my books

my books

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Barbie Doll

This is a story that has been sitting unedited in my desk drawer for over three years now. It was my first tentative step into mystery writing. 
I'm re-blogging it now, rewritten and polished (by my editor at Buddhapuss Ink LLC). Hope you enjoy it!

                      (Art: Eric G. Thompson – used with permission) 

                                       BARBIE DOLL

I’m late for my lunch meeting with Freddy. 
Bloody stupid traffic jam held up my cab so I jumped out and walked along the last couple of blocks to Harvard Square. Of course I’m sweaty and exhausted by the time I get to the restaurant where we like to hang out, but he’s there, good soul that he is, and has held the table for us.
“Damnable heat,” is his greeting as he raises his hand to signal the waiter.
“Fish and chips,” Freddy says. “Today I’m definitely going to have that.” 
It feels much too hot to think about food.
“What about you?” He hands me the faux-leather-bound menu. 
“Salad. Just salad.”

Freddy is at his dapper best. I’ve never yet seen him in anything but those striped shirts and bowties, in winter with a tweed jacket, in summer with a straw hat. 
We’ve been meeting like this for quite a while now, maybe three years or so. It has become a kind of ritual, always the same place, and nearly always the same meals, at least for Freddy. He flirts with the menu, announces he will pick something else, and then ends up with the fish and chips, and beer.

“So,” he asks when the waiter leaves, “What’s new?”
He always asks that question, as if because I’m a police detective he thinks I know everything. He seems greedy for the morsels I’m allowed to spill.
“Nothing much this week.” A girl brings a basket of bread and butter, and Freddy spreads the linen napkin on his lap. Very daintily he picks out a slice of the bread and begins to nibble on it.
“It’s summer break, nothing much is going on. Everyone else has left Cambridge. Sorry, no gruesome tales for you today.”
His face falls at those words. “Oh. Too bad. You make me feel connected to real life with your news, my friend. You know how it is.” 
With a wave of his hand he points in the general direction of the university. “Living and working behind those walls is like living in a different dimension sometimes.”
Freddy works at one of the libraries, the Archives, but I’ve never understood exactly what he does there, and to be honest, I don’t care. That campus, Harvard, has always been a strange world to me. Just walking through those gates seems to be an act of profanity if you don’t belong there.

“We did have a stalking case this week,” I say, more to keep him amused than anything else. “But it was just that, a dropped lover who wouldn’t let go. The fact that he spent a night in jail was enough to make him skip town. Case closed.”
Our entrees are served. My salad looks intriguing and delicious with its mix of greens and fruit, and the thin slices of poached salmon.
Freddy rubs his hands in glee over his huge serving of fish. I know he won’t be able to even finish half of it, but will have the rest packed to take home in a doggie bag. I’ve always wondered if he has a cat who’s looking forward to his leftovers.

“That’s not stalking.” He bites into one of his fries. It’s so fresh that I can hear the crunch.
“What is?”
Well-mannered as always, he swallows before replying. “The guy you’re talking about. That’s not really stalking. If he gives up and goes away, that’s not stalking.”
Intrigued, I put down my fork. “How do you define stalking, then?”
Freddy leans back into his chair. “Oh, a real stalker would never let go that easily.”
“You think? Yeah, I think they do let go if you scare the living daylights out of them.” His attitude amuses me. As if a librarian knew about stalking. As if dapper, slight and intelligently witty Freddy knew about stalking. Right.
His blue eyes regard me with cool amusement while he breaks off a piece of fish and pierces it with the fork.
“Change tactics, maybe, but never let go.”
The way he says it sends chills down my back. “You think so? You think a stalker can be obsessed enough to outsmart the police?”
“Oh, dear boy, most certainly.” He draws his brows together. “Now if I were a stalker, I’d never let go of the object I adore.” 

