Life is messy…

Posted on Jan 21, 2013 in strong heroine | 0 comments

Of all my books, perhaps The Last Resort is the most conflicted. It’s also the book one of my beta readers swears is the best I’ve ever written. It’s the book that nearly won a contest, but won one of the judges’ hearts – she asked to be notified if it ever reached print. (It has!) It’s also the book that receives the most mixed reviews – primarily a complaint that too much is going on. Which I have to admit makes me laugh even as I struggle with it.
Because life is messy, and complicated, and so much of events of The Last Resort are based on reality. Events that took place almost exactly as they happen in the book, and at the same time. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Or innocent. I have to admit to being tempted to hold a contest asking readers to tell me which characters in The Last Resort are real…and which aren’t. I’m also grateful that some of the participants in those events are probably dead by now although I doubt they’d recognize themselves. People never do.
One reviewer even commented on the level of detail, objecting to a mention of the heroine raking leaves. Yet that rake shows up in a later scene. As a writer I had to explain why it was so conveniently placed there. I had to make it real.
Even the ‘rescue rangers’ are based in truth. Some time ago, I read about a woman who had organized a group of retired cops and ex-service people to help battered women escape their abusers. It was difficult and dangerous work, as they and any police officer could tell you.
I sometimes wonder if people have just seen too many Lifetime movies where the victim escapes into the arms of the one man who will love her, who will fight for her, and in the end save her from her abuser.
In real life, that just doesn’t happen. Most women who escape run to their families (where their batterers frequently find them) or live in shelters on subsistence. They have no money because their abusers made sure they had no access to any. Most are ashamed.
When they do call for help, they frequently panic immediately afterward. Many times cops become caught between the abuser and the victim, because the victim is all too aware that the laws don’t really protect her. In all likelihood her abuser will be back out on the street within hours. And looking for her. Unless she finds a shelter – most counties don’t have domestic violence shelters – he’ll very likely find her. A protection from abuse order is worth the paper it’s written on, it’s a formality that must be part of the record…but one that is almost guaranteed to infuriate the abuser – who never considers himself the bad guy. It’s shaming, and inflaming for them.
Leaving is the most dangerous time for most women, and the time when most die. One to three women in the United States daily.
So I wrote The Last Resort from my own experience, and it translated fairly easily. All the events in the book took place around the same time.
What I didn’t want to write was just another domestic violence book. I didn’t want it to be primarily about domestic violence. I wanted to write something that would be entertaining as well. I wanted the book to balance what I frequently see as a culture of constant victim-hood, with women and those around them defining themselves always by this one event for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I wanted to write about someone who would give women hope, an example of someone who had broken the chains of domestic violence. I wanted to write a book about a woman who had not only survived, but thrived and grew stronger because of it. I also wanted to show that it was possible to love and be loved again, to have a healthy relationship.
Someone like me.

Twenty percent of all the proceeds of The Last Resort will go to charities benefiting the victims of domestic violence.

Available from Amazon.com –  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052UX3V6

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Nike’s Wings – yep, she can do that

