For Your Holiday Reading Pleasure (Shameless Promotion)

I thought it might be fun to post a few excerpts from the novels I have on the Kindle and in trade paper, all available at Amazon. Feel free to click on the links and buy . . . this message brought to you by the Author Who Should Definitely Do More Promotion But Who Hates Obnoxious Blatant Self-Promo So Much. Just sayin’ they’re out there. If you think I am a crappy writer and you want something you can mark up to prove it, here’s your chance! Maybe you’ll accidentally become a fan. (GRIN)
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You remember my YA fantasy novel, Dulcinea: or Wizardry A-Flute, now available in trade softcover. This book was the first runner-up in the original Warner Aspect First Fantasy Novel contest.

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The Dragon’s Head Inn was a nondescript little pub at the edge of the Ladenia city limits. I was so happy to finally get to sit down that I almost forgot why we’d come so far. I threw Raz a questioning glance, but he seemed completely occupied with ordering our meal.

My father still seemed vague, but set to eating with his usual eagerness as soon as the food was placed before us. He paused to speak only once. “Well, this is more like it. Can’t fathom any establishment staying in business serving only the glop and water I’ve had so far in my stay in this town.” He bit into a roasted turkey leg with gusto.

I almost giggled, then felt solemn. He’d forgotten everything that had really happened. This was awful. Today and yesterday had been like living in a flute-story, but one that had gone into a minor key, a dirge. How soon would Da be himself again? My gaze met Raz’s.

“What if he stays like . . . like. . . .” I mouthed it silently across the table at Raz.

Raz whomped his arm across Da’s shoulders affectionately, as though they were seafaring buddies meeting up again after a shore leave. “He’ll come out of it. I’ll take this glamour, or whatever it is, right back off him up in my room. Then we’ll settle up my bill and be on our way.”

Da shook off Raz’s arm without even looking up, returning his attention to his meal.

“You’re not afraid to do majick here?” I paused, clinking my spoon aimlessly on the edge of my tin plate. “Won’t they be watching for you on the. . . .” I realized I probably shouldn’t mention the web of majick in public, so I made little circles in the air with my spoon. “You know.”

“I won’t have to pull much power. I hope.” His eyebrows drew a little closer together. “At any rate, this working can’t be too complex. It’s some simple glamour. In the short time it takes to unwork it, they won’t even notice me. My signature won’t be broadcast far.”

“If they can somehow feel you working majick, though.” I hadn’t realized I’d said The M Word aloud until Raz nodded. “It is still dangerous. Theoretically.”

He nodded again. “Real majickings–you can feel them, can’t you? You’ve felt them looking for you, seeking out dangers nearby, weaving their web of protection around you. But that was only when the spells were meant to act upon you personally. Well, a wizard can learn to seek majick anywhere it is, so that he eventually can track the faintest of vibrations from any spell. If he knows how, and if he concentrates, and if he has a bit of luck. And they’ve had a bit of luck with us lately, haven’t they?” He looked grim. “No, too much majicking might scream for them and hand us right back to them, covered with syrup on a silver serving tray.”

“I had no idea majicking was so dangerous.” I put on a childlike, innocent expression. I hoped he caught my irony.

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I have several novels on the Kindle now. Do you have a Kindle? What do you think–will the younger generation grow up reading on an iPad or Nook or Kindle? I’ll miss “real” books, but they probably won’t miss lugging heavy volumes around in a backpack or school satchel, or packing huge cartons when you move or rearrange the house, or sneezing when one of them is covered with dust.

Anyway, on to the excerpts!

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You’ve only seen the opening of my dark urban fantasy novel, Camille’s Travels: or Travels Without Charley, here on the blog. How about an excerpt from the next chapter?
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Camille wasn’t sure how to use the–well, the only word for it was MAGIC, even though the idea of a “magic dragon” was completely lame and insane at the same time–but she knew she had to control the forces that seethed just beneath the surface, and fast. Because she could see what was coming next, just from the look on Grady’s face.

