Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When I Procrastinate I Design Furniture and Upcyled Knick Knacks

First, please note that the Holiday Book & Cook Blog Hop is still open to recipes. We would love to see more goodies on our list. So check out this great promo op.

So instead of writing and editing and doing anything productive on the author front, I've been designing furniture. And knick knacks. No, really. To date, the hubby and I have collaborated on an ornament tree made of recycled scrap wood from local companies.The wood pictured is a Brazilian hardwood and we'll also be working with mahogany and oak as well as a variety of stains.

We hope to fine tune the design this winter and then sell them next year. So, if you like what you see, bookmark this blog!

Then the other project is an open wardrobe for the toddler inspired by this picture on Pinterest.

We found a lovely vintage dresser with fabulous architectural elements and hope to refinish it sometime in January. Our toddler is in love with pink so the plan is a high sheen raspberry pink with some kind of orange contrast inside. That could change, but is what we're thinking right now.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book & Cook Holiday Blog Festival: Crackle Top Molasses Cookies

Here's my contribution to the Book & Cook Holiday Blog Festival. Scroll down to find out how you can add your recipe and play along!

These molasses crackle top cookies are addictive. Relatives hoard them, pushing each other aside to get to the box (seriously!). People beg for the recipe. My husband's college professor stalked me for months asking for it. (And I do usually give it out no problem, but let's just say she made the naughty no-cookies-for-you list.)

Why such passion about a cookie? They taste like Christmas. Like Santa is coming. If the holiday had a flavor, these cookies would be it. Make these cookies and you'll go down in history...just like Rudolph.

Michelle's Molasses Crackle Top Cookies

Makes approximately 1 1/2 dozen cookies.
Preheat oven to 375F.

-Mix dry ingredients in a bowl:
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsps baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsps. cinnamon
  • 2 tsps. ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. ground cloves

-In the mixing bowl cream together:
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus extra for rolling cookies in)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (light brown is okay, but dark is best)

-Once the butter and sugar are creamed add:
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses

-When all the wet ingredients are incorporated, add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time.

-Form dough into balls about the size of a ping pong ball and roll in sugar before placing on the cookie sheet.

-Bake for 10-11 minutes at 375F.

Now it's your turn to share a recipe...just enter a link below.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Most Beautiful Book Cover Is....

As you know I participated in a book beauty pageant last week, and, today, we have our winner. Please give a round of applause for Moonlight on the Nantahala.

About the book: Edward Caulfield was not a simple man. Losing his wife early in their marriage he continued to live his life as a shrine to her. In his twilight years he encountered a troubled young woman. There were lessons to be learned from each other. With the spirit of his deceased wife by his side Edward Caulfield left behind a legacy in his words to ease a troubled heart.

About the author:Micheal, born in 1953, is an American author. His writing genres include Fiction, Horror, Thriller and Paranormal. Micheal has been writing for several years. In the past he concentrated on Romantic Poetry. In recent years he has focused on writing Fiction and Paranormal stories.

His book titled "Ghosts of the North Carolina Shores" has been published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Micheal also published the eBook "The Black Witch" which is the first of a series on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Micheal has over thirty years of investigating and collecting stories of the paranormal. He is the lead investigator for the Smokey Mountain Ghost Trackers of Western North Carolina. www.facebook.com/SmokeyMtnGhostTrackers
He served his country as a United States Marine during Vietnam. He is a native North Carolinian. He lived in the Chicago area in the past and furthered his education there. He served the community as an Emergency Medical Technician while living there. Micheal currently resides in the mountains of North Carolina along with his wife and his Boxer he fondly calls Dee Dee.

Find Micheal online at:  http://michealrivers.com/

Check out his books on Amazon at:
The Black Witch http://amzn.to/lLHwvd
Ghosts of the North Carolina Shores http://amzn.to/rhKuCk
Moonlight on the Nantahala http://amzn.to/nbwYyI

Monday, November 14, 2011

Details on the Holiday Book and Cook Blog Hop

It looks like we're going to do this. I'm so excited because I love holiday cooking and, this time of year, many people, myself included, are looking for recipes.

The blog hop will go live December first and here's how to participate.

1.Pick a holiday recipe. Appetizers, side dishes, entrees, cookies, cake, pie etc.... anything holiday is good.

2.Post it on your blog the first week of December and link back to the blog hop anchor post which will be on this blog.

3. Email me at mccleodwrites AT gmail DOT com with your post link.

4.I will link everyone (and you can too if you want, we are a loosey goosey blog hop, anything goes so long as you have a recipe). By the way, if anyone knows a good linky tool to use, let me know!

5.Spread the word. The more the merrier and the more traffic the hop will generate. There's been a lot of enthusiasm, but we need more people to breathe life into this hop.

I will post reminders on Twitter and the various places I mentioned the hop so, hopefully, you won't forget! Consider writing your post, scheduling it to post and just coming back to pick up the back link when it goes live.

Some promo ideas...

Put a marketing twist on it...Make sure you book cover and blurb with buy link are visible. Either on the side bar or within the post.

Tie your recipe to your book if it makes sense. I plan to make the rather tenuous connection between love potions and my molasses crackle top cookies. Goodness knows those cookies have worked their magic on lots of people!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

When Books Enter Beauty Pageants...You Gotta See This!

I've had several news and reviews go live recently and wanted to highlight where I've been around the web. (This is a polite way of saying, I need votes. Lots and lots of votes.)

    First up...I'm in an indie book beauty pageant hosted by Shannon Mayer. Love Potions is up against some pretty stiff competition. Please go vote (hopefully for Love Potions)...you could win a ton of books. There are some amazing covers....indie authors have come a long way.

    Then I have an interview up on Rage, Sex and Teddybears. There's mention of Eeyore and how you should never squander the magic in your life.

    There was a lovely review of Love Potions from Behind the Rows. "McCleod takes a fun look into the world of fantasy and adds a big heap of sexy."

    My Kindle Author interview also went live and I talk about the check that finally allowed me to believe I was a writer.

    Last, but not least, I interviewed thriller author Patricia Rasey and she's giving away copies of Love Potions (scroll down to find the giveaway).

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Talking with Trailblazer Patricia Rasey

    Patricia Rasey and I have known each other since the early 2000s.She was already an award-winning writer whereas I was banging away on my first manuscript. Being the class act she is, she didn't run screaming or block my email address when I started asking her questions about writing. 

    Things you should know about Patricia Rasey? She writes phenomenal thrillers (hence the award-winning) and she knew over ten years ago that ebooks would change the publishing landscape. She has been a trailblazing inspiration to me and I want to share that with you. Read on to learn more about her work and how you can win a copy of my novella Love Potions.

    You got your first e-reader how long ago? I still remember it actually. It was huge compared to what is available now!

    I got my first eReader back around 2000. It was called the Rocket eReader. Let me tell you, the that thing was heavy compared to today’s readers. I was first published in 1999 with Deadly Obsession and I was thrilled and intrigued about this new technology. Even then I knew this could get huge if the price on the Readers came down (the Rocket started at $499), and they made them a bit smaller and easier to tote around.

    What e-reader are you using these days?

    I actually have a few. Sorry, I am a techno junkie. I went from the Rocket to the eBookwise reader. A little lighter, but much cheaper. I still have the eBookwise Reader, and it probably works. Just haven’t picked it up in years. 

    From there, I purchased the Sony eReader. It was still a bit pricy, but I loved the eink and it was no longer a shiny surface with a bad glare if you tried to read outside. So much easier to throw in your purse and so much lighter. 

    Then I purchased a NOOK. I loved the new thin reader and the fact I never had to hook it to my computer to order a book. And yes, I now have a Kindle. I still use all three of the last purchases. Gee, can I justify a Kindle Fire next? Not sure my husband will spring for that if I have an iPad already—and yes, I do read books on their iBook app as well.

    Have ebooks and publishing evolved as you thought they would? What do you think is next?

    Yes, I knew it would eventually get to where it is today. When I first published in eFormat, no one knew what that was. I would tell people I have an eBook out and they would ask’ “Can I listen to it in my car?’ Stephen King released a short in eBook format only—and then suddenly the technology started taking off. 

