Do you ever feel absolutely certain about something, only to find that you completely change your mind? Like you think the world is flat, only Christopher Columbus sailed off into the East and ran into land? Or that smoking is good for you, only it gives you cancer?
I thought I knew what I wanted to name the 8th What Doesn’t Kill You novel. I thought it would be called Going by the Book. Then I asked Bobbye, publishing assistant extraordinaire, to find me an evil, dark butterfly, since the monarch butterfly had symbolized Michele in Going for Kona, and because in this next book she saw herself differently, as something darker and less beautiful. Bobbye sent me this:
And in a flash I knew I’d been wrong. I’d been trying to force “Going” into the first word of the title. The book isn’t about Going. It’s about Fighting for someone. This is the butterfly you get if you force her into early menopause, LOL, and you don’t want to mess with her.
So we changed the title. For now, it’s Fighting for Anna. And it’s going to have a kick ass butterfly on the cover.
Folks, I ain’t gonna lie. The reason I haven’t posted in a few weeks is because it’s been a helluva time in Nowheresville. I’m a week late with my raw first chapter of Going by the Book: A Michele Romantic Mystery (What Doesn’t Kill You #8). You’ll get it today, below (shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone). But a few things first.
Instead of rewriting it, I’ll just regurgitate. That’s about all I’m up for.
I slept better last night. I haven’t cried about Omaha since this morning. And on a positive note, the new decals on the Bookmobile look great, and Wyoming is glorious.
Eric is already visiting clients from his temporary home base, and loving it. Our internet is lightning fast and unlimited, which is funny since Snowheresville is isolated and our Nowheresville sucky, expensive internet is only 1.5 hours from the fourth largest city in the country. Anyway, I’m gigging at the Wyoming Writers Annual Conference this weekend, teaching the Non-traditional Publishing track. Next week I’m trailing Eric into Canada, so you’ll get some great pics. I also hope to share some from our wonderful visit with my parents and kids soon.
Going by the Book hits the beta-for-story readers inboxes tomorrow. While they’re working on it, and before I send it in to developmental edit, I’m going to tackle the rewrite on the prequel novella I’ve written as a gift for you guys and outline my last Michele novel, which is going to be called Going for Broke.
With no further ado, I give you . . . Going by the Book.
Sneak Peek at Rough Chapter One: (copyright Pamela Fagan Hutchins, y’all)
An airborne string mop charged at us, muddy red streaks through white undulating like a curtain of deranged fringe. But of course it wasn’t a mop, it was a dog, and its squatty legs pumped hard, propelling its elongated body so low that I couldn’t believe its belly cleared the ground. I could smell it, too, a coppery, foul scent, and I tensed from years of experience with animals in my father’s Seguin veterinary practice. Yet, the dog looked familiar, and I was more respectful than scared.
“Get back.” I put my arms out to either side of me, as if that would protect my teenagers from whatever it was the terrified little dog brought our way. “A scared animal is a dangerous one.”
I heard the eye roll in my seventeen-year-old son’s voice. “We’re not babies anymore, Mom.”
I glanced at Sam. He had the Lopez coloring but his father’s height. Over six feet, muscular in a zero body fat kind of way. He had on khaki shorts and an Astros t-shirt, and his dark brown hair flopped across his forehead.
The dog panted and darted in front of me, and I caught a glimpse of one eye open wide, its white rounded. “Hey, I know you, don’t I?” I said, as if she would understand me.
I did remember her, from the neighbor’s. Gidget. That was the name of the neighbor. An oddly seventies-sounding name for an oddly endearing woman. The dog’s name also started with G. I ran through possibilities quickly. Gretel. No. Gretchen. No. Gertrude. Yes, that was it. Which was another oddity, like the names for the woman and the dog were reversed. I’d fallen in love with Gertrude last Spring, when Gidget invited me over to her little white farmhouse. She’d asked me to help her write her memoirs, since I’m an editor and a published author. I’d agreed—charmed by the woman and intrigued by her years as the force behind a hip Houston art gallery—then forgotten about it.
Until now. A flush rose toward my face. Ugh, memory problems, on top of hot flashes, fatigue and all over body pain. But, no, my, gynecologist insisted it couldn’t be early onset of menopause at forty-one. He’d offered me birth control pills and anti-depressants, but no empathy, and nothing that helped.
Annabelle spoke, the high pitch of a teenage girl, although at eighteen she was rapidly approaching womanhood. “Is it hurt?”
Okay, add trouble focusing, like on the crazed dog and my kids, to my list of symptoms.
Sam snorted. “It’s so ugly it hurts. What is it? Some kind of mash up between a wiener dog and a sheep dog?”
I raised a brow at Sam, but secretly added pug to his list. “She might be hurt, Belle.”
The dog stopped in front of me, yapping frantically, like it was talking directly to me. Something was wrong with its eye, really wrong, but it was whirling in circles by then. Between that and all her hair, I couldn’t get a good look at it. Was the reddish brown in her dreadlocks blood?
“What is it, Gertrude?” I crouched and held my hand toward her, palm up.
She reversed course with her back end turning separately from her front, like an articulated bus.
“Oh my God, did you see her turn?” Sam leaned over, laughing.
“She’s so cuuuuttttte,” Annabelle squeaked, clapping her hands.
