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Congratulations to last month’s winner of the signed copy of Earth to Emily, Marguerite from St. Louis.

This month it’s all about Katie. I can’t wait to talk to her, so let’s jump right in.


Pamela: Welcome, old friend.

Katie: Old? Probably. Three kids will make you feel that way.

Pamela: What keeps you young?

Katie: My hot husband.

Pamela: What does he think about all this book business?

Katie: He wasn’t thrilled after Saving Grace. But he’s been happier with his more recent portrayals.

Pamela: How does he deal with having a famous wife?

Katie: Most of the time, he’s good with it. (Winks) Seeing me onstage makes him frisky.

Pamela: We’re not going there.

Katie: (Laughs)

Pamela: How do you deal with the recognition and attention you get from the music with Ava and with the readers of the books?

Katie: Since Finding Harmony, it seems like everyone on island is trying to get a gander at us and ask us about Annalise.

Pamela: And Annalise?

Katie: She’s very shy.

Pamela: But not you and Nick.

Katie: Less so. But with three little kids, most of the time I’m a hot mess and Nick’s trying to keep my head from spinning off. The timing was good for you letting us take smaller roles in Michele’s and Emily’s books. It’s just enough, for now, without being too much.

Pamela: Your time for more ink will come again soon, when I get to Ava.

Katie: (Snorts) Now there’s someone comfortable with attention. All kinds of attention.

Pamela: But once you’ve been in the spotlight . . .

Katie: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. And I have an addictive personality, as we all know.

Pamela: If you follow the blog—

Katie: You know I do.

Pamela: —then you know we’re hoping you’ll share what you’re doing for fun these days.

Katie: Sleeping.

Pamela: Other than that.

Katie: (Raises eyebrows) Not as much as Nick would like.

Pamela: (Shakes her finger at Katie)

Katie: Right. Entertainment. We streamed that movie with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. I nearly tinkled in my britches.

Pamela: The Heat. Loved it. Now that you and Nick do PI work together, do you study old romantic mysteries?

Katie: We’re pretty old school Hart to Hart.

Pamela: Can you even watch that anymore?

Katie: (Typing, pause) Amazon!

Pamela: Are you Kindle or iPad?

Katie: Kindle.

Pamela: What are you reading?

Katie: Mostly your books. But I also liked Little Pretty Things.

Pamela: And, most importantly, music?

Katie: Anything by Adele or the Dixie Chicks. Oh, and the DCX are on tour in the U.S. this year. Nick is flying Ava, and Rashidi and me to Austin, and we’re meeting Emily and Jack, Laura and Mickey. My brother. Michele. Some of her new friends. It’s going to be a party.

Pamela: You’re getting Virgin Islanders to go to Texas for a Dixie Chicks concert?

Katie: Ava and I have done their songs for years. I’ve been singing The Long Way Round today. Incessantly. They can’t avoid it.

Pamela: Unfortunately, the readers can’t hear you sing in a blog post. But you’ll be back next week.

Katie: Until then.

 

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First: if you want to enter to win a paperback of Heaven to Betsy, there’s a giveaway running on Amazon: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/ccc5a81765adbd7e.

Second, as part of my new blogging practice, on any month with a fifth week, I share a preview from an upcoming book. This is chapter one of Hell to Pay (Emily #3), but BEFORE it went to copyedit. Please excuse the errors—this is about giving you an exclusive preview, not about providing you with a finished product, okay? So don’t be a hater; Rhonda’s going to erase those boo-boos like they were never there.

I think I love this book, which is rare for me. Let me know what you think, pre-order HERE, and enjoy!

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Chapter One:

Disco lights whirled around me, or was it the room? My inner party animal had atrophied, not that I’d ever been a real heavyweight. If it wasn’t for the great people watching—and the fact that this was the celebration party for the burglary acquittal of our firm’s client Phil Escalante the day before, and his engagement to Nadine, one of my best friends here in Amarillo—I’d’ve bagged this shindig. Instead, here I was with tendrils of fake smoke floating past my face, ten feet from a DJ dressed in a black latex fetish costume and spiked dog collar and spinning 70s tunes.

A tall woman maybe ten years older than me appeared out of the low lights and sidled up to me, engulfing me in the odor of cigarettes. Her vanilla hair sported a generous dollop of dark chocolate roots, which was pretty funny to me since she had a body shaped like a cone. A waffle cone. A waffle cone with sparkly sprinkles from the spinning ball overhead. Behind her trailed a paunchy man of roughly her height. His eyes had locked on me in a way that made my skin crawl with leaches that weren’t there.

Rick James’s “Super Freak” ended. The silence in the cavernous L-shaped room was immediate and complete, but short-lived. A clamor of voices from the one-hundred-or-so guests resumed, their voices echoing off the bare walls and drop ceiling.

“Hey, Foxy Loxy,” the man mouthed at me. Or did he? Surely not. It was hard to tell with the light playing tricks on my eyes.

The woman spoke past me. “You and your wife got any plans later?” Her bellow seemed to fill the room to its farthest corners, even with all the other voices. I winced and shrank under the eyes that shifted our way.

Not Jack, though. The horse rancher cum criminal attorney was nothing if not unflappable. His topaz eyes twinkled. “Emily’s not my wife.”

The man surged toward Jack. “You’re not together?”

“I’m his fiancée,” I said through my recently tightened braces and painfully rubber-banded teeth, leaving out “and he’s my boss.” I waved my big, fat teardrop-shaped diamond at him to accentuate my point, then I pinched Jack’s arm where my hand was looped through its crook. I’d capitulated to the mouthwear when my childhood orthodontist saw the gap between my front teeth and insisted I needed Invisalign, then filled my mouth with metal instead. Payback for never wearing my retainer, I guess.

The man and woman looked at each other and nodded. She asked, “Care to join us? We’ve got a room at a No-tell hotel nearby.”

Jack’s whole body shook and I didn’t dare look at him. I was a sucker for his laugh. That wasn’t exactly true. I was a sucker for everything about him, from his lived-in boots to his permanent tan to his Apache cheekbones. Before either of us could think of an appropriate response, Phil interrupted.

“Millie, Pete, leave my poor friends alone.” He clapped a hand on my shoulder and gently pushed me aside to clap his other onto Jack’s. “They’re not swingers. And this isn’t a swingers’ social. I’m out of the business.”

The space between Millie’s eyebrows narrowed and puckered as drops of light rained down on her face. “It’s a free country, ain’t it?”

“Well, sure—”

“We’re not intewested.” Ugh. I sounded like a toddler with a lisp, between my braces and the booze. “But thank you.”

The man shrugged. “Didn’t know you blew spit bubbles when we made the invite. I think I’ll pass.”

My lower jaw unhinged. I straightened my powder blue spring-weight top. I sputtered but nothing came out. This time Jack’s laugh was audible, and he squeezed me past Phil and over to him.

Millie leaned toward Phil, her voice derisive. “Those Mighty is His Word folks got you running scared.”

Jack and I looked at each other, and his raised brows mirrored mine. The Mighty is His Word congregation was the self-appointed sin police in these parts, and they had harassed Phil’s swingers club and its patrons relentlessly. Phil swore the group had a mole, since the dates of the events and identities of the members weren’t public information. He’d decided to find out, so he let himself into the pastor’s personal quarters to investigate. That would have gotten him two to twenty if the jury hadn’t latched onto his excuse that he’d entered the unlocked rooms thinking he was still in the church and only looking for a restroom. That, and if he hadn’t picked Jack as his attorney. Jack was good in the courtroom. Very, very, good.

Nadine appeared beside Phil, a combo of Amazon warrior and Macbethian witch. Her long black hair was pulled back in a jet scarf, kohl liner rimmed her eyes, and a long-sleeved jet dress held her in place, somewhat. A shiny pair of black biker boots completed her ensemble, and it looked like she’d dressed Phil to match. He put both his arms around her ample waist and grinned into her even more ample cleavage, conveniently at his eye level. The music restarted: Rod Stewart crooning “Hot Legs.”

Phil chuckled. “The Mighty is His Word fuckers? Nah. They don’t scare me. I’ve just gone straight. Love’s made a changed man of me.”

