Browsing for Trouble

I hope you enjoy this preview from Chapter One of Browsing for Trouble which is set for release in mid-December.

“No men and no murder,” Juliet declared as she lifted her glass in the air. “This girls’ vacation will be margaritas, Mai Tais and manicures.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” I said, clinking my margarita glass to hers. “It was awesome of Willow’s parents to let us stay here for free. I plan on relaxing by the pool, reading the latest mysteries from my favorite authors and catching up on my sleep.”

“Uh…can anyone say boring?” Juliet pretended to stifle a yawn. “You can read anywhere, and you can sleep when you get back home. This vacation is all about fun and the sun and spending time with your soon-to-be married baby sister.”

“The sun makes me freckle and what I suggested is fun.”

“Wear sunscreen, for Pete’s sake. What are you ninety?” Juliet complained. “I’ve created a list of all the things I want to do while we’re here in Sedona. I want to go on one of the Jeep trips through the desert, go hiking and see the place where gravity doesn’t exist-”

“Gravity always exists here on Earth. There’s no way it can’t exist. If it didn’t exist, we would weigh ten pounds and float,” I said with a skeptical look.

“Look!” Juliet thrust a guidebook under my nose. I grabbed it from her.

“It’s called an energy vortex.” My eyes skimmed through the description. “People come from all over the world on vision quests or missions to feel the energy. Hmm…this sounds right up you and Willow’s alley. A bunch of woo woo healing and crystals. Have fun with that. I’ll be in the spa getting a massage.” I put my sunglasses on and took a sip of my margarita.

“Dang it, Flea! You promised we would have a real girls’ vacation before Wade and I get married. This is my last taste of freedom before I settle down, clean house and maybe make babies one day.” She snatched the guidebook back and glared at me.

“Fine. I’ll go to the healing crystal woo woo vortex if you promise to go with me to some of the museums.”

“Deal.” Juliet grinned. “This is gonna be the best trip ever!”

“Well, before I get blisters on my feet hiking in the desert, I plan on getting pampered. It’s time for our mud bath.”

“Willow said her parents don’t like to call them mud baths. They’re restorative body treatments. I signed us up for the Prickly Pear Garnet treatment. It’s supposed to make your skin soft and silky smooth. Plus, it pulls out all the toxins and bad mojo with the stones they place around you.”

“If they can keep me from having any more murder mojo, I’ll declare this trip a success. My skin is already soft and silky smooth,” I said. I sipped the last of my margarita and stood up to head indoors to the spa.

“That’s not what Clint said,” Juliet snickered. “He told me to make sure you get buffed and bedazzled and to make sure someone takes care of those horse hooves you call feet.”

“What?” I cried. “Look at these toes. These are the feet of a movie star.” I showed her my short, fat feet with the pearly pink toenails.

“If you’re a hobbit.” Juliet laughed. “I’m just kidding. Clint just told me to make sure you had fun. He worries about you, Phee.”

“I know he does,” I said softly. “I’m okay. I worry about Nellie Jo. She seems so sad now that Mike’s gone. He was her whole world and now she has to figure out how to live without him.”

“Nellie is tougher than you think. Did you know she’s signed up for yoga and a college class?”

“No. Really?”

“Yep. She told me she’s going to try all the things she was too scared to do before. She said each time she does something new, she can hear his voice in her head telling her she is being a Nervous Nellie. It makes her smile.”

“I’m glad,” I said. “We should all try new things even if they make us nervous.”

“Um…yeah…didn’t I just say we needed to go to the vortex? Hello? New. Different.” Juliet gave me an incredulous look.

“And we are.” I pulled open the door to the room where Juliet and I were scheduled for our spa treatments. A woman was lying on the table with clay covering her arms and face. The rest of her was covered by a white sheet. “Oh! I’m sorry. I thought our appointment was at two o’clock.” She didn’t move or even acknowledge we had entered the room.

“Maybe she’s deaf,” Juliet whispered.

“If she’s deaf, why are you whispering?” I hissed back. “Ma’am? Is your aesthetician here? I think there’s been a mix up in times.”

The woman still didn’t move. I moved in closer and noticed that she did not appear to be breathing. “Ma’am? Are you okay?” I asked in a loud, clear voice. I turned to Juliet. “Maybe she’s asleep.”

Juliet stepped forward and shook the woman to awaken her. As she did, the woman’s arm fell off and clattered to the floor.