Gertrude sprinted into the woods, away from the three of us and the dilapidated summer camp travel trailer dubbed the “Quacker” by Sam because of the brand name Mallard emblazoned on its side. Stopping once, Gertrude looked back at us—one eye wonky—as if to say, “Hurry up, already.”
She tugged at my heart. “I’d better go after her.”
“I’m coming, too,” Sam said.
“You dropped your phone, Michele,” Annabelle said from behind me. “Some guy named Rashidi is texting you. Who’s Rashidi?” she called.
I pretended not to hear her, because I sure wasn’t going to tell her that a gorgeous Virgin Islander I’d met at my friend Emily’s wedding wouldn’t quit texting me. I hadn’t answered him, so I’d hoped he’d stopped. I wasn’t ready. I might never be ready again.
“Aren’t you coming?” Sam yelled back to Annabelle.
I heard her feet start up after us. Breakfast and too much coffee sloshed in my belly. I had a head start on them both, but, even though I’d done an Ironman triathlon less than a year before, my conditioning was no match for their youthful athleticism. Sam played elite high school baseball, and Annabelle was headed to UT on a swim scholarship. And both were about to leave me alone for the summer, as of today. Sam working a summer baseball camp that moved around the country. Annabelle getting a headstart on the fall in Austin. I couldn’t think it about that without my eyes leaking, so I forced it away.
The little dog had wheels, and the distance between her and us grew. We thrashed through the bush and brush like a herd of stampeding cattle, my snake-proof pink camouflage cowboy boots adding to our thunder. I tried not to think about snakes. Snakes in the grass, snakes hanging from trees, snakes under bushes. Copperheads, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and coral snakes, all native to south central Texas, something I’d have to get past if I was going to make it through my summer in the country. Mongoose, mongoose.
Gertrude ducked under the bottom of three barbed wire strands at the three-way juncture of poles and fences that marked the edge of our property and the two parcels adjoining it. A new metal sign had been affixed to the outside of Gidget’s fence, but facing the next property over from ours. It read FUTURE SITE OF HOU-TO-AUS LONESTAR PIPELINE.
We skidded to a stop, and I put my knee-high boot on the bottom wire and pulled up on the middle one. “Here.”
Annabelle ducked through, using one hand to hold her mass of long curly blonde hair off her pink tank top and out of her face. Sam followed. They started running again.
“A little help, please?”
Annabelle understood me first. “Yeah, thanks a lot, Sam,” she teased. She mimicked my actions with the barbed wire.
I’d never been past our fence, and only up to it once or twice. When I’d visited Gidget, I’d driven on a dirt road that wound an extra two miles before cutting back to her place. I crouched, my butterfly pendant falling out the top of the shirt swinging forward to smack me in the teeth. I lunged under the higher strand into new territory, catching the back of my shirt. I heard a tiny rip, but I pulled through anyway. A piece of trash on the ground caught my eye, and reflexively I grabbed it and stuck it in my jeans pocket to throw away later.
“You’ve got a hole,” Annabelle informed me.
It was an old Hotter’n Hell Hundred t-shirt from a bicycle race I’d done with Adrian, Annabelle’s father. The ruined shirt was just another piece of him slipping away, a tiny sliver of my heart excised and gone.
Gertrude had stopped, and she was barking at us, her voice a cattle prod.
“Hold on, Lassie, we’re coming,” I said.
Neither kid laughed, my humor a few decades removed from theirs. We ran on through gray-trunked yaupon holly trees that scratched us up as much as the barbed wire, and I wished I had a coat of fur like Gertrude to protect me from it. The thick vegetation was pretty from a distance but up close it gave me the willies. Poison ivy, spiders, and the aforementioned snakes and yaupon. It was dark back there, too, the cedar, mesquite, and oak creating a canopy made denser by thorny vines and bee-attracting honeysuckle.
Sam turned around and ran backwards. “So, where are we—“ His words were interrupted when he hit the ground with an “oomph,” butt first, palms next.
“Are you okay?” I extended a hand to him.
He lifted one of his up, and it was covered in something brown and mushy. He waved it back and forth in front of his face, sniffing. “Gross.”
I withdrew my hand.
“What is it?” Annabelle leaned toward him, then backed away quickly. “Ew, poop.”
“Help me,” Sam said, shaking his hands to try to fling it off.
Gertrude started barking at us again.
“Sorry, son. I’ve got to see about the dog.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Annabelle giggled.
I zigged and Annabelle zagged around him.
“Wipe it off on the ground and the leaves.” I laughed, and Annabelle skipped. Literally, she skipped, and it warmed me inside.
Sam caught up with us. The scent of something rotten flooded my nose for a moment. At first I thought it was Sam, but it was dead animal stink, not manure stink. A few running paces later it started to recede. I didn’t want to know what it was. There were lots of critters out here, and all lives had an expiration date. We just didn’t have to face it personally in modern society very often. Or at all, most of us. Another thing I’d have to get over to survive my summer.
My breaths were coming in short pants now, and I couldn’t hear anything except the yips and barks of Gertrude. She broke from the tree line, and I saw Gidget’s clapboard house in the clearing. Gertrude scrambled toward it, running full out. I wanted to stop and put my hands on my knees, but I kept going. Sweat trickled down my temple and onto my cheek. Annabelle was in front of me and Sam a good ten yards in front of her. A gate was ajar in a picket fence that could use the attention of Tom Sawyer. Gertrude entered with Sam hot on her heels. The dog bounded onto the porch and disappeared.
