Essays, general essay

Looking for Beta Readers!

My latest novel, Death of the Zanjero, is ready for beta readers. Basically, it’s just test-reading the novel to see what needs fixing before it gets released next spring. Why so far in advance? It needs to be ready several months before the May release date to give reviewers time to read it and post their reviews.

The story is set in Los Angeles in 1870, a time when the small town was very violent and impossibly corrupt, with the most corrupt being the Zanjero or water overseer. When Zanjero Bert Rivers’ body floats up out of the irrigation ditch, or zanja, winemaker and healing woman Maddie Wilcox finds herself defending the person accused of killing him – the town’s most notorious madam. To save her, Maddie must find out who killed the despicable Bert Rivers, without revealing how she knows the madam is innocent. It’s a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she’s done.

I’m really excited and proud of this novel and hope you’ll like it, too. If you want to read it, there is one small catch – you’ll have to read it in .pdf and send me notes on what you liked and didn’t like. There are limited spots available, so be the first to email me via the contact form to the right or below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and your comments!

Chapter Five

The three young gentlemen soldiers were gone before the sun rose the next morning. Robin wasn’t sure how it happened, but by noon, the entire village knew of the attack on Elizabeth the night before. Perhaps not as surprising was the way the number of attackers grew as the tale was told.

And with each telling Robin’s and Dean’s stock in the village grew. The villagers weren’t ready to embrace the pair as their own. But they were more willing to accept them.

A little over a week after the attack, Robin accompanied Elizabeth to the church to deliver some cheese to the pastor. As they approached the square, where the village well was located, Robin heard the familiar hiss of children whispering behind her.

She whirled, hollering “Boo!”

Screaming, the children scattered, giggling as they pushed each other out of the way.

“You’ve gotten quite popular,” Elizabeth teased.

“And how many men did I fight off?” Robin sighed. “Isn’t the number up to twenty by now?”

Elizabeth laughed. The sound of another young woman’s laughter echoed.

It belonged to Mistress Mary Smith, the tinker’s daughter. Standing next to the well, the pleasantly plump young woman was just dropping the last of a bit of laundry into her basket.

“Good day, Master Parker, Mistress Wynford,” she said.

“Good day, Mistress Smith,” Elizabeth replied. “How fares Mistress Blethen?”Continue reading

Chapter Four

There was barely a flush in the eastern sky when Dean felt Robin prodding him awake the next morning. He grumbled, but it was quickly clear that his sister was in no mood to put up with his complaints. Not sure what was bugging her, he followed her out of the barn and on to their first task of the day, setting the rabbit traps along the nearby stream that flowed between the fields and a small glade of trees.

Robin kept muttering about the time, and sure enough, the King’s messenger and Master Black were already awake and waiting by the time Dean and Robin got back. But it didn’t take long to set up the table for their breakfast. In the meantime, Master Black took some bread and his horse and left quickly.

Robin and Dean joined Mistress Ford and Elizabeth in the kitchen to eat the porridge that Elizabeth had prepared. Then Dean was sent to bring out the King’s messenger’s horse, Elizabeth to tend to the now empty rooms, and Robin to take down the table in the common room. Mistress Ford went to milk the cow, which apparently refused to milk for anyone else.

Dean had the horse saddled and ready by the time the messenger had eaten but got no thanks as the man mounted and rode off. Mistress Ford had also told Dean to clean the stables once the messenger was gone, and so Dean turned to his task.

The mess that was the stable overwhelmed him as he stood in the doorway. His stomach grumbled with hunger and he grumbled about how miserable it all was. He was still grumbling when Elizabeth came out to the stable, looking for an extra broom.

“Doesn’t anybody, like, rest or something around here?” he said, tossing straws from the bench he was reclining on.

Elizabeth pursed her lips and avoided looking at him.

“And I’m really hungry here,” Dean continued, oblivious. “If you want to keep me working, you got to feed me. I mean, I need fuel.”

Finally, Elizabeth could bear no more.Continue reading

Essays, general essay

I’m a Font Freak

I love fonts – what we used to call typefaces back in the day when people actually set type. I love going through the bazillions out there, testing first this one, then that. Debating whether I want to go with serifs or without. And I do have some absolute faves.