Not that Phil had changed much. He and Nadine had recently opened Get Your Kicks, an adult novelty store, in this same downtown building we were now in that used to house his swingers club. Not here like in the same room we were standing in now, but in the corner of the L where they had carved off and re-created retail space. But sexual mores aside, I didn’t know a kinder, more generous soul than Phil. In the four months they’d been dating, he’d become the father Nadine’s sons had never had and the defender of her honor from every lech that assumed she was slinging more than drinks at the Polo Club.

“My hero,” Nadine said. Her voice teased, but her eyes shone like she meant it, which I knew she did.

Phil released Nadine and pulled his cell from a belt loop holster. With it out, I could just barely hear it ringing. Staring at the screen, he held up a finger. “Business calls, my sweet.” He turned slightly away from the three of us and starting talking into his phone.

From where I stood, I couldn’t hear Phil, but I saw the tightness in Nadine’s face and the hunch of her shoulders. Just as things were getting awkward with all of us standing around staring at each other while Phil yakked, his call ended.

He turned back to us, his face dark. Then he grinned so fast I wondered if I’d even seen the unhappy expression. He tilted his face to kiss Nadine. “I’ve gotta hit the head. Bring you a drink when I come back?”

“Crown and coke.” She watched his retreating figure with a look on her face I hadn’t seen her direct at Phil before. Distrust? Concern? Doubt?

My eyes shifted to Phil, too. What struck me as odd about him was that he didn’t have an empty drink in his hand. Phil never went drink-less. I’d never seen him sloshed, but he was always well lubed, as my Dad liked to call it.

Millie whispered to her friend and they left without further comment, heading in the same direction as Phil.

I leaned in to Nadine. “Everything okay?”

She nodded, still watching Phil, but the look on her face didn’t agree. Then she turned to me and smiled. “I can’t believe you got those braces. You look fourteen. Hardly old enough to be the mother of a six-year old.”

Thirty-one was closing in on me, fast. “If Betsy’s adoption gets approved.” Which wasn’t a sure thing, even though it was one of the most important things in my life. I looked for wood to knock on, but there was none. I rapped lightly with my knuckles on Jack’s noggin instead.

“Hey, what’s that for?” He rubbed his head.

“Superstition.”

His left eyebrow shot up.

I’d applied to adopt Betsy months ago. We’d overcome her kidnapping and the death of her parents. We’d found her missing Mexican birth certificate and applied for a special juvenile immigrant status visa, which would give her permanent resident status, if granted. We hoped to hear back on approval in the next two months. I’d endured the home study and done pretty well, I thought. Still, the state of Texas, in its infinite wisdom, hadn’t approved me yet, and I was getting anxious. Meanwhile, Betsy languished in a foster family with eleven other kids. A Mighty is His Word family at that. I believe in God, and I go to church, but there’s religion and then there’s full-on-Daffy, and the Mighty is His Word group struck me as the latter.

Nadine turned to my fiancé. “What do you think of her braces, Jack?”

His gaze heated my cheeks. As my oh-so classy, tactful mother had said to me the week before, Jack had me hot to trot. Smiling, he put a palm to my flaming cheek then tapped my lips with his index finger. “I’m kind of partial to her gap, second only to her bangs.” I opened my mouth to object—he gave me unending heck about the volume of my bangs—then closed it. “But I like Emily no matter what she has on.” He put his lips to my ear and his words were a nibble. “Or not on.” I inhaled him slow and deep. Leather, sunshine, furniture polish and the lingering scent of our afternoon romp brought back his words from earlier: “Now that I’ve moved out of the office into a real house, this Murphy bed isn’t getting any use,” he’d said as he opened the cabinet and put his hand on the mattress. “Poor neglected Murphy bed,” I’d purred and untucked his shirt. The memory of it coupled with his ear nibbles did yummy, squirmy things to me now.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, get a room,” a voice gayer than Ru Paul’s broke in. I didn’t have to turn to know it was Wallace Gray. Wallace downplayed his sexual orientation by day, but vamped it up off hours. I didn’t blame him for his daytime subterfuge. Amarillo was not a blue city, and Texas was not a blue state.

I blinked away my bedroom eyes as Nadine exchanged cheek kisses with Wallace. Jack and I got to pay our homage.

“Something’s different with you.” Wallace took me by the shoulders and cocked his head. “Did you have a stroke?”

I said, “Orthodontia isn’t a laughing matter.” Or tried to. I shook my head and spat out, “Chihuahua,” accentuating the first syllable with an sh- instead of a ch- sound.

“Say it, don’t spray it, Bugs Bunny.” He cocked his head at me. “Hey, wait. Was that a new non-curse word? SHE-wah-wah. Like SHE-yutt?”

I nodded.

“I like it. Way to liven up your game there, wild thing.”

I socked his wiry bicep. “Kiss my grits, Wallace.”

He winced and rubbed it even though I’d barely tapped him. “Hey, Nadine, where’s the man of the hour?”

A shadow crossed Nadine’s face. She peered around the open space, through the revelers who had come out in force for the Thursday night celebration. “Bathroom? Bar?” She pursed her lips sideways like a semi colon. “He should be back by now.”

“I’m gonna head that way myself. I’ll let you know if I see him.” Jack patted my behind twice and set off toward the bathrooms.

“Have you guys set a date?” Wallace asked.

Nadine and I said, “No,” both at once. I smiled and shrugged at her.

“We were waiting for the verdict.” Nadine looked toward the bar, then the bathrooms, again. “I know Jack was confident all along, but that bitchy ADA was so aggressive and sure of herself, I didn’t want to take any chances.” The ADA in question—Melinda Stafford—had been my mortal enemy since childhood, and I thought Nadine was being too charitable about her.

“Sounds reasonable. And what’s your excuse, rodeo queen?” Wallace said, referring to my cowgirl and pageant past. “Because we know Jack’s not the hold-up.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

The music had stopped again, and the background hum of conversation seemed to halt with it, as if the whole room was waiting on my answer. The disco ball shot beams that danced on Wallace’s head like spotlights. Two sets of eyes bored into me, shifting from foot to foot. Wallace was right. Jack would have married me months ago if I’d agreed, but I’d been dragging my feet. It was hard to explain why, especially since he was successful, handsome, kind, and great in the sack. My cheeks heated again. Yeah, really great in the sack. It was just that he’d lost his wife and kids a few years ago. Then he’d proposed marriage to me to help me adopt Betsy, so I wasn’t sure whether he wanted me or just wanted to help me or even just wanted to replace his family. Especially because the L-word hadn’t been part of the deal. And I wanted the L-word. I wanted him to want me for me. I hadn’t admitted that to anyone, though, and now didn’t seem the time or place.

I pointed to my mouth. “I’m waiting to get these ugly braces—”

A hand tugged my wrist. I wheeled toward the pressure to find a pale, wiry man I’d never seen before. He stepped into me, into my space and eyeball-to-eyeball, his deep socketed ones black and intense. “Tell Jack I didn’t do it.”

He released me and jogged off, punching the front door open. He stepped aside to let Phil in, then dashed out. Phil’s voice boomed over every other sound in the room. “Help! We need a doctor outside. And an ambulance!” I caught a flash of wild eyes under dark hair, and then he was gone.

***

Despite the fact that it was statistically unlikely that everyone in the room was a doctor, the crowd moved as one toward the door and Phil’s voice, with me in it. My mind reeled from the double whammy of the disquieting interruption by the pale man and Phil’s frantic announcement. Nadine broke to the front of the pack, with Wallace and me right behind her. We burst out into the parking lot. Cool air and the stink of cattle feed lots hit me. The smell wasn’t surprising as Amarillo is the cattle feeding capital of the world, or at least Texas. The parking lot was unlit, except for a street lamp on the corner and the sparkling stars in the clear April sky, not unlike the lights from the disco ball inside. I stopped, searching for Phil, and so did Wallace, but Nadine kept running.

Wallace pointed past her. “There’s Phil.”

“What’s going on?” Jack asked, appearing out of nowhere and catching up to us.

We took off running again, Jack with us this time, in Nadine’s wake.

“Phil came in yelling for a doctor and ambulance,” I said, but I was starting to huff and puff so it didn’t come out all in one piece. “That’s all we know.”