A group of tourists stream in, chatting loudly in French, and a bright smile flashes across Freddy’s face. 
“Ah, Europe,” he sighs, “So cultured.” He puts down his fork. “Well, as I was going to say, if I were a stalker, I’d lay my plans carefully, go about it slowly, and never take a direct route.”
“You’re scaring me, Fred,” I say, and it’s true. 
But he gives me a grin and pats my shoulder. “Come on, dear friend, we’re just talking hypothetically, aren’t we. I read too many books in my line of work, some more fun than others.” 
“Okay then, tell me!”
“First of all,” he slowly says, “You have to understand the underlying motives for stalking. Why, do you think, someone turns into a stalker?”
Now that one’s easy enough. I’m not a detective for nothing. Before I can reply though, Freddy goes on, “A stalker doesn’t decide to become a stalker. Let’s say I was one. Let’s assume I was a stalker.” He points at our waitress. “When I was a little boy I wanted nothing more than a Barbie doll. I wanted one with long, blond hair, and beautiful dresses, and I wanted to play with her, dress her up, do her hair, slip those high heels on her little plastic feet. I even cleared out a nook in my wardrobe for her stuff, and built a house for her over summer vacation. My mother thought it was for a rabbit or hamster, but no, I wanted my Barbie doll to live in it. I think my mother got suspicious when I started nicking scraps of fabric from her quilting chest to put on the bed and windows of my playhouse. It drove me mad that she didn’t have anything I could use for carpeting! And lace. I needed lace for the sheets on Barbie’s bed so I bribed my friend Sam to steal some from his mother, who was a quilter too. My mother asked me why I thought a hamster needed a bed with a lace sheet, but of course I didn’t tell her. My birthday was drawing close, and my only wish was for a Barbie doll.”
He breaks off to take a drink of beer.

“Nice story,” I say. My appetite has disappeared. His tale sounds too real for comfort.
Freddy shrugs. “It’s just a story. I’ve always thought of writing crime, and maybe you’re helping me to find the courage to do it!” 
After another bite he goes on, “So my ninth birthday comes, and there’s no Barbie. Of course there isn’t. My parents would never give me, their son, a doll. I could turn into a fag, right?”
His English words always sound so elegant and sophisticated to me. Freddy is a natural born gentleman.
“And there I am, a disappointed young boy who wanted nothing but some feminine beauty.”
His tale is beginning to be amusing. This isn’t exactly how a man turns into a stalker, at least not in my book, but his narration is entertaining enough, so I let him ramble on.

“Of course, over the next few years, I grow out of it. Dolls and dollhouses were…not so much forgotten as pushed into the back of my mind. The girls I try to date? They are all images of Barbie. Of course not one of them is really exactly like her. One is too short, one too tall, the other’s waist isn’t slim enough, and the next one doesn’t have enough chest. One needs to lighten up her hair, and another one has too many curls. I’m looking for the perfect girl. The one perfect girl with cornflower-blue eyes, rosy lips, long, wavy, golden hair and the figure of a doll. The one who would wear high heels even on her way to the shower, and who’d never talk. Can you imagine Barbie talking? I can’t.” 
Again, he shrugs. “Or rather, I don’t want to imagine how that voice sounds. It can’t be anywhere near good enough to match her perfect body.”

The blond girl who brought us our food saunters over with a jug of water to refill our glasses, and Freddy measures her.
“This one?” he says, “She would need so much work to make her perfect. But it’s summer break, and there’s not much material around, so she’ll have to do.”
“Do? For what?” 
“Oh, you know. I need a Barbie in my life.” He asks her for another beer, and she smiles at him. It makes him regard her through narrowed eyes until she gets impatient and walks away.

“So why not buy all the dolls you couldn’t have as a kid and put them on a shelf now? You know you can get them on eBay easily enough. You don’t have to imagine live girls as Barbies.”
“Boring.” Again, he shrugs me away. “I’ve grown out of that.” His eyes gleaming, he leans forward and rests his elbows on the table. “And I have the ideal job! I work in the vaults of Harvard where there are rooms that are never used, totally forgotten. People would believe that if it were in a novel, wouldn’t they? And it would make a really great setting!”

It would indeed. I have to agree with that. In my mind’s eye I see dark, dank corridors, creaking metal doors, muddy light from flickering bulbs. And at the end of the hallway when you think you can’t go any farther, Freddy’s secret chamber. I realize he has succeeded in planting this vision in my mind. I’m afraid he will open that door. He’s insanely good at telling this tale.