Now, I am aware that it is not normal to have a favorite font. It’s not normal to have a favorite Shakespeare play, or a favorite character (Puck) from my favorite play (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). And if you really want to see someone’s eyes glaze over in record time, start getting excited about file folders. I’m a strict third cut tab person, by the way. Normal has never been my thing.

So I’m cool with loving fonts. The only thing that makes me sad is that I can’t usually use my favorite fonts on my business cards or as website headers because most people can’t read them. Kind of works at cross purposes, you know?

But you wait. One of these days, I’m going to find a way to use Diploma on something that isn’t a diploma. I will. I will. I will.

Chapter Three

It took almost two weeks to get all the information and clothes that Robin wanted before she felt satisfied that she and Dean were ready to make the jump into the past.

The clothes had been the hardest part. Robin made contact with a historical re-enactor through an e-mail friend of hers. The re-enactor helped her find outfits through her group but was remarkably picky about authenticity. Oddly enough, Elizabeth wasn’t, and in fact pronounced several doublets and breeches as workable that the re-enactor turned her nose up at.

Dean, for his part, complained incessantly and tried again and again to interest Elizabeth in modern life. Again and again, Elizabeth reacted in fear or distaste. She refused to flush a toilet, although she liked toilet paper once she got the hang of it. Dean’s favorite alternative rock and hip-hop groups made her shudder. She refused to wear any less than three layers of clothes and clung tenaciously to her stays. Daily showers were a struggle. Robin and Dean had to be very sure to keep her away from television sets because the “elves in the box” would start her screaming. And while getting her on the Underground was difficult enough, the only thing worse was driving the magic carriage.

Even eating was difficult. Elizabeth would not eat anything that came in a Styrofoam container because she hated the feel of the foam. That made ordering food in almost impossible. But getting her through the streets to restaurants was pretty much running the poor girl through a gantlet of terrors.

The worse part was that Robin insisted the three stay moving to make it harder for Roger to track them. Furthermore, Elizabeth begged not to be left alone in whatever hotel room they were in after the first day because the phone had rung and scared her.

Still, Dean persisted, but as the two weeks wore on, his protests became less strident.

Finally, Robin was satisfied. The night before the three were to leave, she had hers and Dean’s luggage shipped to her office. All they had that night was what they could carry in the two homespun bags they would bring with them into the past.

The next morning, Dean made one last pro forma protest as he tested his saber.

“Are you sure about this, Robin?” he asked, swishing the sword through the air as he lunged forward.

“Put that damn thing down before you hurt one of us.” Like her brother, Robin wore a shirt, breeches, doublet, boots, wide belt and plain, dark cavalier hat.

“I’m not going to hurt anybody,” Dean grumbled, sheathing his sword nonetheless.

Robin tried not to groan. “Look, Dean, the only reason we’re carrying weapons is that we’d get slaughtered without them. With any luck at all, we won’t have to use them. Better yet, let’s try not to.” She looked over at Elizabeth and back at Dean. “Are you two ready?”

“I am,” said Elizabeth, her eyes shining with joy.

“I s’pose,” Dean grumbled as he picked up his bag.

Robin put the room key on the bureau, then, taking a deep breath, picked up the time machine and her bag. “Okay. We should all be touching.”

She waited for Dean and Elizabeth put their hands on each of her shoulders, then focused her mind on the geographic coordinates and date in early spring 1642 that she wanted.Continue reading

Chapter Two

“Oh, dear,” sighed the matron as she looked Elizabeth up and down.

Robin held her breath as she and Dean stood in the doorway to the castle. She glanced over at Elizabeth, who looked more curious than frightened at the moment. Dean was putting on his best “bluff ’em out” look.

“The seventeenth-century group is meeting in York this weekend,” the matron continued. “I do hope you haven’t been terribly inconvenienced.”

“No,” said Robin with a quick grin. “As a matter of fact, we’re just on our way there. Thought we’d drop in and see the castle first.”

“Oh, good.” The matron smiled in relief. “It really doesn’t do to say so, but some of your colleagues are rather disorganized. I was quite afraid I was going to be bombarded with Cavaliers and their ladies.” She smiled again at Elizabeth. “Lovely job, dear, but I do believe ties at the neck are not quite period.”

Elizabeth looked puzzled, but before she could say anything, Robin gently took her arm and turned her toward the parking lot.

