Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dawn of Grace Teaser #2

With my new Shalan Adventure, Dawn of Grace just a couple weeks from its debut, I thought it would be nice to give you another little taste of the book. Here's the blurb, AKA that thing on the back of the book that people read to decide if they want to buy it. Please tell me what you think:

Bridge, Fog, Sun, Mist, Architecture, Cityscape, TravelPrivate detective Harry Shalan seems to have it all. His wife Dee is a curvy redhead with cover girl looks who loves him completely. His foster daughter Jenn is utterly devoted to Dee and him after they rescued her from the clutches of her murderous, perverted father. His best friend Otis, a police detective, would take a bullet for him in a heartbeat. 

So why is Harry standing on the Fifth Street Bridge contemplating how much he would mind if he fell in the river and didn't come back up? You see, Harry lives by a strict code of honor and is struggling not to hate himself because he broke his code--badly. He lost control and brutally attacked Jenn's biological father, Antonio Bezaleel. Bezaleel is more monster than human and everyone agrees that he deserves a punishment much worse than the one Harry dealt out to him. Nonetheless, Harry's act has sent him into a spiral of despair that has cut him off from the very people he needs the most. Dee, Jenn, and Otis are fighting to bring their hero back from the brink.
Skull, Knife, Bone

In the midst of this dark episode, Harry and Dee answer a cry for help from an old friend who is accused of savagely murdering and mutilating her ex-husband. She swears that she didn't kill him, but things don't look good. She was, after all, found by the police kneeling over the man covered in his blood and gripping the knife that had been used to kill and dismember him. 

Ninja, Signs, Symbols, Sword, Fighter, NinjasTheir investigation brings them in contact with a precocious six-year-old who swears the murder was committed by a ninja, and he just may be the key to the case. They also encounter an old classmate of Harry's who is a little more appreciative of Dee's anatomy than anyone's comfortable with, a guy who likes to snort coke and cut women's hair, and even a hooker with a heart of gold. They also meet a quiet young woman named Anita Rathbone who seems quite sweet on Otis, a man married to his job since the only woman he's ever wanted is married to his best friend. Does Otis finally find a woman to love? Does Harry learn to forgive himself and accept the forgiveness of those who care for him? Do the Shalans solve the crime and save their friend from a life behind bars? The answers are revealed in... 

Dawn of Grace: A Shalan Adventure

So, does that sound like a book you'd buy?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Shalan #4 Title Revealed!

Boy, Male, Man, Young, Sleeping, Steering Wheel, Car
Every senior teacher yesterday after grading finals and
projects all week. 
It's been a crazy last month of the school year, but somehow, amidst grading projects and reading portfolio entries and getting ready for all the end-of-the-year activities for my seniors (I'm one of the class sponsors), I've managed to get the fourth book in my Shalan Adventure series nearly ready to go. I'm down to one last draft, which is about a third complete, and a polish coat, so I plan to be finished within the week.

I can't show you the cover because that's not even close to ready, but today I'm going to share a couple of things with you. First, I'm going to tell you the title and talk about the process I went through in coming up with it. And second, I'll share the opening chapter.

THE TITLE: When I was almost through the first draft and knew how the book was going to end, I started thinking about what to call it. I thought for quite a while and was almost completely stumped. This book has been different in many ways from the first three and this was one of them. I knew the title practically from the first word of the others. This one was a struggle, though. If you follow my writing, you know this one has taken a lot longer to write than the first three. As long as Kisses and Lies and In The Shadow combined. And I just couldn't decide what to name it. I talked with my faithful sidekick, Pepper Potts, and we agreed on one thing:
it needed the word grace in it. Once you read the book, you'll see the double reason for that. But that was it. Grace didn't seem like a very good name for a detective book. I got out my writing notebook and started writing down every phrase that could possibly contain the word and still make sense. It went on for two, two-column pages. But none of them sounded right. And then I was listening to Josh Groban's Christmas album (it was Christmas so that isn't weird and I never listen to Christmas music at odd times of the year and just shut up about it), when I heard him use an unusual phrasing for one line in "Silent Night. The normal line is, "With the dawn of redeeming grace," which the background singers sang, but he just sang, "Dawn of grace." BOOM! There was my title. It fit the book exactly in about eleventy billion ways. I texted it to Pepper and she loved it as much as I did. That cinched it. So there you have it, folks, Shalan Adventure #4 is entitled:

Dawn of Grace

Like I said, I can't show you the cover because I don't have it yet. But I can show you the picture I gave to my super-duper professional photographer friend Liv. She's going to be at the beach in early June and will take the cover photo for me. It will be something like this, only a lot better:

The First Chapter: This book takes up about five minutes after In The Shadow ends. If you want the full story of just why Harry is so darkly contemplative at the outset, you should read it. But it's dealt with pretty extensively in this book, as Harry tries to fight his way back being able to accept forgiveness for an act he views as unforgivable. At any rate, here's the opening chapter of my newest book, Dawn of Grace, which will be available for pre-order in early June: 

A family of mallards passed silently beneath me, blissfully unaware of my presence. Actually, I had no idea what kind of ducks they were because it wasn’t quite light enough to see them clearly from the bridge. I only knew they were ducks and not geese because one of them quacked quietly once in a while. But I decided they were mallards, mainly because that was the only variety I could think of.
It had been a week since we'd received a meaningful amount of rain, but the Little Kanawha River was still the color of chocolate milk and probably would be well into summer. That was just how it looked. It didn’t seem to bother the ducks. Though normally too afraid of heights to do such a thing, I stood, feet on the bottom rung of the guardrail, and leaned as far out as I could without toppling over and down into possible oblivion. I wasn't sure which I felt more--the desire to live or the desire just never to feel anything again. That probably should have bothered me.
There was little pink remnant left in the western sky where the sun had set a bit earlier. It would be completely dark soon. I wasn’t worried about walking home alone. I live in a small town and even if I did encounter some intimidating figure, not many people scared me. I am, as my wife Dee is fond of saying, imposing. A little over six feet tall, I’m muscular and fast from years of weights, running, and martial arts. So somebody dumb enough to attack me, unless it happened to be several somebodies, would likely regret it. If I fought back. Maybe I’d take the beating. But I probably wouldn’t. I’d proven recently that I tend to struggle with impulse control.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I fished it out to find I had missed five calls and eight texts, all from either Dee or Jenn. Jenn was our daughter, though her name was still Bezaleel instead of Shalan because we were technically just her legal guardians, but she was our daughter as much as if a piece of paper said so. The last call was from her. She left a voicemail.
“Har—Harry,” she said, haltingly, “I just talked to Otis. Said you left a while ago. Where are you?  Dinner’s ready. Been ready for a while, actually. Please call me back. Please?”
There was clearly a strain in her voice. Part of me felt bad about causing her anxiety. She’d had enough pain in her life. Enough for a dozen girls her age. More than plenty for any person of any age. Her father had started molesting her when she was only ten years old, something for which her mother blamed her. Dee and I had taken her in, only to let her dad kidnap and nearly kill her. Being, again my wife’s words, a hero, I should have been able to save her, but I couldn’t even say that. That honor goes to a tiny, brave little girl named Arienne, who took on the wrath and rage of Tony Bezaleel, sacrificing herself to assuage his fury long enough for the police to catch up with them. It had been a closed casket.
But there was another part of me, the part that seemed to be making decisions, that just couldn’t allow me to go back there. To face her. To face both of my hers. Dee and Jenn were my reason to keep going. The irony was that the reasons I did what I did, for which I could never forgive myself, were those two women whom I loved more than life itself, but in committing my sin I made myself so completely filthy in my own eyes that I couldn’t bear to face them. I felt I should shout “Unclean!” every time either approached. So I compounded my sin by absenting myself from them as much as I could get away with.
But I had nowhere left to go. I was walking back home from the Parkersburg Police Department, where I’d just been talking with my best friend other than Dee, Otis Campbell. Otis was a detective and the best cop in Parkersburg, West Virginia—maybe the best anywhere. My parents, the only other people in walking distance, were out of town visiting my brother in Virginia and I’m not one to drown my troubles at a bar. So I had no choice. But I could walk slowly. I pulled up the texts, each one a little more insistent that I reply. I texted Jenn back.
“On my way. Go ahead and eat.”
“We can wait. Rather eat with you.”
My heart throbbed. “Not hungry.”
“We miss you.”
I wanted to reply that I missed them too. I did miss them so much that it was actually painful. Almost as painful as the sharp, corrosive guilt that was eating its way out through my chest. But I hated myself more than I missed them. And besides, if I said that I missed them, I knew what would come next. I wasn’t prepared to answer that question. So I was a coward. “Suit yourself. On my way.”
I turned off my phone and began the walk home, though it was at a snail’s pace and over as circuitous a route as I could come up with in my depleted mental state. Even wandering all over town, I was nearly home and it was before the two of them were likely in bed. I thought of circling the block again, but my legs were positively leaden. Maybe I could sneak onto the porch and rest on the swing without them noticing. Probably not, but it was worth a shot.
As I mounted the front stairs as stealthily as I could manage, the front door flew open. Dee stepped out, not seeming surprised when she saw me.
“Harry, where have you been?”
“Walking home.” It wasn’t a lie. I didn’t say straight home.
“It doesn’t matter.” She threw me the keys to her vehicle. I was temporarily vehicle-less after I’d wrecked my beloved Mustang on a snowy road the previous Christmas day. Really long story. “We have to go.”
“Go where?”
“Sam Howe is dead and Becca’s under arrest for his murder.”
Dee and I were couple friends with Sam and Becca right up until I took pictures, at Becca’s behest, of Sam doing unspeakable things with his secretary. Well, I didn’t have pictures of anything particularly unspeakable, but they were bad enough to know that Sam was getting his bread buttered by another woman. After that, we were friends with Becca. Sam, not so much. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he deserved to be dead, but Becca was an amazing woman who deserved a lot better than a jerk like him.
“Why do they think she did it? They’ve been apart for what, over a year?”
“Well, when they rushed into his place he was pretty badly carved up, missing an important part—won’t go into that—and she was kneeling over him covered in his blood with her hand on the knife that was stuck in his chest.”
Yeah, that might do it. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Writing Life: A Chance to Give Back

