Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Twin-Tailed Mermaids: Lusty Ladies of the Deep #AuthorLove

A guest post by my friend Skye Alexander from her book 
Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, & Lore.

Twin-Tailed Mermaids: Lusty Ladies of the Deep
by Skye Alexander

What’s sexy about a fishtail? The mermaid’s tail is one of her most obvious and intriguing symbols, one that’s rich with implications. In The Republic of Love, Carol Shields describes it as “a sealed vessel enclosing either sexual temptation or sexual virtue, or some paradoxical and potent mixture of the two.” In fact, part of the mermaid’s appeal may be her sexual unattainability—we always want what we can’t have. She’s the ultimate tease––a gorgeous babe with the breasts of a Playboy bunny, the face of an angel, and the long, flowing hair of a supermodel. But no man can consummate a relationship with her because her tail prevents access to her “lady parts.”

However, the mermaid’s tail didn’t always look the way it does now. She wasn’t always so constrained. Medieval depictions of mermaids often showed them with two tails or a tail split down the middle, suggesting that these aquatic beauties could take on human lovers after all. Dating back to ancient times, dual-tailed mermaids turn up in the art and mythology of many countries, and recall the old matriarchal belief systems that predated the patriarchal religions of today.

The split-tailed siren is a cross between the early Celtic fertility goddess Sheila-na-gig, who squats and suggestively shows off her feminine secrets, and the more typical mermaid. This sexy seductress blatantly separates her fishtail into two parts, revealing her genitalia as a symbol of feminine power and creativity.

Starbucks’ Twin-Tailed Temptress
Back in 1971, when Starbucks started selling coffee beans in Seattle, Washington, the company chose a mermaid for its logo. That half-naked beauty was of the two-tailed variety and she provocatively parted her tails, holding them up on either side of her bare torso, enticing customers with her charms.

Over time, Starbucks modified the mermaid to make her less naughty. In 1987, logo designers covered up her breasts with her long, wavy hair. When Starbucks became a publicly traded company in 1992, the logo underwent yet another change, this time obscuring the mermaid’s lower body so that only a hint of her split-tail remained in the stylized, sanitized version. To commemorate its fortieth anniversary in 2011, Starbucks refined the logo once again, eliminating the familiar lifesaver-like circle around the mermaid.

Sexy Spiritual Sirens
Despite her blatant sexuality, the two-tailed seductress decorates medieval churches and cathedrals throughout Europe, the British Isles, and Ireland. Often rendered in wood, stone, or mosaic, she graces the French churches Notre Dame de Cunault, the Basilique St. Julien de Brioude, St. Pierre de la Bouisse, and St. Pierre BessuĂ©jouls. She also turns up in Italian churches, including San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, Pavia, Santa Croce in Parma, and Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunciata in Puglia. England, too, has twin-tailed mermaids in the Church of St. George in Hertfordshire and Lancashire’s Cartmel Priory Church.

Mermaids of the usual, single-tailed variety also appear in plenty of churches in Europe and the British Isles. In times when most of the populace was illiterate, pictures conveyed themes and taught morals to the pious. Christianity connected fish with Jesus, the “fisher of men,” and with Christians in general. Mermaids symbolized the sins of vanity and lust. When churchgoers saw mermaids swimming with schools of fish on the walls of their chapels, they recognized it as a message to avoid temptation that would lead them to fall into the treacherous mermaid’s clutches.

Of course, the church fathers played up stories of the mermaid’s penchant for bashing sailors’ ships onto rocks during storms, drowning men who succumbed to her wiles. Nevertheless, these sexy sirens served as artful adornments that may have distracted or delighted many a bored parishioner over the centuries.

One of the most intriguing examples of double-tailed mermaid sculpture dominates the Piazza Nettuno in Bologna, Italy. This erotic fountain features mermaids suggestively spreading their tails while enticingly squeezing water from the nipples of their shapely breasts. Commissioned to celebrate Pope Pius IV’s election in 1559 and sculpted by artist Giambologna, the bronze Fontana di Nettuno—which also depicts Neptune in all his naked glory—raised a good deal of controversy when it was unveiled. But the Pope gave the fountain his blessing, saying, “For Bologna it is alright.”

Nothing stays the same forever, and that goes for the mermaid’s image as well. Today’s mermaids are fun-loving and friendly––lighthearted playmates who delight little girls instead of driving men mad with desire. The blatantly bawdy and awe-inspiring sirens of the past have been ousted. In the process, the split-tailed seductress has vanished, her connection with the powerful, early fertility goddesses erased by cocooning her lower body in a chaste, single tail.

Adapted from Skye Alexander’s book Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, & Lore. Skye is the author of more than 30 fiction and nonfiction books, many about metaphysical subjects and holistic healing. Visit her website www.skyealexander.com.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

To Blog or Not To Blog: A New Adventure!

During the month of April I participated in the #AtoZchallenge for bloggers in which each blogger picked a theme and then blogged every day except Sundays following the alphabet. I have done this before but this year I had a lot more fun, met some great new bloggers and writers, and got a lot of new visitors to my blog. 

I started blogging back in 2005—I don't even remember what I planned to blog about back then. Since then I've written over 2,000 blog posts, have had 750,000 visitors, and have enjoyed it for the most part. Over the past year I cut back my blogging to once a week but this past month has convinced me I need to blog more so I've come up with a plan. Let's see if this is workable.

On Sundays I will write my usual blog post for #SundayBlogShare. This will be about writing, book marketing, or any of the strange and unusual things and places I am always thinking about. In other words, pretty much what I've always done.

Tuesdays will now be #AuthorLove or #ArtistLove days. I will invite author and artist friends to share excerpts from their books or examples of their art, complete with links, pictures and anything else they want to share.

Thursdays are going to be #DomesticGoddess posts. My computer is FULL of recipes, knitting patterns, sewing ideas, etc. All stuff that I collect because I love it. So on Thursdays I'll be sharing my collection and hope people will enjoy them.

