. We are the most honest of all deceivers, for we peddle in truths based upon lives that are only, at best, half reality. But this does not give us permission to lie to our audience.

We do not get to make promises we are either incapable of or unwilling to assure the outcome of.

image by hotblack

image by hotblack

Personally, I don’t make promises regarding characters or situations, other than that the situation will eventually be resolved.

The quest will reach an end.

A resolution will, sooner or later, arrive for every situation.

Beyond that, I make no promises. I have no idea where the path might twist and turn, or how my characters will arrive at the resolution. I assume they will be changed, but I have no idea how, no matter how much plotting I do. I do not even promise they will all arrive there alive.

However, if you do decide to make a promise regarding your characters or situations, be aware, you are toying with a trust you must be very careful of.

Audiences do not respond well to being tricked, to having their emotions manipulated by empty promises. They are unlikely to trust your motives, or your storytelling, again, if you offer them something you can’t deliver on.

Once you make a promise, you simply can’t change your mind. At that point, you are committed to a course, and you will have to see it through.

“Marked For Death” – Excerpt from NICK OF TIME (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

NoTWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When a young woman is abducted from a Pennsylvania state psychiatric facility, it looks like a straightforward kidnapping, until her real identity is revealed, and the agent responsible for locking her down is put back on the case. Now, FBI Agent Jonathan Caulder and his new partner, Faith MacKenzie, are in a race against time, before an ancient Order uses a terrible secret to commit genocide.

“Marked for Death” – Excerpt from NICK OF TIME (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book #3) —

Faith glanced at the girl curled up in the motel room chair across from her, and worry tugged at her. Shawna didn’t look well. The girl hadn’t looked well since they found her, but even less so since that seizure.

“Are you okay?”

Ancient eyes that didn’t belong in such a young face stared back at her, sheened with tears.

“Doctor MacKenzie?” The girl’s soft voice emerged, hesitant, as she hugged her arms tighter around her shins and rested her cheek against her upraised knees, her gaze going back to the rain-slicked window. “What’s it like to fall in love?”

The question blindsided Faith, and she jerked back in surprise. How did she answer this question? She wasn’t prepared to provide motherly advice. Especially not about something she’d never figured out for herself. Finally, she settled on the truth, and sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”

Shawna’s head nodded against her knees in an awkward shrug and shift motion. “I guess it doesn’t matter. I’ll never know.”

Faith’s worry edged deeper. Shawna’s spiral into depression, following her seizure, was a very bad sign. “Sure, you will. You’re young. You have a lot of time to figure it out.”

Those ancient eyes turned her way again. Only, now, the tears that were only a glimmer before traced the girl’s cheeks. “No, I don’t. I’m dying, Doctor MacKenzie. Didn’t Agent Caulder tell you?”

Faith’s chest constricted. Despite her job, death wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Not the slow, wasting kind of death she watched her father go through. She wasn’t stupid or naïve – she knew kids died of terrible diseases every day. But the sad resignation in Shawna’s eyes got to her. Leaning forward, she stretched out a hand to cover Shawna’s clasped hands.

“No,” she answered softly, careful to keep her pity tucked deep inside. “He didn’t mention it. What’s your diagnosis?”

A sad, teary smile tugged the very edges of Shawna’s lips. “I’m Legacy, Doctor MacKenzie. After my first episode, they started medicating the Legacy, suppressing it, until Mr. George found me. He helped me, but it was already too late. The dreams had taken hold. Besides, Mara don’t have the greatest of lifespans, to start with. There’s no medical diagnosis. There’s just madness, and death.”

With that, she turned her attention back to the rainy day outside, and Faith had the feeling the girl wanted to be left alone. With a small sigh, she released Shawna’s hands, and rose to her feet, moving to the counter where Jonathan left Shawna’s case file. Determination flooded her. She wasn’t buying this nonsense about mythical legacies, evil dreams, and whatever the hell Mara were. Every disease had a root, and if she could find Shawna’s, maybe she could come up with a treatment. Maybe there was even a cure, out there. All it took was a clear mind, and the ability to see past all the superstition. Good thing she was here, after all.

Look for Book #1, SIGHT UNSEEN, coming from Desert Breeze Publishing in May 2016!