We wove through the parked cars to the farthest, darkest edge of the lot, where it bordered an abandoned-looking building. Phil was kneeling over someone or something, his body blocking our view. Sirens wailed in the distance, moving closer. Nadine crouched beside her fiancé. We came to a stop behind them.

A tall woman in fishnet hose, garters, satin panties, and a pink satin baby doll top lay facedown on the pavement, a pair of bunny ears on a headband askew. For a moment I thought, “Ah, like Playboy,” but then I realized there was no bustier or tail, it was almost Easter, and the ears were white, at least where they weren’t splashed with an explosion of something mushy and red. My stomach bucked. Phil and Nadine gently rolled the woman to her back. As they did, I realized that the mushy mess was an enormous sheet cake decorated with what looked like . . . I stared harder, not believing what I was seeing at first. The entire intact left side was covered by a red icing penis. Above the penis were the words, “Congrats Phil &—” but I couldn’t read the rest, because the right hand side of the cake had been obliterated by the woman’s face.

Phil wiped cake from the woman’s nose and mouth and leaned down to begin CPR breaths. Nadine’s hand clutched at the black shirt across Phil’s back. I stepped closer. Now I could see blood dripping across the woman’s gashed temple and onto the pavement. I re-examined the cake and shuddered. Its top edge abutted a concrete parking stanchion, covered in dripping red liquid that couldn’t be icing. I shuddered, and Jack slipped an arm around my waist. The wiry man’s words echoed in my head: “Tell Jack I didn’t do it”.

The scream of the sirens was very near, growing louder. When it held steady, I peered down the street. A police car had parked ten yards away. Two cops approached, hands on their guns.

“Amarillo Police Department,” one of them shouted. “Put down your weapons.” I knew the voice. Officer John Burrows, a good cop and a good friend.

I held up my hands, waving one, then pointing. “John, it’s Emily and Jack. There’s a woman over there hurt bad.”

John’s red head drew closer until I could see his face. He nodded at me and said something to the short, muscular female cop striding beside him. An ambulance drew to a stop at the curb behind the cruiser, and paramedics hopped out.

“Over here. Bring the gurney,” John yelled back to them.

A throng had gathered behind us. I glanced at them, faces blurring together. Jack pulled me closer. John and the female officer started moving people back from the woman on the ground. The paramedics rushed over with their rolling stretcher through the space the officers had cleared. Phil stopped CPR to make room for them. He turned toward us, and my hand covered my mouth.

Phil’s face was covered in blood and icing. Red, cornflower blue, yellow, and black smeared together in a macabre mask. He sat on his haunches, unmoving, seemingly oblivious to it. Nadine lifted the corner of her skirt and wiped at his face, but he pushed her hand away. He lowered his head into his hands and rolled forward on his feet until his forehead rested on the pavement.

A woman’s voice shrieked, “Oh my God, that’s a man.”

My eyes shot back toward the woman on the ground. Her panties were askew, revealing indisputable evidence that she was in fact genetically a he.

***

Jack and I stood beside Phil in the open doorway of Get Your Kicks as John and the female cop—who had introduced herself as Alicia Nurse—questioned him. We’d already given our statements, so they allowed us to be present as his counsel, on the condition that I meet with a sketch artist later to capture my memory of the strange man that had appeared and disappeared so quickly, with a suspicious message at a suspicious time.

John said, “Do you know the deceased?”

“His name’s Dennis Welch.” Phil pointed to a black F-250. “That’s his truck.”

The cops shared a look. “How do you know him?” John asked.

Phil shook his head, his eyes closed. “We’ve been best friends since middle school.” He flicked on the light to the room, and I squinted as my eyes adjusted.

This was my first time in Get Your Kicks. I’d expected something tres trashy, given the merchandise they planned to carry, the reference to Route 66 in the name, and the customer base I’d imagined for them, since Nadine worked in a strip bar and Phil had run a swingers club. But it was actually sexy more than tacky. The light was soft and rosy. The walls were painted a boudoir red with curtains of dark lace draped over black lights, casting moody shadows on the ceiling. They had a big space to work with, and they’d partitioned the center of the room with standing screens. One section featured an iron four-poster bed on which bondage merchandise was displayed in leather, metal spikes, synthetic rubber, and latex. Another one contained an old dance cage from an 80s club. One made me shudder, given what I’d just seen in the parking lot. It held a female mannequin in a sexy red and black bunny costume, holding an Easter basket full of fake green grass topped off with a dildo and flavored lubricating oil. The display I liked best had a swing hanging from the ceiling by colorful silk scarves tied one to another.

The gently divided sections faced different types of toys on shelves and racks. Men’s wear. Women’s wear. Bondage. Media. Intimate items to enhance, ahem, pleasure. My mouth grew moist and I itched to slide my hands over some of the silky goodies in the women’s section, to slither them onto my body, and to try the swing. I looked back at Jack, and his amber eyes were as hazy as mine felt.

He cocked his sexy left brow, and my stomach tightened as his dimple sunk into his left cheek. A lopsided half smile. “Later,” he mouthed at me, and the rest of me suddenly felt moist as well. Yes, Mother was right. He had me hot to trot.

While I was lusting after my fiancée, John kept talking. “Where did you meet him?”

“Boys Ranch.”

That got my attention. I hadn’t realized Phil was a Boys Rancher. I was pretty sure I’d heard Nadine complain about his mother, so I hadn’t thought he was an orphan, but I knew that Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch for many years had taken in boys—and girls these days—who were in trouble, either themselves or because of their family situation. I’d been out to their facilities northwest of Amarillo for one of their rodeos. You wouldn’t realize Boys Ranch was anything but a small Texas town from looking at it. Modest but normal homes with house parents and kids living in them, a church, a medical facility, a school. It was completely self-contained, and everyone that lived there pitched in. They had a fantastic track record for saving kids, and Wallace had once told me that CPS referred as many kids their way as they could.

“Did he, uh, always dress like that?” John asked.

“No. It was a joke. He told me he couldn’t afford a stripper. For my engagement. That’s what the party was for. My engagement, and some, uh, recent good news.”

“Did you know he was going to be here?”

“Yeah. I invited him.” He held his phone aloft. It was smudged with blood and icing. “He called me from a few blocks away. I came outside to meet him.”

“Meet him for what?”

Phil looked at Jack. Not the look, I thought. Nothing good came after a client looked at his attorney like that. Jack kept his face impassive.

Phil finally answered. “He asked me to help him carry stuff in.”

This time it was Officer Nurse who spoke. “Did you talk to him in the parking lot?”

“No. I found him. Like that.” Phil’s voice broke.

“Did you see anyone else?”

He shook his head. “No.” He scrubbed his eyes and then his head angled forward into his hands and his back shook.

I patted Phil’s back, feeling inadequate for the task, wishing Nadine was here in my place, but she was outside per police instructions. The cops didn’t let witnesses listen to each other, and they hadn’t talked to her yet.

“Is there any other way we could verify where you were at the time?”

Phil pointed toward the office. “We just installed surveillance cameras, but the farthest one out just gets the perimeter of the building, not the parking lot.”

“My guy,” I said, and four heads swiveled toward me. “The one that came up to me inside right before Phil found his friend. He’ll be on the video.”

Officer Nurse wrote something down. “We’ll need to view and take a copy of that video, Mr. Escalante.”

“Of course.”

“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt Mr., uh—”

“Welch. Dennis Welch.”

“Mr. Welch.”

Jack had been staring at the ground, lips compressed, but he looked up at Nurse. “Do you guys know yet whether this was foul play or an accident?”

“We’re just covering all the bases.”

I swallowed, my throat dry. A possible murder right outside the party where a strange man who knew Jack had accosted me, and they were treating us all like suspects, especially Phil. It was all sobering. Amarillo seemed like a safe place, but bad things happened here just like everywhere there were humans.

Phil was shaking his head. “He doesn’t even live here. He lives in Borger. And Denver.”

“Is this your place?”

“Yes.”

“Any trouble with break-ins, muggings, or whatnot?”

Phil waffled his hand. “Harassment. I used to run a swingers club here, and that goddamn church, Mighty is His Word. They’d stand in the way of cars, take pictures, hold up signs. Intimidate and humiliate people.”

“Were they ever physical?”

Phil shook his head. “Not that I know of.”

The two officers shared a look and Nurse sighed.