    What I really hadn’t anticipated, but am not surprised, is how many authors have jumped ship from their publisher to put out works on their own. I am not surprised, though…not when Amazon.com and BN.com give you monthly payments of up to 70% of your book price. Publishers will have to up their percentage on eBook sales to keep this from happening more. Just a year back or so and self-publishing was such a dirty word. Now it’s termed Independent and it the direction of things to come. Of course there are still obstacles like some reviewers still look down on these books, but that will get better as well as time goes and more and more Independent make sure they get their work edited and get great covers.
    I know you've worked with publishers in the past. Do you think your work will be purely Indie or will you be partnering with publishers too?

    I haven’t decided yet. My biggest share of my books is still with my publisher. However, they price them to high to compete with today’s market. So where my ranking is concerned with my indie books, my publisher books are not even coming close to those sales. It would make sense for me to pull them, get new covers and put them out much cheaper. But then you lose paperback and there are still those who prefer paper.

    What has your Indie author journey been like?

    Wow, I guess the hardest part for me is getting my name out there. You are suddenly completely on your own, dependent on word-of-mouth, reviews, and advertising. It can get expensive. But nowadays—your publisher doesn’t do anything to market you either. So do you do it all yourself and make 35% (which is my publisher’s % they pay me) or do I do it all myself and make 70%?

    What is your next project?

    LOVE YOU TO PIECES comes out in December. I plan to go radical with my promotion to get my name out there when my newest book comes out. I’m keeping that under wraps for now, but let’s just say I hope to start getting my books in the hands of a lot of new Kindle buyers the first of the year. It’s all about name recognition.

    You're giving away copies of Love Potions in your latest newsletter. (Yay!) What do readers need to know about entering?

    Yes, Michelle, I am giving away 2 copies of your book, LOVE POTIONS, on my newsletter. All people need to do to qualify is sign up to my newsletter (top of my links page), then to read the latest copy of my newsletter on my site since it will be too late to get that one via email. But it has your book’s blurb and the newsletter contest in it, just scroll down a bit. Then just send me an email: patricia @ patriciarasey.com and let me know you want a copy of LOVE POTIONS. Note this is a Kindle copy only giveaway, though.     

    Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Michelle. I appreciate you having me. For your readers to learn more about me or my books, go to my website and please like me on Facebook.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Tentacle Pot Pie for Halloween

    Halloween is howling on our doorsteps and it's time to gather the ingredients for our traditional 'trick-or-treat' meal. (What do you eat on Halloween?)

    Tentacle pot pie sounds and looks rather devilish, but it's really chicken pot pie in a costume. And, bonus, it is very easy to make. You gotta try this!

    Ingredients for 4-6 Servings:
    • 6 tbsps. butter
    • 4 chicken breasts, diced
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 1 carrot, diced
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 2 cups chicken broth
    • 1 cup heavy whipping cream or half and half
    • 1 cup peas
    • 1 cup cut green beans
    • Black olives or other foods to make eyes and a face (optional)
    • 2 pkgs of puff pastry sheets--thawed (if going for 4 servings, you can get away with 1 pkg.)

    Notes: Have the broth and cream measured out and ready to go--you will be moving fast. 

    You will also need to have a whisk handy to avoid flour lumps in the sauce.

    I like to make the pie filling a day ahead and then assemble the tentacles the day of--this makes for a low stress Halloween meal.

    Don't forget to set the puff pastry out to thaw about a half hour before you need it!

    Left over pot pie filling can be topped with regular biscuits for another meal a few days later.

    1.In a large saucepan, saute chicken and 3 tbsps. butter until done. Remove from pan and set aside. (Alternately, you can cook chicken in advance in crock pot and shred with a fork--this is a nice time saver.)

    2.Add remaining 3tbsps. butter to pan along with onion and carrots. Cook until onions are translucent. Approximately 10 minutes.

    3.Add the flour and stir until incorporated. About a minute.

    4.Add the chicken stock and stir with whisk to avoid flour lumps.

    5.Now add the cream, chicken, peas and beans. Cook until sauce thickens.

    6. Preheat oven to 375F while you assemble the tentacle pot pies.

    7.Fill ramekins or other small oven-proof dish with pot pie filling and place on a foil covered cookie sheet.

    8.Cut long strips of puff pastry to make the tentacles and arrange around the ramekin as if they are coming out of the pie and spilling over the sides.

    Note:If you make your tentacles too skinny they will burn. Aim for fat tentacles.

    9.Use a drinking glass to cut a circle of puff pastry dough for the body and bake on a separate sheet-- they never quite get done if you put them in the ramekins.  (Place them on top right before serving.)

    10.Cook until puff pastry is done, about 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on this as the bodies will probably finish first and need to be pulled out of the oven.

    Carefully remove from pan and place on a plate to support the ends of the tentacles. Add the body and serve!

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Crime Bites Cover & Excerpt

    I'm pleased to unveil the cover for Crime Bites as well as a three chapter excerpt. Crime Bites is an urban fantasy about a psychic FBI agent and the vampires out for her blood.