“Dreams In Danger” – Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus)


Their mission is to search out and bring down those who trade in terrorism, fear, and human suffering by whatever means necessary. To do this, they must be willing to give up their freedom, and even their lives. They are a mercenary unit with a mission, and a motivation that has nothing to do with what they get paid, and everything to do with the innocent lives they save. Meet the men and women of…

 Project Prometheus

Trevor Watkins is the miracle of the hour — the survivor of an unassisted coma. But he awakes in a strange place, with no memory but one — the smiling face of a woman with jade-green eyes he has a dreadful feeling he’s supposed to hate. Trapped in a living nightmare from which he believes there is no escape, he finds himself face-to-face with a betrayal he can’t help but forgive, and a secret he can’t hide from. Now, the jade-eyed beauty from his past can set him free, if he’s willing to let her step into a world that could take her away from him forever.

“Dreams in Danger” — Excerpt from SHADOW WALKER (Project Prometheus, Book #3)

Jaye stopped in the middle of her great-grandmother’s sitting room, her eyes closed, and drew in deep, cleansing breaths. The air here was old, yet sweet with the remnants of the last time Gran was here to clean during the summer. She let it fill her, take her away from the dark, terrible reason for her return. She nearly jumped as Trevor’s voice spoke from behind her.

“Where did you get this place, again?”

He loosed a quiet whistle of appreciation. The awe on his face as he turned in a wide circle in the middle of the spacious sitting room stirred a pang of combined nostalgia and regret in Jaye. The sturdy old house never failed to awe her either, no matter that she’d owned it for nearly fifteen years. Once, she dreamed of making a home here, but those dreams died in a single night in Hell. They were never coming back.

Dumping her purse and coat on the rocking chair her great-grandfather made with his own hands, she drew another deep breath of chilly, slightly-stale air and sighed. Even unused for years, this place made her feel like she’d come home.

“It was given to me,” she answered Trevor with a bittersweet smile. “My great-grandmother had it built here on Boone Mountain in 1907, because she believed she belonged here, rather than locked away on a Reservation. When she died, the house passed to Gran, who stubbornly refuses to live anywhere but on the Reservation. When I turned eighteen, she gave me the house. She said it was where I, not she, belonged.” Jaye traced loving fingers along the sturdy oak dining table as she made her way through the dining room. “She was right, too. I couldn’t bear to part with this place, even when I knew I wouldn’t be able to live here. It’s been too much a part of my dreams for too long to give up.”

“Dreams?” Trevor’s voice sounded suspiciously husky, and, when she turned to meet his gaze, the naked hunger there twisted her heart. Why couldn’t he just trust her?

Of course, she already knew the answer to that. With a wince, she admitted, “I always dreamed of living here. I decided that when I retired from active duty, I’d come here to live. I dreamed of coming home. I wanted to fill this place with the laughter and love it was built to hold.”

He slanted her a curious look. “So why didn’t you, after Jordan was born? You were never very concerned with more than your required four years of service before.”

She turned away from him to hide the pain she knew was visible in her eyes. Didn’t he remember? Didn’t he realize what it meant to her to have him a part of those dreams?

“I couldn’t bear it,” she admitted in a raw whisper. “My career was the only place I could hide from my dreams. Somewhere along the way, the dream changed. And then I killed it completely.”

He was silent for so long she feared he left. She was just about to turn and look, when she heard a shuddering sigh leave him.

“I remember.” His booted footsteps creaked on the old wood floor. “You used to talk about this place a lot.”

She nodded, and swallowed back tears. Used to. “You remember our day together, in Muqdisho? We talked about coming here, once we both got back stateside. We were going to…” Pain fisted around her throat, and a sudden chill enveloped her. Rubbing both arms with her hands, she hugged warmth to herself to ward off the pain as she forced the whispered words past her throat. “We were going to get married here, before…”

“Yeah.” After a long moment of silence, she felt as much as heard his retreat. His voice, when he spoke again, was full of pain and longing. “Before.”

Get ready for the next chapter of Project Prometheus – SHADOW WALKER, coming from Esther Mitchell and Desert Breeze Publishing, November 2015.