It looked like we were going to get the chance to say hello to Gidget, and I could offer to help her with Gertrude’s eye, or take them to the vet.
Sam stomped up the wooden steps and came to an abrupt halt. He leaned forward, then stood. “You guys, there’s a broken window with blood on it, and the dog jumped back through it and ran inside.”
Annabelle joined Sam, and I caught up with them. The porch sagged under our weight.
“How weird.” I knocked but there was no sound from the house, and no one came to the door. “Gidget?” I called.
I took a step to the left and pressed my nose against the intact upper half of the window, my feet crunching the broken pieces on the porch. I shielded my eyes with my hand, trying to see past the glare of high morning sunlight against glass.
“What is it?” Annabelle asked.
I scanned the room. Gertrude suddenly appeared and rushed the window pell-mell, her bark piercing. I jumped back, falling into my stepdaughter. She stumbled a little, and I righted myself.
“I’m not sure,” I said. I braced myself, hands on the window frame, paint coming off in dry flecks on my palms. I brushed them off on my shorts and tried again. This time I was able to follow Gertrude with my eyes, and they led to the right, in front of a coffee table and faded tweed couch. A bundle of worn clothing lay piled on the wood floors, twitching. Hands and feet and a gray-haired head protruded from the bundle, and blood trickled from Gidget’s forehead into a pool beside her.
The sight of Gidget was like a jolt of electricity, short circuiting my brain. “Adrian.” I exhaled, frozen. My forehead slumped against the glass. “Mom.”
“What?” Annabelle asked, her face right beside mine. “Michele, are you all right?”
I sucked in a deep, careful breath. For a moment, my mind had filled with macabre pictures from my nightmares, a flash of my husband Adrian, crumpled lifeless by his bicycle on the side of the road, murdered a year ago by a crazy stalker in her car. Then one of my own mother, puddled, dead, alone. She’d had a massive stroke only six weeks ago, and Papa had found her.
I winced. “Sorry. Hit too close to home for a second.”
Annabelle nodded, her eyes huge.
I squeezed her shoulder. “Gertrude’s owner, Gidget. She’s in there, on the floor.”
“Oh my God.” Annabelle pressed her face to the glass.
Sam did the same above her head.
“We’ve got to help her.” I rattled the locked door knob and shouted, “Gidget, can you hear me?”
I pushed, but the door wouldn’t budge. I knew I should call 911 but first I had to check on Gidget. “Sam, we’ve got to bust through the door. On three?”
He crouched in front of the door, and I did the same beside him.
I said, “One, two, three.”
We threw our combined weight against the flimsy old door and the jamb gave with a splintering of wood. Sam and I half-fell through as the door swung open. Annabelle followed us in.
The house reeked of burnt coffee. I put the back of my hand to my nose and stumbled forward. I crouched at Gidget’s side, careful not to slip in her blood. I dropped my hand from my nose and reached for her wrist, pressing my fingers against the inside of it as it jerked spasmodically, and I searched for a pulse. It was very faint, but it was there. “She’s alive. Call 911.”
“Um, I don’t have my phone.”
Not a surprise. Sam never had his phone.
“I’ve got yours,” Annabelle said, and she was already pressing the numbers in the keypad.
I was afraid to move Gidget, but we needed to stop her bleeding. “Find me a rag, please, Sam. Wash your hands first.”
Some cruel puppeteer kept pulling Gidget’s strings, and I wished I could cut them. Instead, I smoothed steely curls away from her temple on the dry side of her forehead and they sprang back into place. Her pale skin seemed gray, the lopsided red lipstick garish against it. I put my mouth next to her ear and my hand on her sternum. She was breathing, just barely, with long lapses between each breath. I opened her mouth. Her tongue wasn’t obstructing her airway, which was good. I heard water running from down the hall.
“Gidget, are you there?”
Gertrude crawled on her belly, her gnarled locks pooling on the floor and soaking up blood and some kind of brownish liquid. She inched as close as she could get to Gidget’s head, knocking into a broken coffee cup that skittered out of her way. For the first time, I got a good look at the dog’s face. Beneath the dreadlocks crowning her forehead, one of her eyes had popped partway out of its socket, hanging just over the bottom lid. She looked like something from a B horror flick.
“Poor Gertrude,” I said, using my most soothing voice. “I’ll fix you up as soon as I can, I promise.” Summers and weekends with Papa had taught me most of what I needed to know to help animals—including genus home sapiens—in minor emergencies, thank goodness. I’d put many an eye back into its socket, especially with the dog breeds whose eyes were on the outside of their skulls. Like Gertrude’s were, bless her heart. She licked Gidget’s face, seeming not to notice her own injury. I brushed locks back from Gertrude’s face like I had Gidget’s, with the same result.
Sam returned with a yellow hand towel.
“Put it here, and press.” I pointed at Gidget’s cut.
He positioned it tentatively.
I put my hands over his, applying more pressure. “Like this.”
He complied. “Why is she jerking around like that?”
I stepped back, taking in the scene. Gidget was bird-like in a voluminous snap-front housedress. Her high cheekbones slashed across her face, over a pursed mouth now barely sucking in enough air to keep her alive. Concern had tightened Sam’s brow at the same time as compassion softened his eyes. He put his free hand on Gidgets shoulder, as if to stop her spastic movements.
