I’m back…

Hi Guys, I’ve been working with a professional editor to make The Shattered Swan into a completely different book! Persistance and self awareness – never give up!  It’ll be YA now, still a mystery and still set in LOVELY PERU with a running earthquake theme. Here is the first chapter. I’ll be sending it out soon to see if I can get this version published so any comments would be really welcome!!! Would you keep reading if you could? Let me know!

Chapter One

The vast expanse of sandy dunes at the foothills of the Andes never changed. Tamara sat in the passenger seat of her Aunt Laura’s bright blue Kia Rio sedan, determined that this trip to Peru would be different.

“I can’t believe I’m here again, Tía,” Tamara said. “And I really can’t believe that you’ll be sixty years old next week.”

“For you, cariño, I suspect that anyone over the age of twenty-one is ancient.”

Every time she visited since she started middle school, when her Peruvian parents decided that she should be in Peru more than just for those two weeks per year; that she should improve her Spanish and get immersed in her second culture—driving along the Pan American Highway after the ten-hour flight from Chicago, Tamara felt that she might as well be on the moon. Yet it also felt like she was coming home. She marveled at the rocky coast, the dirty, dusty little towns, the small groupings of beach houses that gleamed white in the sun, the small lakes surrounded by leafy palm trees and sandy desert.

“You know, K’antu simply can’t wait to see you,” Laura went on. “She seemed even more excited than me. It was all I could do to keep her from jumping in the car this morning.”

“I can’t wait to see her either. Why didn’t she come with you?”

Laura didn’t answer right away. “She’s, ah. . .she’s dealing with some other things at the moment. I’m sure she’ll be at the house when we get there.”

It wasn’t like Laura to be so uncommunicative. The last time Tamara had heard from K’antu she was planning her marriage to Eduardo. Had something happened?

“But there’s someone else who’s anxious to meet you.” Laura said, quickly changing the subject.

“Who?”

Laura sighed. “A boy.”

Tamara laughed. “It doesn’t sound like you want me to meet him. What is he—a troll?”

“Of course I want you to meet him. And no, he’s not a troll. He’s actually quite good looking. It’s just that, well. . .it’s nothing for you to worry about. It’s just that his family…”

“Oh Tía, that again?” Tamara’s family, including Laura, was from the small town of Manchay, located 246 miles south of Lima, a place with strict, old-fashioned ideas about societal rank, and society in general. Tamara had no patience with these traditions. In fact, her friendship with K’antu had initially been her way of rebelling against them. K’antu’s family had come from the mountains and were relatively poor. Laura and Mariana, Tamara’s mother, came from old money. The family owned a prosperous vineyard and exported their high priced wines all over Latin America.

“It’s not what you’re thinking, Tamara. You’ve actually met him before. You played together when you were toddlers.  It’s Mario—Rodolfo’s son. You remember Rodolfo, don’t you?”

“Your competition?” Tamara opened the window a crack. The wind blew in, but so did the dust. Coughing, she shut the window.

“Exactly. I don’t know if you remember, but Mario’s mother divorced Rodolfo when Mario was eight. She moved to Spain and took him with her. But, coincidentally, he’s here now visiting, and wants to see you again. At least, that’s what Rodolfo says. I think he gets some kind of enjoyment throwing his son in my face.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I have a niece in the United States, he has a son in Spain. Somehow his connection to the outside world is better. But never mind, it is just a stupid little game he likes to play. They’ll be at the party tomorrow, so you’ll get a chance to see them both.”

Tamara thought back, trying to conjure a memory of Mario, but without success. Despite Laura’s assurances to the contrary, Tamara envisioned a fat boy with glasses and pimples. Laura would never say anything bad about anyone.

Tamara looked out the window and saw that they were getting closer to town. Laura lived in a large house on the property that included her vineyard, located right outside of town off of a small private road to the west of the Pan American Highway. To the east a few miles out was the Pacific Ocean.