Juliet screamed and shattered the quiet tranquility of the spa. “Oh my goddess! Oh my goddess! It’s some kind of horrible flesh-eating zombie disease and now I’ve got it! I’ve got the plague. I’m gonna lose my arms and maybe my teeth. I’m not going to be able to wear my sleeveless wedding dress because I won’t have any arms!” She hopped around the room flapping her hands and squawking like a hen in heat.

In shock, I looked at the woman who still hadn’t moved. It was then that I noticed something strange about her mud-covered body. I leaned down and picked her arm off the floor and thrust it towards Juliet.

“What in the blue blazes are you doing, Phee?” Juliet screeched. “Now you’ve got the plague! Poor Mom and Dad will be heartbroken!”

“It’s not real,” I said. I tried to hand her the arm, but she just shook her head and backed away from me in fright.

After a moment, Juliet calmed down enough to ask, “So it’s a prosthetic? Is she…dead?”

“Not quite, Jules. What we have here, my dear hysterical sister, is a mannequin. Someone just played a very nasty trick on us.”

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Character profile: Clint Mason

A reader asked me about my character, Clint, and why he didn’t want a commitment. In my mind, Clint is a character who carries the burden of his youth and his past on his shoulders. It colors how he sees the world and views relationships. His parents had an unhealthy marriage which has now skewed Clint’s view on all romantic relationships. Phee’s flaw is that she thinks she can fix him. She has the rose-colored idea that if she loves him enough, it will fix what’s broken inside of him. I think this is a reflection on many real-life relationships, so I wanted to show it in my characters. The question that I, as the writer, must decide is should Clint change as a character or should Phee change how she views him and love him anyway? Decisions, decisions. We’ll reveal more of Phee and Clint in my next book –

Couple hand by hand at Sunset.

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Eyebrow Cyclops

(Unedited preview – may contain errors.)

A short excerpt from Permanently Deleted.  Phee has rescued a puppy named Fritz.

 

An hour later, I was at Paws n Claws Veterinary Clinic. My parents had been taking our Irish Setter, Hamlet, there for years and Dr. Vicki Betters had squeezed Fritz into her busy schedule.

Dr. Betters ran her hands over Fritz’s shaggy frame. She checked his ears and teeth and listened to his heart. “He appears to be about six months old. I’d guess he’s a mix between a Jack Russell and a long-haired Dachshund. He’s malnourished, but otherwise, he’s in good health. I’d definitely take him to a groomer to get these mats cut and for a good bath. Are you planning to keep him?”

“I think Ferdinand would never forgive me if I didn’t. He meowed up a storm until I went outside and found him.”

“He’s found his forever home,” Dr. Better said and smiled. “I’ll give him his first round of shots and a dewormer. You’ll need to bring him back in a few weeks for the second round of shots and a weight check, but I think he’ll be fine.”

Half an hour later, Fritz and I were back in Velma and heading downtown. He had a bone between his paws. The girls in the front office at the vet’s had insisted he needed a treat for being so brave when he got his shots. I pulled into a parking spot in front of Tinted Love Beauty Salon.  Kimmie and Kristin were the owners of the beauty salon slash dog grooming salon.  Since they were the only place in town that cut hair besides the barber shop, most people didn’t mind that they did dog’s hair in the back of the shop.

I opened the door of the shop and Fritz and I walked in.  Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach blared in the shop. Kimmie, the older sister, sat on a salon chair reading a gossip magazine. She hopped up when she saw me. Her short hair was shaved on one side and sported a bright shade of magenta on the remaining long lock that fell over her left eye.

“What’s up, Phee? Who’s this little guy?” Kimmie asked.

“This is Fritz. I rescued him. Dr. Betters checked him over, and she suggested I have a professional cut out all these mats. Can you fit him in on your schedule today?”

“Sure can, baby doll. Come here, Fritzie Witzie. Give Auntie Kimmie some sugar.” Kimmie took Fritz’s leash and picked him up. “I’ll have him looking like a GQ dog model in about thirty minutes. You want to wait? Kristin’s finishing up a manicure, so she can do something about those caterpillars you have growing over your eyeballs.”

My hand went to my eyebrows. “What’s wrong with my eyebrows?”

“Darling, Brooke Shields is so yesterday with the brows. You need some shaping and some thinning. Kristin will hook you up.”

“Papa, don’t preach! I’m in trouble deep! Papa, don’t preach…tra la I don’t know the rest of the words…la la la la la,” Kristin caterwauled. The woman whose nails she was polishing grimaced at the off key singing.

“Who’s that?” I asked Kimmie. I hadn’t seen the woman in town before, and she didn’t look like one of the protester.

