|Every senior teacher yesterday after grading finals and|
projects all 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.”
“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.