A shiver ran through Tamara’s body when she glimpsed a small, nearly dilapidated shack on the side of the road. A crude, wooden sign said, “Fresh Figs.” She remembered this place. The ramshackle building looked exactly as it had after the 8.1 earthquake a year and a half ago during her previous visit. She turned her head away, and breathed deeply. In and out. In and out. Her yoga instructor had showed her this technique to calm her fast beating heart. She was determined to feel happy on this trip. After all, despite the tragic events of that horrible day and everything that had followed, she’d been able to return to the safety of Chicago. She had fared far better than anyone in Manchay.

Tamara hoped that Laura didn’t notice her distress. She was here for her aunt’s birthday party, a time of celebration. She didn’t want to ruin things with any PTSD about the earthquake. That was in the past. It was over.

“We’re almost there, cariño,” Laura said, smiling. “I hope you’ve saved some room for your favorite lunch.”

Tamara’s taste buds tingled. Deep fried balls of cheese and yucca with huancaina sauce. Peruvian-style rice, cooked in beer with finely chopped spinach and cilantro that made the rice green, with a piece of fried chicken breast.  Sweet, juicy plums. And granadilla –  passion fruit. She envisioned cracking the hard orange shell, the luscious pulp oozing out, the sweet flavor exploding in her mouth.

Yes, this trip would be different. These would be happy times. It would be wonderful to be back “home.”

They got out of the car. Immediately a blur of energy whizzed out the door and accosted Tamara. “Amiga, I cannot believe it! You are finally here. It is so good to see you.”

It was K’antu.

Tamara, squeezed like an orange by the other girl, managed to choke out a greeting too, “It is really good to see you too K’antu.”

K’antu let go and held Tamara at arm’s length. She chuckled. “Ah, the good American greeting. But enough of that, you are here in Peru now. Give me a big hug and kiss.”

Tamara giggled. “I couldn’t hug you, silly. You had me in a bear hug. My arms were pinned.”

The girls both laughed. Laura had disappeared into the house. Soon the two teenagers also made their way towards the house, arms linked. K’antu chattered on about the plans for Laura’s party.

“We couldn’t ask you for your opinion because you were not here, Tamara. I hope that you like the arrangements…”

“Why wouldn’t I? I know the party will be a blast. What do you have left to do? I will help.”

“No, amiga, you rest and eat. Everything is done. After dinner we will talk and catch up with things. You will speak some English to me and tell me all about school. You will be off to college soon, right?”

“Not soon enough,” Tamara smiled, “I am just starting my last year of high school.”

“Yes, I forgot about the opposite seasons. But that is great! You can still party and have fun. You Americans are always in such a hurry to leave your family.” Since Peru is in the Southern hemisphere, their winter is during Chicago’s summer. August is not the time for summer vacations for Peruvian students. K’antu, seventeen years old like Tamara, had graduated from the Peruvian high school system six months previously.

“So how is everything…?” Tamara asked, opening the large, wood door. They went in. The foyer was a large room with doors on each side and a wide staircase facing the door.

K’antu looked away, “Things are Okay.”

Tamara narrowed her eyes.

“Really,” K’antu insisted.

“How can they be, K’antu? Every time I FaceTime you from Chicago I get the same “things are great”, but they can’t be… not what’s with –”

“Seriously, Tamara, they are. Of course, things aren’t perfect, but when are they ever? Hey, would you excuse me a minute, Tamara, I need to go to the bathroom.” K’antu disappeared into the house.

Tamara stood staring after her friend with a frown on her face. She sat on the wooden bench located by the door and looked around. The house had not changed much through the years. It was now as it had probably been in Tamara’s grandparent’s time, and even before that. On the walls hung faded color tapestries with scenes from the Peruvian mountains. The floor tile was a dark red, almost brownish color, and shiny from daily cleaning. Tamara’s eyes fell on a small crack in the wall by one of the doors. That particular imperfection had definitely not been there long…

Despite her resolve to put it behind her, her mind went back to last year. Her hands gripped the seat of the bench as memory flooded back; the small, dark front room of her aunt Ada’s house, laughter and happy sounds of glasses clinking as people welcomed Tamara back, K’antu appearing unexpectedly at the door, not wanting to wait another minute to see Tamara again, then the sudden rolling motion of the ground below her, the side-to-side shaking, the pitch-darkness when the electricity went out, the roaring in her ears, the cracking of the wall behind her…

“Tamara.” She came out of her trance. K’antu was shaking her shoulders. “What is the matter?”