Saturdays will be #ImaginaryFriends day. This was my theme for the A to Z Challenge and I got such good feedback that I want to continue sharing snippets from my imaginary friends. Since the Marienstadt books alone have over 100 characters, I think I can do this for a long time.

I think I can schedule a weeks worth of posts in a few hours so it should not be too time consuming. I'm kind of excited about this because I have several new knitting projects to share, lots and lots of recipes, no shortage of author and artist friends, and plenty of interests. This week Skye Alexander is sharing an excerpt from her best-selling book, Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, and Lore. I have a delicious recipe for coconut pie. You'll get to meet Marienstadt's mayor, Gibby Stauffer. And next Sunday I want to tell you about my recent discoveries in family history, thanks to Ancestry.com.

So, as always, thanks for reading and for taking part in this adventure called life!!!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zeke & Gabe: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Zeke & Gabe Hawking

Gabe inherited Zeke, a bloodhound mix, when his daughter went off to college without the dog. These days Zeke and Gabe are constant companions and, because Gabe is going through a hard time as his marriage falls apart, he counts on Zeke to confide in. Gabe and Zeke are staying at the abbey in Maine that Gabe is renovating for the sculptor Maggie. He knows that Maggie is still in love with his childhood friend Pete, who is now a priest. But the more Gabe is around Maggie, the harder it is not to have feelings for her. In this scene from Each Angel Burns: A Novel, Gabe, Maggie, and Zeke are sharing dinner in the abbey's kitchen.

Zeke busily gobbled up the last of his dinner and Gabe stood at the sink washing off a spoon when Maggie returned to the kitchen. She had already set the table, he noticed. There was a bowl of salad and three hot pads waiting to receive whatever was in the oven smelling so mouth-watering.
There’s beer in the fridge,” she said. “At least I think there is. Pris said she brought some.”
He wiped his hands on a towel. Her dirty coveralls had been changed for a long skirt of some soft, flowery fabric, a white cotton shirt and a dove-gray shawl that she had crossed in front and tied behind her waist. When she looked up at him the color made her eyes enormous.
What?” she said as though in reflex.
He shook his head. “I like your shawl. You wear them a lot.”
She flushed and bent to remove the stoneware baking dishes in the oven. “Yes. I sort of collect them. It’s... well, I guess it reminds me of my childhood.” She uncovered a casserole dish filled with rice and carried it to the table.
Pete said you grew up in Vermont.”
Hearing Pete’s name Zeke yipped expectantly.
He’s looking for Pete,” Maggie said. “What a smart dog!”
Zeke likes Pete. Once he starts to know somebody he gives them a special Zeke-name. Hear that little ‘yip’? That’s his name for Pete.”
Really? Do dogs do that?”
I can only speak for Zeke but he amazes me sometimes. He always makes this funny panting noise when my daughter Jessie is around. He even does it when I’m talking to her on the phone. I have no idea how he knows it’s her.” He reached down and scratched Zeke’s ears. “Where’s Pete, Zeke? Where’d Pete go?” Zeke gazed at him then turned and trotted off.
She opened the oven again and handed him a dish of baked cauliflower with golden bread crumbs. “Here, use the pot holders, it’s hot.” She placed the lobster on the table, poured herself wine and slipped into her chair. “Help yourself.”
Did one of your girls make this?” He scooped the chunks of lobster in a buttery garlic sauce onto his plate.
She laughed. “No. Up here they don’t eat lobster very much—it’s too valuable. When they do they just boil it up and eat it with potato chips.”
Really? This is...” he took a big bite and rolled his eyes. “You’re spoiling me something awful.”
Worse than Zeke?”
He smiled and dug into his food.
Zeke, as though on cue, came back into the kitchen and dropped a red and white package at Gabe’s feet.
What the...?”
Oh my!” Maggie’s eyes widened. “You said ‘where’s Pete’ and look what he brought you!”
Gabe picked up the half-empty pack of Marlboros and laughed.
Pete left those in the library a few weeks ago,” Maggie said. “Good boy, Zeke. You are so smart!”
Zeke padded over and rested his head in Maggie’s lap, gazing at her with adoring eyes. Clearly, he had earned a reward. He whimpered and then his long tongue snaked up and snared a piece of lobster from her plate. Maggie squealed with laughter.
You pig,” Gabe stood up in mid bite. “You’re going out in the yard until dinner’s over.” He grabbed Zeke’s collar and hauled him off while Maggie sat helpless with laughter.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Ysabel & Charity: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Ysabel and Charity Wilde

Ysabel is a half chow and half something-else puppy whose mother was abandoned when her owners discovered she was pregnant. Amelia's "old lady" mare, Beatrice, found the dog and brought her to the stable where she had her puppies. While Amelia is giving Boone and Kit a tour of her stables, Boone sees the little back puppy and decides to bring her home to his daughter, Charity. He says that Charity is something of a rescue herself. She had lived the first 12 years of her life with a selfish and careless mother who neglected her. When Boone found out he had a daughter, he brought her to live with him and she is slowly growing to trust. In this scene from The Legend: A Marienstadt Story, Boone brings Charity a present.