Jack jumped in. “Officers, is that all for now? We’d like to take care of our friend. He’s had a horrible shock.”

Nurse shook her head. “We’re going to need him to show us the video first. Stick around, though, please, in case we have more questions.”

“Can we come see the video? Emily might be able to ID the man she saw.”

Nurse and John looked at each other and shook their heads. John crossed his arms. “Jack, no offense, but we only have your word on where you were when this happened, and Emily is your fiancée. Let’s set her down with the sketch artist, then we’ll show her the video.”

“And me?”

John shook his head.

“But it’s my client’s evidence.”

“And your client can choose whoever he wants for an attorney, even someone who hasn’t been cleared in an investigation, but we won’t compromise our investigation because of it.”

“Fine.” Jack put his hand on my back, easing me toward the exit.

I took off and he followed.

“We’ll be in the office area.” John took Phil by the arm and started walking toward the back of Get Your Kicks, to the office.

I stopped. Jack veered around me and kept going. “John?” I said.

He turned to me and cocked his head, and his partner waited beside him.

“Do you guys know how Dennis died? Was it from hitting his head on the concrete?” I stammered a little, feeling awkward with Nurse there, even though she seemed okay.

He shook his head. “We’ll have to wait on the autopsy. Could be anything. A heart attack. Drugs. Or hitting his head.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

He smiled at me, the first time his guard had lowered since he arrived. Nurse started to walk away, and he leaned toward me and spoke softly. “Stay safe, Calamity Jane. The cavalry is only a few digits away.”

I saluted him. “Good night.”

As his comment sunk in, I got a funny feeling about it. Was John flirting with me? I knew he was going through a divorce, but surely he wouldn’t flirt when he knew I was engaged to Jack, and with Jack so close by? Well, whatever he was doing, it was nice he had my back. When John and I met a few months before, he’d accused me of being reckless and too quick to pull the gun my father had given me a lifetime. He was wrong, of course. My daddy had raised me to be self-reliant. Of course, Dad had ended up in jail for killing a guy with a broken bottle—in self-defense, although that didn’t do much to lessen the way it made me feel. Or the taint on our collective reputations. But I wasn’t going down that path. Yes, I am self-reliant. I found Betsy and rescued her from kidnappers when the police hadn’t, and I saved two teen runaways from a bad cop all by myself, too.

Maybe I didn’t need John or anyone else coming to my rescue, but I’d keep him on speed dial just in case.


And that’s all you get :-)

To pre-order your copy, click HERE.

Lastly, the winner of the signed copy of Earth to Emily will be announced next week (from last week’s contest); stay tuned.

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If you follow me regularly,  you are privy to my time in the Caribbean..but what you didn’t know is this: Once upon a time, I lived in the paradise of the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Croix. A big yellow house in the rainforest. I had a best friend. Natalie. An actress/singer—with a Canadian father and Bahamian mother—who had recently returned from years performing and working in the states. We sang together, although I’ll admit hers was the high voice and mine the low and twangy. We laughed and cried with each other. We shared our hearts and opened up about issues that seem like such lightning rods a decade later, almost like if you talk about them that makes you some kind of “IST” (rac-IST, for example): what it’s like to be mixed race, how it feels to be a minority (me in the islands, her in the Colorado, New York, and Los Angeles), the inherent privileges of birth. She taught me how to be a Fresh Water West Indian, how to RELAX and lime a little. We’ve visited: her in Texas, me back in the islands, but it’s not the same, and I miss her nearly every day.

So if you’re wondering how far fiction strays from truth when it comes to Ava, well, not too much. Sure, some of the stories are embellished. A few are made up. But most of Ava in the Katie & Annalise books and Earth to Emily is just a memory/love song to my faraway friend. Art imitates life after all. So it’s probably no surprise that I got most of my inspiration for the Emily books from another friend, Stephanie. And when Natalie/Ava and Stephanie/Emily met in Texas, it was magic. Two very different sides of my life coming together and creating a friendship of their own. Because of that, because of them, Earth to Emily was born.

Now your giveaway for the month: So, in honor of my dear friend Natalie/Ava and my other dear friend Stephanie/Emily, I am giving away three signed copies of their “collaboration,” Earth to Emily this week. Deadline to enter is January 28. To enter, follow me, or comment below if you already do. The follow button looks like this, in the righthand column. If you win, I’ll email you so you can send me your shipping address.

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Have a great week,

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PowerBall mania is EVERYWHERE!   My version of the lottery is to GIVE AWAY 30 paperback copies of Heaven To Betsy (Emily #1).   Enter on Amazon  to WIN.  Odds are really good…much better than PowerBall and it costs you nothing.

I’m in the final days of the last rewrite, of the last re-read, of the last everything before Hell To Pay (Emily #3) goes to the editor.  It’s a trying time.  It’s a good time, but trying and nerve racking.  Books are like babies, eventually you just have to let them fly.  You can pre- order this baby here: Pre-Order Hell To Pay

Short blog this week as we are coming off of our incredible, inspiring writers retreat from last weekend here in Nowheresville and trying to make H2P deadline.  I wanted to answer the Book Club question about AVA, by me and by Ava.   Here’s a quick Video –

Why is it my hair is always wet in video? Oh well . . . at least it’s clean. That’s saying a lot when I’m on a book deadline.
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p.s. Writer’s retreat bonus pics:

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Shotgun target, above (look closely—it’s funny), during our goal setting session up in the NEW writing tent and fire pit (thanks Eric! world’s best husband!), below:

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Above are the retreat attendees, minus Eric (the photographer), and Rita, who had to leave before we remembered to get a closing picture.

And the special, SPEciaL bonus, here is the SKIPJACK PUBLISHING team, minus Abbey (who was running the media room at a Music Fest in Steamboat—helLo, can you say BOONDOGGLE, lol?) and Marcy (who was jamming at a Rick Springfield concert):

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Rebecca “R.L.” Nolen, author of Deadly Thyme and The Dry, Bobbye Marrs, author of Here and Now and publishing assistant, Eric, me, Ken Oder, author of The Closing and Old Wounds to the Heart, Rhonda, bookkeeper extraordinaire, and Candi Fite, author of Little Acorn’s Big Fall and publishing assistant.

Continuing our conversation with Ava, this week about what’s up at her house.

Pamela: So where do you call home these days, Ava?

Ava: I rooming with Rashidi.

Pamela: Rooming or living with?

Ava: Renting from. With my daughter Lily.

Pamela: How is old is Lily now?

Ava: She make one year soon. And she already walking.

Pamela: Does she sing?

Ava: She try. No clear words yet.

Pamela: Can we see some pictures?

Ava: I keep Lily private. But I show you her room. And some of the house.

Pamela: Awesome!

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Ava: It a little manly, but gorgeous.

Pamela: Is it on the beach?

Ava: Looking over the water, from a hillside. Irie.

Pamela: Love it! Is Lily eating solid foods?

Ava: She is. She love fish and fungi. Especially fungi.

Pamela: Fish and what?

Ava: Fungi. Say it like foon-ji.

Pamela: Foon-ji. What is it?

Ava: Fish, vegetables, cornmeal. If you grow up in the Virgin Islands, it like the national dish.

Pamela: Can we put that recipe below?

Ava: Yah mon.

Pamela: Any other favorite recipes to share? I hear you make a mean rum Painkiller.

Ava: For true. They sneak up on you. Sure, I give you that one, too.

Pamela: Last thing. Every time we have a literary guest, we ask them to pick a book club question from the website for everyone to answer, and then we give your answer (and mine) the following week. Have you picked a question?

Ava: Yah, this one from Earth to Emily, even though I in the Katie & Annalise books, too. “How did you feel about the re-entrance of Ava into Emily’s life?” And I know what the answer should be. (Harrumphs)

Pamela (laughing): I’ll have fun with this one. Thanks for coming Ava. Tell Rashidi hi for us.

Ava: That Rash a lady killer. No need making it worse. Thanks for having me.

 

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Virgin Islands Fish and Fungi

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Ava’s Painkillers

Mix 2 parts orange juice, 2 parts pineapple juice, 1 part Coco Lopez, and 1 part rum in a blender. Serve over ice sprinkled with nutmeg. Drink at your own risk. You welcome.

