Newsy Bits & Progress

Guys, guess what? Y’all helped make both Restless Spirits and Kindred Spirits two of  Vinspire’s top three sellers last month! So thanks for that!

Click to vote!

I need y’all to work your magic again because Kindred Spirits is nominated for Cover of the Month for the month of August at AllAuthors.com! It just barely eked into the second round and is currently dead last. I have faith that we can do better. Click here to go vote — you will, alas, have to create an account if you don’t have one already, and I totally get that that might be a deal breaker. But if you’re willing to take a few minutes to sign up and vote for Kindred Spirits, you’ll be doing me a real solid. Okay, I’m old and terrible at slang and I’m not even sure what that means and if I used it correctly and I’m sorry. Favor. You’d be doing me a favor. And I will be so grateful. Enough to never inflict awkward slang on you again.

Finally, Bound Spirits is still steadily, albeit slowly, coming along. I’m about halfway through–the next scene is the midway turning point of the second act, so it should be downhill from here. The second half usually goes much faster. Usually. At any rate, here’s a quick peek:

“So why the rush? We’ve only been together for six months.”

“You’re right. I guess that is a little fast. But is that the only reason you’ve got cold feet?”

“I wouldn’t say they’re cold. I wouldn’t even call them lukewarm.”

“Chris.”

“I just want to be sure _he’s_ sure, you know?”

“Not this again.”

“Yes, this again. It’s a crazy life. It’s all still new and exciting to him, and he’s all jazzed whenever something crazy happens that he can put on his channel. But then something terrifying like what happened tonight happens. And he was great, but we haven’t even had time to process it yet. We’re still in the middle of it. Is he really prepared for an entire lifetime of this sort of thing? What happens when it gets old?”

“Brrr.”

“What?”

“That’s what I just heard your feet say.”

5 days till Restless Spirits! Here’s one more excerpt!

rs-5daysEnjoy this last excerpt from my newest release, Restless Spirits, coming in 5 days from Vinspire Publishing! Click here to pre-order!

***

Yeah, that’s great. So, what do you know about Burning Man?”

That lawless hippie orgy out there in Nevada?” asked Ed. “My daughter wanted to run off to that with her good-for-nothing friends the year before I died. I told her if she went not to bother coming back home.”

Uh…yeah. Not that. I’m talking about a walking burn victim. Or at least the ghost of one. I ran smack into him in the mystery hall. Hey, did you guys know this house has a third floor?”

Lilly and Ed both looked at me, then at each other.

You guys have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

Ed waved me off grumpily and headed back to his milk crate. Lilly faced me and smiled sweetly. “I remember it’s really hard in the beginning. Your mind can play tricks on you—”

You mean in, what, seventy-five years in this house, you’ve never seen this giant walking blister?”

I could tell by her face that she wanted to tell me yes, but she shook her head no instead.

I sighed, deflated. Great. I wasn’t just a ghost. Apparently, I was a crazy ghost. “Figures,” I muttered. “Anyway, I guess it’s not really important. So what are you guys up to? I thought I heard music earlier.”

Oh! That was me!” Lilly’s smile could light up a room. She picked up her skirt and hurried over to a battered old suitcase propped open in a dusty corner. “Look what I found! It belonged to Ed’s grandpa.” She reached in and plucked at an old ukulele. “It only has two strings, but I can play simple songs.” With that she started to pluck out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

My granddad had that old thing in the war.”

Which war?” I asked.

Spanish American. He used to talk about driving the Cuban girls wild with that thing, teaching ‘em how to hula dance.”

I wish I knew how to hula dance,” said Lilly dreamily, plucking absently at the strings.

I can teach you,” I told her. Not that I ever learned how to hula, but I’ve seen it enough times on television that I ought to be able to perform a close approximation.

Can you really?”

Sure! Come here.” I pointed at a spot beside me. “Now just do what I do,” I said as she joined me. “Shake your hips…and sway your arms like this…” I started humming Aloha ‘Oe and doing the best imitation I could of the hula girls I’d seen on that Hawaii episode of The Brady Bunch when I was kid. If it was good enough when I was eight, it was good enough now.