It took him only a second to pull onto the shoulder. He circled her wrists in one of his meaty paws and started getting his cuffs off his belt with the other hand. “We’ll have to do things the hard way.”

She’d never had claustrophobia, but the thought of her wrists being confined panicked her. She couldn’t stand to have her hands tied. Plus, the dragon was warming up again, so she needed to drop it into her pack or purse where he couldn’t get at it. Preferably before it burned her hand. That thought gave her a rush of strength.

She flailed at him and kicked, connecting with his kneecap with a satisfying crack. He screwed up his face and turned redder, jerking at the cuffs, which seemed to be stuck on his belt.

They struggled, tossing each other back and forth in the seat. He was a lot stronger, and even with the boost she got from sheer adrenaline, he was winning. She jerked her head away, but he used his elbow to bash her face into the dashboard. Her right cheek caught the brunt of the blow. Anger shot through her like a million comets, and her hipbone burned with their fire.

Her left hand suddenly pulled free. Her fist came up like a shield. She brandished it at him. “Drop dead,” she shouted, pain searing her cheekbone.

He made a sound that at first seemed like a laugh, but quickly turned guttural. Twisting, he gave her a look of absolute incredulity as his grip loosened. She caught her breath as she watched the folding of space around him, a blue haze surrounding his body like one of those auras that her cousin Dixie used to claim she could see around every living thing. It seemed he might pop out of 3-D space like a paper doll off the page. Impossible as it was, she halfway expected him to disappear or disintegrate into a cloud of orange dust.

Then everything stopped.

Time shimmered and froze; she experienced the scent of magnolias and the taste of oysters, but with the wrong senses. It was as if she had synaesthesia: her sensory inputs passed through crossed cables and caused reactions from the sense organs not usually associated with them, and her mental wires twisted and sparked. She heard a flash of blue sparkles and saw a thunderclap, though the sky was clear.

After an undefined interval of not-time, reality came back. She could almost feel the jerk as time started to flow again, like when the film catches on the sprockets and the movie goes forward. The accompanying sense of unreality abruptly lifted, leaving her clammy and damp with perspiration. Her heart hammered like a frenzied construction worker. She blinked a couple of times to make sure everything was back, including herself.

Grady was slumped in the seat, his expression broadcasting his confusion. He released her wrists, his hands dropping into his lap as his head rolled forward. Suddenly limp, he fell frontward, draped over the wheel.

To wish someone dead and then suddenly have it come true was a damned sobering experience.

He couldn’t be dead. Just as she reached over to poke him, he began tumbling sideways towards her, head lolling. Hastily she propped him up so his gun wouldn’t go off or something. Touching him was creeping her out, though he wasn’t cold. Her head pounded as her heartbeat raced. He seemed totally inert, like a bag of sand. Or a worn-out Beanie Baby.

Had she caused this? What had she done? More to the point, how had she done it?

She opened her left hand. The dragon’s eyes winked in the sun, then faded, so quickly she couldn’t be certain she hadn’t imagined it. It was cool to the touch. Before she had time to think too much about it, she stuffed it back into her pocket.

Her legs trembled as she staggered onto the asphalt. Shaking and quivering, she threw up just outside the car.

Camille’s Travels: or Travels Without Charley, Kindle Edition — only 1.99! (Or if you are a regular reader, I’ll send you a free reading copy.)

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For you traditional mystery fans,
Murder by the Marfa Lights: An Ariadne French Paranormal Software Mystery, Kindle Edition is only 1.99! (Naturally, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I’ll send you a free reading copy.)
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[Ariadne (Ari) French has been summoned to Marfa, Texas, to help settle up the estate of her late fiance, Aaron Beecroft. She has supposedly inherited everything. Even his weird circle of friends, who take her to see Marfa’s main attraction, the Mystery Lights. . . .]

Buzz grabbed my wrist and pointed. “There! I think I see some activity. Look there, just to the right of the red light on the radio tower.”

There was a distant red light atop a tower. *That* I could see.

“You can be sure that any light to the right of that, a light that’ll flicker or appear and disappear, is a Marfa ghost light.”