“Well, who knows,” Robin told the matron as she pushed Elizabeth past. “Not a lot of portrait evidence among the lower classes, you know.”

“Huh?” asked Dean, following close behind.

Robin glanced behind them. “We’ve got an explanation for Elizabeth for the moment.”

“Explanation?” Elizabeth asked.

“I don’t get it,” Dean said.

Robin stopped to catch her breath. “Historical re-enactors, Dean. You know, like the Renaissance Faire back home? There are clubs all over the place that dress up in historical costumes and make like they live in the past. They’ve got them for all different time periods. That woman just thought we were dressed up for a seventeenth-century group.”Continue reading

Bib Overalls Skirt

This is a project I’d had in the back of my mind for… Well, years. My husband had worn out the legs on a pair of bib overalls, but the bib, itself, was in pretty good shape. Thinking about what I could do it with it more or less got me started on my latest “thing,” if you will: remaking new clothes out of old ones.

Michael and I will wear our clothes to rags. Donating the old clothes to charity doesn’t really help the charity because who wants to buy a shirt with ragged collar and cuffs? Yet, all too often, it’s just the collar and cuffs that are frayed and messed up, but the rest of the shirt is fine. Or the really ugly hole in the jeans is just in the one impossible to patch spot, but the rest of the pants are fine.

I have been making bags out of jeans where I’ve cut off the legs (working on turning those bits into yarn) and using old shirts for the linings. But a whole dress or something? Not there yet. Or I wasn’t. Frankly, I just finally got off my keister and put together the skirt I’d been thinking about for so long.

It took seven shirts. I used a pattern piece for a gored skirt from an old Burda magazine (August 2007, French Edition, long story). The piece was too big for the backs of the shirts, so I had to squiggle it around on the front and make each of the skirt gores out of two pieces of fabric. Since I was doing that, I decided to add more color and mix and match the different shirt pieces. I didn’t know if it would save any actual sewing, but since the shirts – mostly Hawaiian and other casual short sleeved ones – had pockets, I used the former shirt pockets for my skirt pockets.

I would have liked a fuller skirt with more body, but it still looks okay and is darned comfy to wear. I don’t know if I’ll try this project again, but I do have another dress that I recently finished that I’ll feature here eventually. And another, more structured, dress project, too. Then there’s the crazy quilt top I’m working on. And so it goes.

Chapter One

IT’S A NEW SERIAL! But World Enough and Time is the first of a trilogy of time travel novels – and the serial starts today. Join Robin and Dean Parker, a sister and brother who travel back to return Elizabeth Wynford back to her native time. Oh, would that it were that simple. Roger York is busy trying to figure out how to get one step ahead of the trio, but he’s not the person to worry about. Donald Long is even more persistently chasing the three with definite intent to inflict harm. Visit this space every Friday for a new episode!

Desperation made people do some strange things. Roger York looked at the sleeping girl, then gently checked her pulse yet again. Endless days mapping DNA strings on the fastest machines in existence. Even more, months carefully searching for the perfect hiding place as others developed the tools to keep prying eyes away. All for an experiment that could take an innocent life that had no reckoning of the risk she was taking. Worse yet, Roger had little hope that it would succeed.

Roger ran his hands through his soft brown hair, not short nor long, cut so he could go as many whens as possible. He looked around the room, double-checking everything, especially the power sources. They would be all right. But what effect would the suspend an have on Elizabeth? Nobody had tried it over a hundred years, and Roger was bringing the girl forward five hundred and fifty plus.

The only thing more dangerous would be to bring her forward through the time drop. He’d drop in and wake her up every fifty years as it was. She seemed a strong, intelligent woman, in spite of her ignorance. Hopefully, her mind would be strong enough.

As he picked up his hand unit, he checked everything once more, then focused his mind on the coordinates for fifty years ahead. It was odd, but the timetron landed him within seconds of the coordinates he entered. It had never done that before. Must have been the power source so close. He brushed Elizabeth’s lips with his own. Her eyes flickered open. She smiled at him. He was smiling back. At least that part of this fool’s enterprise was working.

Each fifty-year jump felt better than before. Elizabeth showed no visible effects from her time asleep, nor did what few instruments Roger had show any. The special locks that prevented anyone from even thinking about entering the room were working perfectly. He left the 1990s almost bursting with joy.