Minnie was in the kitchen alone, peeling potatoes, when Boone and Kit came in.
“Where’s Charity?” Boone asked in a low voice.
“She went upstairs to change clothes,” Minnie said. “What have you got there?” She peered into the box and caught her breath. “Oh, Boone!”
“Shhhh.” Boone placed the box on the chair that Charity normally used and folded the top flaps over, tucking them shut. Kit opened the refrigerator and took out two bottles of Straub beer, passing one to Boone.
“She’s going to be so excited,” Minnie said. The men sat down at the table and opened their beers as they heard Charity’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Grandma, is it okay if I go down to the tavern and help Belva for a while?” she called. She appeared in the kitchen door and smiled when she saw Boone and Kit there. “Hi.” She leaned over and kissed Boone’s cheek. “I didn’t know you were back. Hi, Uncle Kit.”
“Hi yourself,” Kit said. “You should have seen the horses we saw today. You’ll have to go with us next time we visit this lady. You’ll love them.”
Charity flushed and went to the refrigerator to pour herself a glass of apple juice. “I’ve never seen a real horse up close. They look so big.”
“The big horses she has are called Gypsy Vanners,” Boone said.
“Gypsy horses,” she said. “That’s a pretty name for horses.”
“But she also has some smaller ones called Black Forest horses. I bet you’d really love those.”
Charity carried her juice to the table, then noticed the cardboard box on her chair. “Is this yours?” She looked back and forth between Boone and Kit.
“Actually,” Boone said, “it’s yours. Kit and I thought you might like it.”
Charity looked at him with her slow, bashful smile. She placed her glass on the table, then tentatively folded back the box’s flaps. The puppy sat on her haunches and when the lid opened, she jumped up and gave a little yip. Charity’s chin trembled. Big tears welled in her eyes and rolled down her face. Her hands shook as she reached into the box and lifted the happy, squirming animal to her chest. “Thank you,” she said, trying to smile despite her tears. “Oh, thank you so much.” The puppy’s fluffy black tail wagged madly and it licked her face with enthusiasm.
Boone reached over, moved the box to the floor, and pulled out the chair for his daughter. “Do you like her?”
“She’s a girl puppy?” Charity asked. “What’s her name?”
“That’s up to you. What would you like to call her?”
Charity slid onto the chair, rubbing her face in the puppy’s fur. “She looks like Toots. A little baby Toots.”
“I thought so, too. That’s why I picked her.”
Charity held the puppy out so she could look at her. “Ysabel.” She turned to Boone. “That’s the name of the dog that was Toots’s friend in The Call of the Wild.”
“That’s an excellent name.”
“Hello, Ysabel.” She sat staring at the dog in disbelief, then stood, rushed over to Boone, and, being careful not to squash Ysabel between them, she hugged him. “Thank you so much.” She pulled back and kissed his cheek. “I love you so much.”
Boone hugged her close.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xena & Excalibur: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Xena, Pearl, Excalibur, and Sultan

Xena, Pearl, and Excalibur are Gypsy Vanner horses who live on Amelia Schreiber's horse farm. Xena is a buckskin mare, Pearl is a white mare, and Excalibur is a palomino stallion. But the most prized of all Amelia's horses is Sultan, a Friesian stallion, who was taken from his stable by her jealous ex-husband. In this scene from The Legend: A Marienstadt Story, stable-keeper Kit Wilde meets Sultan and Amelia for the first time.

Got us a new boarder,” Andy said, hanging up the phone, one morning when Kit came into the stable’s office.
Good,” Kit said. “Are they bringing the horse over or should I go pick him up?”
She’s riding him over this morning.” Andy grinned a mischievous grin. “We’re in for a treat with this one. Ever seen a Friesian stallion?”
No. What’s that?”
One of the most beautiful breeds of horse that you’ll ever see. Black as coal, every one of them, and powerful. They’re an ancient breed of draft horses so they’re all muscle, but every one I’ve ever seen is as graceful and nimble as a show horse.”
Kit’s eyes widened. “No kidding?”
Missus St. Clair said the horse was a gift from her husband. He’s some kind of big shot financier—worth a ton of money. She said they had a big place out in the country where she could take care of the horse herself, but her husband is selling it so they can move into the city. She didn’t sound real happy about that.”
Why would he do that?”
Because people have their heads up their asses.” Andy stood up and reached for his hat hanging on a wall rack. “Can I count on you to stick around here?”
Her name is Amelia St. Clair. I’m sure you’ll be more charming than I am. She sounded upset. I’m not real good with upset women.”
Kit kept his amusement to himself as he watched Andy take the reins of the horse waiting for him, mount it, and ride off like a disgruntled old gunslinger tired of shooting people for their own good. An hour later Kit was crossing the driveway between the office and the house when he spotted a horse with rider galloping through the south pasture toward him. He stopped in his tracks and stared. There was no mistaking this creature—he had never seen anything like it. The horse was both powerful and graceful with an elegant neck and a long, thick mane that blew about in the wind like billowing smoke. Its deep black coat gleamed and long feathers puffed out around all four lower legs with each step. As horse and rider drew closer, the animal slowed to a beautiful, high-stepping trot. Kit looked up at the rider whose face was shaded by the brim of a dark fedora. He raised his hand in greeting.
Hello,” he called. “You must be Missus St. Clair.”
She returned his greeting. As the horse slowed and stopped in front of him, Kit thought he’d never seen anything as majestic as this animal. It held its head high as though aware that it was no ordinary horse. When Kit reached for its halter and ran his hand lightly over its neck the horse nickered softly as if to say, “Yes, you may touch me.”
Mister Wilde?” the woman asked.
I’m Kit Wilde. Who is this gorgeous fellow?”
She swung out of the saddle and dropped to the ground, as fluid and graceful as her horse. “This is Sultan,” she said, caressing him with her hand. “My darling Sultan.”
Kit stroked Sultan’s neck. “We’re going to take very good care of Sultan.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Wapiti & The Wilds: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Wapiti in The Wilds

The background for all of my Marienstadt stories is where I grew up in Elk County, Pennsylvania, famous for its elk herd. One Native American word for "elk" is "wapiti." The part of Pennsylvania that was my home is known as The Pennsylvania Wilds and every year people come from all over the world to spend time in The Wilds and in hopes of seeing the growing elk herd there. This story is based on a popular legend. In this excerpt from Wapiti in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, Oliver Eberstark tells a friend a story about his grandfather, Thaddeus, who, as a boy, went mushroom hunting on a winter day.