Posted on Jan 14, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I grew up in first in the suburbs and then in the mountains, but in both I played the kind of outdoor games kids used to play. (And maybe still do in some places.) We took on the roles of characters from movies, played spies and cowboys, built forts and fought imaginary battles. Then, as now, I objected to being relegated to the ‘women’s roles’. And if you think that in this ‘year of the woman’ that there aren’t some people who want women to ‘assume the position’, then you haven’t been watching politics. Or you missed the meme with the girl with the gun walking into a rundown location with the caption – ‘she’d die if she went in there’. Would a man? What were they trying to say?
When I wrote Nike’s Wings I already knew that women were taking a more active role in the C.I.A. After all, Valerie Plame was plastered all over the headlines at the time. So it wasn’t that much of a stretch for me to imagine Nike. By then there was also Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, too, and we’ve been seeing other kick-ass women. The one thing I did object to was the emotional distance in many of those women – it seemed as if they were really just men in women’s clothing.
I wrote Nike for a number of reasons, but primarily because I wanted to illustrate that some of the dangers this country – and other countries around the world – face come from a new kind of enemy. An enemy that doesn’t have a country but an ideology – like Al Qaeda – or only greed – as in the Mexican cartels and other crime syndicates like it. It was born of something I’d read about how terrorists could enter the country via known drug routes. I wanted to illustrate that danger.
Oh, and of course, I also wanted to write a great and entertaining story…
Yes, there’s a certain amount of politics involved in it – that was inevitable. We live in times that are far more political than ideological, and in ways with which I wasn’t always comfortable.
It took the opening sequence to a James Bond movie – and I wanted Nike to be a little like Bond without the martinis and elegant clothes, but more grounded in reality – to give me Nike’s capabilities. That’s where I really noticed parkour for the first time. A little research was all that was needed, and I knew that at one time I might have been able to do some of those stunts.
From all of that Nike Tallent was born – a woman highly trained in parkour, martial arts and assassination. I also wanted her to be well-rounded and realistic, to watch her grow from the distance her circumstances and career had forced her to maintain.
I took a few hits from people – particularly and surprisingly from women ( a few men objected to the politics) – about Nike and her abilities. (Others – both women and men – cheered.)
So I was exceptionally pleased, and more than a little vindicated, to see Zero Dark Thirty hit the movie theaters to such acclaim, featuring a female CIA operative in a prominent role. Not to mention that the director of the movie was also female. It was great to see Jessica Chastain take the Golden Globe award for her role in the film.
Despite everything else, though, Nike’s Wings was a fun and challenging book to write, I hope more people get the chance to meet her.

Amazon US – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005GHE94K
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005GHE94K
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/79960

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Parkour is suddenly everywhere

Posted on Jun 16, 2012 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

When I first heard of Parkour it was probably 2009, and I no longer remember how it came to  my attention but it was probably the opening scenes to Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen such a thing before, but that was when it struck me, and somehow I learned that what I was seeing was called Parkour. I had already had the first glimmerings of the book that would become Nike’s Wings in my mind – a female assassin, trained by the US government. Beside how she came to be made an assassin, I wanted something that would make Nike unique, and utterly believable. Watching that, suddenly I had the one element that set Nike apart from all others.
I devoured videos of parkour, learned more about it and the sport they call free-running. I envisioned the techniques used, remembering my days of gymnastics as a teen, as well as what I’d learned in jiujitsu, and so Nike was born.
You have to see those videos to know what traceurs and traceuses are truly capable of. Here’s a sample of David Belle, who developed Parkour into an art.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY1pbc16ud4
Of course, now they’re all over the place. Parkour practitioners are showing up on American Ninja and in plenty of movie and TV shows. It still amuses me that some people think Nike’s skills are a little exaggerated. I don’t use half the techniques in Nike that real traceurs use, although I do use the videos to help me visualize the action.
So much of Nike is unique. One of my editors says I write action/thrillers with heart. That works for me.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005GHE94K

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Posted on Jun 14, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