Lilly copied my movements and took up the humming until she broke into giggles. I laughed, too, my fright from before melting under her infectious joy.

You ask me, you girls are far too happy to be dead,” Ed grumped, but that only made us laugh harder.

Fine,” I told him. “We’ll leave you to your fortress of poutitude. Come on, Lilly. There’s more room to dance downstairs.” We were still giggling when we arrived in the empty dining room. “Ed can really stand to lighten up.”

I know,” said Lilly, still working out her hula moves. “He’s always so serious. All of the adults are. Except you. And sometimes Joe.” She improvised a little twirl. “My mama takes the cake, though. She most certainly would not approve of our dancing.” She gave her hips a rebellious shake and then asked, “Would you like me to teach you the Charleston?”

Sure, why not?”

The moves she showed me looked a little more complicated than my made up hula, but after a few tries, I started to get the hang of it. Soon, we were kicking up our heels like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I liked to think I was Donna.

Are there any other dances you can show me?” she asked once I’d mastered the Charleston.

Uh…well, there’s this.” I broke into the cabbage patch, singing something from Janet Jackson’s ‘eighties oeuvre as I busted my move. If the look on Lilly’s face wasn’t enough to start me laughing all over again, the juxtaposition of her 1930s Catholic schoolgirl look with such a cheesy, anachronistic dance move set me rolling. Lilly faltered and looked uncertain, but I managed to rein in my laughter long enough to assure her, “It’s not you, sweetie. It’s just a really stupid dance move.”

She stopped. She seemed to think about it a minute, then asked, “Can you show me how to dance like a Fly Girl?”

Like a…a what?”

A Fly Girl,” she said, then started gyrating with a certain amount of rhythm while singing the theme song to In Living Color.

Sorry, but I was more of a slam dancer when that was big, and trust me, you don’t want to learn slam dancing. Kinda pointless when you’re incorporeal anyway. How do you know about Fly Girls?”

I used to watch them on TV before Ed died and his children took all of his furniture away.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Ed was checking out the Fly Girls, huh? I wonder if JLo was his favorite. That old scamp.”

He didn’t watch it. He usually wasn’t home when it was on.”

You mean you turned it on yourself?”

She nodded, and sighed. “I used to love to watch television. I tried to do it when people weren’t home so I wouldn’t frighten them. When I first learned how to turn it on and change channels, I got carried away and scared Miss Martha half to death. She slept with all of her lights on that night. She moved away soon after that.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Ed was more understanding, though. He left the TV on for me at night, sometimes.” She gave a little shrug and went back to practicing her hula. “Right now, I’d just be happy if someone left a radio here.”

Yeah,” I said. “Then we could find an oldies station and I could teach you how to do the twist.” I twisted my hips back and forth to show her.

That looks a lot like your hula,” she said.

More like hula hoop,” I said. “Same principle.” She started to twist with me, and I did a ridiculous Chubby Checker imitation, and she started laughing again. I laughed too until I saw Joe standing in the doorway, watching us. “Meep! How long have you been there?”

Don’t stop on my account,” he said. “That’s some mighty fine dancing you ladies are doing.”

I rolled my eyes, but Lilly went up to Joe and held out a hand. “Dance with me, Joe!”

Never been much of a dancer,” he said, but as Lilly’s face fell, he stepped forward. “Guess I can give it a go. My ma made me learn how to waltz. Let’s see if I remember.” He held out his arms. Lilly positioned herself so that they were almost touching, and they started to move like that, awkwardly at first as Joe tried to remember the steps. Lilly giggled and looked almost as if this moment made up for her horrible, untimely death.

I smiled for her, but suddenly, I felt like a fifth wheel. I decided to slip out quietly and let them do their thing. I made it as far as the doorway when Lilly spun away from Joe. “Ron, wait! Joe, can you teach Ron to waltz?”

Oh, I don’t know, I don’t want to stop you guys’s fun—”

Well, I don’t know that I’m really good enough to teach anyone—”

We stopped as we realized we were both making excuses.

Don’t be silly, Joe,” said Lilly, “you’re a wonderful dancer! Ron, try it. It almost makes you feel alive.”