 

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Winners, we have winners from last week’s giveaway! Congratulations! They’ve received an email about an audio copy of Earth to Emily (Emily #2), narrated by the fabulous Tracy Hundley. I’ll be running giveaways the last Friday of each month, so watch for your chance to win again in a few weeks. (And you can always score the free Saving Grace and Puppalicious and Beyond e-books. See instructions, HERE). At the bottom of this blog, check out some BIG NEWS about Hell to Pay (Emily #3).


So now on with the show . . . This month is all about Ava, sidekick of Katie in the Katie & Annalise books, and now  featured in Earth to Emily as well. 

Pamela: Ava, Ava, Ava. So good to see you, although a bit of a surprise in West Texas.

Ava: I more surprised than you, for true.

Pamela: What did you think of Amarillo?

Ava: I freeze my bana.

Pamela (laughing): She means “tush,” for those of you who haven’t traveled to the islands. Maybe if you wore more clothing, Ava?

Ava (snorts): Next question.

Pamela: You weren’t in Amarillo long, though, were you?

Ava: Nah. My gig in Amarillo snow out, so I ride with Jack and Emily to New Mexico.

Pamela: Oh, I’ve heard about you in New Mexico.

Ava (winks): Yah mon.

Pamela: So, you’re pretty hip. Give us some entertainment recommendations.

Ava: A book about a talented sexy Virgin Islands singer be entertaining.

Pamela: Oh, it’s coming, for sure, it’s coming.

Ava: When?

Pamela: I wouldn’t be surprised if your story starts coming out before the end of 2016.

Ava: Well, until then, I reading a great book I heard about in Amarillo. Pennies from Burger Heaven. It by a local girl, I t’ink. Marcy McKay.

Pamela: I’m especially interested in your music recommendations, since you’re a professional.

Ava: Keeping it old school, I go with I Try by Macy Gray and Can I Walk With You by India Arie. A little Sade and Rihanna nice, too, bringing in some Caribbean flavor.

Pamela: I love Umbrella.

Ava: Love the Way You Lie with Eminem light me up.

Pamela: And when you’re not reading or involved with music?

Ava: Uh, well, I not usually into movies, but I watch The Mechanic last night. Jason Statham not a man I’d kick out of bed.

Pamela: Speaking of which, who got you to watch an action flick?

Ava (inspects her nails): That classified.


Tune in next week for what’s cooking at Ava’s place. Meanwhile, if you have entertainment tips for Ava or a suggestion on the actor to play her in a movie, comment below.

Also, you can now pre-order the e-book of Hell to Pay (Emily #3), HERE. Yippee!! And you can BUY the incredibly low-priced Murder, They Wrote e-book, HERE, which contains Pennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay, The Closing by Ken Oder, and Deadly Thyme by R.L. Nolen in addition to my Saving Grace and Leaving Annalise. You can’t get the three books by the other authors separately for less than $10 bucks, and the whole five-novel collection is only $7.99!!

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I’m off to Palm Springs to speak to the Writers Guild there, and to hike with my hunky husband, since it’s our anniversary.

 

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A Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukah/Merry Kwanzaa/Happy Everything Else giveaway to everyone. I’m posting a day early this week so as not to interrupt any Christmas festivities tomorrow. Since this month has been All About Emily, I’m giving away MORE copies of the Earth to Emily (Emily #2) audiobook.

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To enter, follow me, over in the right sidebar (looks like below), by 12-30-15. If you already do, comment to this blog to enter.

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Next week we’re headed to Palm Springs for me to speak to the Palm Springs Writers Guild, and I hope we’ll have some desert hike snaps to share. For now, though, we’re still in snow-kissed Angel Fire, New Mexico, where it is so snow-kissed, in fact, that we’re going to have to leave early to beat the worst of the storms. By the time you read this, we’ll be headed southeast. We’ve had a ball though, humans and animals. Here’s Georgia showing off her snow-shoes (can you see how she spreads her toes in the snow?). She also used those toes to contact Siri on my phone just now as I was typing, LOL. That’s what I get for leaving it on the floor.

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We were shocked by how much our nearly-hairless Petey loved the snow. He generally stayed out of the deep stuff. I am sure you can see why.IMG_9135

He was also the champion snuggler of the trip, seen below with Clark Kent and Allie.

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I’ve been working on a New Year’s surprise for you guys while we’ve been here, with the help of cover artist extraordinaire Heidi and publishing assistant nonpareil Bobbye. It’s a box set of mystery-thriller-suspense novels from four of our SkipJack Publishing authors, priced WAY below their combined retail price. In fact, to sweeten the deal, we threw in a bonus novel. Our Murder, They Wrote will be available by January 1st, e-book only, exclusively on Amazon Kindle for now.

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Don’t be surprised if I have some exciting Emily news to share next month as well. 😉

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How do y’all like the new cover for How to Screw Up Your Marriage? I’m in love. And all I had to do was say yes. Eric and cover artist Heidi Dorey did the rest!

Last week Emily was set to answer one of the Heaven to Betsy book club question: What one word would you use to describe Emily.

First, though, here’s my answer:

Yes, my hair is wet. No, I don’t have on makeup. Yes, that’s a New Mexico Lobos sweat shirt, in honor of my husband’s alma mater. No, I don’t have any pride. But isn’t it fitting that I’m in New Mexico while we talk about Emily?

Emily answered this question a little differently than me. She texted me this morning: The one word I’d use to describe myself is confused, or maybe clueless. This year has set me on my heels, and I don’t know up from down a lot of the time anymore. This year I’m praying for peace, serenity, and less crazy in my head. 

What one word would you use to describe her? And if you haven’t read about her to know yet, enter this giveaway for a signed copy of Heaven to Betsy:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heaven to Betsy by Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Heaven to Betsy

by Pamela Fagan Hutchins

Giveaway ends December 25, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

We’re having a white Christmas here in Angel Fire (can you guess which one is me?). Wishing you joy and some of Emily’s peace and serenity, and many books under your tree.

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We’ve had so much rain in the last 13 months. It has flooded and re-flooded and re-flooded and cost us tons of money in ground fill and delayed construction. But nothing like it did today, so I thought I’d give you a peek into our little slice of heaven in Nowheresville, Texas, as our ground had finally had it with the water. Note: those are knee-high boots I’m wearing.

We are safe and dry now, and Eric saved our fence.

Did I show y’all the new covers for How to Screw Up Your Kids and its companion How to Screw Up Your Marriage? I LOVE them. Thanks Eric and Heidi Dorey! All I had to do was say yes and they did the rest.

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Y’all take care,

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We’re back with Emily this week. [She’s the star of Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emily, and the upcoming Hell to Pay, collectively the Emily mystery series, a spin-off from Katie & Annalise.] Last week we talked to Emily about music (Garth Brooks) and her entertainment recommendation (the Longmire crime thriller series).

Pamela: I’m dying to see a picture of where you live.

Emily: I was afraid you were going to say that.

Pamela: What’s wrong?

Emily: I’ve moved back in with my mother, and she hasn’t remodeled since Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration.

Pamela: You’re going to have to give us a peek now for sure!

Emily: How about I show you Jack’s ranch in New Mexico instead? I promise you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

Pamela: That’ll work.

Emily: It’s my favorite place on Earth. A massive log cabin on a horse ranch in the foothills of the Sacramento mountains. Be still my heart.

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Pamela: Wow! I can see why. And what would you be cooking with Jack in that marvelous kitchen if you were there now?

Emily: It’s almost Christmas, so I’d be whipping up some Cream Cheese Spritz cookies. With or without Jack.

Pamela: Can you share the recipe?

Emily: Gladly, and my favorite cookbook, too, which is called Christmas Cookies, believe it or not. Just be sure my mother Agatha Phelps gets credit for the Cream Cheese Spritzes. Those are her specialty. But can I share one more?

Pamela: Of course.

Emily: I’m a vegetarian—which makes me a freak in West Texas—and one of my favorite meals or even snacks is to use Spiced Socca bread as a base for something yummy. I love it with pesto, hummus, or pepper Jack cheese.

Pamela: You know you just mentioned Jack again.

Emily: Did I? Totally a coincidence. But I sense myself running into trouble. Do you have what you need from me?