When I began to write the book that would become Lucky Charm the Enron CEO was just going to trial – the catalyst for the book – and I remembered my own odd brush with a financial scam.
For me it was an awkward and disturbing moment in my life – I was to accompany two County Sheriffs, a detective and an auditor for the company I worked for to an office where I had installed computer software nearly a year before. I was aware of the multiple issues with the company in question, but I also knew the people there and considered them friends. Despite that, both morally and legally I couldn’t warn them of what I knew was coming. Instead, we entered their office. The receptionist hadn’t arrived yet. My job initially was to simply do one  thing – shut down their computer system so they couldn’t transfer the money elsewhere or destroy the records. Because I knew them, and probably because I was unthreatening, I was requested to go into the office of the company president to tell him and the other executives that there were people waiting for them in the lobby, and then immediately go to shut down the computer system.
Now, I have to say, I didn’t much like the president of the company – he had a habit of declaring his devout Christianity at every opportunity – but there was at least one person in the room I liked. I was dismayed to learn he’d been just as deep in the scam as everyone else.
I delivered my message, and then walked to the computer room… past dozens of people who I knew would be out of a job in a few moments due to the greed of the three people now walking toward the lobby. To add insult to injury it was likely that none of them would be getting a paycheck that week – the company’s finances were being locked down at that very moment.
As I walked into the computer room something in my face must have told the in-house IT guy – another nice guy – that something was seriously wrong. If that didn’t do it, pushing the button that shut down the server certainly did. As insurance I also disconnected the network cable and took it with me. In the main room I could hear the consternation of the employees. I was also thinking of all the people who had entrusted their money to that company – of what would happen to the homes they were in the middle of buying or selling.
As I worked on various drafts of the novel, I researched and tried to understand the various kinds of Ponzi schemes and all the ways – large and small – that finances could be manipulated.
Bernie Madoff and R. Allen Stanford made it a lot clearer. Madoff stole from the rich. Stanford stole from everyone. Both took the walk of shame – handcuffed and escorted out of their offices.
Lucky Charm echoes much of those days, detailing the time spent on the road installing software, the offices and the type of people I met in them, but also the financial finagling.
Years would pass as the cases moved through the courts before the money could be released. The one thing I couldn’t detail in the story was the upheaval in the lives of those affected by these people – homes lost and dreams destroyed…

Lucky Charm is a fun and exciting book described as a “complex mystery/thriller that just happens to have a really good romance in the mix…” I hope you enjoy reading it.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007LC6WIO

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Sample Sunday – Heart of the Gods

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I’ve loved the Egyptian Gods and early Egyptian society since I learned about it as a kid, despite the tendency of teachers to talk about the Greek/Roman pantheon. The Greeks/Romans were a better contrast of pagan beliefs to Christian than the egalitarian Egyptians. After all, what other society valued marriage as much? Why else do so many hieroglyphs and images portray both husband and wife side by side?
Okay, and  to be honest, the Mummy movies (one and two, let’s not talk about three) didn’t hurt either, even though poor Anubis got such a raw deal. I guess  a jackal head and being the god of mummification and afterlife seemed more threatening than a ‘Set animal’ or typhonic being – in other words, the first shapechanger – than Set, the god of chaos and darkness. After all, it was Set who chopped up Osiris and scattered him across Egypt. And Isis who rescued him.
That was part of the attraction – that it was Isis who rescued her beloved Osiris, and that women in Egypt were largely as autonomous as the men. They could have businesses, serve in the army, do anything and everything that men could do.
So, what was it that triggered Heart of the Gods, what made me write this story?
Like all of us, I was as intrigued by the process of mummification as the next person and there was the mythology of the Mummy movies – the person unwillingly mummified. Alive.
And then the scene that opens Heart of the Gods was in my head –