Joe and I looked at each other, and we both gave a resigned shrug. I went over to him and moved into his embrace, so to speak, and kept my gaze fixed on our feet as we started to move them in a basic square pattern. It was awkward and uncomfortable and, well, weird. Our hands hovered close to each other’s bodies without actually touching, except for when I stumbled. I felt a strange and not entirely unpleasant tingle whenever my essence bumped up against his. “So, this is waltzing,” I said lamely.

Not quite,” he said. “It might go better if you lift your head up and look at me.”

But then I can’t see what your feet are doing.”

Just…trust me,” he said, and I looked up and found his steel-gray eyes looking at me with such intensity that I flashed back to the burned monstrosity I had seen in the mystery hall. I shuddered as a chill went through me, but it was quickly displaced by the warm twinkle in his eye that set it apart from those pain-filled nightmare eyes. Not to mention the way they crinkled at the corners like George Clooney’s. “Something wrong?” he asked.

No. I…I’ve just never waltzed before.”

Well, you’re waltzing now,” he said, and I realized that I was moving in sync with him. My eyes widened with the realization, and the corner of his mouth quirked up into an amused smirk.

I guess I am,” I said, and Lilly began to hum. I lowered my gaze, but I didn’t pull away from him. I let him lead me around the dining room as long as he pleased.

There were some aspects of this afterlife that I could definitely get used to.

***

Click here to pre-order your Restless Spirits e-book. Paperbacks will be available to order on October 31st from Amazon and other major book retailers!

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Excerpt: Restless Spirits

Chapter One

you-dont-expectYou know, you just don’t expect to wake up one day and find that you’ve died.

Well, maybe the elderly do.  And terminal patients, maybe. But when you’re healthy and in the prime of your life, it definitely comes as a shock. I know because it just happened to me, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.

I’m not even sure when it happened, or how. All I know is that the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was myself, lying at the foot of the staircase in the old Baird house, face down in a pool of blood. The rest of me was lying on my back. That had to hurt, and it made me grateful that I didn’t remember.

It took a while for my mind to catch up with what I saw. My first thought was that I’d never get all of that blood out of my clothes, and there goes my favorite pair of capris. My second thought was that my sister would be so full of herself at having been right that I’d never hear the end of it.

The third thought was where it caught up to me—it would be a neat trick to hear anything, from her or anyone else, ever again. I was dead.

What are the stages of grief again? There’s denial, anger, bargaining… I wasn’t sure about the last two, but I seemed to have the first three stuck on a loop. I mean, dead? Seriously? But I was only twenty-nine! Really twenty-nine, too, not thirty-something claiming to be twenty-nine, which was a privilege I was actually kind of looking forward to once I hit the big three-oh. I had a fully-loaded DVR at home and a novel to finish, and a business with my sister that was just getting into the black. How would this hurt the business? How would this hurt Chris?

From my vantage point on the second landing, I could see a plastic rock upended on the porch railing outside with its hidey-hole exposed, so it wasn’t that hard to piece together how I’d gotten in here. Apparently, I’d had time to set up my laptop before things went south, because I could see it sitting open on a dusty table in the parlor. At least it hadn’t gotten smashed when I fell.

I half-laughed, half-moaned at the absurdity of my relief. Fat lot of good it did me, not having my laptop damaged.

Or did it?

It had a built-in web cam. Did I turn it on before I went to explore? It would have been a dumb not to. At the angle I’d set it at, it might have recorded the whole sordid tragedy. Without thinking, I went to it. I mean, really without thinking. I didn’t even remember walking over there. I just suddenly stood in front of the computer, its black screen in power-save mode.  I swallowed—or at least went through the motions of swallowing—and reached my hand out toward the infrared mouse.

And watched my hand pass right through it.

I stared for a long moment at my hand sticking through the mouse and the table beneath it. “Oh, come on!” I finally bellowed in frustrated disbelief. “Seriously?”

I was answered by oppressive, depressing, lonely silence. That felt pretty serious.

Then I heard someone laugh.