“Deals with the Devil” – Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

BoEWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When kidnapping turns to murder, the hunt could turn from dangerous to deadly for Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team. A four-year-old cold serial kidnapping cold case is red-hot again, with fresh bodies turning up at a ten-year-old crime scene, and the daughter of a wealthy Witch Hollow family is abducted in broad daylight. Now, time is running out for Elizabeth Prescott, and the price of failure could also mean the life of a man Faith’s partner seems strangely determined is innocent.

“Deals with the Devil” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 6) —

Faith pushed open the heavy, steel door to the abandoned garage warily, shining her flashlight into the dark interior. Her heart thudded harshly against her ribs, and she struggled to keep her breathing slow and even. She knew coming here alone wasn’t a smart idea, but she didn’t have a choice. She didn’t run the statistics for survival in her head – she didn’t want to know how much danger she was in.

“Hello?” She called into the darkness, uncertain who she was supposed to meet, or what she’d find, here. She didn’t want to think she’d been lured her to discover Elizabeth Prescott’s dead body any more than she wanted to contemplate whether she was walking into her own death. She had to stay focused on what she did know, and the only clue she had was that someone claimed to know what happened to Elizabeth.

No one answered her, and Faith steeled herself, then pushed the door open even further, until the sparse street lights filtered into the building ahead of her. Then, with a resolute breath, Faith took a cautious step inside the building, swinging her flashlight in a wide arc, illuminating empty garage bays full of stagnant, algae-filled water, stacks of tires that looked like they’d been slowly rotting away since Katrina, and electrical fixtures that could probably double as electrocution devices, if there was even still a current running to them. Hisses and chittering noises in the dark told her the only inhabitants were probably local wildlife – none of which she was particularly wild about meeting – though an eerie sense she wasn’t alone crawled along her spine.

“Anyone here?”

“Are you alone?” Rasped a breathy voice from the shadows beyond where Faith’s flashlight could reach, sending another shiver down her spine. She was reminded of the Prescott crypt, and the strange, ominous presence of Marie Prescott.

“Yes,” she managed, careful to keep her voice calm and unafraid. She needed to keep the upper hand, and that meant showing no fear.

“Good.” The voice, stronger and deeper, suddenly came from directly behind her, and the heavy door slammed shut. Faith jumped, her self-reminder about showing no fear fleeing as a shadow loomed over her, and her flashlight went out, plunging the room into pitch dark. Then, before she could draw another breath – never mind move – a large hand closed around her throat, and she was tossed across the room, to bounce off a stack of tires and drop to the floor with enough force her head impacted the concrete, and the darkness swam before her eyes, closing in around her with suffocating speed. As heavy, rubber objects – the tires, most likely – pelted down on her, drawing groans of pain with each impact, one final thought sparked through her mind. At least she slipped Jonathan the note. Even if she died here, someone would find her. Jonathan would avenge her.

“Shifting Balance” — Excerpt from BLOOD DEBT (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeTheir mission is to search out and bring down those who trade in terrorism, fear, and human suffering by whatever means necessary. To do this, they must be willing to give up their freedom, and even their lives. They are a mercenary unit with a mission, and a motivation that has nothing to do with what they get paid, and everything to do with the innocent lives they save. Meet the men and women of…

Project Prometheus

While a battle for control of a power capable of reshaping time itself rages, one man’s doubt in the side he’s chosen may be all it takes to tip the balance, and save the world from plummeting straight into a hell beyond all nightmares.

“Shifting Balance” — Excerpt from BLOOD DEBT (Project Prometheus, Book 4) —

He watched the woman’s manic pacing with weary resignation. He’d never admit it, even under torture, but he grew tired of these women and their erratic — sometimes downright psychotic — mood swings. They all had a common element — all of them except Magdalena, whose place as a Widow he’d never been able to figure out in the nearly eighty years he spent serving Onuris and the Brotherhood.

Rachel and Joy, he understood. A psychopathic need for power fueled them, and — in Joy’s case — a psychotic narcissism. Saphra was bent on vengeance, and rarely killed unless it suited her thirst for revenge. And Ramona allowed her lusts to control her, rather than being in control of them. All of them were perfect hosts for a demon like Satmet. But Onuris’ lover set her greedy sights on Magdalena, as well, and that didn’t sit right with Dimitri.