Chapter One
Egypt, 17th Year of King Narmer’s Reign, Early Dynasty
Torchlight flickered over the stone walls of the immense cavern, bathing them in a soft golden glow. That light danced over the massive figures of the Gods, giving the faces of the statues the appearance of expression. It illuminated as well the faces of the priests and priestesses gathered around the stone pedestal that served as an altar. The air was pungent with the scent of burning incense. Chanting echoed throughout the chambers, a sound that rose and fell, a low atonal hum that resonated in the bones.
Mummification had never been intended for use on the living but it was as it must be and none of those gathered there could gainsay what was about to happen. Not General Khai, nor any of the priests and priestesses of the Gods, nor even the High Priestess Irisi herself. Who were they to second-guess the Will of the Gods?
Irisi could not and would not.
It was as the prophecy had decreed however much they wished to deny it. Kahotep’s prophecy. He who was Priest of Horus, the Falcon-God, whose Eye saw everything.
“A darkness rises, oh Pharaoh, to be unleashed across the world. It comes as a shadow rising from the desert laying waste to all of Egypt, scouring the earth as it passes. Death and destruction follow in its wake, and the cries of the people of the world are terrible. From the north comes a warrior, a crowned and golden servant of the Gods with eyes like the sky, bearing swords in hand to rise up and drive the terrible darkness out of the world, and to stand against it for all time.”
That shadow had risen and the battles had been terrible. Now they had a chance, one chance, to end it. Here. Now they had a chance, one chance, to end it. Here.
Servant of the Gods. Irisi was that, she was priestess to both Isis and Sekhmet. To stand against it for all time? What was prisoned in the chamber below would live forever. And so, therefore, must she.
And so, this.
For it to have any chance at success she knew she must accept it without protest, she must give it both her Ba and Ka, her heart and soul, willingly, and so she steeled herself to face it.
There was no other way and there was no other to do it, only she, both warrior and priestess, could, however terrible it was.
Irisi knew only she must accept it without protest, willingly, if this they did were to have the slightest chance of success and so she steeled herself to face it. Even as that other below, Kamenwati, did not. He fought them, writhed and screamed in protest, in outrage. He chanted spells against them even as Awan, High Priest of Osiris, Kahotep, High Priest of Horus and Djeserit, High Priestess of Sekhmet struggled to contain him and his terrible magic. In the back of Irisi’s mind she chanted the words of the two Books she knew so well, the Book of Life, known only to the priests and priestesses of the temples…and the Book of Emerging in Daytime – what some called, wrongly, the Book of the Dead.
Of the priests and priestesses only Rensi, High Priest of Anubis and gentle Nafre, priestess of Hathor, stood with her in the upper chamber. Representatives of their Gods, each had their task. Rensi made certain the rites done this day were done as they must be to keep Irisi’s soul alive against all the odds and to preserve her body in the hope that someday she might reach the afterlife.
Nafre gave comfort to help ease her passage.
And then there was Khai, Irisi’s beloved Khai.
She looked up at him from where she lay on the cold stone of the plinth.
Her breath caught as it always did to look at him. He was so beautiful and she loved him so much. Her heart ached at the thought of leaving him.
Gleaming black hair streamed in shining waves to his shoulders and framed his strong handsome face, high cheekbones and beautiful long-lashed dark eyes. Deep within those dark brown eyes was the hint of warm gold she knew so well. There was grief in his eyes, the sure knowledge of what they were about to do. She knew what it cost him to stand aside and watch, how little he loved to feel helpless, but for once his strength and courage could avail him nothing. This was for her to do, and her alone.
She longed to touch him once again, treasured the memory of his hands on her, his body against and a part of hers. The thought was bittersweet. In that Kamenwati had succeeded, he’d kept them apart for so long. Surely the Gods wouldn’t deny her this much? In her heart of hearts she felt the sweet benediction that was the blessing of her Goddess, Isis, who, having lost her own beloved Osiris for a time, understood her fear and her pain at having to give up her own beloved.
Here, finally for this one time and with these trusted few around them, they could do as they’d wished for so long to do openly.
Kiss.
While Irisi had been Kamenwati’s slave that hadn’t been possible. Or while under his threat. Only that had kept Irisi away, the sure knowledge that Kamenwati would kill Khai had he but known of their love.
His lips touched hers, so warm, the feel of them firm but gentle, a soft caress.
Reaching up, Irisi touched Khai’s stern handsome face for one last time even as the sharp pain of the reeds lanced through her wrist, her ankles. She wouldn’t cry out, not looking up into that beloved face. It wasn’t in her to make him suffer any more than necessary. She loved the Gods, she loved Egypt her adopted home but above all else she loved Khai. It was only for her duty, for Egypt and its people, and the people of all the lands she’d known, that would she would leave him.