I heard the 911 operator on speakerphone. The voice and static crashed through the living room like a wrecking ball. “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
Annabelle’s eyebrows rose. She shrugged at me, a clueless gesture. Teenage girls. Teenagers in general.
I shouted so the phone would pick me up from across the room, and I motioned for Annabelle to move closer, which she did. “My name is Michele Lopez Hanson. We found my neighbor collapsed and in a seizure. She’s unconscious, bleeding from a head wound, and barely breathing. I don’t know what happened to her, but we need an ambulance.”
The connection crackled behind the loud voice. “Where are you calling from?”
“I’m not sure of her address. Out near Serbin, between Giddings and La Grange.” I gave her my address. “It’s near there.”
Before I could explain further, the operator boomed, “What county is that? Lee? Fayette? Washington? They all come together out there.”
“Lee County. Gidget—my neighbor—isn’t on the same road as me. She lives about two miles away from by car, but maybe a quarter mile as the crow flies.”
The voiced boomed. I still couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. “Gidget? Gidget Becker?”
Of course, with a name like Gidget in a small town, the dispatcher knew who she was. “That’s her. We’re at her place.”
“I’ll dispatch the ambulance and the sheriff’s department.” Then, more softly, “Poor thing. Another seizure.”
“Thank you.” I looked into the eyes of my kids. They looked scared. I tried to sound confident. “What should we do for her in the meantime?”
The voice softened, was solemn and more feminine. “Pray.”
Greetings, all. By the time this post publishes, What Doesn’t Kill You #8 will be twenty-five days away from submission for its first round of editing, what is called “developmental” or “content” editing. This is the stage where the rubber meets the road. The story is critiqued, suggestions given, and changes called for. I started rewrites only a week ago with a hot mess of a first draft, completed 100% by recording with no written reference to turn to during the project.
Oh em gee.
It was hard. And the draft has been a challenge to work with for rewrites. Enter my hero and story partner, my husband Eric. He read the whole thing through and made suggestions. I compiled his suggestions, my running “notes” (a la change the villain to X, add red herring Y, etc., to the tune of about 150 major and sometimes conflicting ideas), and the notes/suggestions of the transcriptionist (romantic mystery novelist Bobbye Marrs) into the precisely-right places in the draft, rearranging sections that were out of order as I went. Then Eric and I talked it through, and I dove in. I made a daily progress chart—it’s so motivating and satisfying to plot progress, and it keeps me on track to know exactly how much I have to get done each day—and got to work.
I’m 30% of the way through. And you know what? It’s not going that bad. I’ll be a much better writer voice-to-text next time from what I’ve learned. I’m going to finish on time, or ahead of time. I have gotten into the voice of my protagonist (Michele) and of most of the other characters. The story will be as solid as I ever send to developmental edit. And I’ll be mentally drained when it’s through. Physically, too.
So from now until June 15th, I’m not going to be able to resume a normal blog schedule. I’ll post something weekly, but I won’t get back to my character interviews, book club questions, and V-logs until then.
I anticipate posting a very raw first chapter, for blog subscribers only, the last week of this month.
Until next week,
While you wait for the next What Doesn’t Kill You novel, here’s a few of my favorite 4-star+ Texas mystery reads for you, blogged in response to a question from reader Heather. Thanks, Heather!
<You’re welcome.> 😉
Rick Riordan (San Antonio)
Yeah, you know him for his Middle Grade fantasy books, the Percy Jackson series. But did you know he wrote mysteries before them? Yep. And I love them. At least all of them but the last one in the series. Seriously, stop before you get to Rebel Island. Despite that, one of my favorite reviews ever compared me to him. (I’ll take it!)
Stephanie Jaye Evans (Houston)
You’ll love her authentic characters and be begging for a next installment in her Sugarland mysteries, featuring a minister whose wife steals the show, as they struggle with the congregation, teenage girls, and murder.
Ben Rehder (Austin)
Apparently I’m late to the party. Ben’s a multi-big-award nominee for his Blanco County mystery series featuring a game warden (how freakin’ cool is that???). A reader tipped me on his new Roy Ballard series, which is where I started, and now I’ll work my way backwards. Embarrassing admission: once I heard his name spoken aloud I knew who he was. REHDER = RAIDER. Ohhhhhh…anyway, still hadn’t read him, but, gah, Pamela. Sometimes (SMH).
The same reader also sent me a Hell to Pay fox:
Double thanks, Delbra 😉
R.L. Nolen (Houston) and Marcy McKay (Amarillo)
Pick up this box set which includes novels from two Texas mystery/thriller/suspense novelists, R.L. Nolen for the suspenseful Deadly Thyme and Marcy McKay for her luminous debut, Pennies From Burger Heaven . Bonus: Ken Oder’s non-Texas novel The Closing (and some books by, um, me).
Aimee Gilchrist (New Mexico, but writing in Texas)
A little snarky-er than I love at times, but eventually her protagonist’s incredibly neurotic inner self won me over. Good mystery, involving oldsters still living in their past.
Don’t forget one of mine you may not have read yet:
(Photo sent in by reader Kessika. Thank you!)
The foxes have been received and are loved.
Here’s where I’ll be for the next three weeks because, gulp, What Doesn’t Kill You #8 is due to my developmental editor June 15th.
At least the view’s good.