“Are you even listening to me?” Joy’s sharp demand cut through his musing like a heated blade, jerking his attention back to the glaring woman who was Satmet’s current host. He sighed.

Da. If you are so worried that the American doctor will fail, why did you give him the key? Why not do the task yourself?” For once. But he was wise enough to leave those last words unspoken.

It would certainly make his life easier, Dimitri thought bitterly. With every day that passed in the presence of these deranged women and their demonic puppeteer, he questioned his decision to join forces with the Brotherhood more. It had been babushka‘s idea, her urging, that first directed him Rachel’s way, all those years ago. But eighty years of this insanity was more than any man should have to tolerate.

He sighed inwardly, even as he faced down the glaring Widow before him. “Da?

Those dark blue eyes narrowed as if she could read him, but Dimitri refused to be cowed. He knew the Black Arts, and he comforted himself to know he could control the demon, if not the woman.

“I gave him the key because he’s our best chance, and I refuse to go traipsing around in the jungle like bloody Indiana Jones. He actually wants to do it.” Her fingers walked up his chest in a seductive meander.

He grimaced, and his hand closed around her wrist, yanking her touch away. “We have already discussed this. I am not your lap dog. And I do not have to want treasure — or you — to do my job. Do not toy with me, Joy.”

And, as she yanked away, turned on those ridiculously high heels, and stalked from the room in even higher sulk, the door slamming behind her, Dimitri sank into a chair, scrubbed his face, and tried to banish the image of wide turquoise eyes and a beauty too pure to be so selflessly sacrificed, from his mind. He couldn’t wait for this to all be over.

Find out how the story begins! Pick up your copy of IN HER NAME and HOPE OF HEAVEN today, at Amazon.com or Desert Breeze Publishing, and look for SHADOW WALKER, coming soon!


image from werner22brigitte

image from werner22brigitte

This is a little something I’ve fooled around with, off and on, for a number of years… Just a little project to keep my muse engaged with the active, battlefield mentality I often need to write suspense.

I’ve always had a love for Greek mythology, for vastly personal reasons. I will note that this isn’t a researched novel. References are ones gleaned from decades of pure fascination and study of Greek mythology and history. If I ever decide to turn this into a novel, I’ll be doing lots of research… for now, it just remains a little exercise for my muse, that I thought I’d share a bit of, with you. Enjoy! :)


“Aectetis” —

They were sent from the gates, into the gaping maw of the desert cavern, but neither man went willingly.  No man who knew the tales, or believed in Hades’ wide dominion, would have been willing.  Aectetis blessed himself repeatedly and murmured prayers to Athene, while Taracles muttered curses against the darkness hovering around them.

“This is madness,” Taracles muttered as he thrust his torch savagely into the inky passageway, his sword clenched in one hard fist, his dark eyes steely.  “I tell you, Aectetis; Sikander’s run mad.”

Aectetis swallowed hard, but offered no answer.  He couldn’t have spoken, at the moment, had his life depended on it.  His scalp itched with sweat, beneath the cockle-crested helm, and his leather armor might as well have been Prometheus’ stone, about his neck. It suffocated him. Why was he here? He had neither Taracles’ Spartan toughness, nor the great Aristotle’s Athenian scepticism.  He was provincial, a farmer’s son, with little understanding of either war or philosophy. He believed in the power of the Gods, and mere mortals ought not to trifle with such things.

“I heard from the Emperor’s man that Sikander’s gripped with fevers that roll his eyes up in his head; that he hears voices.  Voices!” Taracles scoffed openly, his voice edged with dark humor.  “Can you believe that? The Furies come to claim his fool head, and yet none dares question his whims!”

A skittering in the darkness brought Aectetis’ gaze quickly around, and he battled down a rising wave of pure panic.

“Do you suppose it’s true? What they say of this place?” Aectetis dared not breathe more than that, lest he anger the spirits here.

“That it leads straight to Tartarus; that the voices of the damned echo here?” Taracles shrugged nonchalantly.

“No.  That there’s a demon down here.  A demon unlike any other,” Aectetis whispered, clutching his heavy bronze shield closer.

Taracles laughed harshly. “Demons?  Aectetis, you’re too old for such children’s tales!”