    Chapter One
    I stared at the styrofoam containers, my stomach churning with foreboding. They were virgin white under the fluorescent lights of the conference room, only their contents were not quite so innocent.
    Each carton had a handwritten label on top. One read, Marion--bright and charming. Another read Stacey--good body. The last, Eileen--agreeable. The writing was large with strong vertical strokes and half-closed loops. I wondered what a handwriting analyst would make of it. Was there a particular flourish that indicated someone was a cannibal?
    Too bad I wasn’t a handwriting analyst. It would have been more pleasant than opening these containers and touching their contents with my bare hands. All because Marion, Stacey, and Eileen picked the wrong boyfriend. A boyfriend who believed if he collected the flesh of women with the qualities he wanted and then fed it to other women, it would magically create the ‘perfect’ girlfriend.
    Talk about crazy in love.
    A tap on the window behind me broke my train of thought. I looked over my shoulder.to see no less than the entire forensic lab watching me through the conference room window.
    Ryan, one of the lab techs, pointed at his watch. A compact Italian-American, Ryan talked like the Godfather and thought he was irresistible to boot. He was also remarkably unperturbed at my refusal to date, flirt, or otherwise acknowledge his romantic magnetism. The guy was five inches shorter than me. Seven when I wore heels. I had serious qualms about dating someone whose head would make a nifty armrest.
    Besides, I had a boyfriend…or whatever you call a commitment-phobe who blows hot-and-cold. On the up side, Bruce wasn’t needy when I had to travel for work.
    Another tap on the window brought me back to the task at hand. I blinked and focused on Ryan, who gestured wildly at his watch. The message was clear: Get on with it. I wondered how much money he stood to lose.
    When news spread about what I was going to do, a betting pool had sprung up. The bets ranged from how long it would take me to do my job, to whether or not I would throw up.
    The thought of touching human flesh made my stomach roil, but I steeled myself with deep breaths. I’d seen dead bodies before, although this would be my first time touching one. Well, technically, it wasn’t a body, just chunks of meat someone had chopped up and stored in a freezer. The actual bodies were missing and it had become my responsibility to figure out where they were.
    It would have been easier to ask the guy who made these women into gourmet meals, but his dietary habits had left big holes in his brain. He had contracted Kuru, the cannibal’s form of Mad Cow disease, and was slipping into dementia and certain death.
    I sighed and pulled one of the containers toward me. It was Marion. I turned my head in an effort to get my nose as far away from the containers as possible. Looking out of the corner of my eye, I held my breath and peeled off the lid. When no gross smell of rotting meat assaulted my nostrils, I worked up the courage to look inside and was pleasantly surprised to see the meat was frozen. In fact, it was kind of anti-climatic. It didn’t smell. It wasn’t squishy, and it had been neatly cubed like steak ready for a stir fry.
    I managed to convince myself it was just that up until I actually touched it with my bare pinkie. In a flash, I was with Marion, standing in the kitchen chopping carrots as soft jazz played in the background. Her attention on the task at hand, she never saw him coming and didn’t realize anything was wrong until the second stab wound.
    Marion turned, her hands raised, and received the first of what would be many defensive wounds on her forearms. She watched with horror as her boyfriend came at her with a large butcher knife. He struck her over and over, slicing through the fabric of her clothes and her skin as if it was soft butter. Several minutes into his assault, her soul began to slip away.
    Like many victims, she wasn’t prepared for the violence of the attack. Marion couldn’t match up reality with what she had believed; that she was in a loving relationship with a good man. She never knew the monster who killed her existed.
    As her soul fled her body, it took me with it and I found myself floating above the body which gave me a panoramic view of the crime scene. I watched with detached interest, as the man Marion thought she would marry, neatly hacked through joints, severed the head, and separated the rib cage from the torso with a sharp crack.
    He even took a moment to suck some of the raw meat off the bones with loud smacking sounds. The curve of a rib left red smears on his cheeks giving him the appearance of a psychotic clown. I drifted with Marion in blissful apathy as she slowly began to accept her death. With a mental sigh, she realized her body would not hold her anymore.
    When she moved toward the light to make her final journey, I pulled away and forced myself back into the body. I wasn’t interested in finding heaven. Where did he hide the body?
    The answer came to me and I broke contact. “He buried them all in his elementary school’s playground, under the slide. All three of them are there.” I spoke in a calm measured voice that stripped away the horror, leaving it trapped inside.
    “But you didn’t even look at the other two,” someone in the back protested. They probably made their bet on time.
    I shrugged. “I didn’t need to, this was the last one he buried. I saw the other two in the ground when he dug the hole.” I didn’t mention he liked to take out their bones and run his tongue over every groove. Some things were best left unsaid. No need for all of us to have nightmares. I was used to them at least.
    I stood up and made my way out of the conference room, to one of the lab sinks, silently vowing I would touch no food with my pinkie for at least a month. I let my hands soak in alcohol for a good ten minutes after the first wash and then soaped up again. My job would be so much easier if I didn’t have to touch things in order to read them. This one was off the cootie meter for me, even more so than the gross out level. I couldn’t shake the mental image of the murderer in his cell, his brain slowly melting because he ate what I had touched.
    ‘Ahh, the glamorous life of an FBI agent,’ I thought to myself as I dried my hands. It wasn’t all chasing the bad guys and participating in gun fights. Some days it was more like an episode of Fear Factor. How much can you take before you snap?
    So far, I was holding up pretty well. I had finished my first year with the FBI, and, in addition to handling firearms and learning hand-to-hand combat, I had gone deep inside some of the worst crimes in the country. And solved them, too. The last part was what made it worthwhile.
    I reunited kidnap victims with their loved ones and gave closure to families who needed to know no one else would suffer at the hands of the criminal that ruined their lives. There was never a ‘happily ever after’, not even for the victims who survived, but I could give people a ‘better ever after’. That had to count for something.
    “Yo Mel, baby. How ya doin’,” Ryan said from behind me.
    “Hello Ryan.” I looked down at him. From my perspective, he looked to be a mile away. I felt gargantuan all of a sudden, heavy-limbed and awkward.
    He toyed with a gold chain thicker than his finger and winked. “You’re the real deal.”
    “Uh, yeah?” I looked around the room to see if anyone would rescue me. It was almost noon and people were busy hustling to beat the lunch crowd.
    I was on my own. My partner, Jim, had spent the morning testifying in court, leaving me to fly solo. Without him, I doubted I could expect much help. I was a little too ‘freaky’ for most of my coworkers. Aside from betting and profiting off my skills, they avoided me whenever they could– except for the ones like Ryan, who were even stranger than me. The weirdos always found me irresistible. Yep, that’s me, Mel the freak magnet.
    “I was wonderin’ if you would consider doin’ me a favor? You bein’ psychic and all.” He leaned in close to me, his aura glistening like an oil slick. The astringent smell of his aftershave assailed my nostrils.
    “A favor?” I took a step back, and exhaled in attempt to blow the fumes away instead of sucking them into my lungs. Ryan asked me out and shared his fantasies of having children with me, he did not, as a general rule, ask me for favors. At least not the non-sexual kind.
    “Yeah, my mom bought herself an antique, some frou-frou Victorian shit. She wants to know if it’s genuine.”
    “How am I supposed to help with that?” I knew nothing about antiques.
    “I thought maybe you could touch it, see if it’s real or not.”
    The gleam in his eye as he spoke told me there were other things he would like to me to touch. Finally, familiar territory. In general, I found Ryan harmless and tolerated him with whatever dignity I could muster, but we were in danger of being the last two people in the lab. My tolerance didn’t extend to being alone with Ryan.
    “Sure, I guess I could read an antique. Bring it in. I’ll take a look at it when I can.” I increased the distance between us, edging toward the door. “Whoa, look at the time. “ I gestured to my watch hoping he wouldn’t notice it was stuck at nine. My watches never lasted, the batteries didn’t like my 'energy.' I gave a forced smile and snatched up my purse from the desk I’d left it on, holding it in front of me like a shield. “I have to get going. Just give me a call when you’re ready.”
    “I'm always ready, baby.” Grinning from ear to ear, he waved goodbye, pinkie ring gleaming.
    I suppressed a shudder and hurried out the lab door. Half running, I scurried down the hallway, putting as much distance between us as I could. Not bothering to wait for the elevator, I ducked into a stairwell and made for the relative safety of the gym.
    I strained to crank out another ten reps on the squat machine in the windowless basement the FBI had converted into a gym. I had recently increased the weight to 150 pounds and every muscle fiber in my legs screamed for mercy.
    Beside me, my partner, Jim Packard, Senior Agent and all around tough guy, grunted as he completed another squat. Court had let out early and he’d met me in the gym to catch a quick workout before our meeting with Cook, our lead agent.
    I finished my last rep, shook out my legs and proceeded to stretch. A study done at some university said stretching after weight training increased strength twenty percent faster. I was betting the bad guys didn’t know that.
