You Could Be Having More Fun

nola

Bored with the blog world? Then, stop reading this blog post and instead check out the first chapters of my latest novel, Nica of Los Angeles, It is the first in the FRAMES series, a speculative fantasy with detective elements, plenty of humor, and a strong female lead. I’m excited about this series and the reactions Nica is getting so far! One thing I can guarantee – you haven’t read anything quite like this before.

Not ready to commit to free chapters? Then start with the descriptions below.

Thumbnail:

When rookie private eye Nica takes on a mysterious case, she enters a world of multiple dimensions called Frames, where buildings and lawn chairs can be sentient, where a stray cat has great powers, where books can be killers, and clouds can be spies. At home, Nica tackles missing persons cases, while in the larger reality of the Frames she is swept into an escalating battle between good and evil.

Synopsis:

Nica Sheridan Taggart Ambrose Taggart Ickovic (S.T.A.T.Ic.) craves action and change, which leaves her life as stable as old dynamite; and though she’s had more than her share of tragedy, she maintains an unquenchable spirit. Her restless nature has led her into several marriages and countless jobs. Now she appoints herself as a private detective, and her shingle is barely dry when she gets not one but three pairs of clients demanding her attention.

First comes a noxious couple that Nica secretly dubs Mathead and Scabman, who claim to seek a certain duffel bag; repelled, Nica declines their money but they won’t go away. Then, the Garcias hire her to find a missing, 15-year-old goddaughter; Nica doesn’t trust them, but decides she can help the girl in spite of them. Both cases pale beside the third demand for her services.

I became aware that the air had changed. My office smelled like a forest just after a flash flood, when everything is power-washed and tree trunks are smeared with riverbed mud. Fresh and wild.

It took much strength to gently lower that window, but the stranger’s arms – all sinew and muscle – showed no strain. I took a step back to get a fuller look and to get farther away. He was a wolf. I don’t mean a predatory flirt, I mean he was long and lean and fast and dangerous: coarse black hair, ice-gray eyes and smile full of teeth, supreme confidence backed with survival instinct.

“Please sit down,” I suggested or pleaded as I retreated behind my desk. As he complied, muscles flexed inside his garments, a loose cotton tunic and drawstring pants that were as gray as February.

She sat down, too. My other visitor was a princess: not as in daddy’s spoiled girl, as in future queen of the fairies. She was as ethereal as he was earthy, exotic but I couldn’t place the ethnic background. Cornsilk hair, slanted eyes like unpolished silver, her skin like the penny you’ve always kept in your pocket for luck. Her tunic was white as a desert sunrise.

“We are in need of your detective arts,” she said.

“That tends to be why people come to this office.” The joke was stillborn. “I’m usually good with accents but I can’t place yours. Where are you from?”

“I first arrived in the place you call Kansas.”

“Huh.” I’ve been to Kansas and there is nobody like her there. I decided I would not call her a liar and looked to him expectantly.

“Knowledge of my ancestry provides no value. We have need of your assistance,” he said, in a voice that never needed help from anybody.

“The fate of the free worlds is at stake,” she added, in a voice like the first spring breeze on snow.

“Oh-kay.” Note to self, cancel ad in Nutjob Quarterly.

Despite this bizarre introduction, Nica instinctively trusts these two, Anwyl and Anya, who draw her into adventures beyond imagining – and she’s got a crazy imagination. They travel into other dimensions called Frames, often with the Watts Towers – which are folk art sculptures in Nica’s Frame, but sentient, animate beings elsewhere. Nica learns to avoid books, which form deadly mercenary armies; to keep silent around clouds, which can be spies; and to view her stray cat warily, since cats are beings of great power and you never know what side they’re on. There is danger everywhere in the Frames, but also a mind-boggling expansion of reality. For once, Nica feels challenged, engrossed, and strangely at home.

In this first book of the FRAMES series, a band of allies that includes structures, landforms, and creatures sets out to stop Warty Sebaceous Cysts, a repulsive trio who casually commit genocide as part of their plan to free their imprisoned leader, Maelstrom. Freedom for Maelstrom would bring cruelty and horror to all the Frames, so Nica joins the allies’ cause without hesitation, though her efforts get her in trouble with the law at home, and in danger of mind control, pain, and death in other Frames. As she sees it, she was born to travel the Frames.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Transformation by Moonlight

I have always been a cat person, but these last few years, here I am with a dog. My kids knew the right buttons to push. If we didn’t take Shadow she was going to the shelter. Right away. Next week. And she was too old to be adopted, once there. I said we could take her until we found a home for her. I’m sure you can finish this part of the story without me.