“Her name is Elizabeth Shields and she is with the feds,” Kimmie hissed. “The FBI feds. She’s here helping investigate some kinds of financial hinky dinky going on with some business. I only know this because my cousin Grace works at the hotel where she’s staying. FYI, she knows your man, Clint. Rumor has it they were eating dinner together the other night. Everything alright between you two?”

“We’re fine. It was probably business.”

Kimmie gave me a doubtful look. Heck. The words didn’t even ring true to my own ears. Clint did say he didn’t want a commitment. Guess he was making sure I believed him. Kimmie gestured for me to take a seat and carried Fritz to the back of the salon.  A few minutes later, Kristin put the nail dryer over the agent’s hands and motioned me to a chair.

“What’s up, girl? Kimmie wasn’t kidding when she said those brows could use some love. Not tainted love either!” Kristin let out a loud guffaw of laughter at her own joke. Where her older sister was all eighties glam, Kristin was 1950s rockabilly. Both girls, however, loved karaoke and a good time and their vast array of song lyrics in their head never ceased to amaze me.

“I guess I haven’t been loving my brows. Who knew they were so needy?” I sat down and closed my eyes as she cleaned the area on my brow bone.

“How’s Clint? I bet he’s busy with this latest murder? I heard they were holding Nellie Jo as a suspect.” Kristin applied wax to one brow and seconds later, she ripped off the muslin causing me to jump out of my seat.

“Nellie had to be questioned since she’s his wife. Clint and I are good. Both of us have been busy with work and stuff,” I said nonchalantly.

Kristin applied wax to the other brow. A second later, I felt her arm jostle against me as she went to yank the second strip of muslin. “Oh crap! Oh crap!”

I opened my eyes. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I am so sorry,” Elizabeth Shields said. “I’m such a clumsy person.” She shrugged and gave me a sheepish smile.

“Phee, don’t look. I can fix it,” Kristin squeaked. “I can.” She pressed the muslin back against my brow and frantically patted it.

“Fix what?” I asked. I turned my chair to look into the mirror. I had a unibrow. As in, one eyebrow over one eye. No eyebrow over the other. “Oh my sweet pepper of paella! My eyebrow is gone!”

“It’s my fault. I was looking down at my nails and accidentally bumped Kristin. I really am sorry,” Elizabeth apologized again. If she was so sorry, why did she have a triumphant gleam to her eyes?

“It’s okay. I’m sure Kristin will fix it,” I said smoothly. No way was I going to let this polished, blonde federal agent know that inside my voice was screaming Eyebrow Cyclops!

“Your Clint’s friend, Phee, aren’t you? I’m Elizabeth Shields. He told me about you,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve got to run. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee next time I run into you to make up for this.” She strolled out the shop door.

“That little…!” Kristin fumed. “Phee, I swear she did it on purpose. There’s more than enough room for her to walk past me. I’ll fix it though.”

“How?” I said. “I look like a…a freak!” I wanted to cry, but I knew if I did, Kristin would fall apart. It wasn’t her fault.

“I’ll give you bangs!” Kristin said. “Yeah! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you long bangs that you can wear swooped down over one eye to hide the missing eyebrow until it grows back.”

“Like Veronica Lake?” I said with a small hint of hope that I wouldn’t be a social pariah for the next six weeks.

“I don’t know who that is, but sure.” Kristin pulled out her scissors and began to cut on my hair.  A few minutes later, she twirled my chair around to show me my new hairdo. She had managed to get my unruly red hair to fall into a natural looking swoop over my left eye. Although it didn’t hide the missing eyebrow entirely, it did make it a little less noticeable.

“I can live with it,” I said. “Worse comes to worst, I’ll hide in a dark room for the next month.”

“I am so sorry, Phee. I swear she bumped me on purpose. You can use a pencil to try to draw an eyebrow on if you think it will help. ”

“I believe you. Somehow I think Miss Elizabeth Shields, federal agent, was trying to intimidate me. Well, Ophelia Jefferson is nobody’s doormat!”

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What I’ve Learned

I never planned to write a book.  I wanted to write, but fear prevented any attempt to put my fingers to the keyboard and start. Last November, I took the plunge and participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  From those thirty days of writing 50,000 words, the character of Phee Jefferson came to life.  When I was done, I liked the story.  In thirty days of writing, the characters became real.  I could see their relationships and imagine everyday scenarios for them.  I got the crazy idea to go the indie publishing route, so I put the novel together and published it as Death is Long Overdue.  

It’s been a few months since I released the first book.  Along the way, I’ve learned several lessons that I hope will guide other writers who choose to meander down the indie author path. 