The Gods understood.
As did he.
“You are Nife-an-Ankh to me,” she whispered, “and Nomti…I love you, I will always love you. Forever.”
Breath of life and strength he was to her. Her heart.
She’d loved him from almost the first moment she’d seen him that long ago day in the desert, standing surrounded by her dead and theirs. He’d offered her honor, then, as one warrior to another. She loved him for that, for his honor, courage and for his great heart.
He was beautiful to her in all ways.
“Irisi,” he said and lowered his proud head to hers.
Khai looked down at his beloved Irisi laid out upon the altar and wanted to cry out his denial of what was to come but he could not. Leaning over her with one arm braced on the stone he touched her face, looked into her lovely eyes, at the glorious length of her hair as it spilled over the sides. So beautiful, so alive…
Breath of life and strength as she was to him as well.
Blood flowed through the reeds, her blood, drained out of her… her lifeblood. The rich coppery aroma of it filled the air, mixed with the scent of the herbs in the Water of Life as it was drawn into her.
It must be and they both knew it. She was the one who must go and he the one who must stay.
Egypt needed her only surviving General.
Irisi’s successor had already been chosen.
Slowly, he touched his lips to hers, the kiss soft as the priests and priestesses chanted around them. Her hand was warm on his face as their lips found each other. Grief lay heavy on his heart. Duty lay heavier. He couldn’t bear to let her go and yet he couldn’t keep her, however much he wished it. He, too, served the will of the Gods. And he could see no other choice, no other way.
The herbs, the potions, flowed into her, burned in her veins. Irisi fought the pain of it with warm feel of Khai’s lips, so long forbidden, on hers…and with the surge of love that washed through her.
“Irisi,” he whispered. “You are my heart.”
As he was hers but she could no longer speak the words or else break the chant that echoed endlessly in the back of her mind.
The stone of the altar was cold and the chill seemed to soak slowly into her flesh.
Around her Irisi could hear the chanting, the minds and voices of the priests and priestesses raised in support of her and of those who fought below, mixed with the drone of the Horn in the chamber far below.
It had taken some little time for Irisi to achieve the semi-trance state necessary to endure what was done, yet some of the pain and the weakness seeped through to batter at her will. As did the will of the creatures in the darkness of the chamber below – the magic of the Horn and her own will, joined to these others, was all held them there. She dared not falter.
She felt her lifeblood drain swiftly away even as she felt the embalming fluids flow in, the natron and herbs bit sharply into her veins. It burned as it went but she turned her thoughts away from it as she turned them away from the other things they did.
Her arms were folded across her breast with a hand on each shoulder and bound so tightly with lengths of linen that she could barely breathe. Her hair was coiled up as the cloth was wrapped around her throat, around her head to cover her mouth and forehead. All but her eyes.
Cold fluid brushed across her belly, followed by numbness. Something pressed just below her breastbone. There was a sense of invasion as they finished wrapping her body in the last long lengths of linen.
Warm liquid soaked her from collarbone to feet. It drenched the linen and stung sharply in the cuts they’d made.
A cry echoed from the darkness below. That, too, fell on deaf ears.
She bit back her own cries. Fought the sense of being constricted.
Khai…
Remaining still by an act of will she kept her eyes focused on his dark ones, sought the gold within them, the warmth even as her own drained away. His will melded to hers, lent her the strength she needed to do this as the weakness grew within her until he stepped back as, finally, he must.
Her heart hammered in her chest, drawing in the sacred herbs, natron and fluids through her veins even as it pumped her lifeblood out. Mixed among the herbs was the blood of the one who lay below so she would be bound to him and he to her.
The last length of linen went across her eyes.  The light disappeared behind the linen to take her down into darkness.
Pain flashed, sharp, sudden, within her to leave a sense of absence, a stillness within her.
It would go quickly now and she was grateful for that.
And it did.
She felt them raise her to carry her swiftly out.
A coughing roar echoed down the tunnel that led outside. They followed that sound, she knew.
The lions, her lions…gifts of the lion-headed Goddess Sekhmet when that Goddess had turned her away and sent her to Isis’s service instead. They would come with her, to keep her company through her long duty so she wouldn’t be utterly alone.
Watching, Khai bowed his head and looked away as they tipped her up for he couldn’t watch as her linen-wrapped form slid with a splash of the Water of Life into the hollow in the stele they’d prepared for her.