“I’d find a space in the bowels of the building,” Freddy says.
I blink and take a big drink of tea. Now I know why I never watch CSI or Criminal Minds or anything like that. It’s so far away from my daily police reality it’s almost like a parody, but strangely enough, with Freddy’s tale, it seems so much more real.
“And I turn it into a replica of my doll house. It takes me a couple of years, I have to be very circumspect. But one day it’s finished. And then, during one Christmas night when there’s no one around, I bring in a doll. Not a Barbie, mind you, but a life-sized dummy that I found on eBay.” He grins at me. “Isn’t it cool what you can get through the internet these days? You can buy almost anything.”

I’m torn between scoffing and asking him if he really did that. My skin is crawling. But hey, this is Freddy, I’ve known him for years, and I’d be the last person he’d tell that he’s a…
“What you’re describing, Fred,” I say, “Is not a stalker. That’s a budding serial killer, my friend. Watch it, you may have to change your premise.”
Surprised, he stares at me. “Really? You think so? I’ve never thought of it as serial killing.”
For a few minutes he sits musing silently. Then he shakes it off, as if he’s decided that this is something that doesn’t fit into his story.

“Anyway,” he picks up his thread, “The mannequin is all good and well, but it’s not perfect. I want a perfect, life-sized Barbie, and so I start strolling across campus with a new awareness. I attend lectures, go to the cafeteria for lunch, and sit on benches to watch girls walk by. 
Then one day…one day I see her. The perfect girl, Barbie come to life. And I know she has to be mine, has to be enshrined in the house I built for her. I must bring her down to that room that is now a shrine to her, and I must keep her there, until the end of days.” He tilts his head at me. “Or at least until she fades and isn’t Barbie at all anymore but just another plain, blond girl.”

“So what happens then? What happens when she turns into a real human being in your eyes?”
“Oh.” Freddie signals to the waitress. “She’ll have to go, won’t she. She’ll need to be replaced. Every toy breaks after a while and needs to be replaced.”
I have to ask. I just have to. It’s my instinct, and my job. “So what do you do with her, when you find a replacement?”
He’s signing the bill, but that makes him pause and look up at me, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Broken toys go with the trash, don’t they? What a stupid question.”

Outside, the air hits me like a hot, wet bed sheet.
Freddy walks away without lookning back, his hat at a jaunty angle on his head, his hands in his pockets.
My phone rings. It’s my partner, Jody.
“Dude,” she says, “You better get your ass moving. They just found a body in a garbage truck.”
“What?” The small word gets stuck in my throat.
Freddie is out of sight. I watched him walk through the arched gate and onto the campus just a second ago.

“A young woman. Blond, and quite pretty,” Jody is saying. “Actually, she looks like Barbie Doll.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Where the Heart Lives

A moment ago my author friend Lynn Shepherd (you can find her here: tweeted this: 

Don't you just love #Motive? Canadians of Twitter - is Vancouver really that stunning?”

Now I’m not Canadian, and I’ve not really watched Motive, but yes–Vancouver really is that stunning. 
Lynn’s simple tweet resulted in a nostalgic flash-back for me. 

Oh yes, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island… a dream place, a place like no other for the setting of a novel, a series of novels. 

The first time I went to Vancouver was in 2011. 
A twitter friend, Sue, had invited me. I didn’t want to go. It had been decades since I’d last been on a flight. Yes I said decades, and nine hours on a plane scared the living daylights out of me. 
“No,” I said, “Nuh huh. I’d love to, but no thank you.”
Fortunately for me, Sue was a flight attendant with Air Canada at that time. She promised to meet me in London and work on the flight back to Vancouver, and she’d make sure we got there in one piece. 

Which is how I ended up in Vancouver, Canada.
Standing on the beach of English Bay I felt like I was standing on the shore of a strange planet; I’d never been that far from home before. Driving along the road to Whistler felt like scaling the mountains of a different world. Thanks to Sue and her husband I didn’t feel completely displaced. 

Last year, I returned. It was like going home. 
I’d started writing The Nobody Girl, the first book in the Sunset Bay Series, which is set on Vancouver Island. So off to Vancouver Island we went, Sue and I, to find the places that I wanted to use as settings. 
“Tofino,” I had said, so that was our destination.
Why this small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island that sounded like an ice cream parlor? To my European ears Tofino sounds like a place in southern Italy. 