“Hello?” I called, praying I hadn’t imagined the laughter. At that moment, I felt so lonely I couldn’t feel anything but hope at the prospect of having some company. Maybe even a guide, some kind of guru who could help me navigate this here afterlife. Or, heck, even just a ghostly witness who could tell me what had happened.

“Hello!” I called again, moving in the direction I thought the laugh had come from. I heard it again, distinctly this time. It sounded like a small child, maybe a little girl. I racked my brain, remembering what I knew about the house, and couldn’t recall any child deaths occurring here. I moved into the dining room through a set of French doors with cracked panes. Nothing filled the shelves of the built-in China cabinet but dust and shadows. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I promised. “It’s okay. I just want to ask you some questions.”

More childish laughter came from the room I’d just left. I swore and turned around. As I approached the threshold separating the dining room from the parlor, the French doors slammed shut, hard enough for the cracks in the glass to grow.

With a startled scream, I reached for the handle, only to see my hand pass right through it. I bit back another scream, muttering instead, “Okay! Getting a little creeped out, here.”  Then I remembered I could walk right through the doors. Rolling my eyes at myself, I stepped through them.

“Look,” I said, “little girl—kid—whatever, Aunt Ronnie needs some help here, okay? We can play hide and seek later.”

More laughter drifted down the stairs. “Kids,” I muttered, heading that way.

“Don’t go,” a voice whispered.

It might surprise you to learn that dead people can feel fear. I could, at least. Suddenly, I was petrified. “Ooookay…ghosts,” I said, realizing that not being the only ghost in the house might not be such a great thing after all. “I’m one of you guys. I mean, apparently. So can’t we all be pals?”

Behind me, the French doors swung open in a silent invitation. I stood there a moment, torn between following the laughter—which I had to admit was beginning to feel a little creepy—and taking up Whisper’s invitation. I didn’t feel that easy about either prospect, really, but either way, what did I have to lose? I was already dead. The only other alternative—doing nothing, and staying alone—was depressing enough to overpower my fear.

But not only was I not alone, I also had my choice of company. And like I said, the little kid was beginning to freak me out. If somebody was trying to warn me not to follow her, it was probably a good idea to listen. At least the other voice was trying to be helpful. I headed back into the dining room but paused at the threshold.

There was also a chance that this was a single entity, getting its afterlife jollies by screwing with me.

But even that seemed better than hanging out with my own corpse.

“Okay! I didn’t go!” I said, crossing the threshold. “So…what now?”

A light came on in the kitchen. That got my attention, especially seeing as how the house had no electricity. I moved toward it, then stopped. What was I doing? I mean, moving toward the light? Wasn’t that the way to move on? I wasn’t ready for that. Not yet. Not before talking to Chris. Not without knowing what had caused my head to do half a Linda Blair.

Then again…a kitchen light? Nah. The entrance to the Great Beyond had to be more dramatic than that. I edged closer to the kitchen. Without stepping in, just in case, I peeked inside. A man with sandy brown hair sat slumped in a chair in the middle of the kitchen.  He was dressed in old fashioned trousers held up by suspenders, the sleeves of his blue work shirt rolled up to his elbows. He looked haggard, like he’d just been through some kind of ordeal.

“Hello?” I said. He didn’t turn around. “Was that you back there with the door? Were those theatrics really necessary?” No response. I tried one more time. “So, you want to tell me what’s up with that kid? Is it yours?” Nothing. Maybe he couldn’t hear me. Maybe he was only an apparition, an environmental memory of the living, unable to interact with me. He could only go through the motions.

Or maybe he wasn’t a ghost at all. A sinking feeling came over me as I realized I might be looking at my murderer. I started to back away.

“Best stay here,” he said, and I stopped. He didn’t look up, but he said, softly, “You’re safer in here.”

I opened my mouth to ask him why, but I was cut off by the sound of screaming.

Oh, no.

Chris.

 

 

Chris was my baby sister. She was also my business partner and best friend. More than that, I was the closest thing she had to a mother, having practically raised her after our mom passed away. This would devastate her. But it could be worse. At least I’d still be able to talk to her. Tell her goodbye, leave her with instructions on getting my house in order, and some hopefully stellar sisterly wisdom that she could think back on and smile about after she helped me cross over.

