Please stop by and say "hello" today while I visit the lovely Calisa Rhose at Pen of the Dreamer.
I copy and pasted my guest post at Calisa's, but you should really see her blog. Her colors and attitude are welcoming and gorgeous. Calisa Rhose's comments are in red.
Today I have a wonderful friend and author hanging out on the ranch. We both tend to be talkers so this post is a bit longer than I normally post- but it’s worth it to read all the way to the end. Brenda Wallace and I met after I returned to Oklahoma and joined the local RWA group where she was already a member. We’ve both been sitting quietly on the side lines, watching fellow Outlaws report sale after sale. Now we both are celebrating our own books LOUDLY! Say a big hi to the fabulous author of her indie-published mystery-thriller Brilliant Prey.
Hey Calisa. Thank you so much for welcoming me here to Pen of the Dreamer. I love your inviting colors and decor. Speaking of dreamer, it feels like a dream to be on the blog of a fellow Outlaw. It was only a few months ago that we were both just dreaming about our books, and now they’re for real. You even get to hold yours on your birthday! And, yes folks, Calisa is just as nice in real life.
Glad you like the ranch, Brenda. I did it all by myself (yep- a shameless boast). And I do feel I’m dreaming these days with the release of HOME on a foreseeable horizon… You’re so sweet to say such nice things (and she’s really just as nice, too!). Thank you for coming today. Let’s get to know you a bit better.
Why write what you write?
I first intended to write a romantic comedy, and I will some day. I am required to read so many psychiatric and psychological reports in my day job, that some of the darkness pours out into my books. Someone who is looking for a cozy romance probably wouldn’t enjoy my novels and that’s understandable. My writing does contain very strong romantic elements because I think most stories without romance fall flat. I do thread light throughout my books and end on the upbeat, but so far, I haven’t written a lighthearted romantic comedy. I sure will tell everyone about it when I do.
Keep us posted on that comedy. Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas come from everywhere. Sometimes I get ideas from dreams or half-awake stupors. One night I got the underlying story for most of a book that way. I bought an intriguing Astronomy course from the Teaching Company, which I watched a couple of times while walking on the treadmill. That’s where I got the idea for the atmospheric green flash and some of the clues that occur in Brilliant Prey. Anything that makes my heart beat fast, I throw into my books. When we were shopping at Sam’s Club, I saw a strange Ripley’s Believe It or Not book that I bought. I found some odd heart-jolting stuff in there that stoked my imagination and wound up in my book. I’m blessed to enjoy twenty-three years of happily-married domestic bliss, but I was single long enough to remember the various weirdoes out there, so the scary types always provide fuel for my villains. I’m kind of an adrenaline junky, who now prefers my drama in books, so I read or write that kind of roller coaster stuff. Actually, I enjoy reading just about anything that’s well written.
You and me, both! What is the hardest part for you to write?
The villain’s perspective is definitely the hardest for me to write. You can’t write a three-dimensional villain unless you get inside their head, and that can be an extremely creepy place to be. I don’t like spending much time there, but force myself to do it; otherwise my books wouldn’t be worth reading.
Villains are sort of creepy aren’t they? Makes me think of Silence of the Lamb. *shivers* What has your experience with indie publishing been like?
I’ve barely gotten started, but it’s been surprisingly positive. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to spend $15 to try putting Brilliant Prey into the Indie Book Blowout over the Labor Day weekend, and, wow; that really boosted visibility and sales. I’ve gotten kind of misty that some of my favorite authors of all time have also liked and praised Brilliant Prey. That feels pretty unreal to me. It’s like having a rock star tell you that they like your music. Authors and readers are generally a very nice group of people to hang out with, that’s for sure.
That’s wonderful, Brenda. Congrats on the morale boost of authorship praises your book. Do you recommend this form of publication for anyone?