I didn’t see anything. “What am I looking for?” I didn’t realize I was going to whisper until I started to speak, but the crowd was down to a low murmur, so it seemed appropriate.

“Depends. People see large and small, all colors–mostly orange, yellow, white, occasionally green–seen ’em divide and recombine. They’ll be dim or bright as a flash, might move up and down slowly or bounce.”

“Do you see any yet?”

Gil chuckled. “Not quite dark enough. Will be in a bit.”

As I positioned myself at the railing between Cora and Buzz, Buzz pointed. “You need to scan the southwestern horizon, looking toward Chinati Peak.” His finger traced the approximate area. “Just keep looking. Let your eyes adjust to the sky. And have faith.”

Gil cut in so that he was between me and Cora, but he kept his hands to himself. Still, I imagined I could feel his breath on the side of my cheek. After a moment he murmured, “Look for the ones that sparkle. Anything that keeps a constant shape, like an oval, is probably a reflected car headlight off Highway 67. The real ones change shape rapidly.”

I felt a chill run up my collarbone as his jacket sleeve brushed the side of my upper arm. I cleared my throat. “Does this make you feel a little . . . spooked?”

“Not really.” Gil leaned forward and rested his elbows on the railing. “I grew up in southern Nevada. I don’t find ghost lights even a little odd, because we lived around similar phenomena, including good old Area 51. That whole mountainous rim surrounding Lake Mead is alive with mildly unnatural events. There’s strange stuff in the night desert, stretching out all the way east to the Grand Canyon. I’ve seen things as I drove through the night between Las Vegas and Phoenix, back when I was going to seminary and working odd jobs at night, that would’ve made great ‘X-Files’ or ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes.”

Hadn’t he said he went to seminary in Fort Worth? Vegas seemed an unlikely vacation spot for a student of the ministry. Or had I misunderstood?

“For instance. . . .” He ran his finger across the back of my hand in a manner that, if any other guy had done it, I would’ve called suggestive. “Out there in Alien Greys territory, where the government used to do all that above-ground nuke testing, I’ve seen a lot of unexplainable weirdness. They’ve got angry ghost lights. Cars melt and their occupants disappear or are found wandering beside the highway in the morning in shock, or turn into babbling idiots who have to be put away for a long rest. Some people think those lights are a government laser weapon project that went awry.”

“Conspiracy theories,” I managed, moving my hand out of his reach. “Your car never melted, I take it?”

“No. But out here the lights are friendly. The Apache and other Native tribesmen saw the lights long before any European immigrant. Legend says that God–they call Him Great Spirit–made these mountains by throwing out all the jumbled rocks left over after Creation. The Devil then sneaked in and added beasties that bite, sting, and prick. When a lost soul departed by being bitten or stung, they say, he or she became one of the ghost lights wandering the desolate landscape until the end of the world, when they’ll finally be re-gathered into humanity. Other Native stories explain the lights as the phosphorescent souls of braves who were betrayed by treachery and killed in battle, and who won’t leave for the next world until they feel they’ve gotten justice.”

Okay, now he was seriously creeping me out. Maybe that was his intention. “They teach you this stuff in seminary?”

“Comparative religion.” He made another move towards my hand. “You’ve got to keep an open mind. God doesn’t explain everything to man, after all.”

I shifted toward Buzz, but he was occupied getting his hearing aid turned off. Apparently he’d experienced some loud buzzing and popping on past visits, and he didn’t want to get zapped again.
Staring out into the blackness, all I saw were the same old stars, only much brighter than they seemed in Dallas. There wasn’t any ambient light in the parking lot or on the pad (other than the red glow-spots at our feet), so it was getting well and truly dark out. But I didn’t know if I was seeing tiny flashes, “seeing stars,” or what. My ophthalmologist had confirmed that I had floaters in both eyes. Maybe that was all I was seeing. What were the dust motes floating in the night sky? Magic, or my floaters sparkling?

“I’m not sure what I’m seeing. How can I be sure?”