It was mid-November and the weather had been mild. Back then most people were fair at predicting the weather but when a cold front came out of nowhere it took everyone by surprise.
Thaddeus was having a good afternoon foraging. He'd found some large Hens-of-the-Wood and was filling the rest of his bucket with chestnuts as it started getting dark. He knew that it was also getting colder but he was a kid and, like most kids, he could ignore the cold when he was busy having fun. Then the snow started. He said it came so hard and so fast that he was nearly blinded by it. He was a good little woodsman but he was not prepared for the storm that was bearing down on him. In the cold and the dark he was soon confused, and terrified, and a very long way from home.
He knew he was in big trouble. He was slipping and falling. He lost his bucket and all its contents. Thad knew that the only hope he had of staying alive was to find some place safe, out of the wind, to try to weather out the night. He crawled under a hemlock tree and huddled up against its trunk. The wind wasn't as bad there, and the snow wasn't stinging his face, but it was a lot of hours until it would be light again. He was freezing and certain he was going to die.
Then he heard something coming through the woods. He knew enough to know the sounds of a woodland creature from those of the storm and he began to tremble in genuine fear. The only thing worse, he thought, than freezing to death, would be to be eaten alive. He was quite convinced that any bear or coyote, who happened to be out wandering around, would be happy to find a nice, juicy boy – even a small, skinny one – to feast on. For the first time since the storm blew in, he began to cry. He buried his head in his arms so he didn't have to see what was coming for him and wept. He heard the animal drawing closer, snuffling through the branches of the trees. He knew they had found him when he felt the heat of a body – two bodies – one on either side of him. But nothing happened. No claws raked him, no teeth bit him, just two large, furry, and rather unpleasant smelling bodies pressed gently against his. He lifted his head and, though he could see little more than the shape of them, he recognized two female elk. They settled down quietly, sheltering him between their warm bodies.
At first he could not stop shaking as he waited for them to notice him. He waited for them to turn and take a bite out of him. He'd never heard of an elk eating a human but he was by no means sure they wouldn't. Slowly, as he nestled there in the warmth of them, he began to relax. He could feel their soft breathing and it comforted him. They stayed still and he found himself growing so limp and tired that he dropped off to sleep. He said it was one of the most peaceful nights of his life.
It was barely light when he was jostled awake by their movements as they stood up. The wind had stopped and he watched in astonishment as the two cows rose, ducked out from under the branches, and plodded off into the woods. He quickly scrambled out of the nest and got his bearings. He had not gone more than a few yards when he heard his oldest brother calling his name.
Here,” he called, running toward the sound. “I'm up here.”
His entire family had been out hunting for him since the first light. Thad told his family the story of how he made it through the night.
Come on,” he said grabbing his father's hand and pulling him toward the hemlock tree. “You'll see.”
He said that they didn't believe his story. When they got to the hemlock tree he pulled the branches aside. There in the snow were the unmistakable imprints of a boy's boots and bottom between the enormous hollows created by a pair of five hundred pound creatures resting in the snow. Until the day he died Thad's brother called him “Elk Boy.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Viv & Veronica: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Vivienne & Veronica Quinn

Vivienne Lang Quinn is a force to be reckoned with. She is skilled in multiple martial arts as well as street fighting. More than a few people out to cause trouble have learned the hard way not to mess with her. However, since the birth of her baby daughter, Veronica, Viv has learned to be more cautious. In this scene from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret, an overly ambitious kid challenges her and intervention comes from an unexpected source.

Viv pulled into her parking space, lifted out Veronica in her carrier, and locked the car. She was halfway across the parking lot when she saw the boy lingering at the corner near her condo. She stopped, took a deep breath, and thought briefly about returning to her car, but Veronica was stirring and Viv knew she would want to be changed and fed soon.
She hadn’t talked to Joe, or to anyone, about this problem. As discreetly as the police had handled the death of Linus Lindgren and her role in it, word got out. In the martial arts community people knew—or at least surmised—that she had ended Lindgren's life. The rumors spread like wildfire. She was lethal and now there were those who wanted to challenge her. So far she had managed to avoid fighting—the last thing she needed was some foolish, gunslinger-wannabe kid, but her baby was beginning to fuss.
Don’t worry, baby girl,” she said softly. “Mommy’s going to take care of you.”
The boy watched her. He was an average size kid and didn't look like he could be more than eighteen but he appeared strong and agile and, as she crossed the street, he sauntered toward her.
Hey,” he said.
Keys in hand, she fixed her eyes on the door and kept walking, but the kid approached with a cocky, ambling gate, his head tilted back.
Hey,” he repeated. “You're Viv Lang, aren't you? I'm talking to you.”
When she pushed a button on her key ring the front door clicked as it unlocked. She shifted the baby carrier to the side away from the kid without looking at him.
Don't ignore me,” he said. “I hear you're supposed to be a hotshot fighter.”
She wasn't afraid—that was what always surprised her, being in a tense situation and feeling nothing but calm. She pushed the door open with her hip and, turning sideways to protect the entrance, she placed the baby on the floor. Viv was about to step inside when the kid lunged toward her, hand outstretched. She spun intending to use his forward motion to hurl him to the ground, but before she touched him the boy jerked backwards and seemed to levitate off the sidewalk.
What the hell?” he gasped.
Hey, karate kid,” a raspy voice snarled, “sweep the goddamn leg.”
There was a wild laugh as an enormous figure materialized out of the shadows. The boy struggled, kicking air and writhing, but held aloft he could find no purchase. He managed to twist his head only to shriek at the sight of the monster grasping him by his belt and the back of his jacket. The boy's legs churned and his eyes widened at the sight of a scarred and terrifying face surrounded by a mass of grizzled gray-streaked hair. The monster grinned at him, gave him a hard shake, then, as casually as he would toss aside a banana peel, pitched the boy away from Viv into the street. The kid scrambled to his feet and took off running.
Viv turned to the huge man. “Brother Maksim,” she said, “I am very, very happy to see you. What are you doing here?”
I’ve been thinking about you,” the monk said, folding his big arms across his chest. “I figured it was time I got to see that baby of yours.”
Viv laughed. “You couldn’t have picked a better time. Come in.”