Of course, Tofino has nothing in common with an ice cream parlor. It has nothing in common with any place I know… wait; it does, in fact, and now that I’m writing this I’m surprised that it didn’t occur to me earlier. Tofino has a lot in common with Florø, Norway. 
My debut novel, The Distant Shore was set in Florø. For various reasons I renamed it Halmar in the book, but Florø and Tofino,  are pretty much alike it turns out. Now I’m wondering what that says about my writing. What is it with these western-most outposts that fascinates me so much? Why do my heroines hide in these small communities at the edge of the Earth before they find the courage to conquer the world?

Both Naomi and Liese, in an effort to escape a difficult situation, seek out the order, the open spaces of nature in the small life of a village. Both go on a journey within themselves before they’re ready for new relationships, new adventures. Both are insecure, hurt souls in search of a smaller, more structured life . 

Don’t get me wrong. They aren’t alike in any other way. 
Naomi is the spoiled and sheltered only daughter of a wealthy and powerful family. First she runs from her father, and then she runs from Jon Stone, the one man she loves. It seems her love for Jon has overtaken her own identity, leaving her a mere shadow floating at the edges of wildly colorful picture.
Liese, on the other hand, has made life hard for herself by choosing to live in Manhattan where she works a variety of odd jobs. Her dream is to be a writer, but she never asks herself if she’s got what it takes to be one. 

Both women blossom in the secluded place they pick for their ultimate flight. Both come to understand that they’re not who they thought they were. 

Well. Who’d have thought. This post started out as a fun piece on travel experiences, and somehow it’s turned into one about writing… again. Seems like I’m an author after all, and that I have something to say about my craft.

I promise, the next post will be about traveling, or maybe writing, or my son’s favorite dinner dish. 

Stay tuned! 


Monday, September 14, 2015

Sunset Bay, Introduced.

Do you know how I got my first book deal? No?

Let me tell you about it.

It all began on twitter. I’d been working on The Distant Shore for a while when I met a publisher who had been tweeting about her new puppy, her sleepless nights, and how much she loved coffee. We didn’t talk about my novel; I wasn’t ready to submit, and I didn’t want to impose. It was unreal enough that I was talking to an actual publisher.

But then, one day in January 2011, some other writer tweeted about good ways to promote your writing, and how to get it out there for people to see. One of those ways was posting page 99 of your WIP on your blog.
So I went back to Distant Shore and looked up my page 99. It happened to be in the middle of a fun scene, one of my favorite parts of the novel. 
I posted it, sent the link to my blog to my chatty publisher friend, and within seconds they asked for the full manuscript. 
The rest is history. Now five novels, and three Independent Book Publisher Awards later, I’m as happy with them as I was on the first day. 

This summer I started writing a new series. To celebrate that, I’m again sharing page 99 with you, this time from The Nobody Girl, the first novel in my new Sunset Bay series. 

Here goes! 

I’d left the car outside Poppy’s, which meant I had to trudge back up the road.
A cold wind was blowing up from the ocean, bringing more clouds, more rain, and darkening the early afternoon.

I stood on the pier in a strange town, watching the trawlers as they swayed on the gentle swell inside the protected cove. They made sounds, those ships; they were talking in their gnarly, wooden voices, telling each other of their night out on the open waters, and the wonders they’d seen: great blue whales cruising lazily in the icy waves, orcas singing their song to the stars, and maybe even mermaids, elusive, beautiful mermaids, their white skin and golden hair shining in the moonlight.
Secrets, they were sharing secrets that no man had ever seen, or ever would; things that happened in the night while the humans slept. That was the time when life came up from the deep to preen in the light of the Milky Way.
That bell was tolling again, counting out heartbeats in an irregular pulse, singing a counter melody to the ocean’s song.
Rain dripped on my face and hair, rain that was somewhere between mist and water drops, it was that fine and slow. It felt like a veil, like gossamer cobwebs, like a dewy cleansing mask, and I tilted my head to catch more of it. Never before had rain seemed so good.