Waiting for the next walk.

Waiting for the next walk.

Shadow has been in the family for about 5 years now. She is either 7 or 12, depending on which murky version of her past is correct. All my experience is with cats, and rabbits, who are a lot like cats, except in two dimensions – they don’t usually go high above the ground.

Dogs are not like cats. Shadow doesn’t want to think for herself. She wants me to tell her what to do. I want her to figure it out for herself. Not sure how long it might take to re-train me about this.

Shadow is a sweet soul who had difficult early years. It was before my time with her, but some effects are permanent. She has fly-strike bald patches on her ears (indicating neglect, the vet says), she is afraid of young children and petite women (abuse, we speculate), and she is unpredictably psycho around other dogs. She might be friendly, she might attack. She can switch from one attitude to the other in an instant.

I walk her twice a day, and sometimes she will lunge at a dog who barks behind a fence, with such force I am lucky to remain standing. She knows the lunges are forbidden but sometimes she can’t resist. No doubt my lack of dog savvy contributes to the problem. My aging joints are getting more brittle and someday I may have to stop walking her to avoid these jolts.

During a walk I am quite willing to reverse direction, or take her to stand on the far side of a parked car, when another dog and walker appear. Neighbors who have friendly dogs are oblivious, or amused by this. Neighbors with kindred dogs have similar tactics. There was one night when I stood behind a car forever, waiting for the other dog to walk by, then finally looked out at the same time as the other dogwalker – who had moved behind a car across the street, waiting for me to walk by!

I know all the routes that let me see whether another dog is coming around the bend, I know all the streets that are wide enough to let dogs pass by without incident. And I know the times of day when the streets will be heavy with dogs, or empty of them.

One benefit of psycho dog walking syndrome is that I have discovered the pleasures of a dog walk by moonlight on a summer night. When all the other dogs are inside for the night, Shadow becomes a lovely walking companion. When I can be comfortable strolling in shorts and sleeveless top around about midnight – that makes the daytime heat worthwhile. And when the moon is bright enough to cast shadows, magic ensues. Usually the shadow images aren’t dense or defined enough to show up well in my photographs. But one night recently, they were.

The photos below show the moon-shadows of a tree and a chicken-wire fence on a yellow garage door, transformed from mundane to mysterious. The dog was reasonably patient about my stopping to take the photos. There are things we need to accept about each other on walks. I stop to take pictures. She stops to sniff every frigging molecule in the universe. (One of us is more accepting than the other.)

Anyway, here are the photos:

2014-07-13 21.10.45

 

2014-07-13 21.10.36

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Summer Lovin’.

But It’s Not a Dry Heat

I once left southern California because of the summers. Three months of baking heat, plus smog and wildfires, plus people saying at least it’s a dry heat. I had enough and I moved to Oregon, where the summers brought morning dew, long warm days, late evening sunsets. Yes, Oregon summers are delightful, but the other three seasons are atrocious, and the sun disappears some time in October then does not return until May. Only people from Michigan and North Dakota like Oregon weather; in Oregon, they are trading up.

At some point I realized I had swapped 3 months of bad weather for 9 months of bad weather, and I returned to southern California where I belong. Nowadays, I no longer mind the long hot summers. I can even sort of tolerate the humid days, with the mantra sweat is a good thing. Southern California is usually in single digit humidity, so when we’re at, say, 70% humidity for days in a row, everyone fusses and the weather becomes the lead news story.

With high humidity come more interesting cloud formations than we usually get.

2014-07-21 18.52.29

And of course clouds can do such nice things to a sunset:

2014-07-21 18.52.44

 

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Summer Lovin’.

Cadaverous Cliff Face(s)

I can’t decide what I think about these images in a cliff face. Look at these photos and help me decide…

Walking along your favorite beach, you pause and think, "Gee, almost looks like there are faces in that cliff. Never noticed them before."

Walking along your favorite beach, you pause and think, “Gee, almost looks like there are faces in that cliff. Never noticed them before.”

You step closer and confirm. Yup. Faces.

You step closer and confirm. Yup. Faces.

Or skulls. Eek.

Or maybe skulls. Eek.

What does this tell you about how the faces formed? Is this rock emerging after erosion? Or did Mom call Junior to come along, before he finished digging this one out?