    Jim plopped his lanky frame down on the floor beside me, making no move to stretch. Sweat trickled down his forehead and he used the sleeve of his t-shirt to wipe it off. “You’re getting stronger.”
    “Thanks.” I touched my nose to my knee in a hamstring stretch. “Want to do a little one-on-one combat?”
    He nodded and slowly stood up. Pushing fifty, Jim’s knees snapped like dry wood.
    “Come on, old man,” I said with a smile that both teased and challenged.
    Jim pretended to glower at me.“Old? You will pay for that! Experience will beat youth every time.”
    I laughed. “Only if your knees work!”
    My partner made a lunge for me and I sidestepped him easily. Squaring my shoulders, I adopted my best tough bitch face and said, “Let’s get it on, grandpa.”
    I didn’t wait for a response and launched myself straight at him with a feint to the head while my leg swept his feet out from under him. Jim never saw it coming and landed on the floor mat with a thud as the air whooshed out of him.
    I knelt down beside Jim, watching him regain his ability to breathe.“Hey, are you letting me win, or am I just getting that good?”
    He looked at me, panting and said, “I think you might just be getting that good.”
    I couldn’t hide my smile. I hadn’t studied combat fighting let alone been a physical person until recently. Hell, I had even weaseled my way out of basic training at first, and the FBI had let me because I was the only psychic willing to consider their job offer. It meant a lot that someone as experienced as Jim thought I was good.
    “Thanks.” I stood and offered him a hand up.
    “No, you should thank yourself. You did the hard work. It’s all you, kid.” He took my hand and pulled himself upright. Some guys wouldn’t have taken it, thinking it made them look weak to have a girl help them up. Jim wasn’t like that, which is why we got along so well.
    We fell into step, heading for the water cooler. We were filling the little paper triangles they call cups at the cooler, when I heard the familiar taunting voice of Dodd.
    “If it isn’t Agent X-files and his pet witch.” He walked toward us, a gym bag slung over his meaty shoulder.
    Agent Dodd was a former college football linebacker, something he bragged about constantly, and his physique reflected his former athletic glory. Biceps bulged like large misshapen grapefruits on either side of his massive shoulders. His whole body was one big, overdeveloped muscle.
    Dodd had something to prove, that much was easy to tell. What I couldn’t figure out was why chewing on my ass did it for him. He was new. In his first six months with the Agency, and had already targeted me as the weakest and smallest.
     The first time he tried to muscle me, I broke his nose. I had moved to break his hold and he turned his head at the wrong time, ramming his nose into my elbow. It had been an accident, but he had never forgiven me, and his anger had taken on an edge once he found out about my ‘special skills’.
    I faced him with a carefully neutral face.“Agent Dodd.”
    “Agent Witch.”
    I sighed. So much for social pleasantries. “What is your problem?”
    Dodd twisted his face into a smile. “If you don’t know, hot shot psychic that you are, why should I tell you?”
    I ignored the taunt, I was used to people not believing in my capabilities. People always assumed a psychic should know all their deepest, darkest secrets. Not that we couldn’t do so, but we did, as a group, have ethics. It was impolite to poke around someone’s mind without invitation.
    At the moment, I was less concerned with Dodd and more concerned with Jim’s increasing blood pressure--evident from the red color rising on his cheeks. Things had deteriorated over the past several weeks as Dodd managed to get a dig in whenever possible. Jim was losing patience.
    I did the only thing I thought made sense to defuse the situation. Closing my eyes, I said, “Nice car you got, Dodd. Did you know somebody is down there right now keying the paint job?”
    “You’re lying.” He clenched his hands into fists.
    I ignored his outburst and continued, “It is such a shame after you paid all that extra money for the detail work. You’ve had it what, two days? And already going to have to repaint it.” I tut-tutted and took a sip of water. “If I were you, I would get my ass down there and protect my property.”
    Doubt showed in Dodd’s eyes, but his body shifted away from us and toward the door as if he wanted to run and check on his car. Good, I had managed to distract him. I gulped the last of my water, tossed my cup in the garbage, and went while the going was good. If Jim was smart, he would do the same. I slid my ID card into the slot to gain access to the women’s locker room and sighed with relief when the door clicked behind me. Dodd would have to have a sex change operation to follow me.
    In the shower, as hot water steamed over my body, Dodd’s words came back to me. “Agent X-Files and the pet witch,”
    Was I really developing a reputation as a ‘witch’ after only a year? While it was true most of my co-workers avoided me, I hoped they didn’t think I cast hexes in my off hours. Surely, with time, they would come to see I was a normal person? Maybe even someone they could be friends with?
    When the FBI recruited me, they failed to disclose I would be the only psychic on the payroll. If I had known what a social stigma it would become, I might have turned them down. But I needed a job after college, so when the FBI called, I came.
    I finished my shower and dressed quickly while keeping an eye on the clock. Our meeting was in fifteen minutes. I moved with urgent efficiency, pulling on the regulation navy blue pants, white blouse, gun, and blazer. When I first became a ‘feeb’ I would sometimes put the blazer on before the gun, but I was finally getting it right. I ran a brush through my sweaty hair--no time to wash it--before wrapping it in my usual bun. Perfumed hair spray kept stray hairs in place and covered any exercise related stink.
    Dressed with my hair up, I dabbed on some neutral lipstick and was ready to go. I was a makeup minimalist, having decided long ago there was no point to an elaborate makeup regimen when I was just going to rub or sweat it off.
    Being an FBI agent was not conducive to being a prima donna. High maintenance women need not apply. My job took me from the lab, to crime scene, involved heavy physical labor and, more often than I liked, flat out running for my life.
    Besides I had good skin, I didn’t need foundation or any other goop. Although, my next door neighbor, Julie, was a Mary Kay groupie, and could probably debate that viewpoint for a solid hour. She made it sound like I was Frankenstein’s Bride unless I glopped some of her stuff on my face. I kind of felt, though, if I looked that bad, why bother? Some beige colored liquid wasn’t going to help me. She didn’t see the flaw in her sales approach because she pestered me endlessly.
    One of these days I was going to lose the vacant, I’m-deeply-interested- in- whatever-you-say, look on my face and tell her the truth. Which would not be good since she was just about my only friend.
    I checked the clock and saw I had just enough time to meet up with Jim. I gave myself a last once over in the mirror, taking in the auburn hair pulled tightly from my round face. It was a functional look that did nothing to hide my freckles, but did accentuate my blue eyes. Definitely not Bride of Frankenstein.
    Truth be told, I thought I looked more like my mother than my father. I couldn’t say for sure as they were dead before I could form any memories. Any pictures had been lost to time, but I did see my parents in my dreams. Well, not really dreams, more like nightmares—they were usually bleeding.
    I gave a little shake of my head to break my line of thought. Down that path lay only pain that accomplished nothing. I went to retrieve my shoes from my gym bag. They were new with a three inch stiletto heel, a Versace knock off. Even better, they were remarkably comfortable. A plus, since it was likely I would have to run in them at some point.
    I walked out of the locker room to the staccato beat of my heels and took a spot by the water cooler to wait for Jim. I drank some more water and admired the black patent leather sheen of my shoes.
    Some people would say I am nuts to wear heels in my line of work, but I have used them as weapons more than once. There’s a serial killer with a scar on his leg from where I drove my heel straight through his thigh. Heels combined with muscles that could squat 150 pounds were a lethal combination.
    The doors to the men’s locker room squeaked as they opened. I looked up at the noise to see Jim emerge, freshly showered and a bit red in the cheeks. No doubt still upset about Dodd.
    Jim nodded to me.“All set?”
    “Yep.” I heaved my gym bag onto my shoulder and picked up my leather briefcase.
    Jim led the way out of the gym and down the hall to the elevator. “That was a good move you played on Dodd.”
    I shrugged, “It’s easy to manipulate people when you know what they value.” Not to mention the vandal had really good timing.
    Jim pushed the call button for the elevator and shook his head. “I’m going to write him up. He can’t treat an agent like that and expect to advance. I’m going to ask for a formal reprimand.”
    The elevator dinged. We stepped in and I pushed the button for the fifth floor. “The problem is that will just piss him off even more and he’ll come back with a vengeance.”
    Jim sighed. “I know, but the only way to get him out is to use the system.”
    I said nothing as I didn’t have anything else to contribute. The system was useless-- based on the same kind of logic that says you can’t be stalked until after you are dead. Systems based on twenty-twenty hindsight never seemed to do much, but the government did not recognize the word proactive.
    I fidgeted as the elevator neared our stop. I wondered what Cook had for us now, it had only been two weeks since our last case and there hadn’t been enough time to decompress. Apparently, there was no rest for the wicked, or the psychics that chase them.
    The FBI only decorated in one of three colors: White, gray, or beige. When they wanted to be fancy, they threw in an American flag and a picture of the current president. Conference room B, the location of our meeting, was gun-metal gray with a faux wood table and swivel chairs that had lost their ability to rotate a full decade before I was born.
    There were nicer conference rooms, or so I heard, but our unit was in a bureaucratic gray area. While the FBI issued my checks and trained me, my employer was officially the Bureau of Metaphysics. We were an experimental group that operated on the fringe of the FBI’s standard operating procedures. Translation: We didn’t get choice accommodations at the Bureau.