Have a great week, and look for more reading recommendations coming soon <3
We have winners! Congratulations to Kessika, Tracy, Sandra, Connie, and Sherry, winner of the FIVE silver fox pendants inspired by Emily! Each pendant is lovingly handcrafted by the incomparable Anita Shultz of Jewelweed Sprouts, who I guarantee creates MaGiC that will enhance their intuition. You can read about more of her work that has made its way into my jewelry box, here. You can also learn more about (or buy yourself) a little foxy loxy or other something-something HERE.
Congratulations to Christina and Patricia, too, winners of the signed Emily novels in the Lone Star Literary giveaway.
You’ll be elated to hear that we are back to our regularly scheduled blog programming next week, leaving the launch of Hell to Pay behind us. Meanwhile, I’ve finished the first draft of a prequel novella that all my blog and newsletter subscribers will get, free, this fall, and I’ve starting the rewrite of Going by the Book, the next Michele mystery in the What Doesn’t Kill You series. I got new author portraits shot, which will hopefully be good so I’ll quit seeing the same dang pictures of my mug everywhere on the internet. I’ve traveled to NOLA with my husband, marveled over sunsets and wildflowers, enjoyed small town roadhouse fun, been sent a true throwback Thursday pick from a college roommate, and learned to appreciate Louise for her snake alerting skills. And our little Peyton Manning got “de-manned” and became Omaha. Here’s some visual proof. Enjoy the short video of the dogs and Omaha “guarding” me on our jog.
Below is a recap of the awesome posts/blogs/press from launch, if you missed them.
The Houston Press (squee), HERE
Rebecca “R.L.” Nolen reviews Hell to Pay HERE
A Blue Million Books interviews Emily HERE
Giveaway on Margie’s Must Reads, HERE
Blogging for the Love of Authors and Their Books, HERE
The Page Unbound for an interview with me, HERE
Because This is My Life, interview, HERE
My Book Fix Blog (excerpt), HERE
It’s a Jenn World, review, HERE
Texas Book Lover, Emily’s Top 10 Song List, HERE
Hall Ways, Review, HERE
All for the Love of the Word, Review, HERE
I’m getting so excited for giveaway week this month BECAUSE . . . I’m giving away five fox pendants in honor of Emily’s spirit animal in Hell to Pay, made by jeweler extraordinaire Anita of Jewelweed Sprouts. Aren’t they adorable (front, above; back, below)?!? They’re a little smaller than a nickel, so they can be worn on bracelets or as pendants. Check out Anita’s other designs HERE. I’m also giving away paperback copies of Heaven to Betsy, HERE.
And of course I have the LARGE version 😉 as my totem!
Meanwhile, the relentless assault of Hell to Pay on the internet continues. It’s still top 20 Hot New Release and Amazon, sales are strong, and the reviews are pouring in on Heaven to Betsy (and blowing me away!). Here are this week’s bloggers weighing in with interviews, character interviews, reviews, and spotlights. As always, your visit and comment mean the world to me and increase the probability that they’ll have me and my books on their site in the future.
The Librarian Talks: Interview with Emily about Hell to Pay
Massive Black Hole: Interview with me
Patricia Flaherty Pagan: Ongoing Passion—The Joys and Challenges of Writing a Series
Marcy McKay: Win a free ebook!
HBS Author Spotlight: H2P and me
I owe you a report on last week’s Hollyweird experience, and the best way for me to do it is to share my post from my Facebook group Knights of Pamelot, which is made pup of the super awesome people that are way to kind to me in supporting my books (if you’d like to join, here’s the link).
If you’d like to see the takeaways from the experience, I blogged on it at SkipJack Publishing, HERE.
Rest assured, the positive learning experience has me/us energized. A plan is in place, or, rather, in motion already! Meanwhile, we have kicked off initiatives for translations and promotions in other countries, and I’m working on Michele #2 and a prequel novella for all my subscribers, old and new, free of charge. YES, I’m serious! 🙂
Have a great week.
The last week kicked booty, y’all. Hell to Pay launched on Saturday March 26th. Late that day, its Thunderclap released, to an audience of nearly 500,000 based on the social reach of its more than 350 supporters.
By Monday March 28th, it was a #5 Hot New Release on Amazon.
Bookbub sent out 1500 release announcement emails. Amazon sent out many, many thousands of the same.
Meanwhile, we moved the first of Emily’s books, Heaven to Betsy, to free in e-book form, and it went to #1. Yeah. Without a Bookbub promotion either.
We’ll be leaving it free for the foreseeable future to encourage people to move on through the What Doesn’t Kill You series past Katie and on to Michele and Emily. Wish us luck, and let your friends know!
This week and next week are a landslide of launch “events” online. So only two more weeks, and then my relentless self- and Hell to Pay-promotion will end. The event this week is Community Bookstop. It would be awesome if you could visit and comment/share. It lets the book bloggers know they make a difference and how much we appreciate them getting the word out about new books.
Want to win a chance to win a free copy of Saving Grace? Books make great gifts even if you already own one. Click HERE to enter.
Finally, if you get a chance to read Hell to Pay or any of my other books, I hope you’ll do me the honor of leaving an honest review on Goodreads and/or the sales site of your choice.
Now, shhhh, don’t tell, but I’m off to Hollyweird to an invitation-only pitch event to link authors of female protagonist crime novels with producers looking to do adaptations. I’ve bitten off all my fingernails, y’all! (Thanks, Sisters in Crime!)