After I accepted the invitation, I realized I was sold out of
two of my three books. I put in an order and they arrived
literally the night before the event. Phew.
Yesterday was one of my best days as a writer. And it wasn't because I sold ten books in a half-hour. The sales were a bonus. And it wasn't that I'm getting a stipend. Truth is, I signed on before I even knew about it. Two things made yesterday amazing: a chance to give back to young writers and, to a lesser extent, being treated really well.

A few weeks back, Dr. Barbara O'Byrne, a person I met several months ago at the 2015 WV Book Festival (Side note: I just got notification that I've been accepted to attend this year's event--yay!) contacted me. She heads up the WV Young Writers Day, held every May on the campus of the University of Charleston. It seems that one of their regular workshop presenters is battling some sort of health issue and had to drop out. Dr. O'Byrne remembered me and the combination of being a published author and a teacher was apparently what she was looking for to fill the vacancy. It took me upwards of a second to say yes when she asked if I would be willing to do a workshop.

This is the meet-the-author time. It was a packed house.
I feared at one point that I hadn't brought enough books--a
good problem! I only sold out of one title, though. 
To be honest, I didn't say yes with the idea of being beneficial to the kids in my workshop foremost in my mind. I was excited and honored to have been asked and I thought it was a nice chance for some exposure for my writing career. And I got that, I think. But the thing that really made the day a joy was getting to be around a group of 38 students in grades seven through nine, all of whom love writing. And not only did I get to be around them, I got to encourage them to keep writing. To see writing as a worthy pursuit, whether they planned to do it as a job or not. We had fun and we laughed and I think I had a positive effect on them. I know they had a positive effect on me. They worked together to make poems about what writing means to them. And the final results were nothing short of fantastic. Especially considering these were kids of between eleven and fourteen years of age. I was deeply impressed. We were only together for an hour, but it was a really good hour.