We’re all individuals, so Indie isn’t for everyone. I’ve been through so many new inexperienced managers at my long-time day job, that it feels nice to retain control of my own work. But, publishing is changing so fast that I recommend all authors stay flexible and open to all possibilities. I’m just totally excited that authors have so many options now. John Locke just penned a deal where he kept his ebook rights, yet is publishing print books with Simon and Schuster. How cool is that? If an author decides to go Indie, I think it smart to study and follow the Indie trailblazers like J.A. Konrath, Scott Nicholson, Zoe Winters and such. Get an editor and a great cover. Some folks will come up with new ways to carve out their own niche, I’m sure.
I gotta tell you I love your cover. Can you share an excerpt of Brilliant Prey with us?
One word bled through the folded page when Lauren pulled it from the envelope. “Mensa,” she murmured. She had always believed that a person testing in the top two percent of intelligence scores was a genius. Now she didn’t.
“Well, go ahead and open it,” her sister, Angie, said, stomping a high-heeled boot. Red clay slopped off the ornately tooled leather and onto Lauren’s white bamboo floor.
Lauren cocked her head, twisting a strand of hair into a painful rope when the anticipated “Welcome” message did not appear. Those Mensans did say she passed after all, but maybe they’d made a clerical error. Beneath the MENSA letterhead lay a series of dark random dots.
“What is it? Yuck.” Angie leaned a wooly head in front of the letter, blocking her view.
“I don’t know.” Lauren moved the document back into her line of sight. The scattered blotches were a strange reddish-sepia tone. She shook her head. If she didn’t know better, she would think these drops were...“Dried blood?”
Angie pushed closer, reached out toward the page, and then yanked her hand back without touching it.
Using an index finger, Lauren smudged one orb the size of a dried pea. It cracked. She rubbed the tainted hand over her blue jeans, and then turned the page over for an explanation. Six hangmen with X’s for eyes had been drawn there using the same fluid.
Above the hangmen game, a spidery script read SIX GUESSES EACH. A short word blank was associated with each stick-figure man. In the last word blank, the number 131,313 was scratched in needle-thin print, filling in the blanks with the odd rusty ink.
“I’m good at hangman, you know,” Angie said, whipping a pen out of her purse with a magician’s finesse.
“Right. I know.”
On a piece of junk mail lying on the kitchen table, Lauren jotted their hangmen solutions one by one above the number. The words came too easily: “hated lit set un I’m 131,313.” The hair prickled across her skin, feeling like the legs of a scrambling scorpion. Rubbing her arms, she felt the answer lurking.
Angie’s bronze face blanched. “Oh no. It’s about the Devil.”
“We’ll see.” Grasping the paper, Lauren held it next to the Tuscan globe that hung above her dinette. She detected something in the ginger hues. A watermark. Squinting, she muttered, “Georgia Pacific.” She gazed out her condo’s bay window at the rolling postal truck, wondering whether the document might hold a message of significance. “Let’s try the computer.”
The scent of holiday cinnamon welcomed her into a polished oak-filled office. She’d thrown a Christmas centerpiece in there, trying to make the place feel homey.
“Look.” Angie pointed as they walked in. The computer paper box was labeled “Georgia Pacific.”
“Maybe the hangman solutions are a palindrome.” Lauren pulled out a blank sheet, lay it on the computer desk, and began writing the numbers and letters in backward sequence. The words ‘set, un and I’m’ became ‘minutes.’ “That works.” She read the reverse phrase ‘313131 minutes ‘til detah.’ ‘Detah?’ An anagram in a palindrome? She glanced at her sister. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing? 313,131 minutes ‘til death?”
“Call the police,” Angie said, her pupils spreading in shining cobalt pools.
Lauren massaged her forehead. “No. I bet it’s related to that Mensa murder mystery event they’re holding at the Crescent Moon Inn in several months.”
“Maybe. If you don’t call the police, I will. I don’t think I’m overreacting just because of—”
“No. It might just be another type of test.” Could there be an organization coiled within the organization for those of even higher intellect? Wasn’t there a 99.9 percent order? Lauren didn’t think she could make it into yet another level. It was a fluke that she made it in at all. They just happened to ask questions that she could answer on the actual Mensa test. Having practiced some Mensa mini-tests online, she nailed some and flunked others. She belonged in Densa, not Mensa.