I am blessed, and I appreciate all of you. Thank you so, so much for helping make this “girl’s” dreams come true.
<3 <3 <3
Have you Thunderclapped yet? If not, pretty please? It’s so easy—just a few clicks—and it helps me with the launch of Hell to Pay. Note: it only posts once, it only asks to count your friends to calculate your social reach, and it does not post on anyone else’s walls. Just yours. 🙂
All right, on to giveaways, as it’s giveaway week on my blog!
- Always: free exclusive ebook copy of Puppalicous and Beyond.
- Jack’s giveaway through March 31: a signed copy of Hell to Pay! To enter, send me a permalink (permanent link–you’ll see a link for it below your review when you write and post it) of your review of Hell to Pay. Paperbacks available now (early!) on Amazon. You’ll get additional entries for permalinks of reviews of Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emily, and Going for Kona. I’ll be picking three winners. Pamela at PamelaFaganHutchins dot com.
Also, fair warning. Starting March 26, I’ll be sharing links to all the interviews, reviews, and giveaways related to the launch of Hell to Pay, so while that’s going on we’ll take a break from normal content on the blog. And on that subject . . . Heaven to Betsy is now free in ebook form, everywhere!!!!!!!
So download yours now and move on through those Emily mysteries. Don’t forget to leave an honest review, y’all 😉
At the end of the month we’ll have a VERY SPECIAL giveaway of silver Emily fox totem charms, specially made by Jewelweed Sprouts. <– Yes, OMG!!
Have a great week!
Greetings from Nowheresville where we are answering Jack’s book club question today! And also enduring a photobomb by Peyton Manning 🙂
First, though, a request, from moi, to y’all (or is that “yoi”? haha): I’m asking you for a couple of clicks, and nothing else, to participate in a Thunderclap to help me launch Hell to Pay. What the hackin’ frackin’ fraggle is a Thunderclap? It’s a coordinated social media message that amplifies the “volume” of an individual message. You signup to participate, and it posts all the messages at the same time to increase the possibility it will “trend” or “go viral.” To view and join my Thunderclap message for the launch of Hell to Pay, visit http://thndr.me/qUhrrI and click to Support on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Tumblr. Supporters will be automatically entered in a giveaway of all seven ebooks in the What Doesn’t Kill You series. Shares of this blog and the link for my Thunderclap on social media are greatly, greatly appreciated.
Here’s a better picture of Peyton, on “take your goat to work day.”
Next week we’ll have our monthly giveaway, but meanwhile you can enter to win Heaven to Betsy now!
It’s crazy times here while we prepare for the launch of Hell to Pay. Wish us sanity and patience!
This week we’re continuing our interview with Jack, Emily’s love interest in the upcoming Hell to Pay (What Doesn’t Kill You, #7). Normally these interviews are one-on-one, but Jack proved to be as hard to get an answer from as I’d been warned, so this week Emily is coming to encourage him a little.
Before we get started, if you haven’t read their first adventure yet—Heaven to Betsy (What Doesn’t Kill You, #5): An Emily Romantic Mystery—you’d better hurry, because their final novel is coming March 26th!! Here’s a chance to win Heaven to Betsy before then. I’m giving away 50, so your odds are good! https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/12ccafee4c1bf4f5
Pamela: Hello, you two. Great seeing you.
Emily: It’s nice being back. And I’m so sorry that last week Jack wasn’t more—
Emily: I was going to say cooperative.
(Jack reaches for Emily’s hand and kisses the knuckles, then holds it on his leg.)
Pamela: So how would you describe Jack, Emily? The strong, silent type?
Emily: In the beginning I would have called him eccentric, mute, and obtuse.
Jack: (left eyebrow lifts) Hey now.
Emily: I said in the beginning. Now he talks around me more. He still doesn’t answer a question straight on, but he can be pretty funny.
Jack: (nods) I’m very funny.
Emily: (shakes her head) I wouldn’t go that far, babe.
Pamela: Which is of you is the cover hog?
Simultaneously, Jack and Emily: Her/him.
Pamela: The neat freak?
They both point to Jack.
Pamela: The spark plug?
They point to Emily.
Pamela: What do your parents think of Jack?
Emily: He has my mother completely bamboozled. Dad’s the bigger surprise, though. He respects Jack and he’s grateful to him.
Pamela: No lingering resentment over Jack prosecuting him and sending him to prison?
Emily: Dad knows he got a fair shake.
Jack: John did the wrong thing for the right reasons. He’s solid.
They smile at each other, the eye contact prolonged, and the air crackling with electricity.
Pamela: I must say, you two do seem to, um, like each other.
Pamela: Okay, last few questions and then I’ll let Jack pick a book club question for this month. Emily, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen Jack do?
Emily: Jack is Mr. Conservative. I think the wildest I’ve seen him get is driving five miles over the speed limit.
Jack: (mumbles) I thought it was a 45-mile per hour zone.
Pamela: And the craziest thing you’ve ever seen Emily do?
Jack: Maybe it was crawling after an armed man into a pitch black mine shaft.
Emily: It was to rescue two teenage runaways who’d witnessed a murder and are very dear to me!
Jack: (shakes his head) Yeah, but still crazy. But that craziest thing she’s done is take a chance on me.