She opened her eyes and stood up, pacing the floor in small circles. “K’antu, I don’t know if I should be here. Maybe I will just go back home.”

She looked around as if searching for her suitcase.

“Sit down, amiga. Calm down. Tell me what happened.” K’antu’s eyes were wide. There was fear in them.

They both sat down. Tamara’s leg moved up and down in a series of quick motions. “The crack… Oh my God, it was the crack.”

“What crack?”

Tamara waved vaguely toward the wall. K’antu turned and squinted over to where Tamara had indicated.

“That little thing?”

“It… it just reminded me…”

K’antu looked at Tamara. She rubbed Tamara’s arm and said in a low voice, “I know, Tamara. I remember too.”

K’antu had been standing in the doorway when it had all started; the strongest and most destructive earthquake Manchay had ever seen. Tamara had felt, rather than seen, K’antu fall to the ground. She had rushed over to help her friend, and at that moment the wall behind her had collapsed, burying Ada and two of Tamara’s second cousins.

Some of the debris from the fallen wall had hit Tamara in the back, knocking her to the floor also. She had tried to breathe and get up to continue helping K’antu. Dust filled the air, choking her. She had not been able to move. A large piece of adobe had caught her left foot, and she could not slide out from under it.

K’antu, on her hands and knees and relatively unhurt with minor scratches and a few future bruises, had quickly realized that Tamara was stuck. The house shook and there was a rumbling sound. Both girls worked frantically to get Tamara unstuck, scratching at the brick with their fingers, ripping nails and bleeding. Only a few seconds had gone by, but both of them cast periodic glances upwards as if they would be able to assess their safety and how much time they had left to free Tamara.

At one point Tamara had tried to scream out to K’antu to leave her, to just get out and save herself. K’antu either had not heard, or had acted as if she had not heard. She stayed with Tamara until they finally got Tamara’s foot free and stumbled outside just as two of Tamara’s older male cousins rushed in to help the others that had been buried. Ada had survived the night, as well as one of the rescuers and one of the buried cousins. The others had perished. Tamara had gone back to Chicago with a temporary asthma-like condition from breathing in so much dust and fine particles of rubble that floated in the air of Manchay that night and the next day.

“I could have died that night, K’antu.”

“Yes,” K’antu shivered. “If you hadn’t come to help me, maybe you would have. But you didn’t. So be happy.”

“Then you risked your own life when I got stuck. And then what did I do the next day?  I just left. I couldn’t stay and help anyone – you, my family… But it is more than that, I didn’t want to. I wanted so badly to just get the hell out of there. So I just went home. I –”

K’antu put her hand up in protest. “Hey, if you had not gone, I would never have forgiven you. It was the right thing for you to do. Remember, the looting came only a day after you left. We didn’t have much food. With you around, we would have had to split the rations up even more, and God knows, I would have hated to share my butter beans with you…”

For days after the earthquake it had been impossible for reinforcements to get into Manchay. People lived on whatever they could find. There was only one major road running down Peru’s coast, and it was destroyed both to the north and to the south of town.

K’antu grinned. Tamara looked at her and grinned also. “You are crazy, K’antu.”

“But I’m right.” She was serious, “Honestly, it really was good that you left. You come here all the time, but you don’t live here. You aren’t used to dealing with tremors and other disasters. We are.”

“How can I ever repay you, amiga…?”

“There is no need for that, Tamara. So don’t worry about it. And don’t worry about that little crack, this house is safe. That’s all that happened to it after all, right? It’s not like your aunt Ada’s house.”

Tamara smiled at her. “You are right.”

K’antu gave her a hug.

“But you are not right in keeping your problems from me. Please, K’antu, tell me what has been happening since I left last year.”