Pamela: Almost. Okay, your last task for this interview is to pick one of the book club questions for Heaven to Betsy for our readers to answer. I’ll even take a stab at it myself next week. So what is our assignment?

Emily: I was on your website reading the book club questions page earlier. People that don’t like spoilers should not visit. Just sayin’. And boy you know how to make a girl squirm, I’ll give you that.

Pamela: Sorry  . . .

Emily: It’s all right. I think I’ll go with: “What one word would you use to describe Emily and why?” And people should remember that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then you shouldn’t say anything at all. Just kidding. Sort of.


AGATHA PHELPS’S CREAM CHEESE SPRITZ COOKIES

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

1-1/4 cups sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. pure almond extract

1/2 tsp. butter flavoring (optional)

1 tbsp. butterscotch schnapps

2-1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream together butter and cream cheese; add sugar.

Cream mixture until light and fluffy.

Add egg yolk, beat well; stir in flavorings.

On low speed, gradually add flour and salt.

Cookie dough will be soft and somewhat sticky; adjust consistency if dough seems too sticky, adding a tablespoon of flour at a time; if dough seems too stiff for a cookie press, add a tablespoon of milk at a time.

Shape dough into 3-inch balls and drop into the barrel of a cookie press. Push dough in to eliminate spaces. Press cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with colored sugars or color dough with a few drops of red or green food coloring to make festively colored cookies.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Store in airtight container. Freeze if keeping for more than 2 weeks.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

(credit cooks.com)


EMILY BERNAL’S SPICED SOCCA BREAD

2 cups garbanzo bean flour

1/4 cup (melted) plus 2 T coconut oil

2 1/2 cups water

2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

 

Mix with a whisk and let rest at room temperature to thicken for half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Ten minutes before you make your bread, use remaining coconut oil as needed in skillets. Let them come to temperature in the oven, then add a thin layer of batter, tilting the skillets for coverage. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are brown and crispy. Top with something yummy like hummus, pesto, or cheese. When I’m feeling extra virtuous, I eat them plain or with ghee instead of butter. My boss likes to use these as flat bread or a pizza base with buffalo ranch chicken. I usually double the recipe.


 

P.S  Don’t forget.. Books are great Stocking Stuffers!  Share this blog with your friends and family.  Be sure to FOLLOW and get a FREE Puppalicious download just in time for the holidays.   Thanks, as always for your support!!

 

P.S.S.  I’m working on my 2016 calendar for Speaking engagements.  If you have a favorite Book Club, Library, Women’s group or any event that you think I would be a good fit for . . .shoot me a message.  I’d love to hear from you.  Here’s a link to sample topics Workshops and Speaking


 

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Winners, we have winners from last week’s giveaway! Congratulations to Peggy, Renee, Mischa, and Duke. They’ve received an email about an audio copy of Earth to Emily (Emily #2), narrated by the fabulous Tracy Hundley. All of you had the chance to download free copies of Saving Grace and Puppalicious and Beyond last week, too, and I hope you entered the Amazon giveaway of Heaven to Betsy (Emily #1).

I’ll be running giveaways the last Friday of each month, so watch for your chance to win again in a few weeks. (And you can always score the free SG and PaB e-books. See instructions, HERE).


So here we are in the first week of the month, and I’m starting a new “tradition” (can tradition’s be new? I think that statement makes me an oxy-moron ;-)). In addition to news and a few pictures occasionally, I’ll be letting the characters from my novels hijack my blog each month. You’ll get an interview with them broken into three parts: one on their entertainment recommendations, one on what’s cooking at their place, and one answering a book club question relating to them. Then that character will host a giveaway in the last week of the month before we move on to another character the next week. In months with five weeks, you’ll get an excerpt from my upcoming novel in the fourth week.

I hope you like the new traditions.


Oh! And I hope you like this: Last week I was having a sluggish brain day, and I was explaining this to my husband Eric. I tried to say, “I’m not firing on all cylinders,” but what accidentally came out was, “I’m not firing on all syllables.” Which is richly ironic for an author. Anyway, by request, we’ll be making up t-shirts. I’ll let you know when they’re available.


So now on to the show . . . This month is all about Emily, heroine of Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emily, and the upcoming Hell to Pay. 

Pamela: Emily, there have been a lot of changes in your life since we got to know you as Katie’s best friend and Dallas paralegal in Saving Grace.

Emily: Mostly for the better, but it’s been a really difficult year. Moving back in with my mother, getting a divorce, becoming fodder for hometown gossip, miscarrying a baby; these are not easy things. But I love my new job, and I should be adopting Betsy, soon, too, the cutest six-year old in the world.

Pamela: Now that you’re back in your hometown of Amarillo, what do you like to do for fun?

Emily: Watch the tumbleweeds blow by.

Pamela: No, seriously.

Emily: I’m on a continuous memory overload lately. I’ve been listening to a lot of Garth Brooks on my drive into work, mainly because my dad listened to him when I was growing up.

Pamela: Your dad was a rodeo cowboy, wasn’t he?

Emily: Yeah, and he loved Garth’s song Much Too Young, and the line about the “worn out tape of Chris LeDoux.” Dad idolized Chris LeDoux, his rodeoing and his music. Anyway, Garth had a lot of rodeo songs—Beaches of Cheyenne, Rodeo—and we were all about rodeo at our house.

Pamela: What about books? Movies? TV shows?

Emily: I’ve been streaming back episodes of Longmire.

Pamela: Is that a rodeo show?

Emily: No, it’s a modern Western crime thriller series. It’s filmed all over New Mexico, even though the show is set in Wyoming. I love trying to see if I can recognize the locations. I spend a lot of time in southern New Mexico, because of my boss, Jack.

Pamela: About you and Jack . . .

Emily (blushing): No comment!

Pamela: Okayyyy, well, if a movie was ever made about your life, who would play your character?

Emily: Is there an actress out there who can ride and rope? Probably not. In that case, Reese Witherspoon.

Pamela: And Jack?

Emily: Matthew McConaughey.

Pamela: You answered that quickly.

Emily: (laughs)


Tune in next week for what’s cooking at Emily’s house. Meanwhile, if you have entertainment tips for Emily or a suggestion on the actor to play her in a movie, comment below.

I’m finishing up Hell to Pay (Emily #3) for my developmental editing team, and heading to my husband’s company Christmas party this weekend. I got a new dress for it and everything. Feeling fancy 😉

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EARTH TO EMILY final audioLet’s cut to the chase.

You have shopping to do. For yourself and loved ones.

I have books to giveaway. e-Books, audiobooks, and print. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.

You have friends that want to know about this opportunity, too.

If you win, no one will ever know you read or listened to them first 😉

Here’s how:

  1. To enter for a chance to win a paperback copy of USA Best Book WINNER Heaven to Betsy (Emily #1), click HERE.
  2. To receive a free Puppalicous and Beyond e-book (exclusive offer) and have a chance to win an Earth to Emily (Emily #2) audiobook, follow me by clicking HERE.
  3. To get or GIVE my free best-selling series lead, Saving Grace, click HERE.
  4. To share this post, use the icons below.

OMG, what are you waiting for?

Happy after-Thanksgiving, y’all.

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Just by entering, you’ll get the links to download my exclusive free e-book, Puppalicious and Beyond, which won a 2012 USA Best Book Award for narrative nonfiction and tells my behind-the-novels stories of pets, people, and jumbies/spirits.

If you’re already subscribed, comment this post with “Enter me!” Subscribers that don’t yet have the Puppalicious and Beyond e-book comment “Enter me and send me Puppa!”

AND FOR GOODNESS SAKES’ PEOPLE, IF YOU DON’T HAVE MY FREE EVERYWHERE E-BOOK VERSION OF SAVING GRACE (award-winner, best-seller, and series lead)—or the readers you love don’t—get it here, now.

Now on to today’s regularly scheduled content . . .

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I’m often asked where I write and what inspires me. My answer has always been that I like to write outside. Pedantic, though true enough. But that isn’t the complete answer. As a writer, becoming really clear about what results in the creation of my best work requires inner transparency, clarity, and honesty. It begs experimentation. It demands I listen.

I write “outside” in a variety of spaces because in order for me to release—or even find—the words from inside me, I need inner space, away from my Type A self and the myriad reasons/stressors that I can find, gather, or manufacture as an excuse not to write. So the question of where and how I am most creative, and its honest answer, is important.