Buzz rumbled in my ear. “You’ll know one when you see one. There’s no mistaking it.”

I squinted into the darkness.

The crowd gradually fell quiet. Slowly I became aware of a faraway orange glow, without really knowing at which instant I started perceiving the light. It was an irregular sphere of living orange, like the stuff inside a Lava Lamp, about the size of a cantaloupe. At first I wasn’t sure it was really there, but it got more substantial all of a sudden and I knew. It didn’t crackle as ball lightning can, nor did it waver and flare like swamp gas or some mirage. It was impossible to tell whether the light originated from ten yards or ten miles away.

“See?” Gil whispered, but I couldn’t answer.

The sphere turned a duskier reddish-orange and shrank. It rotated like a globe, flickered momentarily, then disappeared. The crowd let out a collective exhalation, as though we’d been holding our breath.

The light popped back, even brighter.

This time, no one dared gasp.

Two more lights popped up on either side of it, reminding me of the June Taylor Dancers. The satellites could have been up to a foot in diameter, but I knew my sense of perspective was skewed by not knowing how far away they were. They seemed too close for comfort.

A dull hum began in my ears, but it wasn’t entirely aural. I felt it pushing at me, sensed it with my fingertips. Trying to see with only my eyes here would be like trying to put “Night on Bald Mountain” into words. Floating in the darkness, we seemed to be tipping backwards on the Tilt-A-Whirl while my stomach clawed upwards like a cat climbing the draperies.

The orbs of light danced up and down. It could’ve lasted ten minutes or half an hour. I was mesmerized. Two balls of light collided, then merged the way cells do in science-class simulation animations. The remaining two backed away from us and then froze in the night sky, holding steady.

In my right ear, a high-pitched vibrating whee began. It really was like somebody hitting a tuning fork. My hands involuntarily flew up to cover my ears, but it didn’t make any difference. My pulse beat out a really bad jazz riff, fast, arrythmic, and uncoordinated.

Suddenly a white ball popped on overhead, as if to signal the end of the evening’s antics. The larger orange orb divided into two, making it a trio again. As the noise faded, so did the glow in the sky.

The last remaining ball winked at me one last time, then receded into the infinite horizon, like a special effect from Pixar.

My heartbeat returned to a regular rhythm. I could breathe again.

Gil squeezed my shoulder. “You’re cold.”

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And finally, if you like the chicklitty voice, or you like quirky heroines who are trying to find themselves with both hands and a map, there’s always Little Rituals. Come on, try it–you know you want to. Remember how I told you that Chris Keeslar of Dorchester wrote to me that he laughed out loud and re-read several sections because they were so funny? (Too bad he didn’t think that would sell the book, because *I* know I’m always on the lookout for witty books.)
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Little Rituals, Kindle Edition is only 1.99! (If you are a regular reader of my journal here, I’ll send you a free reading copy.)

* * *
There are rules and rites and rituals older than the sound of bells and snow on mountains.
* * *

My life is filled with little rituals. I don’t know when or how I invented them; I simply know I have them, even if I don’t always rationally believe they work.

Everyone knocks on wood and avoids the thirteenth floor. Who doesn’t cross her fingers now and then? But the most powerful rite is more abstract: do something selfless, something selfish, then a random, anonymous act of kindness. Within a span of forty-eight hours.

Since we buried my cousin Cheryl three weeks ago, I haven’t been able to control myself very well, so I turned to ritual to give me control. Like comfort food, it soothes and reassures. Rituals are better than a security blanket, because nobody can take them away.

This is the charm that heals, I hope. This week’s ritual started when I gave away my place on the DART train to a kid desperate to get home. Then I indulged in several scanty bras for no reason at all. As for the third, it has to stay anonymous for the magic to work.

And I need some magic in my life right now.