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Ulysses: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Ulysses Fritz

Stone mason Ulysses Fritz has always admired the General whose name he bears. He's in his 60s now but as a young man he attended college in Gettysburg where he became fascinated by the Civil War and the roles his Great-grandfather Bartholomew and his great-uncles played in it. After graduation he stayed in Gettysburg giving battlefield tours, working as a guard in a museum, and tending bar. One night he notices a particularly lovely tourist. In this scene from The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk: Volume 3, he meets the woman who will be the love of his life.

When she looked back for the third time, Ulysses smiled at her and reached for a bottle of bourbon. He knew he wasn’t handsome like his brother was, and he’d never been much of a conversationalist—he spent too much time inside his own head. But he was tall and athletic and had the same deep-set, dark blue eyes that all the Fritz’s had. Between playing in a rock band and playing football, he’d attracted enough attention from girls that he wasn’t particularly shy around them/ Finally, she drained her drink, stood, and wove her way to the bar.
Bourbon on the rocks?” he asked.
How did you know?” Her voice was low and throaty. She had a full lower lip that he wanted to bite, and lazy, heavy-lidded cat’s eyes the color of whiskey.
You look like bourbon on the rocks,” he said. “When you’ve tended bar as long as I have you get to know what people look like.”
Yeah?” She cocked her head to the side. “What else do I look like?”
You look like your name should be Slim,” he said suddenly realizing that with her long, silky hair, and those sultry eyes she reminded him of Lauren Bacall in one of his favorite movies, To Have and Have Not. He refreshed her drink, keeping his eyes on hers.
She gave him that husky laugh. “Thanks.” She lifted the glass to take a sip. “What’s your name?”
Ulysses.” He raised the bottle in an offer to top off her drink but she shook her head. “What’s yours?”
She turned then looked back over her shoulder and said, “You can just call me Slim.”
He loved watching her walk away. He didn’t want her to walk away but he sure loved watching it.
He didn’t know when she left. The bar was busy and when he turned to look for her the whole table had been deserted. He finished out his shift, helped close up, and left through a side door to walk the few blocks to his studio apartment. The inn had a porch with a low railing that ran the length of it and a row of Early American style rocking chairs. As he rounded the building to the street he saw that one of the rocking chairs was occupied.
Is your name really Ulysses?” she said from the shadows.
Yep.” He put his hand on the railing, vaulted over, then sat back on it in front of her. “What’s yours?”
Lilliana,” she said, brushing her hair back from her shoulders. “Lilliana Ellis.”
That’s a nice name. Very lilting.” He had no idea where that word came from.
Yes.” She smiled. “That’s what my mother thought, too.” She sighed and looked out at the trees, now illuminated by street lamps. “It really is pretty here. I think I’d like to come back sometime when there aren’t as many tourists.”
Yeah? You should come in the fall. It’s beautiful here then. I’ll give you my own customized tour of the battlefields.”
That sounds tempting.” She stood and straightened her skirt. He kept his hands folded in his lap, afraid that if he didn’t, they would do something for which he’d have to apologize.
Well.” She stepped closer and then, seemingly in slow motion, she leaned forward and kissed him—a long, soft kiss.
I can’t believe you did that,” he said when he caught his breath.
“‘I was just wondering if I’d like it,’” she quipped, then winked. “I saw that movie, too.”
She stepped down off the porch and walked away, taking his heart with her. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Tessie: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Tessie the Old Mermaid

When Clair Wagner moves to Port Presque Isle she becomes fascinated by an inn with a huge painting of a beautiful mermaid on the front. When she meets Tessie, the loud, brassy, drunken proprietor of the Old Mermaid Inn she is a little overwhelmed but as Clair falls more deeply in love with Baptiste, she is grateful to Tessie for all Tessie has done to help Baptiste rebuild his life. In this scene from The Old Mermaid's Tale: A Novel of the Great Lakes, Tessie tells Clair a story that changes the course of her life.

Aw, ya miss him, don’cha, sweetie?” Tessie said without preamble. “I’m tellin ya, you two was a real love story, huh? I sez ta Nat an Stoney, I sez ‘Baptiste hain’t never gonna love no one but that lil angel puss a his an, goddammit, she hain’t gonna get over him neither’.”
I want to be with him, Tessie. He doesn’t understand. He thinks it would ruin my life but it doesn’t make any sense to me to live like this—with both of us miserable. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
She shook her head sadly. “Aw, honey, men’s like that, ya know? The ones who’ll keep ya an use ya up are no damn good an the ones worth havin are jest too hard ta hold onta. After I met you I told Baptiste it was a cryin shame that what brought you two together was gonna pull ya apart in the end.”
I stared at her great, age-wearied face. “Why do you say that, Tessie?”
That Baptiste, he’s jest too damn good ta let his life go ta hell like he done. He’s a smart man, sweetie, but he jest got carried away by a life he was too good for. An you’re a smart girl and he jest loved that about ya. He used ta tell us all about how smart you was. Why, you’d a thought he was your pop instead a your man. An, girl, you got them dreamy eyes. You fell for a mystery man that come out a nowheres an could sing like nobody else in the world. Now your smarts is takin you away from him ta go ta school an his music is takin him away from you. Hain’t no solution, sweetie, not without messin up both your lives.”
I sighed. “Oh, Tessie, it sounds like you’re the smart one.”
No, I hain’t” She fixed faded eyes burrowed in the depths of her thick face on me. “I messed up my life real good. Real damn good.” She stared at me studying my face, judging my reaction. “Look out a that window an tell me what ya see.”
I looked over her shoulder at the Inn across the street. “The Old Mermaid Inn.”
Look closer.”
I studied the sweet face of the mermaid with her teasing, seductive smile and the blond waves floating in swirls around her voluptuous body.
Tessie... is that..?” I was silenced by disbelief.
She nodded her lank hair bobbing up and down over her vast body. “Yup, thas me all right. Or was long time ago. I was a knock-out back then, ya know?”
I looked back and forth between the two, searching for the pert, heart-shaped face and the flirty, long-lashed eyes.
I was workin in a lil beer garden down of a Front Street. There was men, important men, what thought I was a lil piece a heaven on earth. An I had me lots a chances ta marry up with one a them but, no sir, not me. I had ta go an fall for this big knucklehead Swede sailor what come from up in the U.P. But, oh, cupcake, he was a man!” She grinned and all the nights of passion came darting out from her smile.
That’s him.” She pointed to the tattoo on her arm. “His name was some weird Swede thing but I always jest called im Rocky. I told im he was strong like a rock an I wasn’t lyin. Girl, we was so hot for each other, I tell ya...” She grinned and shook her head like a dog shaking water out of its fur. “Every time he was in port we was so in love it’d make ya puke.”
She sighed spooning sugar into her coffee and letting her mind wander back.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Syd: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Syd Jupiter