What about this hole with a rock in it? Does this tell you how the faces formed? Is this rock emerging after erosion? Or did Mom call Junior to come along, before he finished digging out one last face?

1) Are these accidents of erosion that coincidentally look like faces? Or did some beachgoer dig out rocks in an act of 3D graffiti?… or ….

2) Or — do these suggest creatures escaping from the rock? Or have I been spending too much time in the universe of my new book series, FRAMES?

3) Are these faces cool, or creepy, or c), both of the above?

 

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge topic? Containers

Four Answers, Then Tag, They’re It!

Folks, you are about to witness my first participation in a blog tour, a newfangled invention by which indie writers help spread the word that they exist. Lisa Voisin invited me to join. Lisa has followed an interesting life path and it’s no wonder, perhaps, that she now writes young adult paranormal romance.

The way this blog tour works is that I answer four questions, then tell you about a few writers whose books I have really enjoyed. They will continue this tour by answering the same questions on their own blogs in two weeks.

Q1) What am I working on?

I’ve just started writing the second novel in the FRAMES series, the follow-on to Nica of Los Angeles, a speculative fantasy with detective and dystopian elements. Book 2, Chapter 1: my most recently completed sentence reads “As I returned to the street, the air pulsed in a series of quick blasts, punctuated with the deep screams of grown men.” Maybe we should have a contest and the winner will correctly guess what that sentence will read like by the time this new novel matures into a final draft.

Q2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Frankly, I think the author would be the last one to answer this question well.

Q3) Why do I write what I do?

I write what I feel compelled to write. The trick is to sustain that drive through the long haul of finishing a novel. More than once, over the years, I have fought the temptation to freshen my characters mid-book, by sending in a bus to run over the first bunch. Fortunately, I am having a great time writing Nica, and her second book looks to be more fun than the first.

Q4) How does my writing process work?

My subconscious has all the best ideas, but its contributions are scattershot and unpredictable. It’s my conscious writer that keeps plugging away, day after day, to draw the inspirations up to the surface and the page. Screen. Keyboard. Touchscreen.

I write first drafts on my iPad, and love sitting on a summer patio in the dark, illuminated only by my device. However, for editing and formatting, I have to return to my laptop, with its full-service software.

And now I’d like to introduce…

One benefit of being an indie writer is getting to e-meet other indie writers, all over the globe.

Hock Tjoa has this to say about himself:  “Hock is a retired teacher and banker and writes as part of his mission to make more widely known traditional Chinese values, but he makes digressions. He lives in northern California.” I read a play that Hock wrote, based on a Chinese folklore detective, and much enjoyed the dry wit and cleverness of the piece.

Louise White has had nearly as many career paths as I’ve had (!) and has covered both ends of the service spectrum, as a waitress and then a cop. She lives in Scotland and writes a young adult series about a kickass teenage girl who fights demons in a world that is … almost… just like ours. I love how normal and teenage her heroine is, in the midst of all the fantasy.

Tennesseean (?) Fran Veal also writes YA. She mingles teen drama with crime and just a touch of the paranormal. I am one chapter away from completing my first novel by her and it was painful to set it aside so that I could meet various deadlines like posting my blog tour entry on time. But hey, I’m a grown-up, right?

I sense some sniggering, somewhere. Grown-up? Reading a bunch of Young Adult books? And how! It’s one of my favorite genres! Let me know if you want some more YA recommends!

 

 

A Vertical Tide Pool

Let’s face it, erosion is inevitable. In the pictures below, what you will see was once a sea wall, that is, a futile attempt to keep sand where we humans think it should stay. The ocean moved the sand, as it always does; and the ocean removed pieces of the wall, one chemically weathered molecule at a time. The result is a relic that charges my imagination every time I visit its beach, in Santa Barbara, California.

2013-11-03 15.17.12

This former seawall now evokes a line of creatures.

 

2013-11-03 15.17.31

The creatures have tide pools growing up their sides!

 

2013-11-03 15.17.21

I’m guessing that the tidepool growth protects the remaining wall from more erosion.

 

2013-11-03 15.18.18

Detail of a creature’s “leg”.

 

2013-11-03 15.19.45

At the feet, anemones are open for business.

 

2013-11-03 15.18.42

The dense organization of shells makes complex designs in the creature’s hide!

 

The original image.

Sunset instills its own magic on the scene.

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge topic was “Relic”.