He could wish this had been done in sunlight as Irisi was and always had been a creature of light and not darkness.
His light…
Irisi.
Grief burned. If only he could have gone in her place…
He could not, he was no priest, he had no magic, nor as Egypt’s only surviving General could he leave his country and its people undefended any more than Irisi could have refused this.
Duty and honor wouldn’t allow it.
He laid a hand against the cold stone, listened as the hammers beat above him, pounded the sealing stone into place with steady rhythmic blows so much like the sound of a heartbeat. Sealing the stele with Irisi inside it. What was it like for her in there, in the darkness filled with the Water of Life?
Like drowning.
He willed her the strength and courage to endure. Like the beat of her valiant heart, each blow of mallet on stone reverberated, echoed from the distant walls, to whisper back over the grassy hollow within them.
Above, through the narrow break in the cavern roof Khai could see the stars glitter coldly. 
Desperately, instinctively, Irisi’s lungs sought air, her body fought…even as she clung to trance, to will, to the spells in her mind, to the endless mental chanting of the words from the Book of Emerging into Daytime – the Book of the Dead.
She had to hold against the grief and the fear, the close space that enveloped her. What lay below, him and them, battered against her will.
Khai was still here, though, her beloved Khai and these others she loved, Awan, Kahotep, Djeserit, all the priests and priestesses with whom she’d served over the years. Even poor Saini in the distant chamber below, seeking his redemption, watched the last faint light disappear as the doors shut on him to seal him in among the Dark, among Them…
She could almost pity him, not knowing which of them suffered the worst fate.
Faintly, she could hear the Horn call as he blew endlessly, drawing air in through his nose, blowing out through his mouth. That sound must not falter until the doors were shut and sealed. Forever.
Beyond, outward, there was all of Egypt, all of the world. They couldn’t let what resided so restlessly within that chamber escape to lay waste over it. Not again. She couldn’t set what lay within the tomb loose upon the peoples of this world, not with what they now knew of them. Those below would devour every living thing, turn the people of the Nile, the distant peoples from which she’d come and those of all the lands where she’d served and fought as a mercenary into cattle, chattel, something to feed upon…and their feeding…the torment of it…
Horror shook her.
If they were to be free, safe, she must hold, even as her body bucked, fought for air…and so she held. It seemed an eternity and yet it was only minutes.
She remembered…and clung to her memories, lost herself in them, held them against the pain, against the cold that seeped into her. The cold and the darkness.
Alone in the dark she remembered the ones, the one, she loved and would always love.
His hand upon the stone, Khai remembered, too, remembered his beloved Irisi with her swords flashing, her hair swirling around her as she did battle that first day he’d seen her and all the days thereafter. Priestess and warrior. So lovely, strong, so seemingly indomitable. It was her laughter though, that rang in his memory most. That beautiful hair, her glorious eyes…her laughter and her joy.
In grief and sorrow he touched the face carved into the stone of the stele…laid his forehead against the cold stone forehead of it as he would do with her in life.
His fingers traced the words engraved in the stele, the chants for Coming Forth into the Day, for Going and Coming Out of the Realm of the Dead, and For Taking on Any Shape. She would need to know them.
He willed her strength and he willed her love. How did she fare within? Was her struggle over yet, had the Gods taken her, given her surcease? Were her ba and ka yet free of her body?
He looked to Awan, to Djeserit, and saw the same thoughts mirrored there in their faces.
In the darkness of the cavern far below, the great iron doors slid closed as bands of gold and silver were hammered across it to secure it with the powers of the Gods Ra and Isis. The seal, carefully balanced, was placed in its niche to enclose what lay within, hopefully forever.
The chanting did not end…it was not done, not yet.
As one, the priests and priestesses closed around the stele. Each lay their hand on the stone and willed strength to the one within. The Gods came to the one within then, all of them but Set, each to render her a gift.
Sekhmet was the last.
In the chamber below the great iron doors were closed and sealed, and she set to stand guard over it, to ensure it remained sealed, forever.
Alone through the ages to come.
Tales were told of one’s life flashing before the eyes as one died, but Irisi was not dying nor would an afterlife await her.
So many memories…
Irisi remembered…
Heart of the Gods was originally written a much larger book, but once it was written I realized it was two separate books, both intertwined. Servant of the Gods, the prequel to Heart of the Gods, will be released in September of 2011.
Smashwords
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/44102
Amazon.com
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004RJ8RIW
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