Emily: (turns to him): Ahhh, that’s so sweet. (leans in and kisses him)
Pamela: Whoa, whoa, whoa, you guys, before you start that I need a book club question from Jack.
Jack: (straightens up) From Earth to Emily: Can you forgive Jack for keeping secrets? (he nods, a serious look on his face but his amber eyes twinkling)
Pamela: Has Jack struck a nerve with that question, Emily?
Emily: Ask me again after people read Hell to Pay.
Pamela: Will do. Thanks you two. Now go get a room.
This month Jack takes center stage. Yes, Jack, as in the annoyingly sexy and mysterious criminal attorney who Emily went to work for in Amarillo, and who she ultimately became engaged to, moved in with, and is (trying) to adopt Betsy with. Ah, if only everything in life were easy, right?
Pamela: Welcome, Jack. It’s nice to meet you in person. Or, for my readers, online.
Jack: (nods, smiles with one side of his mouth and a deep left dimple)
Pamela: So, tell us a little bit about your role in the upcoming Hell to Pay.
Jack: That’s Emily’s story.
Pamela: But you play a significant role in the book, right?
Jack: (Left eyebrow rises sky-high, and some shockingly golden eyes make direct eye contact) I reckon.
Pamela: (clears throat) Well, um, if you don’t want to talk about the book, how about we talk about your cases? Congratulations on your win in the Phil Escalante burglary trial.
Jack: (Looks down) Thanks.
Pamela: And, um, on your engagement and new house.
Jack: (That lopsided smile again, with glowing eyes.) Yep.
Pamela: Wow, Emily had told me you were quiet, but I’ve got to say, you’re that times two.
Pamela: Okay, well, then, is there anything you do want to talk about? Your airplane? Your ranch? Your family?
Jack: I don’t much like interviews.
Pamela: (Laughs) That was a complete sentence! Do you ever talk more than this?
Jack: (grins, left-sided, eyes twinkling) If Emily makes me.
Pamela: Do you think she could come with you for your interview next week, then?
Jack: (Drums his thumbs on the desk in front of him) God, I hope so.
Pamela: (muttering: Not half as much as me, bud.) All right then, well, Jack, we’ll talk to you—er—to Emily, rather, and see you, next week.
(chair scraping, door closing)
Pamela: Since you guys can’t see what’s happening on my end, he just tipped his hat to me, gave a little bow, and exited stage right. (Pause) I can honestly say that was the hardest interview I’ve ever done. But he is awfully cute . . .
Not to be redundant, y’all, but it’s the last week of the month, and that means I’m giving stuff awayyyyyyyy around here.
- First, things you win just by entering:
a. Murder, They Wrote: Four SkipJack Mysteries (plus a full-length bonus novel!): FREE Feb. 24-28, HERE.
b. Puppalicious and Beyond (where does fiction come from? this one weaves in and out of my
life and my novels to show you!): HERE.
2. Next, big giveaways on the web: Saving Grace, in paperback, through Mar. 2: Enter HERE.
3. Blog-exclusive giveaway: one signed paperback, winner’s choice. To enter, leave a review on Murder, They Wrote, HERE, and copy the permalink into a comment below (or email it to me pamela at pamelahutchins dot com). I’ll be drawing one winner from the entries. Deadline: Mar. 3. Don’t forget to download the e-book free by Feb. 28th!!
Have a great weekend, you guys.
Greetings from Nowheresville. This week we have a video blog of me relaying Katie’s book club question answer.
Bonus: Yesterday Candi and I were in East Texas for the Hideaway Lakes Variety Club Luncheon and Book Club at the Mount Enterprise Library. What fantastic groups! What a great day! We forgot to take pics at HLVC, but here’s a few from Book Club:
Giving away paperbacks of Heaven to Betsy…enter here (through Feb. 22nd): https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/5c40c570ac999013
Calling for Advance Readers . . . needed for Hell to Pay! Oh, and that calls for a “blog readers special” announcement, too. Hell to Pay is now to be known as #7 in my What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series. That’s right, #7. Why? Why is it no longer Emily #3? Is it just to torture and confuse you? No, it’s only partly that. 🙂 It’s because all of my novels really are part of one series, and breaking it down by protagonist was confusing some people. My female protagonists are a butt-kicking group of friends, and they trade off lead in the novels in the What Doesn’t Kill You series. Right now I am writing a Michele book, but then I’m switching to Ava (and going back to St. Marcos!), and I’ll be adding Laura books and Maggie books, too. Yeah, you guys don’t know Maggie yet. She’s in the Michele book I’m writing now. If you look at the top of the website, there’s a banner with all my novels. We just redid them all for the What Doesn’t Kill You series. Coolness. I am so excited!
Anyhoo, if you want to be in the Acknowledgements for Hell to Pay and exclusively read it first, comment below. I’m taking the first 25 people (I already have 17 who signed up through my Facebook group, Knights of Pamelot). However, you have two jobs if you sign up for this gig. 1) e-mail me any boo boos you find 2) post a review the week of March 20th, when I e-mail you to let you know it’s time. Your review will be considered for the book’s blurb, too. Fun stuff! Secret: this is one of my favorite novels I’ve written.