    Cook sat at the head of the conference table, an expectant look on his face. The way he drummed his pen on the notepad in front of him, said we were late even if we were actually on time. Jim and I dropped our gym bags by the wall to the side of the door, and slipped silently into our chairs.
    Our boss was a gruff, rotund man with a gray goatee that made him look like the Colonel from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Pushing sixty, he had been with the agency for thirty years, five more than required to qualify for pension. His wife had left him a couple of years ago and the prevailing theory was he kept coming to work because there was nothing else for him to do.
    I ignored Cook’s obvious irritation as I rummaged through my briefcase for a pen and notepad. If he wanted to start earlier, he should have said something. I wasn’t going to feel bad about not being notified of the agenda. Cook was the boss. It was his job to tell us where and when. The accepted method was via phone not telepathy, even if some of your staff was psychic.
    Jim shifted uncomfortably in his seat, first to capitulate to the tension. “Hope you weren’t waiting too long. We had an unfortunate run-in with Dodd.”
    Cook scowled at Jim in annoyance and took a sip of coffee from his ever-present mug. He was familiar with the mounting tension between Dodd and our unit. Banging the mug on the table he said, “Agent Packard, I’m disappointed you haven’t been able to resolve what amounts to a petty situation. I would rather see you focus on your job.”
    “Sir, I agree with you, however, Agent Dodd has become quite hostile. The situation is bigger than just us. I question his ability to operate as an agent.” Jim’s voice was calm and even, but the stiffness in his shoulders betrayed his true feelings.
    “All right, if you want to file a complaint, then fine, but not until after we deal with this case,” Cook said, reluctance obvious in the tone of his voice.
    The two men stared at each other in hostile silence. Jim’s aura bristled at Cook’s dismissal. It was clear our boss hoped we would forget about Dodd.
    Cook cleared his throat and, breaking eye contact with Jim, moved onto business. “We’ve got a nasty serial killer up in Cleveland. I brought the case file for you to review.” He shoved a stack of paperwork toward us.
    I pulled the pile closer to me and opened the first file, looking for background on the case. Although, I needn’t have bothered as Cook launched into a quick summary.
    “It seems there’s been four women and one man murdered. Two of the victims were Muslim and the Muslim community has raised holy hell with the police. Open that manila envelope, the crime scene photos are in there.” He pointed to the envelope in question, which I opened.
    I stared at the first picture trying to concentrate, but my brain refused to cooperate and transformed the image into a blur of color and shadow. Subconsciously, I really didn’t want to understand what I was looking at. I closed my eyes for a second. Cool FBI agents weren’t supposed to have the heebie-jeebies looking at crime scene photos. A deep breath and a mental pep talk consisting of the phrase, “suck it up” over and over again brought the details into sharp focus as I opened my eyes. This time it was easier to see the blood.
    The photo was a portrait of a young woman. Not the kind you take at school or for the family Christmas card. No, this was the kind of face shot taken by a forensics team before moving a body to the morgue. Someone had noted a few personal details on the bottom edge of the photo. Her name was Ana Murray. She was twenty-six and a natural redhead. Coincidentally, so was I, on both counts, with one important difference: She was dead and I wasn’t.
    I looked through the police notes and found out she had last been spotted at a local grocery store in Cleveland. Somewhere between leaving the store and en-route to her next destination, she had been kidnapped and murdered. It wasn’t your usual homicide. No jealous lover, abusive husband, or even a mugger who lost control. Someone killed her just because they could, using her like a toy in an elaborate fantasy to feed their own psychosis.
    The police had not found a single clue at any of the scenes. Not even a scrap of videotape at the grocery store to even hint at a potential suspect. As for the other victims, two had died in the same room as Ana minutes after she had been killed. Two more victims were found three days ago in an abandoned house in the Tremont suburban area.
    From the time lines established with the families and witnesses, the victims that died together were kidnapped the same night. It takes a hell of a lot of strength and planning to control multiple victims without making a mistake. I would have said it was impossible. The complete lack of fingerprints, hair, and even a shoe or tire print was a phenomena some might be tempted to call supernatural.
    In truth, the killer had used more practical methods. They staked their victims through the stomach with sharpened two-by-six pine boards. It’s hard to fight, let alone stay conscious, when someone has just shoved a big stick through your gut. Once the victims were staked, they were propped up against the wall and bled like cattle at the slaughterhouse.
    I heard a low whistle next to me and the shuffling of paper as Jim scanned through the rest of the pictures. He was able to process the crime scene photos with an efficiency and aplomb I could only hope to one day emulate.
    “It’s like human shish kabob,” Jim observed putting some of the pictures back into the case file. “What is the deal with the staking?”
    Nodding my agreement, I passed Ana’s photo to Jim. He took it and added it to the case file.
    “There’s more to it than barbeque jokes, Agent Packard,” Cook said with a frown.”Have you ever heard of Vlad the Impaler?”
    “No” I said as Jim shook his head in the negative.
    Cook grunted. “Not much reason to know about him, other than he liked to stake people, too. Apparently, at one time he had more than twenty thousand people staked.”
    “So our guy is repeating history?” Jim made some notes as he talked.
    “There’s more.” Cook held his hand up to stop Jim from saying anything further and continued, “Vlad the Impaler gave rise to the whole Dracula vampire mythology. Since the victims in Cleveland are running on empty, it’s possible that the killer’s delusion centers around vampires or some kind of blood ritual.”
    “Dracula, I know, but I’ve never heard about Vlad the Impaler. When did all of this happen?” I frowned. “How do you stake twenty thousand people? Do you know what kind of space that would take? And how does that make you a vampire?”
    Cook glared at me, “Agent Larson, do I look like a history professor? Damned if I know. I’m just quoting the highlights of their research. Ask the Cleveland P.D. for the details. Better yet, read the case file.”
    “So we have two Muslims, a redhead, a blonde, and one male.” Jim reviewed his notes and ticked the victims off on his fingers.
    “That much diversity in victim selection suggests either the killer has no preference, or we’ve missed why he’s chosen the victims,” I said.
    “We don’t pay you for theories, we pay you to know, which is why you’re going to Cleveland on the first flight out tomorrow morning.” Cook extracted two folders from his briefcase, a battered leather box that had seen better days, and slid them across the table to Jim and I. “Touch everything you can and figure it out.”
    I opened the folder to find an airplane ticket for the next day along with contact information for the Cleveland Police. Cleveland Ohio here I come. Lucky me. Did serial killers have something against Hawaii?
    “Your contact will be Detective Leah Moskaluk from the local Police Department. You will work with local law enforcement instead of liaising through the FBI office on site. You know the drill, you don’t exist. You’re on your own.” Cook checked his watch and pushed his chair away from the table. “I want this case solved as soon as possible.”
    “Yes sir,” Jim and I said in unison.
    “Good. Take a taxi from the airport to the station. Detective Moskaluk will meet with you when you arrive.” He stood and snapped his briefcase shut. “No thanks to you two, I’m going to be late for my tee time.”
    And with that he was gone, leaving us alone with the case file and the scent of too-strong coffee hanging in the air.
    “He came. He saw. He went to play golf,” I mumbled under my breath. Cook was not one to get involved in the day-to-day details of an investigation.
    Jim smiled. “That is the privilege of power.”
    I snorted. “Or abuse. You say tomayto, I say tomahto.”
    Jim gave me a ‘what are you going to do’ shrug and led the way to the elevator. “I have to put together a report on the trial today. Can you get a headstart on the case file?”
    “Will do.” I sighed and stuffed the case file into my briefcase. A long to-do list of all the things I would have to do before tomorrow morning ran through my head until my temples throbbed. Jim already had all the information he needed. Through years of experience, he had developed the ability to absorb critical case details in just a few minutes, whereas I still had to do my homework.
    In truth, as the junior partner it was my responsibility to do all the grunt work. It would be up to me to figure out who the hell Vlad the Impaler was and correlate that information against the case data. I would be expected to make a report tomorrow morning during the flight to Ohio.
    On the ride down to the ground floor, information about the victims in Cleveland swirled in my mind like a mental jigsaw puzzle, one missing a critical piece. The case contradicted everything we thought we knew about victim selection. Most serial killers are making a statement with their crimes, working out some kind of twisted angst via the act of murder.
    If you can interpret that statement, it tells you a lot about who your killer is and makes it easier to identify suspects. Many times they have elaborate psychotic fantasies that limit their victims to one age group, hair color, ethnicity, gender, or other physical trait. In the absence of any physical evidence, no clear victim preference, and, without any idea as to what the psychological makeup of the killer was, it would be difficult to profile the perpetrator.
    Enter the psychic, stage right.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    Updated Author Bio

