Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderWith all the talk of Ebola, with all the scares and scaremongering, it’s hard for me not to shudder. I’d spent years researching viruses, bioengineering, bioweapons, and human experimentation (experiments humans did on each other) for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and though I knew what could happen, I always thought that somehow we’d be able to bypass a real epidemic. It’s still possible, though it’s also possible that by the new year, there will be 1,000,000 victims of the Ebola virus.

Here is an excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire detailing some of the things I discovered in my research. Oh, my. What wondrous creatures we humans are! The red death was my own creation, based on viruses that various scientists had played around with.


Greg was sitting at his computer, trying unsuccessfully to access the Internet, when he heard someone plop down in the chair behind him. Assuming Olaf had stopped by for his morning chat, Greg smiled as he swiveled his chair around.

The smile faded when he saw Clara D’Onofrio regarding him with red-rimmed, feverish eyes that glowed against her abnormally pale skin.

“Are you okay?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.

She made a small gesture with her hand as if to brush away his concern, opened her briefcase, and removed a sheaf of papers.

“I spent most of the night researching biological weapons,” she said. “You would not believe the stuff I found. Did you know that the entire genetic code for the Black Death has been mapped, and the genetic sequences have been posted on the web?”

Greg blinked, then shook his head no.

“Also cholera and smallpox. Smallpox! Who in their right mind would mess around with smallpox? It has killed more people over the ages than any other disease, claiming at least three hundred million victims in the twentieth century alone. Why did the World Health Organization spend ten years eradicating smallpox from the face of the earth when scientists all over the world now mass produce it?”

“If they eradicated it, where did the smallpox come from?” Greg asked.

“They eradicated it in the wild, but a lot of research facilities retained samples, including Ft. Detrick in Maryland.”

Clara riffled through her sheaf of papers and plucked one from the bunch. “It says here the Russians built an underground facility capable of growing eighty to one hundred tons—tons!—of the smallpox virus every year. Get this — they modified it genetically, combining the smallpox with Ebola and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a brain virus.”

“Jeez,” Greg said, feeling sick to his stomach. “As if smallpox by itself weren’t lethal enough.”

“Tell me about it. What’s even worse, the collapse of the Soviet Union left hundreds of biological research scientists unemployed. Many of them took the smallpox with them when they went to work for other countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, India, and maybe even Israel and Pakistan. And of course, the United States.

“Can you imagine what would happen if any of the new strains of the disease escaped from the laboratory? They’d travel around the world so fast and kill so many people, it would make the red death appear inconsequential.”

“No, I can’t imagine it,” Greg said. “To be honest, I have a hard time imagining the red death, even though it’s happening now. It’s too big. Too many have died. I think that’s why I focus on the puzzle aspect — who created it, and why. It’s something my mind can comprehend.”


Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderStraight from today’s headlines! In the novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. In an effort to stop the disease from spreading beyond the state of Colorado where the disease originated, the entire state is quarantined. In this dangerous world, Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.


After an uneventful day at work, Kate hurried home through the silent streets. More than half the houses she passed had fluorescent orange dots splashed on their front doors indicating that someone had died within. Beside some of those doors were small shrines or memorials—artificial flowers, crosses, dolls, teddy bears. Other houses were unlit, mute testimony that entire families had died.

A white unmarked delivery van stopped in front of a house that already had one fluorescent dot on the door. When two men jumped out of the truck and ran up the porch steps, she knew that soon another orange mark would appear next to the first.

She could hear the men lamenting the loss of the Broncos while they waited for someone to answer their knock. It seemed strange that they spoke of such a prosaic matter. Shouldn’t they be crying, “Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead,” as their counterparts during the Black Death had done?

As she neared the house, she could see the door open. An old woman with bowed head and trembling shoulders stood aside to let the two men enter.

Kate had passed the house by the time the men emerged with their burden, but she could hear the thud of the body when they threw it into the van.

She thought of Greg and how he had cradled Mrs. Robin’s body in his arms as he carried her down the alley and how he had gently laid her under a tree.

And how he had said he liked her, Kate, very much.


Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt From More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than OneDescription: More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.


“My dad was a CO in the war,” Beth said proudly.

Bob shot a questioning glance at Scott. “A commanding officer?”

Scott snorted. “Not hardly. I registered as a con-scientious objector.”

“He got sent into combat,” Rose said. “Can you believe that?”

Bob drew back. “Combat? A lot of conscientious objectors, including Quakers have served in the military, but they were usually given duties like medic or clerk. I never heard of any being sent into combat.”

Scott shrugged. “Well, they sent me. I don’t know if it was a mistake or someone’s idea of a sick joke.”

“Dad wouldn’t fire his weapon,” Jimmy said. “He believes killing for any reason is wrong.”

“He won’t even kill bugs or spiders,” Beth added.

Kerry laid aside her fork. “It must have been terrible.”