K’antu sighed, “It is not worth talking about. When I am with you I just want to feel happy.”

“But –” Tamara stopped talking at the sound of a man’s voice calling K’antu’s name. Tamara was still looking at her friend, whose face turned an ashy gray color.

“It’s Eduardo. He sounds mad.”

“Why would he be?” Tamara asked.

“I… I don’t know. He’s been so strange lately… I had better go.” K’antu stood up and walked over to the door. She opened it, revealing a young man, tall, wiry and muscular, with thick black hair that hung over one eye.

He pushed his hair out of his face in an almost feminine gesture and stopped short as he realized who had opened the door. “K’antu. What the hell? I have been looking for you all over. You’ve made me wait, and now I can’t go see Sergio. Let’s go.”

He grabbed her arm and pulled her outside.

“Eduardo, stop. Tamara is here. I was here to see her. Don’t you want to say hi?”

Tamara started forward and opened her mouth to greet him, but he did not even look back. He continued to drag K’antu away. She stumbled and had to grab onto him to recover her balance. She looked back at Tamara, tried to grin but ended up grimacing, and turned back to keep pace with Eduardo.

Tamara stared after them.

Argh!

It’s been a crazy summer!  Zombies had to take a back burner.  In the meantime I’ve decided to rewrite the pitch for my first book.  Has anyone else found that this task is daunting in the extreme?  To write a novel: challenging but fun.  To write a compelling short paragraph summing up said novel: near on impossible!!!

If anyone is so inclined, would you comment on the following?  If you picked this book up and read the back, would you think of buying it?  What’s missing?  Is there too much?

Thank you!!

Tamara, a shocked young survivor, flees the site of her aunt’s murder after an earthquake destroys the town.  Her mind tells her to forget the double tragedy, but after being followed and nearly attacked, she decides to find the killer before they find her.  But first she must risk her sanity – and her life – to go back to the scene of the crime.  Once back she encounters cryptic messages from the dead woman, old friends acting suspicious, vanishing objects and dangerous traps set by a shadowy character or two.  If she doesn’t piece the puzzle together the murderer may find her before she finds them.  The Shattered Swan is set on the desert coast of Peru in a dusty town after an 8.1 earthquake.

 

Writer’s Block or Blocked Writing?

I don’t have writer’s block.  In fact, the ideas flow too much at times.  That’s a happy problem.  Or, as my teenage daughter might say, “Hashtag, happy problem”.

No, my problem isn’t finding the ideas, it’s disseminating them in a financially advantageous way.  The Apple iBookstore would charge me $99 to publish my book.  Amazon doesn’t charge me anything.  So guess where my books are?  But the good news is that there is a Kindle app on iPad for people who want to read my books!

I haven’t been successful (yet) in getting into a bookstore to do a book talk, but I did go to a French Market this weekend and had a great experience (and sold books!!!).

The last few years have taught me to become a better sales person (still working on that skill –  shout out to the guy in the booth next to me this weekend who sells upscale products for pets, and who gave me good advice).  The problem: I’m not writing.  I’m selling.

I suppose it’s also a time management issue – another skill to reflect on as summer begins to hit with full force.

Anyone else share these problems?  Let me know!  Support is always appreciated!!!  :-)

Week of June 17th: intensive work on The Cursed Quechua, 3rd in the Tamara series!

Happy Father’s Day (which should really be Happy Fathers’ Day)!

:-)

Imagehere I am at the French Market – 6:30a.m. before customers.

#20 Werewolf Decisions

Water lapped off the oars rhythmically.  Marilu’s face was set in a tight, grim, determined expression.  Occasionally she looked back to see if anything was following her. She thought back to her departure. 

Bokor had been in the shadows of the tree line, gripping Maggie’s arm.  She had tersely promised a full explanation as soon as Marilu left.  All three of them had looked around nervously for other living beings as Marilu made her way to the rowboat.

She had made it without incident – the only damage to her sizzling nervous system.  As she started rowing she heard howling.  But it came from far back into the forest.  Or did it come from her destination – the island not five miles away…?