Just a few years into the 21st century, a small ion retainer on the door fizzled and sputtered. The rest of the card flared up and died as quickly. A minute later, the door creaked open.Continue reading

Essays, general essay

Preaching in the Streets

Evangelizers on Hollywood Blvd. recently, and, yes, they ignored all the homeless people nearby.

Several months ago, I was waiting for a bus across the street from the L.A. City Hall when I saw a group of about five or six young women, all wearing the same bright green t-shirt, surrounding an old Hispanic woman sitting on the next bunch. One of the green-shirts was seated next to her, talking earnestly at the old woman. You could tell the old woman was nervous – as who wouldn’t be? Another group of green-shirts, guys, was nearby and I saw the small pamphlets on the ground and realized what this group was up to.

They were evangelizing – as in trying to get people to convert to Christianity. It’s bad enough when someone is being kind and sincere about sharing his or her faith. It’s bad enough when I tell these people that I am a Christian, and that, yes, I’ve said the magic prayer, but they still keep at it. What really got me torqued off at this group was that right across the street, the north lawn of City Hall was dotted with homeless people. Were any of the green-shirts over there, handing out sandwiches and clean socks? Maybe sitting and listening to somebody? No. They were all gathered on the side of the street I was on, molesting an old lady.

I got mad and called them on it. One sweet young thing told me they were praying for the homeless people. I made an allusion to the Epistle of St. James, chapter 2, verses 15-17 (you know, what good does it do tell someone naked to dress warmly and be well and walk by him) and got on the bus.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about the incident with the compassion and love I was really not feeling for these people ever since. See, the thing is, most people out there stumping for Jesus are doing so thanks to their pastors, who are playing the guilt card, big time. They tell their flocks that if they really cared about people, they’d make sure they heard the Gospel, how unkind it is not to evangelize, etc., ad nauseum. And you can’t entirely blame the pastors. Not only are they hearing the same message, they’re looking at their shrinking Sunday collections and either consciously or unconsciously (I suspect the latter) figuring they’d better put the pressure on to bring in some new bodies.

The problem is, that same zeal is exactly why those Sunday collections are shrinking. People simply don’t believe in churches anymore. We can go into the whole Millenials are disaffected routine, and that does play a part. But I strongly suspect another part is the narrow-minded self-righteousness of people like the green-shirts, talking about the love of Jesus, but completely ignoring the hungry people across the street.

This bothers me because I happen to think that this planet would be a great deal better off if Christians (including me) really tried to practice the love of Jesus instead of talking about it. And it is practicing. None of us gets it totally right. Practicing the love of Jesus is about being present to other people, not quintuple-teaming an old lady until she says your prayer. It’s not worrying about the state of other people’s souls, but staying focused on the state of your own. If someone is genuinely searching and wants to hear about your faith, great. Be ready. But Jesus’ final directive of making disciples of all nations may actually mean he wants multi-cultural representation (in which case, we’ve met that goal – there are Christians pretty much everywhere), not that he wants everyone to become a Christian.

I can’t say for sure. All I can do is keep trying to be kind and present and loving to everyone, from my husband at his most annoying to the smelly bum sitting next to me on the bus. And give money to the poor. Maybe remember to buy an extra package of clean socks for the local homeless shelter. Carrying a few extra fruit bars in my backpack to share with anyone who asks. And probably a few other things I should be doing. And I’ll keep praying for the green-shirts, too. Why not?

 

Deceptive Appearances is Done as a Serial, Check Out the Book

Wow. That went fast. Just like That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine and Stopleak, Deceptive Appearances is now a full book. You can check it out on its own special page under the Operation Quickline menu.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far. If you have, I’d love it if you’d write a review on GoodReads or one of the other retail sites. It really makes a difference when you do.

I’m going to take a week off to make sure my next serial project is even better. It will debut this space on Friday, August 25. It’s something very different from my usual cozy mystery bent – a time travel novel called But World Enough and Time.

Robin and Dean Parker discover a young woman in a closed-off room of an abandoned castle. When Robin can’t resist the temptation to test the equipment in the room, she realizes that it’s a time machine and Elizabeth has been in suspended animation for almost 400 years. After Robin accidentally takes the machine with her, she realizes that she and Dean need to return Elizabeth to her own time. Thus the three embark on an amazing adventure through history with not one, but two, time travelers on their tail.