Glancing at the computer clock, she noticed that a minute had passed since she solved the palindrome. Another minute closer to death. Maybe it would be considered inappropriate, but she decided to risk taking a copy of the document with her to the MensaOK welcome meeting. She whirled the chair around to face her sister. “I—”
“Careful. There’s something shiny on the front there,” Angie said, pointing yet staying clear of the page.
Turning the paper over, Lauren angled the dotted front of the sheet beneath the bright office light. She could see some faint shimmering lines radiating from a central point, creating a two-dimensional dandelion. The paper dented inward with each jab of her finger. Gold glittered within the ridges of her fingertip, resembling a sparkling eye shadow. “Why would anyone put eye shadow on a Mensa challenge?” She tried to push away the knotted dread. “I’m going to try something.”
She photocopied the face of the sheet, then traced dot-to-dot. Lauren felt hopeful when one-dot series yielded an “M.” But as she wrote a “7,” she suspected that a person could find these same letters and numbers in a pepper spill. She considered chromosomal patterns, but that didn’t fit. Equations? Nothing fit.
Genetics wasn’t her forte. Mathematics wasn’t her forte. The Mensans would eventually discover that she didn’t have a forte. Well, now she had the time and money to augment her education, although higher learning had failed her...and her husband. What a pair they’d been...a couple of overeducated idiots presuming to lecture others on the inner workings of the mind.
“Well, you look like you’re going to be all right,” Angie said, rubbing her temple. “This is just giving me a headache. I came by because it’s the one-year anniversary of, well, you know. I just can’t believe he did what he did on your birthday. I just—” She pressed her hand to her mouth as if to staunch the flow of words.
“Uh-huh. Sorry. Didn’t mean to get so engrossed. Probably need to get home to your family.”
Angie whipped out a fire truck red cell phone and stared at it. “Yep. They’re wondering where I am. Don’t worry. Go ahead with your puzzle. You don’t need to walk me to the door. But, please call me if you need me.” She trotted from the office. “Oh. And happy birthday,” she called out as the front door slammed.
There will be nothing happy about my birthday...evermore, as her friend, Poe, would say. Stooping, Lauren picked up the envelope that had dropped out of her own back pocket. She studied the return address, but the impersonal Mensa address failed to provide any information.
The postmark revealed that the letter had been mailed two days before from
. Images of foliage collaged against quaint cottages stirred peaceful memories of a visit to Falls Church, Virginia , seven years earlier. She and Romy were so in tune then. Was that to be the peak of her life? Change channels. Nothing like reminding herself for the 365th time that it was time to move on. Arlington, Virginia
Shifting her stance, she flicked at the corner of the postage stamp. It looked and felt like a typical
flag postage stamp, rigid enough to require a salute. Flipping over the envelope, she used a manicured fingernail and peeled a soiled curl of sticky tape off the back seal. Was it double sealed or re-sealed? U.S.
“Wait,” she muttered. The envelope bulged in the middle like a flattened fortune cookie, the bump revealing a small opaque square remaining within. How had she missed that?
Leaning forward, Lauren realized why she had chosen not to see it. Same size. Same shape. Her pale trembling fingers unfolded the hand-written message.
I realize that this is devastating to you at the moment, but I assure you that this is the preferable choice.
Lauren gasped. “Oh no.” This could not be happening again. The same note. The handwriting. Written on the same damned song sheet. Gloomy Sunday. It was his. Her body felt like it was filling with thick, wet concrete. She clutched the edge of the desk and steadied herself. Missing her chair, she sat down hard on the floor. She returned to the resurrected death note.
The fault is solely mine. The only explanation I can provide to you is that the deaths are mounting. I am not the murderer, but I am guilty nonetheless.
All of my patients will require a new therapist and I encourage you to consider this very rewarding possibility for your future.
I led a satisfactory life. I am completely lucid and go in peace. Now run next door and discuss this matter with Weldon. He will understand how to appropriately word the Certificate of Death so that my royalties remain uninterrupted. These and the retirement funds should leave you and the coming child comfortable. Immediately destroy this note.
With deepest affection, Romy
Lauren whispered, “I did, Romy. I did destroy this note. One year ago today.”