 

Ralph and Joel sat on camp chairs around a burned out bonfire.  Their companions were all shouting at the top of their lungs to be heard over each other.  Each one of them in turn looked out toward the water with burning yellow eyes.  The rowboat would be there in a few minutes.  The question was: should they prevent Marilu from visiting the old woman, or should they let her go, and follow her to find out the strategy?

“Let her go,” Joel argued.  “We’ve been banished to this island long enough.  Attacking our main source of information is no way to get back to the main island.  And so far, Ralph has been useless.”

Joel directed a baleful glance at the younger man as the rest of the crowd bayed agreement.

“I can’t fight against Bokor’s power on my own, you idiots!  And I don’t see any of you risking their hides to do what I’ve done – get back to our island.”

“You’re wrong, Ralph.  It’s not Bokor’s power that has blocked your progress.  It’s Zoya’s.  You’re in love with a zombie.”

A shocked murmur rippled through the crowd as the sentiment was spoken out loud for the first time.  Ralph paled.

“Bokor and Zoya are two separate powers which are threatening to divert attention away from us.  If they begin fighting, it will be to our advantage.  I was the catalyst that started that ball rolling.  So stop your assumptions about my relationship with Zoya and do something useful for a change – don’t let Marilu get information from the old woman!”  His voice ended in a shout.  He threw his arms open in a gesture designed to include, reassure and convince everyone.

Joel stared at Ralph.  He faced the crowd and thought carefully before presenting his argument again.

 

Zoya painted furiously over the canvas.  She was sweating as she sat back and surveyed her handiwork: an old woman and a middle-aged one facing each other.  A gray animal lay in the background, glassy eyes looking at nothing, blood seeping out of its matted fur.

Bokor smiled in the background.

#19 Another Kill

 

                As Bokor fretted about Zoya, and Marilu prepared for a journey, and Joel sucked lazily on his cigar, the woman prepared for bed.  She sighed as she lay down in bed.  Work had been harder since the elders had been killed and she was tired.  She had done her nighttime rituals of warding off evil spirits so their fate would not become her own.  She was a simple woman and believed in the power of the small, candle-lit, herb crushing, feather brushing ceremonies she had learned as a child.

                But she hadn’t slept the same since that horrible day when the bodies had been found.  So she tossed and turned and slept lightly – until the sound of soft padding of feet sent shots of ice through her nerves.  She opened her eyes but otherwise didn’t move.

                Something was in the room.  She screwed her eyes shut and started to pray silently to her gods – pleading with them – chiding them for not heeding her during the rituals she had faithfully performed.  She felt a brush of air.  Her heart pounded so strongly surely the creature sharing the room with her must know that she was aware of it.  She started to shake.

                Something cold touched her clavicle and she let out a small, involuntary whining noise.  It was a hand.  Her eyes were still shut as the hand slowly unbuttoned her pajama shirt and slid it open to expose her breasts.  Whoever – whatever – this being was, they were surely able to see her chest moving up and down as she breathed fear, her left breast pumping blood from her heart at an alarming rate.  She heard an answering whine come from the creature.

                The hand moved slowly down past her chest toward her belly button and below.  What was happening?  She felt something on her lips and without wanting to, she opened her eyes.  She would have screamed at the sight of yellowish-green eyes staring into hers – if something hadn’t been crushing down on her mouth.  She tried to breathe, but the creature’s lips were on hers, sucking air out of her.  She felt the hand fondling her all over her body. 

                Fondling, or searching?  What was this monster looking for?  The woman continued to struggle for breath.  Then she felt a sharp pain on her side.  Her skin ripped under the sharp claws of whatever was on top of her.  Warmth dripped down to the bed and the pain increased as Zoya – still covering the woman’s mouth with her own to keep her from screaming – reached her fingers into the woman’s side and began pulling out her intestines. 

                Zoya’s glowing green eyes looked up and out the window.  The woman’s eyes – full of pain and fear – followed.  They both saw the outline of a wolf standing staring inside.  Zoya’s fingers pulled harder and she smiled over the woman.  The last thing the woman heard was the mournful howl of a wolf.