    I finally decided to redo my bio. What do you think?

    I saw my first ghost at the age of 4 and have been running scared ever since. I also stole a rock from a real vampire (seriously!) who is probably still looking for me (stick around if you want to hear that story). On top of that, any psychic tendencies I have are dyslexic. Basically, the safest thing for me to do is stay indoors and write what I know; Paranormal.

    It's all true. Every word. As I worked on it, I realized it might be a good idea to write a memoir about my run-ins with the paranormal. I'm sure we all have our stories but...

    1.I've read every single Zener card correctly. More than once. Only in reverse order.

    2.I almost won the lottery due to psychic intuition.

    3.I really did steal a rock from a real so-not-a-myth vampire.

    4.My stepfather was a shaman and it was as weird as you think it was. (By the way, my father was a minister!)

    5.Run-ins with ghosts that keep me far far away from ghost hunts.

    The weird, it likes me. A little too much for my own good.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Sunday Sampler 5

    Happy Sunday. Here's what I've been up to...

    1.Wondering what kind of viral art campaign I could create with the collection of old Arby sauce packets littering the bottom drawer of my fridge. I mean, really, what else do you do with two-year-old horseradish sauce?

    Throw them out, you say? Oh, that's too easy. At least let's squish them with big pumpkins dropped from a ladder.

    2.Chuckling over my toddler's early attempts at prayer. We've gone from praying is "just holding your hands like this and that's it," to "Dear God, we have a garden and we grow tomatoes and peppers. I want to send you a birthday card and I need your address. Thank you for flu shots. Amen."

    3.Obsessively trying to make Love Potions perfect. Spending hours battling with various publishing platforms and losing. Ugh. The underbelly of indie publishing is not pretty. There's a lot of migraine inducing tech details that go into every ebook you read.

    4.Listing reviews for Love Potions in the sidebar to the right and adding some steamy excerpts.

    5.Making cranberry-pumpkin muffins, a perfect complement to a perfect Fall day.

    May you have a warm cranberry kind of Sunday and may the Tech Gods of Publishing look favorably upon your books.


    Friday, September 30, 2011

    Love Potions Now Available

    Love Potions is now available at Amazon.com and Smashwords with other retailers soon to follow.

    If you want a madcap romantic adventure with some hot sex, Love Potions fits the bill.

    Check out the excerpt here.

    First review (ever!) is up here.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Notes From Season 4 of True Blood: The Too Stupid to Live Stackhouses

    FYI This post contains spoilers and a heavy dose of snark.

    My husband and I have managed to get hooked on V, I mean True Blood. We watched the first three seasons like addicts, unable to tear ourselves away from the screen to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

    However, just as the books began to chafe, the series has as well. In fact, the TV series makes the flaws bigger and adds new mistakes to the mix. All in technicolor. Here's a rant, in list form, based on the series to date. These are all things I try to avoid in my writing. Wish I could say the same for the show's writers.

    1.Seriously, Sookie? You aren't the least bit interested in harnessing your fairy powers? No matter how often people are willing to kill to get to you? Or how often it saves your sorry ass? Okay fine, how about some target practice with a gun small enough to wear on your body instead of so big it's always in the other room?

    Or wearing perfume laced with collodial silver?

    Or, you know, staying home at night? With a security system and one of those 'I've been bitten and I can't stop bleeding' Life Alert thingies.

    In the real world? You'd be dead, Sookie. Dead of stupidity.

    2.Bill and Eric. You love someone who has no common sense of self-preservation. She doesn't risk her life to save you for love alone, it's because she can think of no other way that doesn't maximize danger and damage. You want that kind of intellect in your corner? Well, then expect to end up tied to a stake with flames licking your boots.

    3.Body guards. I love how King Bill has a personal SWAT team, but can't spare some protection for Sookie, the "love of his life." She's the most vulnerable one of the group and a magnet for danger, but she's on her own. All the time. How did these vampires manage to live so long again?

    While we're at it, why not give her a little store of your blood for those times she gets her ass kicked without you there to heal her life threatening injuries?

    You say you love her...

    4. Witches. Marnie was at least interesting, but what amazed me is that the only response Bill had was a rocket launcher. Magic exists in this world and everyone knows it. No one tried to marshal a countercircle of witches? Anyone? Hello, is this brain on? Or is it the first thing to go when you become a vamp?

    Also, are there seriously no vamps who were first witches? I find that hard to believe based on the world-building.

    Plus, why was I not surprised when Marnie's spirit came back for more, but everyone on the show was just hard core wedgie shocked? Does everyone really have to be too stupid to live to make the plot work? That's sad.

    5.Layfeyette. I love you, man. You are just delicious and worthy of your own spin-off show, Pimp Ho Medium. However, after what has happened to you, I find it odd that at no time was your character allowed to learn how to prevent possession. It's only logical that anyone prone to spiritual invasion might want to protect themselves. Doh. What were the writers thinking? Oh, yeah, you had to be dumb to make the plot work.

    6.Sam. You are annoying. Everyone knows if you don't kill a guy like Marcus, he'll come back and kill you. It's a story trope that should incur a fine each time it's used. Grow a pair and do what needs to be done. Half your problem is a serious lack of boundaries.

    Further, I have no idea why you get so much screen time. You aren't that interesting to watch. You were a potential love interest in the books and that has been defiled by the show. I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole, too damaged. Fortunately for you, Sookie is too stupid to know better, so you still have a shot.

    I do, however, want to work at your bar. No one actually seems to work and can spend all sorts of time on personal stuff. I would kill at that job.

    7.Society. So vamps have been out of the coffin for a few years and the only response is some Christian fundamentalism? A fundamentalism that can't even touch the extremes of what we have in the real world? Yawn.

    No fashion trends based on crosses or silver? No move to have everyone carrying a stake and a gun? People still stumbling around in the dark without a care in the world? Like there's no need whatsoever for self-defense?

    The wider social effects of vampires are barely touched and it undermines the world building. Rats learn a maze faster than this. Even moths in London adapted faster. Yet humans are still walking around in the dark, unarmed. Really? I don't think so.

    Now, I enjoyed the books and I like the show, but the writers need to tighten up if they want to keep True Blood going.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Of Old Men and Little Girls

    Spent my work time today formatting a manuscript. Always a bear because it is just so easy to start reading and get sucked into some editing.

    So, of course, I procrastinated like a dog who doesn't want to 'come' after pooping all over the rug. Being lazy led me to this blog post on old men checking out little girls.

    Which prompted an interesting memory of my youth.

    When I was 16, an ex-con (no,really) set his 35-year-old sights on me. That is not the worst part.

    Being precocious, I went downtown, next to the state capitol building (i.e. full of college educated professionals and elected officials) and conducted a survey.

    Was it okay for a minor and an adult to have a relationship?

    The women were quite adamant that no, it was not okay.

    The men? Were total perverts. Yes, totally fine. *leer* * leer*

    I was shocked. For once, the politicians were telling the truth!

    Looking back, I realize some of those adults may have been alarmed at a kid asking that kind of question. There were probably a few people wondering what was going on in my life to prompt such behavior.

    Nothing other than a lecherous ex-con, whom I quite successfully avoided.

    That, or he violated parole and went back to prison.

    Either way.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    List of Writerly Accomplishments So Far

    This is what I did so far today...

    1.Inserted cross-promotion excerpt into Love Potions manuscript and formatted same.

    2.Filled out cover questionnaire for urban fantasy cover so it can be included in Love Potions.

    3.Reviewed Love Potions formatting and fixed way too many mistakes. Re-inserted italicized text.

    4.Worked on Urban Fantasy blurb.

    5.Looked at a few book review sites. A year long waiting list for a review? Crazy!

    6.Tweaked marketing plan and sent it to a writing buddy.

    Not too shabby for a day's work.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Book Cover on a Budget

    Just playing around, trying to see if I can make a serviceable cover for a short story I plan to give away.

    Here's my first attempt. What do you think?

    If y'all think it's decent, I'd be happy to share how I did it.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    Indie 101: What I've Learned About Publishing So Far This Week

    There's so much to absorb when publishing a book that I wanted to keep track of the little stray tidbits of how-to and how-come information on the web. I expect this to be an ongoing series as there's always something to learn in this industry.

    Here's what piqued my interest this week:

    1. Hoping to land a traditional book deal through e-publishing? Well, here's the sales figures it takes to get New York's attention: 5,000 books sold in 6 months. Read more about it here.