“But what if it’s true?” Aectetis insisted, unable the still the growing panic in his chest. He swore he could hear the monster breathing – Aechidna’s own foul spawn.  “General Ptolomy says the Emperor’s had terrible visions, in his sleep; that he dreams of a demon come to suck the very breath from his lungs.  Do you suppose –?”
Taracles’ scowl effectively cowed Aectetis.  “Now, you listen to me, Aectetis, and listen well.  Sikander’s a raving madman, and any fool with eyes can see it. I can tell you exactly what we’ll find in these caverns.  Nothing.  There are no demons here, or anywhere else, for that matter.”

“But the locals believe—“

“Ignorant peasants!” Taracles spat disgustedly, as if he’d tasted something foul.  “Their superstitions should not sway an Emperor, or a general, from conquest.”

The comment, spoken as only an aristocrat would dare, stung.  Aectetis forced the anger away, aware that it was a small enough matter, at the moment.  Survival was a more pressing concern than pride.

Silence hovered around them, and Aectetis’ heart beat in dread.  This wasn’t right.  There should be sounds – the echo if their sandaled feet on the cavern floor, the drip of underground water, the shift of rocks, even the sound of their breathing – yet no sound penetrated the oppressive stillness.  The closer they moved toward the wide cavern at the tunnel’s end, the heavier the silence grew, until Aectetis feared he’d gone deaf.

Moving cautiously, they entered the subterranean hall, and abruptly stopped.  No wind stirred here, no sound murmured in the stillness.  It was, Aectetis decided with a shiver of dread, a tomb.  The eeriness of it all crawled along his spine.

A form moved in the darkness of the torch’s jumping shadow.  Aectetis turned his head to better see, just as his torch sputtered and blew out.  A moment later, Taracles’ died as well, plunging the cavern into utter darkness.

“What was that?” Aectetis’ horrified whisper finally pierced the hovering silence.  “Taracles?”

“It was probably a draught from the tunnel.” Taracles sounded annoyed.  “Let me find my flint.”

A moment later, a soft glow sparked in the darkness, and Aectetis’ muscles slowly relaxed.  “Thank you, Taracles.  I –“

“Quiet, fool!”  Taracles hissed, brandishing his blade.  “That light isn’t mine.  There’s someone else down here!”

Aectetis’ voice died on a terrified gasp, his heart pounding harshly in his ears as he flattened himself against the wall behind him.  More than ever, he wanted to flee this place.  But Taracles would see that as cowardice, and as long as Taracles remained, Aectetis could do no less.  He would not dishonor his family, or his people.

“Gilded Cage” — Excerpt from MISTRESS OF CATS (Legends of Tirum)


Phoenix Telyn Gwndal swore to return her friend and blood sister to her proper place within the Imperial Palace of Targoth. She knows the risks of even showing her face inside the Empire’s borders, but she owes Reaphia a second chance.

When a chance encounter with an out-of-place merchant from a legendary people brings Telyn into the middle of a struggle to free a woman held captive by her own will, Telyn finds herself up against a past she’s never really outrun.

Nothing can prepare her for what comes next.

“Gilded Cage” — Excerpt from MISTRESS OF CATS (Legends of Tirum, Book 4)

“No one said this would be easy.” Maltai circled her cage, watched her stalking movements match his stride warily as she pulled against the golden chain and collar that encircled her neck. “You’re not going to get out of there, no matter what I do, unless you’re ready to quit being so damned noble.”


She loosed a warning growl that rumbled in the air between them as he stepped closer, her bright yellow eyes narrowing as she bared her teeth. Then, backing off, she shook herself, shedding her feline form in the process. In the space of a breath, she went from imposing lioness to a lean, proud woman with tawny skin and dark hair, wearing only the short, tattered drape of cloth that denoted her servitude, and the proud, regal tilt of her chin that told him she was far from a broken slave.


“If I compromise my very core, and everything I hold dear, then I might as well stay here and become a slave in truth. What reason do I have to be free, if I sacrifice my soul self in the process?”

Want to know more?  Stay tuned for details about Legends of Tirum and this book, Mistress of Cats!  Meanwhile, check out Books 1 & 2 at Desert Breeze Publishing