Baby Goat Love . . . one of our does had twins on February 7th. We christened them Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. Peyton’s physical dominance led us to predict a Broncos Super Bowl win. I wish we’d have put money on it. However, the doe Lucy and Cam Newton weren’t doing well, and they both died 24 hours later, on my birthday. It was traumatic, and we did everything we could to save them. Peyton Manning was left an orphan. Our cow Dixie went bonkers when Eric buried Lucy and Cam Newton, sticking her head in the grave, pawing the dirt, and bucking and spinning. Lucy was her favorite friend. So sad. We kept Peyton Manning in the house and bottle fed him. Then another doe, Katie, had twins. We named them Kathryn and Annabelle after our nieces. We tried to get Katie to adopt little Peyton Manning but she wouldn’t. He stays out in a small pen with them a lot of the time now, but we’re still bottle feeding, and loving him to pieces. Here’s some goat love pics:
Mama Lucy got too sick to take care of her babies, and the adorable curly-haired black one was left alone in 25-degree weather and no food overnight. He developed hypothermia. His little body just wouldn’t warm up. It was so sad. We rubbed him with towels, covered him in blankets, and put him in front of the fire, to no avail.
Here’s Peyton snuggling his very sick brother (under the blankets).
Peyton huddled close to him in front of the fire until the final moments.
The next morning, we had a baby goat to feed. (See the beautiful backing to our island that Eric built for me as a birthday present–little did he know I’d end up getting a house goat, too.)
Little Kathryn was born . . .
. . . the twin of little Annabelle.
But their mother wouldn’t take Peyton no matter how hard we tried, and he was so lonely.
Until we gave in and started letting him hang out during the day with us and the dogs. Here he is at our gate as Eric strung barb wire.
And under Eric’s desk as he worked.
We love us some Peyton Manning the house goat!
Finally, Karaoke Crayyyyziness . . . We celebrated Valentine’s with small town karaoke night at the local tavern. Small towns (and the friends you make in them) rock. And so did my pink hair. I sang (a lot), everything from You Oughtta Know from Alanis Morrisette to Travelin’ Soldier from the Dixie Chicks.
Girl Crush. Such a fun song to sing.
Can you see Eric and me in this picture?
And my pink hair 🙂 courtesy of Denise aka Kountry Chick Karaoke.
Upcoming this Friday: video blog of Peyton Manning, me, and the answers to Katie’s book club questions. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you want to be on the advance read team for Hell to Pay!
First, PAPERBACK GIVEAWAY ALERT: Click to enter through midnight February 13, 2016: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/64cf7ac8965d7a47
Today Katie shares pictures and recipes, oh my.
Pamela: One of the things people really love about your life is your house.
Katie: My big jumbie house.
Pamela: So is the house a jumbie?
Katie: No, the house has a jumbie with it, Annalise.
Pamela: And for those who don’t know what a jumbie is?
Katie: A spirit, in the language of voodoo and Santeria.
Pamela: Why do people think the house is a jumbie?
Katie: Because until me, people hadn’t been able to see Annalise. When weird things happened in the house, they didn’t know it was a young woman trapped in limbo.
Pamela: Do you hear her talk, too?
Katie: I don’t, but our little boy Taylor does.
Pamela: So no pictures of Annalise.
Katie: None. Sorry.
Pamela: But of the house?
Katie: Here are a few of my favorites.
This one is taken from a distance, with the sea in the far right horizon.
Our lovely great room with its inexplicable fireplace and hurricane glassed french doors out onto the breakfast balcony.
Here’s the patio/pool when it’s clean. And the bedroom balcony where Nick first kissed me.
The non-messy part of Nick’s and my office on the third story. You can see mango trees forever out on that balcony.
Pamela: How many balconies does this house have?
Katie: Three. Pretty extravagant, isn’t it? I love them.
Here’s my favorite place: Horseshoe Bay. It’s about two miles as the pelican flies from Estate Annalise.
And here’s a view into the kitchen. The music room is basically behind the stove.
Pamela: If I had that kitchen I’d cook all the time.
Katie (laughs): If you lived in this house so far down bad roads to town and had three kids, a husband, and your in-laws living with you, you’d cook all the time.
Pamela: So tell us what you cook.
Katie: Besides fish sticks, chicken fingers, cheerios, and mac ‘n cheese? I’m going to share one from my mother. She died on this island, and I miss her every day. So I end up making this a lot. Fried chicken.
Pamela: Fried chicken.
Katie: Yep, and she made it better than anyone.
Pamela: Okay, last thing. You have an assignment for next week. You’ll be answering one book club question. Have you picked one out yet?
Katie: This one: What evolution do you see in Finding Harmony in Katie’s relationship with Annalise? With herself? How did you feel about the revelations about Annalise and Uxolo?
Pamela: Oh, that’s a good one.
Katie: I’ll get you an answer in a few days. Now, I’ve got to run. Nick has a new case for me.
Pamela: Katie the private eye.
Katie: Can you believe it? Anyway, thanks for having me.
Pamela: Thanks for being here.
Simple Southern Fried Chicken (Connell)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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?”
“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.
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 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?”
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.”
“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt Mr., uh—”
“Welch. Dennis 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?”
“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.”
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.
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.
Have a great week,
- Writer of overly long e-mails, romantic mysteries, and (possibly) hilarious nonfiction. Resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, TX and way up in the frozen north of Snowheresville, WY. Passionate about great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long hikes with her hunky husband and pack of rescue dogs, experimenting with her Keurig, and traveling in the Bookmobile.
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