    2.Hate the low 35% royalty on books priced at 99 cents? Want to make more? Here's a workaround (untested, so buyer beware). List your book on Amazon for $2.99 or what have you, which is a 70% royalty price. Then, on other outlets (B&N, Smashwords etc..) list it at a lower price. Go back to Amazon and click on 'tell us about a lower price'.  Amazon will put your book on sale and pay you a 70% royalty--allegedly.

    3.JA Konrath is talking about cloud publishing as a means of book distribution. Will it replace Amazon? I am doubtful as I don't think cloud computing organizes information as well as an e-commerce storefront and there are some issues with logistics, but the idea is interesting.

    What have you learned so far this week?

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Love Potions Excerpt

    Here's a short excerpt of my upcoming novella, Love Potions, which should be released sometime in September. Enjoy!

    Sometimes bad love potions are the best kind.

    Chapter One

    Marion waved black smoke away from her face, muttering a string of swear words under her breath. The scent of cloves stung her nose. Rose petals, flames curling their edges, littered the floor like confetti from hell. This was her fourth attempt to get this love potion right, and, no matter how she varied the ingredients, it still blew up in her face.

    She wasn’t making a love potion so much as a love bomb--one that had little affection for a clean kitchen. At this rate she would never obtain her potions license. Noticing the soot on the ceiling, she realized she might not get back her security deposit on the apartment either.

    From the living room, her roommate said, “Oh no. Not again.”

    “Yes, again,” she said with a sigh. “Sorry, Raven.”

    Raven came into the kitchen and leaned against the door jamb. She sniffed, wrinkling her nose. “Mar, you know I love you, but I’m really tired of the smoke. The first thing guys ask when they come over is if something is on fire.”

    “Look, I’m really sorry.” Marion frowned down at her potion pot, which appeared to have a hole in the bottom. Damn. This was the first time she’d used it too.

    “I know, but ‘sorry’ doesn’t get rid of the smell. It’s gotten to where I avoid werewolves and you know how much I like furry men.” Marion’s roommate paused, a faraway look in her eyes, and then gave herself a little shake. “Anyway, I think it might be time to confine your efforts to the lab at the university.”

    Marion sighed again and threw her potion pot into the garbage. Another three-hundred-dollar pot ruined. She was going to have to review her budget again and find the money for another one. But no more non-stick potion pots. They were too expensive. She’d have to make do with the cheap ones from WitchMart.

    “You’re right,” she said with a glum look at Raven. “I’ll do this at school from now on.” It would mean late nights on campus, but it would save her the clean-up in the kitchen. The university labs had wards in place to contain any magic accidents. Potions or spells gone bad simply disappeared as if they’d never existed, but the incident reports students had to fill out provided documentation enough. 

    Documentation Marion had hoped to avoid since too many incident reports could lower her grade. She was barely passing Potions as it was.

    “Have you considered that maybe your problem isn’t the potion, but you?” Raven opened the kitchen window, shooing the air out with her hands.

    “What do you mean?” Marion grabbed the broom and swept the rose buds into a pile. The roses had turned to ash and smeared black across the white linoleum. Great. She’d have to mop, too.

    “I mean, maybe a love potion requires some, you know, action?”

    She stiffened. “I’m not you.” Her roommate was the social butterfly while Marion worked hard to be the beige wallflower. She liked solid walls at her back; it meant no one could sneak up behind her.

    “You don’t have to be. Frankly, I don’t want the competition. But since you are human, I know deep down, underneath that scholarly facade is a passionate woman just waiting for the right man.” Raven paused and gave Marion the once-over. “Look at you. Your hair is singed. You’re wearing sweatpants and your shirt is more gray than white. You’re not even making an effort.”

    “You know I wear old clothes for potions.” Marion plucked at the frayed hem of her shirt, trying to tuck it under and out of sight.

    “And to the grocery store and your classes. Homeless trolls dress better.”

    Marion steeled herself against the truth of Raven’s statement. She owed no one an explanation. Besides, Raven, with her easy confidence and quick charm, wouldn’t understand. “I’m going to go take a shower and get cleaned up. Maybe I’ll even meet your standards when I’m done.” She swept past her roommate to the bathroom and slammed the door.

    “I’m just trying to help,” Raven yelled after her.

    Marion turned the water on full force drowning out her roommate’s voice and dropped her clothes on the floor. She caught sight of herself in the mirror and shook her head. Raven was right. Her hair was singed. What she hadn’t mentioned was that it also looked like birds had been trying to construct a nest in it. She took a moment to brush it out before stepping into the shower knowing if she didn’t get the worst of the tangles out now, it would hurt like hell later.

    Dark hair smooth, Marion set the brush down on the vanity, and caught sight of the scars on her wrist. Two years had passed since the doctors had pinned it back together and she hadn’t been on a date since. It still didn’t feel safe. Which was why she needed to pass her potions class, so she could start the magical defense courses. They were the only thing that could protect her.

    Marion was in her room trying to find some clothes to wear when Raven barged in without knocking. “Hey, I’m going out tonight. Do you want to come?” She paused, realizing Marion was naked. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize you were getting dressed.”

    Nonplussed at the intrusion, Marion wrapped her towel around her body. Raven never knocked and she had gotten used to her roommate’s practice of doing first and thinking later. “I don’t know if I’m up for a night out.”

    “Your favorite DJ is on tonight.”

    “Pixie Cool?” She loved Fairy Techno and PC was the best.

    “Yep. It’ll be fun. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet a guy.”

    Marion shook her head. “I don’t want to meet a guy.”

    “You can’t be celibate forever.”

    Marion flushed. “I think you’re oversexed.”

    Raven laughed. "You say that like it’s a bad thing. Oh come on, Mar. Come dancing with me. It’ll be fun. We haven’t been out in forever.”

    Marion sighed and weighed her options: Spend an evening alone at home trying to figure out where she kept going wrong with the love potion, or go blow off some steam on the dance floor? Considering she didn’t have another potion pot, it really wasn’t much of a choice. “Okay, I’ll go.”

    Raven squealed in excitement. “Cool! I’m going to get dressed. We leave in an hour.”

    “Yes ma’am.” She saluted her roommate, but Raven had already left.

    Raven’s radio blared music through the apartment, shaking the walls with an infectious rhythm. Marion winced hoping the neighbors wouldn’t complain, and then shook off her worries with a shimmy of her hips. Humming under her breath, she went through her closet looking for something too-big to wear.
    Chapter Two

    Aidan scanned the club trying to keep a pleasant smile on his face. It was an effort-- as he’d never been more angry-- but anger was the not the solution. If he gave into his rage the Queen would never let him back into Fairy. The terms of her curse had been clear: Until he pleased a woman less than perfect, the gates of Fairy were closed to him.

    To make it more difficult, she confined his hunt to this night club packed with perfect people. Aidan looked over the crowd once again, assessing the pickings, and sighed. Not a single diamond in the rough to be found.

    McAllister materialized next to him with a chuckle. “You’ve got your work cut out for you, my friend.”

    Aidan snorted and glared at the pixie. “Where have you been?”

    “I stayed to get the latest gossip from court.”

    Aidan rolled his eyes and took a sip of his mead beer. Pixies couldn’t resist gossip and McAllister, with his pink fluffy wings, was all pixie, even if he did have the face of a troll. A fact no one mentioned unless they were looking for a fight.

    McAllister’s wings twitched in annoyance. “Don’t act like you don’t care, you sod-ass. You want to know what they’re saying.”

    “Then tell me.”

    “Well, you went wrong with the whole moon thing. No woman wants her ass compared to not one, but two full moons. I think that was what put you over the edge.”

    Aidan felt a flush rise in his cheeks. “I meant it to be a compliment.”

    “Which is why your fecking head is still attached to your neck. The Lady knew your intent was good, but a lesson was in order just the same.”

    “Well, now what? Everyone here is fair. There are none so ugly as to fulfill her requirements.”

    “Make the best of it and hope you get lucky,” McAllister said as he flexed his wings, preparing to take off.

    “Where are you going?”

    McAllister paused. “I’m going to look for a good seat so I can observe.”

    “Ahh, I see. You’ll be reporting back to the Queen.”