Chris could see dead people. See them, hear them, talk to them, help them with their unfinished business, that sort of thing. It gave us a pretty great edge in our business.

We’re professional ghost hunters. Well, I supposed now I could scratch “hunter” from the title on my business cards. Veronica Wilson, Professional Ghost, that’s me. I still couldn’t believe it. The job was what had brought me here to the old Baird house. The stupid, creepy, super-haunted Baird house, a.k.a. Chris’s obsession.

The house had a long, disturbing history.  Its reputation started back in the 1930s with Ruth Baird, a wealthy matron who killed her husband with an ax and then locked her daughter in the basement to starve before hanging herself from the banister. That had only been the first of a long series of grizzly murder-suicides and freak accidents that had happened in the house’s nearly eighty-year history. The handful of residents who had made it out alive told stories about voices coming from the drains, moving shadows, and feelings of being watched. Chris had been trying to gain access to investigate it for years, so of course, when we finally got it, we didn’t hesitate to haul ourselves over here.

I didn’t, anyway. Idiot.

But I mean, come on. How was I supposed to know I’d turn out to be the latest in a long string of tragic deaths to happen here?

I could remember arguing with Chris over the phone. She didn’t want me coming over here alone. But she was two hours away, working on one of her special missions. I was anxious to get a look inside the house and not about to be bossed around by my baby sister.

Well, Ron, here you are, inside the house. Like what you see?

For all of the paranormal activity rumored to happen here, the house sure felt awfully empty. I didn’t hear any voices or see any mysterious shadows, and I didn’t feel like I was being watched. I just felt alone. And scared. Would my memories ever come back? Or was my death just the beginning of what I would forget? If my memories were all that were left of me, what would happen if they all went away? Was this all there was? I never really had any solid beliefs about the afterlife when I was alive. But now that I was here, I couldn’t believe this was all there was to it.

Great. Now I wanted to cry, and I didn’t even know if that was physically possible.

I should have listened to Chris.

 

rs-ad

Sneak Peek – Untitled Steampunk Cyborg Pixie Story

steampunk-fairy--large-msg-129989045703Happy prelude to a long weekend! Here’s a brief (and rough) excerpt of the short story I’m currently working on for submission to yet another anthology.

***

He was shiny.

That’s what first drew her notice. Other men were bland and monochrome and hardly worthy of attention. But this one, he gleamed. He tried to hide it under a hat and dark glasses and gloves and other human trappings, keeping his head down and avoiding other human eyes, but she saw. That first glimmer of light drew her to him as the sunlight glinted off his cheek, and as she watched him, his sleeve rode up and exposed shiny brass skin. He was a curiosity, and the elders had always said that she was a dangerously curious thing. So of course she followed him.

He lived in a small cottage at the edge of the wood, well outside of town. The house had a lovely garden, but it was the things inside that held her interest. Through the window she spied even more curiosities and wonders: birds and butterflies and mice and other small, delicate creatures made of the same shiny stuff that the man was made of — at least partly.

For once inside, he stopped hiding, and she could see him truly. He removed his hat and glasses and revealed a head and half a face covered in plates of polished brass. Where his left eye should have been, there was a socket filled with cogs and gears and other parts she had seen on the machines of men. He removed his coat and gloves and rolled up his sleeves, revealing an arm made of polished wood and brass, and a hand with coppery joints that could flex and grasp as well as his pale, fleshy hand.

He went to the table where his brass menagerie lay dormant, picked up something that looked like a spy glass and affixed it to the empty eye socket. Then he took a key from his vest pocket and began winding each small creature, one by one, bringing them to life.

She hovered at the window and watched, delighted and mesmerized by this clever man and his creations, as copper butterfly wings fluttered and brass birds sang and flew and mock mice raced around the surface of the table. The butterfly came near the window, and the wings were a sight to behold, covered with intricate scroll work, gleaming and delicate. A pang of envy shot through her as she glanced back at her own wings, wishing they were even half as splendid.

The butterfly shot away from the window and she found herself pressed up against the glass, gazing after it with longing, wanting only to go inside and have a closer look.

She never saw the cat.

***