Amy’s Rule #1:  Write it and walk away.  Write the story.  It has a life of its own and needs to take form.  Once the final word is on the page, save it and walk away.  Don’t read it, think about it or talk about it for at least a week or two (longer if you can stand it).  Know that you can’t be objective about your newly born creation. After a few weeks, you become less attached and can review it with a critical eye.  You can slash that awful paragraph you thought was phenomenal when you wrote it but now realize doesn’t move the story forward and is really just taking up space.  I edited Death is Long Overdue immediately after writing it and missed critical errors in grammar (passive voice, overuse of words, etc.) because I was too attached to my infant novel at the time. Since I went the self-publishing route, I corrected the published ebook and paperback in a brutal two week marathon of rewrites this month, but I may have lost future readers due to freshman mistakes. 

Amy’s Rule #2:  Hire a proofreader/editor.  Friends are great for beta readers and for feedback on scenes and the story itself; however, they realize this is your baby and may be tentative to give constructive criticism.  The ideal situation is to hire a professional to proofread for grammar, etc. and edit for story, but if that isn’t a feasible option, invest in one of the myriad of programs available.  I’ve chosen to use ProWriting Aid for my second novel, Summer Reading is Killing Me, and it’s made my self-editing faster and more objective.  The computer doesn’t care that I love a certain word.  For example, I learned I write “just” just a little too much.  It highlights it and prompts me to get rid of at least 4 uses of it out of the 10.  Fortunately, I have a friend who edits for story.  She doesn’t mince words when she reads a scene.  It either works or leaves her flat.  If she’s not sure, she’ll ask “why” so if I can’t justify it, I delete it or rewrite it.  Make sure you have one person in your arsenal willing to do this if you can’t afford to hire someone to edit for content. 

Amy’s Rule # 3:  Read, Read, Read. Read as much as you can about writing, marketing and publish.  Review those darn grammar rules you thought you’d never use after graduation.  I have stacks of books, bookmarked sites and lots of great pins on my Pinterest board to help tighten my writing and guide me through the maze of self-publishing.  I published the first book through Amazon.  Amazon is user-friendly and is a great way to start if you are publishing your first book.  I took advantage of their KDP Select program which allows subscribers who participate in Kindle Unlimited to check out my novel.  You can use it as a tool to build a fan base.  By choosing this route, however, I am restricted to publishing my ebook with Amazon for 90 days. This prevents me from releasing the book to Nook, Kobo, GooglePlay etc. until April 2015.  For the second book, I plan to utilize Aerbook for ebook format and both Amazon and Ingram for the paperback version.  Learn from the mistakes others have made and also from their successes.  The great thing about the indie author crowd is their willingness to support each other.  If I had researched and read before publishing, I would have known to purchase my own ISBN; realized the restrictions of publishing through Amazon; and would have known that if you want people to read your book, you need to learn to promote, promote, promote.   

Amy’s Rule # 4: Don’t be afraid to break the rules:  What works for me may not work for you.  Indie authors are all about breaking free from the rules of traditional book publishing.  At this point, I plan to continue down the indie path for several reasons.  First, I have a stressful day job. I think the pressure I might get from an agent or publishing house would add too much stress and take away the fun I have writing. This may change, but for now, I’m okay with independent publishing. I formed my own publishing company, Bella Lilly Press, so I can publish under my own imprint rather than CreateSpace, etc.  This also allows other independent authors to publish under my imprint in the future. Second, I like having control over my writing as well as how much or how little I market, promote, etc.  Of course, being independent means I do it all myself, but it also means I don’t have to do something I don’t like.  Third, I do this because I enjoy it.  I like my characters. I like seeing what they’ll do next.  One night last week, I was writing and became so invested in the story when I finished the chapter, I raised my fist and cheered.  I was writing it, but even I couldn’t wait to see how it ended.  Crazy!  Thank goodness my Jack Russell Terriers, Watson and Fritz, ignore my sudden outbursts.  I don’t want to lose that “thrill of the write” by compromising for a publishing house’s bottom line.    

I hope you’ll follow along with me as I continue Phee’s attempts to solve crime in the small village of Miller’s Cove. In Summer Reading is Killing Me, Phee stumbles upon a body in Longfellow Park.  The victim is Elody Campbell, famous for being famous party girl and daughter of Senator Richard Campbell. Someone made sure Elody’s party days are over.  Soon, Miller’s Cove is overrun with paparazzi, and the town is in a tizzy.  This time, Phee’s not solving the mystery alone.  Her sister, Juliet, is along for the ride.  Will the two of them catch the killer or will the case be too hot to handle for a small town librarian and her free-spirited sister?   (Release date:  May 1, 2015)

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