    “Yes, my friend. I’ve been chosen as the executor of this task.” And with that, McAllister flitted off, leaving Aidan to fend for himself.

    Aidan downed the last of his mead and made his way to the dance floor. At least the music was good, the same stuff they played at Court. He allowed himself a few dances just to release his pent-up frustration, scanning through the crowd for a potential partner. 

    The shadows from the erratic pulses of strobe lights sometimes gave the illusion of a less-than-pretty face or figure. Once or twice, he thought he might have found someone only to learn, upon closer inspection, they would not qualify.

    But then he became aware of the woman next to him dancing like she was possessed, and, once he caught sight of her, he was riveted. Not by her beauty, for her loose hair hid her face. Nor was it her figure that captured his attention, for her floor-length skirt, topped with a too-big, long-sleeved shirt made it impossible to determine if she was of good form or not.

    No, it wasn’t her physical appearance at all that demanded his attention, it was the frantic desperation of her movements that called to him. Something was trapped in this woman, fighting to get out, and he found the progression of the battle fascinating.

    Various Wardrobe Malfunctions

    1. Wearing my too-big jogging pants while running. This results in running and holding my pants up at the same time. Like Erkel.

    2.Stuffing the asthma inhaler in one bra cup and the phone in the other. So I don't have to wear a fanny pack while running.

    3. Putting on clean clothes that were actually dirty due to toddler laundry interference and spending more than two hours wondering what that smell was.

    So basically, I can't be trusted to dress myself for public viewing. Also, it's not my fault if I smell funny.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    A Writer's Wild Vacation

    I love the Great White North that is Northern Michigan. The beaches are so gorgeous, even the butterflies come by to sunbathe. Everyone should vacation in the Traverse City area once in their lives. Definitely worthy of the bucket list.

    The first day, we body surfed in 5-8 foot waves. I was ankle deep in the Lake and one wave hit me at the waist only to be followed by another that got me in the boobs. Crazy! The water was so rough, it seemed like even the ocean had stopped by for a visit to the UP.
    My toddler and I screamed like we were on roller coasters. The water was polar bear cold and the day was cool, but the waves were so. much. fun. no one cared they were freezing.

    Yesterday, we returned to the same beach and found the lake whimpering meekly on the shore. Booooring. Instead of jumping carnival-ride waves, we got sunburned. Humph.

    Today, the family, including the hubby, is on a fishing trip, leaving me with toddler duty. Given that the hubby hates fishing, and my extended family is more cantankerous than usual, I have the better end of the bargain. He's on a boat right now silently chanting 'at least the fish will be delicious' and 'I will not chuck anyone overboard.'

    Meanwhile,  I slept in until 9, let the toddler watch cartoon after cartoon on networks she's never seen and threw in a load of laundry. Now I'm waiting for the washer to finish so we can go to the farmer's market and a rumored art activity (everyone has told me about it, but I have yet to see the fliers they've seen).

    The really big news? Our toddler wrote her name for the first time and then typed several words on the computer as well as maneuvered the mouse, also for the first time. She just blossomed, right in front of us.

    You know it's a developmental spurt when they are so focused on a new skill, you can't even capture their attention with the promise of ice cream. We waited until fatigue made her less accurate with the mouse, and then pried her fingers off the keyboard and took her to the ice cream stand where we stuffed her with caramel ice cream.

    As for writing...ummm what's that again? I'm too busy chasing butterflies on the beach. (Be sure to enlarge the pic below to see the gorgeous butterfly.)

    Saturday, July 30, 2011

    Impressions from a Twit

    I've been on Twitter now for, what? A week or so? It's been a learning curve.

    Unlike a blog, which is static, Twitter goes by fast as a one stoplight town. Blink and you've missed it.

    Here's what I think I've learned so far.

    1.It helps to know someone on Twitter. I have some real life people who Tweet and connecting with them made all the difference. I had someone to talk to, who already had followers.

    Don't know anyone? Connect by searching for people who share the same hobby or interests, i.e. something other than writing.

    You can follow me @MichelleMcCleod. I follow back and I will actually talk to you.  

    2.There are precious few readers on Twitter. Yet I think every author on the planet is there tweeting away (because their publisher told them to). This makes Twitter great for professional networking, but good luck finding an actual, live reader. The odds are pretty good that any readers you do find are spam bots (I'm only half joking).

    3.Some people are phoning it in. It's obvious they've scheduled  their Tweets through a service like TweetDeck and aren't actually online. How do I know? One, they don't talk to anyone and two, no one talks to them, but the stream of personal tweets never stops.

    Don't do this. It's alienating. I mean, what is the point of 24/7 Tweets if you're never around to actually engage with people? I tried to talk to one of these people and they never responded, but continued to blitz me with random tweets. I unfollowed them.

    Twitter really doesn't work as a one-way conversation. However, because of a tweet's short shelf-life (maybe 30 seconds if you're lucky) it can be easy to end up just shouting about yourself by yourself.

    If you can, come up with Tweets that address people directly to try and get a conversation going. An example:

    @CoolTweep  Can you eat ice cream and read at the same time?

    4.Use hashtags to your advantage. Hashtags are Twitter's index. Use # with a word to create a tag that will link to everyone else who has used it. Click the hashtag to find those people. So #asthma would become hyperlinked in my Tweet and I could find every asthmatic on Twitter with it.

    5.Participate in group memes. There are some regular events on Twitter that can be used to gain traction. Below are the basics of the big three memes I've encountered thus far.

    Monday is Mention Monday and uses the hashtag #MentionMonday. Try to promote someone else. For example:

    @AuthorName just revealed a gorgeous cover for their latest book. Link.

    (Note the @ before someone's Twitter handle creates a link to their profile.)

    Examples of Mention Monday tweets.

    Tip: Have something worth mentioning ready to Tweet on Mondays. If you have close friends on Twitter, ask them to #MentionMonday your Tweet.

    Wednesday is Writer Wednesday and uses the hashtag #WW. I'm still a little foggy on how this works but you can either promote other authors like so:

     #WW  Want a good scare? Try @AuthorName. Paranormal? Try @AuthorName Fantasy? Try @AuthorName

    You can post excerpts, however, that doesn't seem to be commonly done (although it's not like you'll be shot if you do). Here's a search result on Twitter for #WW.

    Friday is Follow Friday with the hashtag #FF and is exactly the same as Writer Wednesday only for anyone and everyone on Twitter.Examples of Follow Friday on Twitter.

    6.Use Bitly. Bitly is awesome (and free!). It shortens links and then provides data on how often they are clicked . This can help you identify the best and worst time to Tweet as well as which Tweets are most effective.

    You can either post to Twitter directly from Bitly or copy/paste into Tweetdeck (discussed next) to create a post-dated Tweet.

    7.Get Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck has lots of great features (plus it's free), but I like it because it allows you to post Tweets on a schedule. Per my point in #3, don't do this 100% of the time, but there are times when pre-loading your Twitter stream is useful. I like to use Tweetdeck in the following instances:
    • I have a lot to say and want to space it out instead of posting 10 tweets in a row.
    •  Scheduling announcements. Remember, the shelf-life of a Tweet is very short it is not enough to tweet something once. You need to run an announcement at different times and on different days to maximize exposure. (Try to make it interesting, don't post the exact same verbiage 20 times in a week.)
    • I'm worried I'll forget to post something or duty calls in the real world and I can't be online.
    8.Reply to as may Tweets as possible. Interaction is often at a minimum from what I've observed and people can really respond if you have something relevant and pithy to say.

    9.Retweet all happy news and charity events. Retweeting is good karma and people notice when you support them. (By the way, Retweeting is like forwarding an email, it takes someone's Tweet and broadcasts it to all your followers.)

    10. Avoid the hard sell, be different, be you. There is so much marketing on Twitter that you can stand out simply by being a normal human being. Don't mention your book every 5 seconds. Maybe not every week. Try to promote other authors instead. Share interesting links. Talk about your life (within reason). Be funny. Be you and oh, by the way, I have a book out.

    So that's everything I think I know. Did I miss anything important?

    By the way, any spacing issues with this post are due to a Blogger glitch I can't seem to fix.