I’m going to try to answer it.

Today I am awake in a completely dark house. It’s 10 degrees outside and snowy. With the windows around me, curtains back, and no houses in my vantage point, I feel as though I am out there, even though I am toasty warm inside on the couch by an old stove.

The sun is about to rise.

The badlands to the east are a dark heartline against the lightening sky. There’s an ohm-like hum as pink and orange seep upward, infusing the underbelly of barely blue clouds and splashing out over the snow-swept slopes of the Bighorns. The hum rises in pitch and intensity. Slowly, the Big Sky catches fire in a ring around the Earth. Deer rise in a graceful dance, tails and ears twitching as they listen, button noses high, seeking messages from the Wind. The hum reaches its crescendo, a hallelujah chorus to the morning, and the colors thin out, melting into a liquid gold that trickles overhead. The Fireball rises over the horizon, and the grateful world kneels at its feet. A chimera shimmers and I catch it in my startled chest. The exultant chorus gives over to the sweet morning song of the prairie birds. The day has begun.

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My day has begun, and by participating in this timeless ritual, my heart has been laid open, my mind cleared, and my core exposed to the essence of Place. In the span of this sunrise, the chimera—the collective histories of all that was before me—has seeped into me. Because of this place and its miracle, what was empty in me is filled. I’ve stolen a piece of magic from the sky.

So it turns out that I need the outdoors for my writing because it fills me with iridescent magic before the everyday can mire me down. That magic becomes words on a page if I move quickly enough to capture it before it fades away. I may be writing about Texas or the Virgin Islands or New Mexico, but this time spent in the great outdoors of Wyoming will move through me long after I leave. It’s not a coincidence that I was able to finish the revision of Hell to Pay (Emily #3) or that the outline for Michele #2 and the brainstorming for Ava #1-3 went so well in Snowheresville, .

And that is my answer. That is where I write, how, and why.

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p.s. My good friend author Ken Oder has his beautiful, thrilling book Old Wounds to the Heart on sale now for 99 cents. Catch the deal on Kindle Nation Daily, HERE.

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 Happy Friday, friends. Next week is Thanksgiving, already!  Should we start defrosting the 20 lb Turkey now??  You think?  I must remember to remove that plastic bag this year. And definitely not leave it in my trunk :)  After  the upcoming holidays, I’m really looking forward to the Winter Writer’s Retreat Jan 8-10.  We have 1 spot left!  If you or someone you know would like to join me and a few other like-minded people in the middle of NoWheresVille, TX to discuss all things Indie Publishing, let me know ASAP. Here’s the link for additional information — Winter Writer’s Retreat              

 Pinterest anyone??   Hang out. PiN. dreaM. Get inspired. Find huMor.  And good BooKs, too. Pinterest is a community sport.  Join me here – 

PFH Pinterest Page

 Have a great weekend.  We are off to Snowheresville, WY while I prep H2P for the developmental editor. I hope you find a GREAT book to read.  Thank you for always leaving a review when you purchase or download an Indie Author Book.  It’s a BIG help to Authors like me.

Can I get a big yee ha, or maybe a yah mon? This has been one fantabulous week.

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On the author side . . . Heaven to Betsy WON the 2015 USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction. Squeeeee! And a woman approached me in a restaurant when someone told her who I was to let me know she’d read ALL of my books. (This was in front of my adult kids, so maybe they now thing this writing gig is worth something) And finally, the Earth to Emily audio book was released.

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On the speaker side . . . I keynoted the TAHCR Fall Conference in San Antonio delivering my wildly inappropriate and oh-so-much-fun “Colonel Mustard in the Conference Room with his Pants Down,” to an enthusiastic reception which included an on-the-spot booking for a spring keynote at a different conference. And roughly 10% of the people there had read my books before they knew I was keynoting. Lastly, Wyoming Writers booked me to speak at the annual conference in June.

12182705_10206806839462650_6516358532415553342_o-2 12191236_10153272880148233_8289080209570801883_o 12183716_10153274540278233_7855553049998952952_o 12194647_10153277014958233_7110421840232215233_o12248034_10153280197863233_5173805924710424184_oOn the personal side . . . our five kids and their significant others, my parents, and Eric’s mom visited and went to the (dismal, cold, but fun) Texas A&M football game with us. The house was packed, much to the delight of our dogs. I snuck a visit in to my grandmother while I was in San Antonio. Eric was able to take his mother to the painted churches of the Navidad Valley, which she LOVED. And we closed on our S/Nowhersville house in northeastern Wyoming.

Pinch me.

That’s all I’ve got.

Pamelot

Greetings from Nowheresville, where I am supposedly hard at work on the last 25% of my third Emily book, Hell to Pay. 😉

For our first Nowheresville Halloween, we dressed up as Danny and Sandy-esque 50s folks, a la Grease, and went to a Skaraoke party at our local tavern.

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Photo creds to Tiffany Eckhardt of Flown the Coop, and kudos to her husband Jeff for creation of the photo booth, all from junkin’ scraps.

I did a rockin’ rendition of Miranda Lambert’s Mama’s Broken Heart and backed up Eric on Saw Her Standing There. Truth be told, Eric has a four-note vocal range to begin with, and on Halloween he had a strangled cat in his throat, so I sang really, really loud. It was all good, and I held his hand tight so he couldn’t run off the stage. I had learned an Olivia Newton John song from Grease that day and planned to do it, to match my costume, but I chickened out. Seriously, I can’t sing that high except in the privacy of my own shower.

WHO SAYS COUNTRY FOLKS DON’T KNOW HOW TO PARTY????

We also discovered a new-to-us phenomena, trailer-treating. Adults and kids in a hayride style flatbed trailer pulled slowly from house to house (and farm to farm). I had serious trailer-treating envy, let me tell you.

Tomorrow my mother-in-law comes for a two-week visit, and this weekend my parents and all of our five and their significant others will join us, too. It may not be Thanksgiving yet, but I can’t think of anything I’m more thankful for than getting them all together with us.

That’s all I’ve got.

Pamelot

 

 

abbey

Abbey: Branding, Promotion, Marketing

Bobbye

Bobbye, primary publishing assistant for SkipJack authors

Candi

Candi, primary PFH assistant for publishing

If one follow’s the lead of Harlan Coben (skilled and successful thriller writer), then an author should plow every cent of their revenues in their first five years of publication back into promotion, to build their brand and longevity. If I’m not mistaken (and tell me in the comments if I am), Harlan also did a book tour cross country to meet indie book store owners.

I like Harlan’s thinking.

Definitely in years one and two we re-invested in me and in SkipJack Publishing and our fledgling school of authors. And we visited 43 of the 48 contiguous states on book tours to stores both chain and indie and to libraries and even RV parks and coffee shops.

But a weird thing happened in year three. In year three we started making too much money to spend, at least at first. It snuck up on us. and it made me very, very happy because I hated feeling like an expense to our household.

As often happens, the workload increased as the income increased. More PFH and SkipJack books. More promotions. More at stake. More to manage. Eric kept impressing upon me that we could recreate PFHs to do everything but write PFH books (because we are not interested in becoming the James Patterson of the indie book world, ahem). I resisted, because I a) am a control freak b) didn’t want to train people, lose them, and retrain new people over and over c) can do it faster myself because I can read my own mind 😉 d) liked making a profit for a change and e) am a teensy bit anti-social.

Then one of our SkipJack Publishing authors, Ken Oder, came to us seeking author services: the ones he needed, in the way he wanted them, when he wanted them, and without making it a hassle for him. He told us he wanted someone who could do it like Eric and me. Then another of our authors, Rebecca Nolen, needed help we didn’t have the bandwidth to provide. Well, the only way to make that happen for them was to hire and train our own folks. About that same time, a great book and author, Marcy McKay, fell into our laps, and despite our vow to each other not to take on any more work, we stopped and took stock. If we hired help, could we solve the problems for PFH and the other SkipJack authors as well as make it possible to say yes to this incredible book and new author?

Yes, probably.