Syd Jupiter is a complete mystery. He is a huge half-Creole, former NFL football player from New Orleans. He is also a convicted killer who spent fifteen years in prison for shooting his brother-in-law, Raven Silver. Now on parole, Syd has returned to Hathor, the island estate his fifteen year old daughter has inherited upon the death of her great-grandfather. As he tries to adjust to life outside of prison, being a father, and managing his daughter's considerable fortune, he discovers that Storm Watson, a muckraking journalist, is trying to stir up trouble. In this excerpt from Depraved Heart: A Novel, Syd decides to pay Watson a visit.

As Storm entered his office he realized that the reason for the darkness was the size of the man who stood, his back to the room, gazing out the window. He was close to a foot taller than Watson and twice as wide.
Can I help you?” Watson asked.
The man turned slowly, swept him with dark blue eyes, and in a quiet, lightly-accented voice said, “I thought perhaps it was I who could help you.”
Watson’s knees went weak. “Syd Jupiter,” he stammered.
Syd extended his hand and said, “How do you do.”
Nobody, Watson thought, said ‘how do you do’ anymore. But he extended his hand and watched it disappear into the enormous hand that closed around it.
What do you want?” Watson asked.
Syd seated himself in the solitary chrome and faux-leather chair across from the desk, crossed his long legs, and folded his hands on his thigh. Watson placed his Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup on his desk and scurried into the chair behind it. Jupiter wore a perfectly tailored dove-gray silk suit with a dark gray shirt and an exceptionally expensive looking wine-colored tie. That tie, Watson thought, probably cost more than everything he himself wore, including his shoes. His annoyance grew proportionally.
I asked what you want.”
Syd raised one heavy black eyebrow. “I think it is more a matter of what you want. Since you seem so interested in my life and that of my family, I thought I’d drop by and provide you with the opportunity to ask any questions you might have. Perhaps I can spare you hours of idle speculation.”
Watson shifted uncomfortably. “You read my blog. I guess I should be flattered.”
I read everything my lawyers forward to me.”
Watson opened his mouth, but his voice seemed to have disappeared.
If you want to write about us, perhaps you would like to get the facts rather than indulge in fantasy.”
Hey, I have a right to ask any questions I want to ask.”
You most certainly do. Which is why I am here to answer them.”
Okay, answer this then. Why the hell did Old Man Ravenscroft leave a multi-billion dollar estate to the man who murdered his only grandson?”
Much to Watson’s disappointment, Jupiter didn’t bat an eye.
Once both of his grandchildren were gone and he had only his great-granddaughter as an heir, he decided that the most prudent thing to do would be to leave the estate in the control of the person who loved Anjelica the most.”
That doesn’t make sense. He knew you had another ten years to serve in prison. Why would he put a prison inmate in charge of billions?”
Syd kept his gaze level and direct and did not betray even a hint of emotion. “He knew I was due to be paroled and that my conduct in prison had been exemplary. If it had been in his power I would have been paroled years earlier.”
Do you think I believe that? You killed his only grandson.”
I’m not proud of what happened that night, but Grandfather Ravenscroft knew it was an accident, and once he recovered from the grief, we were able to reconcile and make amends.” Jupiter raised his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
Watson closed his mouth. He knew there was an insult in that but he wasn’t quite sure what the nature of it was.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Raj: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Raj Singh

Born to Indian immigrants in Bayonne, New Jersey, Raj Singh and his brother, Kumar, were biker bad boys who looked like Indian princes and talked like Tony Soprano. After losing the two people dearest to him, Raj was about to drink himself into oblivion until he found a reason to live--forming a new motorcycle club called Durga's Dogs whose mission it was to track down and break up dog fighting rings. When his old friend Kit Wilde asks for his help finding a Friesian stallion, Raj and Durga's Dogs are only too happy to be of assistance. In this scene from The Legend: A Marienstadt Story, Raj helps Priya Desai, a girl he'd had a crush on when he was a boy but had not seen in years.