This was the view from the rotunda where we sold our books.
Aside from the view from the windows of the chapel at
Alderson Broaddus in Philippi, this might be the most
spectacular view on any college campus in West Virginia.
The bonus part of the day was being treated like someone important because I write books. I don't mean that the way it sounds. Celebrity isn't something I pursue. What I mean is that the people there viewed writing as a meaningful, important thing to do. They were there for the sole purpose of celebrating and promoting creative writing as, in many ways, foundational to so many of the other intellectual and artistic pursuits that we can undertake. And because I've done that as much as I have, I was celebrated. Not going to lie--it felt good. A perfect example of this was during the meet-the-authors segment after lunch, when we got to chat with the attendees and sell signed copies of our books. One young lady who was in my session had her mom buy two of my books. Then she asked if we could get a picture together. She stood beside me holding up one of the books, a big smile on her face. As she was leaving, she said, "You're the first author I've ever met." Wow. Just wow.

So if you're someone who is thinking about taking up writing, seriously consider it. Not because of the money and not because of the celebrity, but for the joy of creation and the chance to have a positive impact on people's lives. And if any of that other stuff comes along, well, that's just gravy. And who doesn't like gravy?


Saturday, May 7, 2016

My Writing Process: Paper Versus Screen

I recently finished the third draft of my upcoming fourth Shalan novel. Unless I'm seriously mistaken, it's one layer of polish away from being ready to meet the public. It won't be coming out until sometime in June, but the inside of the book will be ready in a week or two. And I'm really excited. As I said with In The Shadow, I think this is, in all humility, my best work so far. And one reason I think it's an improvement over previous books is a change I made in my drafting process.

I've read since I started writing books that editing and revising should be done on paper; it's much more effective that way, everyone seems to say. But I didn't buy it. How in the world is printing it out and looking at it on paper any different in terms of editing than doing it on the screen? And doing it right on the computer is so much more convenient because when I see a problem, I can fix it right then and there, whereas paper requires that I mark the issue and then go back to the computer later to actually make the change.

But then, on a whim, I tried paper editing. It was actually even more than a whim. It was almost an accident. I don't mean I fell onto the paper manuscript with a pencil in my hand and got some editing in my book (the image of the old you-got-chocolate-on-my-peanut-butter Reese Cup commercials keeps playing through my head). But I printed out the manuscript for a friend who wanted to read it on paper. I wasn't going to see this person for a couple of weeks because she lives in Wheeling, so I had it lying around. Then one day, I thought that I would test this whole paper vs. plastic (See what I did there? Because computers are partly plastic? Huh? Anyway...) idea and prove myself right.

I was wrong. Reading and marking it up on paper was a COMPLETELY different process. Don't ask me to explain the science to it, but I saw things differently on the actual page than I did on the screen. And more than seeing them differently, I actually saw things that I didn't see before. I found two major plot holes that I had missed on the first and second draft, as well as some places where major characters needed further development. As a result, unusually, the book grew by almost 5,000 words on the third draft--and that's including cutting out a lot of deadwood, so it actually grew in terms of actual useful words a lot more than that. And I believe the result is a much more satisfying final result with all the questions answered and a group of well-rounded characters--even the lesser ones. I hope you agree.

Another benefit was the cleaning up of a lot of the prose. I eliminated almost all dialogue tags, leaving them out or trading them for actions that I hope make the book move more briskly and also fill it with more action to go with the dialogue. And for some reason, reading it on the page--I think it's the fact that I can see the whole page at one time and notice things like this--causes me to see when I'm using the same word too often and when a word just isn't the right one. So I fixed several instances of that.

So, on my fourth book, I'm still learning so much about how to be an author. Now, if I can just learn the secret to getting people to review my books...