But that begged the question: what was it we were trying to do with SkipJack anyway? Eric and I put our heads together to reconsider and came up with this: We are trying to create a non-traditional publishing company where we provide an avenue to authors of magnificent books to publish with our brand yet maintain complete autonomy. We want books that are mysterious, thrilling, and suspenseful, that are not inconsistent with a life of faith—whatever that faith may be, and whether questioning or not. We had planned this as a “retirement gig” that bloomed ten years from now. We got lucky, and it bloomed quicker. Ready or not, now was the time.

So we put an ad in our small town free paper. It cost forty-two bucks and ran for a week. I mentioned on Facebook that I had capitulated and was going hire an assistant for SkipJack. Ten days later we’d had thirty applications. THIRTY APPLICATIONS for a job in a Nowheresville town of 500 people as a “publishing assistant.” It was crazy.

We met with four of the candidates, although many more were great. Three were just right, though what they were just right for took me by surprise. Two were perfect for the job we had envisioned, and each wanted to work part-time, thus equalling one full timer. Both are authors and have a burning desire to learn this crazy world SkipJack publishes within, and how to do it successfully. The third was a wild card, someone who had spent years in indie music promotion and booking, but lived five miles away and was looking to reinvent a part of herself. She didn’t fit the job we’d advertised for, but she did fit something else: visioning, branding, growing, looking for the new ways to monetize that we hadn’t pursued yet.

So . . . instead of one publishing assistant, we ended up with three new employees! (See our whole team, HERE) With our potential excess capacity, we can even provide author services to non-SkipJack authors, on occasion. And it’s been fun and exciting and, yes, it’s been hard because I’m trying to learn how to run payroll through Quickbooks and put together job tasks and projects and teach people how to do them and review work and answer questions and finish my book. Eric tries to squeeze a meaningful contribution into his busy travel and work schedule for his day job. I’m not complaining. I’ve enjoyed it. I get to do what I love full time. I am occasionally a wee bit stressed :-) but I love it and can see the possibilities for the future.

I still wish I could clone me. The writing part.

But maybe if I just closed Facebook occasionally that would happen organically?

Feelin’ thankful, and that’s all I’ve got.

Pamelot

A few years ago when I was seeking balance in my own life, I defined my writing mission as COMMUNITY * CRAFT * CAREER. At the time, I had the helm of the Houston Writers Guild, and you’ll see it still as their stated mission. That may be what I am most proud of from my time there.

Moving out to Nowheresville, I am in the midst of finding a new writing community. Truly, it’s been an amazing experience. While the density of writers per square mile is not as great, the commonalities I share with the writers I find are different from the ones I shared with my Houston peeps, and fun. The joy and energy of this experience has led us to hire not one, not two, but three people to work with us over at SkipJack Publishing. All three are writers/artists/dreamers like Eric and me. I’ll be sharing more about them soon. 

The writers back in Houston still hold a piece of my heart, though, and always will. That’s why I would like to let you know about the Indiegogo campaign running through the end of October put on by Spider Road Press and its founder Patricia Flaherty Pagan. Spider Road Press puts out anthologies by and about strong women and donates a portion of their proceeds to charities that help women find their strength. The writing they publish is phenomenal (take a look at In the Questions, Eve’s Requiem, or, my favorite, Trail Ways Pilgrims). If you’d like to be a part of this effort to publish new writers, give 5% to charity, make their upcoming “Approaching Footsteps” their best book yet, and keep contest fees under $25 (and to collect the many fabulous prizes that come with sponsorship), head on over to their campaign page at https://www.indiegogo.com/…/spider-road-press-books-by…

That’s all I’ve got.

Pamelot

 

retreat wine

This wine has nothing to do with this post, I just like the names on the bottles. They’re from the writers retreat I hosted in August, with many thanks to the writers who brought them.

I’m asked a lot how people can help me, which is really awesome when it happens, and usually comes from people that are already helping me anyway. A better question at that point is how can I help them/you? So here’s the deal: I’m going to post here my ever-popular (with authors, LOL) “How to Help Your Favorite Author” cheat sheet. Obviously, if you read it, you’ll know a bunch of ways to help me. That doesn’t suck for me, but what about YOU? In the comments to this blog post, let me return the favor: you tell ME how I can help YOU. Now, I’m not donating any kidneys this week or building a wing onto your house 😉 but if there’s something reasonable I can do, I’d love to try to do it. So hit me up.

Knights of Pamelot: How to Help Your Favorite Author

I’m sure the author in your life would appreciate any efforts you make on her behalf, even if you stop after the first suggestion in this article. But, heck, why not try them all? Any of us can eat a very large elephant, if we just do it one bite at a time (and preferably utilize vacuum-sealed freezer bags, because it’s going to take you a while). I will not address the vegan/vegetarian ramifications of this last statement; suffice it to say that I truly meant “can” and not “will want to.” Now, back to the topic of promoting your favorite author.

The Old-fashioned Way

Buy their books, people, in whatever form — print, e-book, audio, or whatever. But don’t just buy them. Read them. Tell everyone and their red-headed brother how much you loved them. Lend one to a friend, who might in turn buy the book as a gift for someone or tell five other people about it, who then go buy it. And here’s an idea — you can give them as gifts! Put one on your book club’s reading list; start a book club if you don’t have one. Ask your local bookstore to order them for you. Ditto your library, or donate yours when you’re done reading it. Your words are powerful. Use them. 

The Techie Way, but Low Techie

  • Subscribe by e-mail to your favorite writers’ blogs and newsletters. Then forward them to other people, who might also subscribe or visit the websites. While you’re at it, follow them on all forms of social media. You can find me at http://pamelafaganhutchins.com to subscribe and follow. (Just sayin’.)
  • On Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest and similar social media sites, post links to the authors’ books. Or share/retweet links posted by others.
  • One-third of all book sales occur on Amazon. Go to Amazon, and do several important things:

If you don’t know how to find their author pages, then go to one of their books. If you click on their name below the title of the book, it will take you to the author page. If you don’t know how to find their books, you’re in trouble. Just kidding. Search for the book by title and his/her name in the search box in the center of the page near the top.

  • Visit every one of their books. The Knights of Pamelot have their own spreadsheet with links to every one of mine, everywhere. Share/tweet them. Leave honest reviews, with credible ratings. Write simply and from the heart. Heck, Amazon only requires 20 words.

Not High Tech, But For The InterWeb Savvy

  • There’s a virtual author/reader social club online, and it is a powerhouse: Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/pamelafaganhutchins ). Join, people, join. Here, you can “fan” your authors, rate and review all their books, and even add their books to your “to-read” list. By adding their books to your to-read list, you are in essence recommending to the world that they all do the same. Or at least to the world comprised by your Goodreads friends.
  • Do you Pinterest? From a page with your author’s book and an image of its cover, “Pin it” and include a comment about why you love it. The power of the Pin. Do you Stumbleupon? Again, from a page with something awesome about your author and their book, stumbleit. Use any other social media you like, too.

Now I’m Talking To The Bloggers

  • Invite your author to guest post. They can whip up a custom confection for your site, or you can interview them or one of their characters. Do a cover reveal for them. Excerpt a chapter.
  • Here’s an idea: you write about their book — as in, review it. I’ll bet your author friend will even give you a book for a giveaway. Don’t expect expensive loot, though. Authors are ramen-noodle eating, Salvation Army clothes-wearing sorts of people whose kids walk uphill in snow to school, and like it.
  • Guest post on their blogs, which brings your traffic over to meet them, and potentially creates followers/purchasers.
  • Join Amazon’s Associates, or B&N’s Affiliate Programs and their sell books for a commission on your site.
  • And of course, share/post/tweet/pin/stumble like mad over all of the posts created above.

Bonus: Here’s my hyper-organized grass-roots marketing spreadsheets, for my Knights of Pamelot, free for you to download and emulate. https://www.box.com/s/c621f562f74e5e139ab9

Some of you are salivating with intention and I lost others of you at the first mention of booting up your computer. That’s OK. Just do the stuff you’re comfortable with. It’s all good.

Thanks for supporting your favorite authors, and me! Don’t forget to let me know how I can help y’all, below.

That’s all I’ve got.

Pamelot

p.s. The “Knights of Pamelot” is a Facebook group of people that like my books and want me to do things for them in return for them doing things for me and vice versa. They get advance reviews of my books and other authors, and they participate in cover design and other fun stuff. Feel free to join if you’d like.