During a brief trip back to Bayonne for their father's birthday, Raj saw Priya again. By that time both he and Kumar had acquired the muscles, tattoos, and attitudes that came with their way of life. It was a steamy summer evening and they had just roared up in front of their parents' house when they heard a woman screaming.
Please,” she cried, running toward them. “Please, you have to help me stop them. They'll kill her.”
Raj looked at her and was surprised, though not displeased, to recognize Priya Desai, now wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, her hair pulled back in a braid.
What's going on?” he said.
Raj?” She stopped in front of him. “Oh, please come help me. Some boys have a dog tied up and they're throwing rocks at her. They're going to kill the poor thing.”
Where?” he asked.
In that empty lot behind the coat factory. Please, you have to hurry.”
Climb on.” He reached to help her and she hopped on the back of his bike. Kumar followed. Even over the roar of their bikes they could hear the shouts of boys, and the pain-filled yelps of a dog, as they rode into a dirt lot littered with debris. The boys turned as the two motorcycles bumped over the curb and swept around the crowd, coming to a stop between them and a terrified dog tied to a chain link fence.
Get out of here, you little jackasses,” Raj yelled at them as Priya climbed off his bike and ran over to the dog.
The boys, most of whom appeared to be under fourteen, backed up grumbling and complaining, but they dropped their rocks and sticks. Kumar jumped off his bike pulling a knife from the leather sheath attached to his belt. As Priya knelt on the ground comforting the bruised, bleeding dog, Kumar cut the rope binding it to the fence. Priya picked up the dog, cradling it in her arms, and carried it over to Raj.
Please, can you help me take her over to the shelter.” Priya's eyes were just as lovely as he remembered them being. “I work at an animal shelter a few blocks from here. If you could just drop us off, I can take care of her.”
Sure.” Raj helped them climb on behind him.
When they got to the shelter, Raj offered to accompany her inside.
No. You've done enough. Your parents are waiting for you at home. Thank you so much for helping me.”
You work here?” He studied a building that looked more like a warehouse, with security doors and metal grates on the windows.
Yes. I started out as a volunteer while I was in vet tech school, but I've been working full time for a year now.” She gave him a helpless little shrug. “My parents hate it. They keep threatening to ship me back to India, but I love working with animals.”
I'd like to see you again while I'm still here,” he said.
She nodded. “I'll stop by your house and wish your father a happy birthday.” She turned, and with the dog in her arms, disappeared into the building.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quinn: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Joe Quinn

Joe Quinn is a big, blond, tough-as-nails guy from South Boston who used to be a cop but is now writing a book about strange crimes in Boston. He is doing research on the 1842 murder of Dr. George Parkman when he hears about a series of strange burglaries on Beacon Hill. The elegant townhouses are being broken into but, while walls are vandalized, nothing seems to be missing. In this scene from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret, Joe has heard about tunnels connecting Beacon Hill townhouses and his old friend Trent Doyle, who works as a gardener and handyman on the Hill, is showing him a few tunnels.

Okay, follow me and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.” Trent pulled a chain to click on a dim electric bulb. They were in a small room with a low ceiling. Garden tools and bags of fertilizer and salt were stacked against the wall.
This is the basement,” Trent said. “Originally the kitchen and laundry rooms were down here. They still use the kitchen. Follow me. There’s a sub-basement down below.” Trent wove his way through stacks of discarded furniture, wooden crates, and old trunks set against the wall. “Check this out.” He shined the light along the walls revealing row after row of wooden shelves, some still bearing old-fashioned canning jars coated with dust and containing mysterious blobs in murky liquid. Wine racks covered another wall and the floor was made of hard-packed dirt with flat stones set in it. Cobwebs hung like curtains from the ceiling. Trent unlocked a wooden door with hammered metal fittings.
Care to take a stroll under Beacon Hill?” he asked with a grin. “Keep your eye out for rats though.”
Through the door they entered a tunnel barely four feet wide. Dirt reinforced by bricks and two-by-fours formed the walls and Joe had to walk with his head bent.
Where does this go?”
I’m not sure. The problem is when you’re underground you have no idea which direction you’re going in. When I was a kid my brother and I used to sneak into these tunnels when we were supposed to be helping Pop work.”
Are there any entrances that aren’t through someone’s basement?”
Yeah. A few. There’s a stone wall that runs along an alley off Myrtle Street that has an entrance. You’d never see it if you didn’t know to look for it because it’s covered in vines.”
I had no idea.” Joe pointed. “Shine your light in there for a minute.”
Pop told me there’s a tunnel in the North End that runs under the Old North Church all the way down to the wharf. He said there was a guy called Captain Gruchy who was a privateer, licensed by the King of England to capture French ships during the war with France. He said that one time this pirate took a ship headed for a convent in Quebec and he commandeered a bunch of religious statues. He brought four angels through the tunnel from his ship to the Old North Church. They’re still there.”
Joe turned to look at him. “Is that true?”
I dunno but I know a whole hell of a lot of hooch was carried through these tunnels by the old rum-runners and during Prohibition.”
Come on. Let’s just see where this one goes. We won’t make any more turns, but I love this shit.”
Trent laughed and entered the archway ahead of him. They walked without speaking for several minutes, passing more archways—some with steps leading off into darkness.
We should get back,” Trent said, “It’s getting late.”
Just a minute.” Joe stopped and stood perfectly still. He’d heard the scrabbling of rats as they walked, but now it seemed like there were more of them. In the dim shadows at the edges of the flashlight’s beam he thought he saw movement. “Something’s over there.” He pointed to a niche a few yards ahead.
Trent pointed the light in the direction Joe indicated, then jumped back crashing into him. “Holy shit,” he gasped.
Joe took the flashlight and moved closer, letting the beam sweep into the niche. “Damn!” He caught his breath as the beam illuminated the pallid and very dead face of Leonardo Walsh.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Paris: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Paris Friedl

Years ago Paris Friedl was a real beauty stuck waiting tables in a Harrisburg diner which is where Farmer Friedl found her. Farmer didn't have a lot to offer--he drove a garbage truck in the Pennsylvania Dutch town of Marienstadt--but he promised Paris if she'd marry him she'd never have to work again. That was good enough for her. Now Farmer is gone and Paris lives in his camp outside of town with her collection of animals. In this scene from The Last Time I Saw Paris in The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk, Chief of Police Henry Werner pays her a visit as he investigates a series of peculiar robberies.