                When the struggling subsided Zoya stood up, wiped saliva from her mouth and blood from her hands.  She looked out the window at the human-like figure of Ralph who looked in at her.  She turned to leave the house.  Outside he was waiting for her.  He reached out his hands and took a hold of her shoulders.  But when his hand went down to perform the same action on her that she had just done to her unfortunate victim, she ducked away and disappeared into the night.

 

                Bokor sat up straight.  Her smile enigmatic smile was back.  Nevertheless, Marilu must leave right away.

#18 Bokor Hatches a Plan

                Bokor slumped in the ratty, cut-velvet upholstered chair with the replacement leg that did not match.  As far as she knew, the students were all still asleep.  There were deep lines carved into her forehead.  She was still worried.  Her clothes hung on her frame, which was thinner than a couple of days ago.  She couldn’t sleep or eat.  The problem seemed to have no solution.

                The crunch of dry foliage and gravel stirred her to sit up straighter and look out the window.  Marilu and Maggie were walking toward the front door.  What the hell was Maggie doing out there with the other woman?  Bokor thought she had counted heads correctly.  But then again, she had been so distracted she really had no idea who was upstairs.  No idea, that is, except she knew Zoya was there.

                Or was she?  Bubbles of panic shot up from the pit of Bokor’s belly into the back of her throat.  But before she could get up and go upstairs Marilu and Maggie were standing before her.

                “Bokor, we need to talk about what’s going on here on this island,” Marilu said.

                The two women looked at Bokor.  She was looking back at them with a thoughtful expression on her face.  She couldn’t leave the island – she had to control Zoya – but what about these two?  No, not Maggie, she was an innocent – or part of Ralph’s world, Bokor wasn’t exactly sure…

                “Yes, of course, Marilu.  But,” she looked at Marilu and did a sideways glance and head tilt at Maggie.  “You and I should talk.  I need you to do something for me.”

                Marilu got it.  She and Bokor had grown up together – cousins who were like sisters.  “Uh, Maggie, would you mind making breakfast?  The others should be down soon and we’ll all be hungry.”

                “But Marilu,  I thought…”

                “Please, Maggie, things will go quicker this way.”

                “Oh, all right.”  Maggie stomped toward the kitchen.

                Bokor would have had a heart attack if she had gone into Zoya’s room.

                Zoya paced up and down the beach, occasionally kicking up sand in anger.  Her options were getting limited – there were fewer people on the island now, and there were some who she knew not to touch – for now.

                But the hunger to kill was there nevertheless.  She needed more than the few monkeys she had slain an hour ago.  She kept pacing until something caught her eye.  A boat.  A rowboat with oars.  And something else she hadn’t really paid attention to before.  Another island off in the distance.  Another island – more people – problem solved.  She ran toward the boat.

                She was almost there when a dark object flew toward her and made impact, knocking her off of her feet.  She fell face-first into the sand, feeling the sharp claws of a large animal pressing down on her lower back.  She turned her head and coughed out sand.  Her nose caught a familiar scent and she knew that Ralph was her captor.

                “Going somewhere?” the shape changer growled, his paws softening into large, male hands.  Then she felt him shift.  He lay on top of her, his stomach on her lower back, other parts hard on the crack of her butt.  He was breathing heavily.

                She reached her right arm up and pulled hard on the nipple of Ralph’s shirtless chest.  He squawked and rolled slightly to his right, giving Zoya space to spring up and away from him.  He looked at her balefully and started to rise so she kicked him hard in the groin.

                The sound of his groans could be heard from the house.  Bokor and Marilu stopped their intense conversation and went outside.  When they saw Ralph rolling on the beach in pain, they ran to assist him. 

                “My God, is anyone upstairs where they are supposed to be?” thought Bokor as she ran.

 

                Zoya sat in front of the canvas.  A pretty blue rowboat was taking shape under her paintbrush.  It was a simple work – finished in time for her to catch an hour of sleep.  She was dreaming about warm salt water splashing gently on her face when Bokor looked in on her to call her for breakfast.