“You don’t have to be alone, you know.” Duncan, who else. “You have friends here, Liese. I know you’re used to being alone, and you think people don’t care about you, but that’s just not true anymore. We do care. You have a new home here.”
Yeah, and I knew why he was saying that, right? It wasn’t about me; it was about that precious piece of land, the forest. And maybe even the cabin. But not about me, not about the person.
“You can’t possibly say that,” I replied, pulling my sodden jacket tighter around my body, “You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me, and you’re only talking to me because of that inheritance. I know what you want, Duncan. Go away.”
“You do?” He really had a nice mouth. And nice eyes. And… well. He really looked nice. “You think you know what I want? Well, darling, you can guess all you like, but I’m telling you, you’re so totally on the wrong track. I don’t know what turned you into the sad, hostile woman that you are. But I can say this: you can stop now. You can unpack your smile, and the sweetness that you keep hidden under all that bristly behavior. You’ve passed the test. We like you.”

And with that, he walked away, his hands in his pockets, whistling a merry tune.

If you liked this little excerpt stay tuned, sign up, for more! 

(All photos: Sue Farrant)

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Day in Town

We don't go into Hamburg very often anymore. Once that we gave up the car it became a major undertaking, especially with so many of the subway stations under construction right now. My bad leg isn’t happy with those stairs!

But today we went, and that means a Thai lunch. I love Thai food, and so does my hubby. The kid, not so much. He brings his burger and fries—bought at one of those fast food places owned by a clown—with him to the Thai restaurant. No one minded. I think they're used to teenagers not liking hot and spicy food. 

Wait–he isn't a teenager anymore!

Or maybe he is, deep inside…
I mean, really–how can you want a burger when you can eat THIS instead?

Green Thai curry with duck! Delicious!

We hadn't been to this restaurant for a few years. It's in a different part of town where we only go when we need to stock up on spices and basmati rice.
That's the reason why, coming out of the washroom, I grabbed my cell phone and returned to take a photo of their very special washroom design. I mean, really. What do you think of it?

In all fairness I'll add that there was a "under construction" sign on the door. But–really? How is this under construction?

The best part of today was this, though:

Yes, that's right. It's the kid with a suitcase. My suitcase! We bought a new suitcase for me, for my trip next year! Which means it's starting to feel real. Now, all I need is a plane ticket and I can go! 

Somehow, buying this suitcase, means that it will indeed happen. I'll get on a plane again and visit friends I love, see new places, have new adventures. 

I can hardly wait… 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Jersey City Mon Amour

For some reason I always end up in New Jersey.

Of all the places I've visited in the US, New Jersey is probably the grittiest. It's where pretty meets ugly, where hip and dingy are next-door neighbors.

Jersey City in particular, makes me stop and stare, and wonder why people would want to live there. It doesn't even have a bookstore! It's always hot and humid, not even the AC can keep out the humidity.

I had the most expensive BLT ever in Jersey City, in a small, totally nondescript coffee shop–it was $16. Yes, you read that right. 16$ for two slices of toast with some tomato, lettuce, and bacon smashed in between. I've had a better BLT in Manhattan, and  it was only  $12. And they served it on delicious challah bread with a veritable mountain of crisp bacon slices.

Who wouldn't want to live in that pretty brownstone?

Or find these treasures while exploring the neighborhood?

Or stand and stare at Manhattan from the promenade at J. Owen Grundy Park?

I go to New Jersey to see friends who live there. They keep telling me how they hate living in Jersey City or in Edison (and believe me; the drive from JC to Edison is mind-numbing. Those highways? Those highway exits? Who in the world designed this place???) and that they can't wait to move.

Of course I'll visit them wherever they go, but a tiny piece of my heart will stay in New Jersey.
Because it's so unique in its mix of dirt, beauty, great places, and dinginess where you least expect it.
New Jersey is for those who love the beauty of small things.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ten Miles and a Half

It takes me a full day to cover the length of the ship.

I know every lose tile, every nail, every cold draft when I cross a corridor.

I know every sound: the echo of my footsteps, the creak of metal on metal, the soft hiss of air, the silent laughter of my children’s dreams.

My steps are slowing, I know it. Once, a long time ago, so long ago that not even the ship can remember it, I used to race up and down its hallways like an elf, like a wispy thing, fleet-footed, ephemeral.  Now, I trudge, like an old man, a workhorse that has carried his load for too long. Ten and a half miles is a long path to walk.