Farmer’s house started out as a mobile home but over the years he had built on to it, mostly with cement blocks. Here and there Henry recognized parts of salvaged barns and sheds. The screen door opened with an ear-splitting screech.
Henry Werner.” Paris Friedl stood in the doorway. Despite the heat she wore a plaid flannel shirt over a nylon tank top. Her hair had once been dyed an apricot color but now two inches of gray root showed. She squinted through the smoke from a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. Henry kept his eyes on her face. He noticed that she wore old blue jeans chopped off above the knees and was shoeless. He couldn’t bear to look at her feet. Whatever glamor her name once evoked was now a distant memory. “What do you want?” she snarled through the cigarette smoke.
Just wondered if you had a few minutes?” he said. A rusted out Pontiac Firebird sat in the driveway and he glanced at the inspection sticker; it had expired three years ago.
For what?” Leaning against the door frame, she removed the cigarette from her mouth. Henry never felt less welcome anywhere.
I was just over at the Wilde Tavern and Boone mentioned you stopped in recently. I wondered if you’d mind answering a couple questions.”
That a crime now? Having a beer at the Wilde Tavern?” She took a long draw on her cigarette then pitched the butt into a coffee can next to the door.
No.” Henry stayed in the driveway. “There was a burglary at the hotel that night. I’ve been talking to anyone who might have seen anything unusual. That’s all.”
Compared to what? I ain't never been in there before and I ain't been in there since, so how’m I supposed to know what's ‘unusual’?”
Henry nodded. “That’s a good point.” He looked at the goats. All of them crowded against the pen’s gate watching him, pushing and shoving each other to be the closest. Amid the squawking and bleating he heard another sound—a high-pitched trill that he knew he’d heard before but couldn’t place. “You’ve got quite a collection of livestock.”
I like animals.” She narrowed her eyes. “They don't suck as much as people.”
Do you have any problems with wildlife out here in the woods? With all your chickens and ducks I’m surprised you don't lose some to foxes or coyotes.”
She reached inside the doorway and pulled a shotgun into view. “They know better.”
Fair enough. I just wanted to check in with you. Don't hesitate to call the station if you think of anything.” He paused. “Or if you ever need help.”
Why would I need help? Do I look like a helpless maiden?” She dug a cigarette out of her shirt pocket, put it between her lips, and pulled out a lighter.
Not hardly.” Henry smiled. “I just want you to know I’m there if you have any problems with wildlife or…" He hesitated. “You know—enemies.”
I ain't got no enemies.” She lit the cigarette and took a long draw on it.
Well, that's good. You’re lucky.”
I out-lived the bastards.” She stepped back into her house and pulled the screen door shut.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Oshiro: Blogging the #AtoZchallenge

Meet My Imaginary Friends: Ronin Oshiro

Ronin Oshiro is a huge man. He's also a very bad man. He's been in and out of prison for various offenses and he has a reputation for doing just about anything he can think of to make a little extra money. As Kit Wilde searches for Sultan, the Friesian stallion taken from his stables, the name Oshiro keeps coming up in conversation. In this scene from The Legend: A Marienstadt Story, Kit, Oliver, and Raj are following up on a lead in the woods beyond Marienstadt when they see a suspicious figure.

They’d only gone fifty feet when movement caught Kit’s eye. In the midst of thick hemlocks someone was removing a blue plastic tarp that covered a parked vehicle. As the tarp was pulled aside he saw a metallic glitter of lime green. The man beside the vehicle, spotted them, and took off running.
Shit,” Kit said, jamming on the brakes. “It’s Oshiro.”
Before the car came to a stop, Raj was out the door and running like a wolf. He leaped over a ditch and disappeared into the trees as Kit and Oliver followed. The trees opened to a snowy field and, as they ran, Raj closed the distance between himself and the big man and lunged forward, knocking Oshiro face down in the snow. Oshiro was twice his size and he bucked, knocking Raj off, then slid his hand inside his jacket, but Kit, then Oliver, were on him. Raj jumped to his feet, reached into his vest, and pulled out a Glock that he leveled at Oshiro’s head.
Stay down,” Raj said. “See if he has a weapon.”
Oliver reached inside Oshiro’s jacket and pulled out a nine millimeter handgun.
Check his back.” Raj gestured with his gun.
Oliver pushed up the jacket and removed a matching nine millimeter. He stood, backing away. “Look,” he said, nodding toward the side of the field closest to the Starling camps. A few men, some carrying shotguns, had started toward them, then stopped short.
Kit stood and faced them. “All we want is Oshiro,” he called. “We have no quarrel with you.”
There was some indistinct mumbling; then, apparently deciding they didn’t care about Oshiro, they turned and walked away.
Who are you?” Oshiro rolled onto his back. “I didn’t do nothing to you.”
All I want to know is what happened to Tex Tanaka’s horses,” Kit said.
Oshiro glared at him. “Then you’ll let me go?”
Do you know where they are?”
Oshiro looked back and forth between Kit and Raj’s Glock. “By now they’re probably on their way to Canada.”
He hadn’t meant to do it—Kit had always been an even-tempered man—but without thinking, he hauled off and kicked Oshiro hard in the side. “Where are they?”
I gave them to Mooch Starling in exchange for him letting me hide out here with his family. Jesus.” Oshiro clutched his side, moaning.
What did Mooch do with them?” Kit stood, poised to kick again.
How the hell should I know? What would anybody do with a bunch of stolen horses? Get what he can for them.”
Kit put his foot on Oshiro’s shoulder. “Where’s Mooch's kennel?”
Raj, with his gun still leveled at Oshiro, was on his cell phone.
I don’t know.” Oshiro, realizing that he had no options, looked genuinely frightened.
Was there a big black horse with a long mane and tail with Tex’s horses?” Kit asked, keeping his foot on Oshiro’s shoulder.
Yeah. Beauty. I’m the one that found that horse.”