The supermarket is busy, even though it’s ten in the morning on a weekday. While I’m loading my groceries into the back seat, I keep thinking about how rotten my luck has been lately. What I should be thinking about instead: improving myself, more ways to save money, how to impress my boss Barry so I can get promoted. I need to focus on the real and the immediate, Barry says. He says I’m too intelligent to waste all my energy on my compulsive little things and my neuroses. I’m trying, I really am. But he doesn’t understand about luck (he’s one of those people who draws to an inside straight and throws sevens every time) or how dangerous it would be to tempt fate. And he ought to know.

Because luck is everything.

As I back out of my parking place, I feel a sudden thump behind my seat. The jolt sends me flying forward a couple of inches, and the shoulder harness catches me painfully across the collarbone. Adrenaline-fueled panic as I slam on the brakes causes a ringing in my ears that nearly drowns out the sounds of crunching metal and a shattering taillight.

A quick mental inventory says I’m unhurt. As the initial shock subsides, I glance in the rear view to find a frowning dwarf emerging from a black pickup that sits at an odd angle behind me. I could swear nothing was there a moment before.

So much for my spidey-sense.

He’s actually not a dwarf, a closer inspection reveals, just a stumpy Hispanic man wearing a two-gallon Stetson and scaled-down cowboy boots. He stands, hands on hips, surveying the damage like an angry hobbit as I climb out of my green Junebug. “I don’t have time for this,” is the first thing out of his mouth. “And neither do you.”

His truck’s tailgate is down, with two metal shelving units hanging over the edge because they’re too long for the bed. The corner of the top one has rammed into my Junebug’s trunk. My trunk lock looks like a fat guy’s belly button, an “innie.” The leg of the other shelving unit is stuck in the shards of my left taillight. His tailgate has a few scratches. Overall, the damage looks mostly cosmetic on both sides.

We must’ve started backing out at exactly the same time.

In Texas, fenderbender victims don’t call the police unless there’s an injury or over two hundred dollars’ worth of damage. Our airbags didn’t even deploy, and I don’t see any blood. I ask if he’s okay, and he shrugs. We exchange insurance information and phone numbers.

As he’s handing me his card, he makes eye contact. “You’d better check yourself before you wreck yourself. Stay true to your mission. You don’t have forever, you know.” Frowning, he turns and hurries away.

_What?_ I stare after him as he hops back into his truck’s cab like a toad into its hidey-hole. His tires squeal as he speeds away, narrowly missing two other cars that are backing out.

He doesn’t miss the third. Full speed. he smashes into the side of a yellow Hummer. As I watch, unable to breathe, the front of his truck turns into accordion pleats. Then the truck seems to dissolve into a pile of pixels as the dwarf pops into the air and hangs over the wreck, looking down and shaking his head. I stifle a shout when before my eyes he vanishes.

So does his truck. The Hummer continues to back out over the empty space where they’d vanished from, and it looks unharmed.

I glance wildly around, my head swiveling like one of those surveillance cameras. Why isn’t anyone else reacting? Everyone else is just . . . driving away. It’s like nothing happened.

Nobody else saw that? Heard it? I’m standing here seeing visions? Nobody else seems to have noticed anything at all.

My heart starts pounding. It’s impossible. Did I just imagine that? I’m going crazy like my Great-Aunt Fannie Belle. She had “hysteria” and had to be put in a straitjacket; at least that’s what my mother used to tell me when I was a child and she wanted to scare me enough to calm me down in public (or make me pretend I had calmed down.)

An optical illusion. That’s what it was, in this heat. Like in the shimmering desert.

No, I remember now: hallucinations can be a side effect of going off that anti-depressant. The doctor’s office warned me to taper off, but I kind of ran out of pills and discretionary funds simultaneously, so I went cold turkey from the lower dose. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

Oh, my God. I should’ve known better than to ever start taking a drug that had a listed side effect of, “May cause episodes of sleepwalking, sleepdriving, and sleepmurdering with no memory of the event.” My cousin Cheryl told me not to take it, but I didn’t listen.

! @ *

ANYHOW. Whatever you decide to read over the holiday weekend, I hope you enjoy it. Take a break from fishing, camping, partying, barbecuing, or whatever it is and READ for a while. It’s good for you!


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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