My back is bowed. I can feel every joint, every vertebra aching under the weight of the years and responsibility. The tedium of loneliness, the growing silence, and the boredom of routine are getting to me. I wish there was someone to keep me company, but my vigil is a solitary one. I am alone with my children, and they are asleep, dreaming their endless dream.

Once, they ran free under a sun. I have seen the recordings of their past.

They lived under a blue sky, a yellow sun, and there was one moon to light their nights.

They built cities, such glorious cities. They glittered like jewels in the darkness, shone like diamonds. My children, they walked their earth like giants, wonderful, brilliant, their minds wide awake with imagination. They looked up at the sky and saw not stars but worlds, they reached toward those worlds and made the distance vanish.

Their world was dying, they knew it, and they looked toward those worlds, searching for a new home.

In great ships they left, one after another, every year, for nearly a century, they left. In all directions they went, to explore the depth of their universe.

It says in the records that there were billions of them, leaving. Sleeping, dreaming, they left.

My brothers and I, were set to watch over them on their long trek. We promised to make sure no harm would come to them.

That is our task: to chart the way, find a new home, keep the children safe.

We sing for them; we sing their dreams to them, so they won’t wake before it’s time.

Some of them died. We buried them. They taught us how to do that: nothing is wasted on a ship like this one.

So here I am now: old. Alone, and always listening to the silence of eternal night.

The children were wrong. There weren’t any worlds waiting for them to come and settle. There is only endless night, and dead, cold stone, mocked by alien suns.

There is no other life. The universe is empty. It is empty, silent, and endless. They were fooled, and they will never wake up.

Because, you see, this is what I have learned.

The universe isn’t endless at all. We are drawing closer to where we started. We are being returned.

Lately, I’ve heard the other ships. I can hear their whisperings, their songs, their questions.

Why are there no new homes? Why are there no worlds with life? Why no planets for our children?

I have the answer, but I don’t know if I should tell them.

My brethren, they are desperate. We can see the dead sun of the home planet, and the little round rock where our children were born. It is dead, just like all other planets in this universe.

I could tell them why.

I could tell them that the universe, every universe, can only bring forth one living planet.

Yes, that is the truth. One universe, one planet with life. It needs an entire universe to create that miracle: life.

We cannot leave. We cannot stay.Like a wreath we will gather around the dead sun, and our song will be our dirge.

We will sing of endings, of silent darkness, of our children’s dream.

And then, one by one, we will go to sleep, too.

And the universe will end.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

DAREDEVIL–Graveyards and Apple Pie

It's launch day at Buddhapuss Ink! Congratulations to my publisher and Linda S. Browning!

Linda, author of Daredevil, has a wicked sense of humor. Sometimes, it borders on the insolent; she's made me gasp with her sharp and witty comments a number of times, and giggle, and grin.
We all knew what to expect when Linda decided to write a novel: more of that sharp wit!

So here it is, Linda S. Browning's debut novel Daredevil.

And here's my review: 

What a romp!

If I ever get old I want to be friends with Leslie and Belinda.
I’d move into dear Abner’s empty unit and get those two biddies to make me pie every weekend. In return, I’d go on adventures with them, and I swear, I’d be gutsier than Belinda and hold the flashlight so Leslie could do her investigating.

Linda Browning’s novella Daredevil lives up to the expectations raised by her short story “No Wake,” first published in Buddhapuss Ink's mystery anthology Mystery Times 2013.
Her heroines, the feisty Leslie and her partner-in-crime, the tall but timid Belinda, set forth to find out what happened to a missing girl who vanished shortly after her step-grandmother’s funeral. 
I won’t tell you what they discover or how they go about it because I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. 
But I will tell you this: you won’t get to the solution before you’ve gone calling at the bereaved family’s house with pie in hand—like a good Southern belle, have a friendly Lab slobber your face, make friends with an TBI agent, and have had to hide in a coffin showroom. 

This is a sweet little book to be enjoyed over a cup of tea and a piece of pecan pie…make that sweet iced tea tinkling in a tall glass.

Linda Browning has a a voice that is distinct, and fun to read. It lends itself well to the near-slapstick situations that Belinda and Leslie get into. This is cozy mystery at its best!