Rose nodded. “They assigned him jobs of a particularly filthy or menial nature, like permanent latrine duty, trench digging, and retrieval of dead bodies.”

“Someone had to do it,” Scott said.

“I know, but they didn’t have to harass you the way they did.”

“They thought I was a coward, hiding behind my religious beliefs to get out of combat duty.” He sighed. “Maybe I was.”

“No you weren’t,” Rose said fiercely. “It took a lot of courage to maintain your dignity in the face of their hatred. And you always had to dodge bullets and skirt explosions on your way to rescue injured men.”

She turned to Kerry. “During combat he had to get the wounded out of the line of fire and to help the medic care for them.”

Kerry’s eyes widened. “I can’t even begin to comprehend the strength it must have taken to survive not only a combat zone, but the torment of one’s own countrymen.”

“I had my faith to sustain me,” Scott said.

Beth shuddered. “They shot my dad.”

“The bullet gouged a furrow on my thigh, a flesh wound.” Scott smiled. “In the movies they always say, ‘It’s just a flesh wound,’ as if it’s nothing, but mine hurt like the dickens. They wouldn’t give me many painkillers, either. One nurse pompously told me they didn’t want us wounded soldiers getting addicted so they cut back, but another nurse whispered that the hospital workers had used the drugs themselves for fun. They must have received new supplies, because I didn’t notice much after those first few days—they kept me doped—but I do remember being transferred to a hospital in the Philippines.”

“Can you believe they sent him back to Vietnam after that?” Rose said. “It makes me furious thinking about it.”

Scott reached across the table and grasped her hand. “When I got back, my sergeant said to me, ‘Now that you know being a conscientious objector doesn’t keep you from getting wounded or even killed, are you ready to do your duty as a combat soldier?’ ‘I have no control over the actions of other people,’ I told him. ‘If the VC choose to shoot me, there’s not much I can do about it. The only choice I have is whether or not to shoot them, and I will not kill anyone.’ He glared at me and ordered me to get out of his sight and to keep out of his sight, because I disgraced the U.S. Army.”

Scott kept silent for a time while his family gazed sympathetically at him. Bob watched them, thinking the man had more than his faith to sustain him.

Scott drew in a breath. “Everyone still treated me the same until after the next engagement. We were under heavy fire, and many of our guys got wounded. I kept busy hauling injured men away from the front line. Afterwards, the sergeant came to me and said, ‘Glad to see you finally got some balls.’ The others guys stopped ostracizing me as if by getting shot I had passed some sort of test, like an initiation, but sometimes I could hear them snickering at me behind my back.”

“Do you think maybe you changed?” Kerry asked.

“No. Well, in little ways, of course. I became more self-confident, knowing I had never wavered in my beliefs even though my faith had been severely tested, and occasionally I have nightmares that make me sick to my stomach, but for the most part I’m the same as always.”

Kerry pushed aside her plate, folded her arms on the table, and gave Scott an intent look. “What kind of nightmares?”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Jimmy said. “You always say we can do anything.”

Rose gazed at Scott with anxious eyes. “Maybe you should tell her, dear. You have always refused to talk about your nightmares, even to us, but perhaps it’s time.”

“Go ahead, Dad,” Beth chimed in. “You can tell Kerry.”

“But what if you find out my life is a lie?” Scott asked his wife. “What if you find out I’m an evil person?”

Rose looked at him in astonishment. “Evil? You?”

“In my dreams I am.”

“But those are only dreams.”

Scott held her gaze. After a moment he spoke in a voice so low Bob could barely make out his words. “In one of my dreams, the VC is firing on us. I see a man down. He’s hurt badly and is trying to crawl away. I go to help him, but before I drag him to safety, I take his M-16 from him. I don’t know why. I just do it. Then, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, I shoot the VC. I see blood spurting out of the men I shoot, and I hear their screams, but I keep shooting. When the rifle is empty, I return the weapon to the injured soldier, who is staring at me as if he can’t believe what he saw. He laughs, and I awaken with the sound of his laughter still echoing in my ears.

“All the dreams I have are similar to that one, but they involve different firefights and different men, as if I killed many times.

“I don’t know what these dreams mean. I don’t know why I dream them. But the idea that I murdered people, even if only in my dreams, makes me so sick I have to vomit. Sometimes after I’ve thrown up I feel as if I’ve gotten rid of the evil, but other times I feel as if the evil is a permanent part of me, and I wonder if somehow I did do those things.”

He looked at Bob with sad, sad eyes. “But it is only a dream, right?”

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt From More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than OneYesterday, while searching More Deaths Than One for references to the scent of frangipani for my post Justifying Our Sex Scenes, I happened to find the passage below. It’s been so long since I’ve looked at the book, the story seemed fresh and new, and something I’d be interested in reading. (Which, actually, is why I wrote the book — to write something I’d like to read.) Note: ISI is Information Services, Incorporated, a corporation with ties to US intelligence agencies.

Description: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in SE Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. At her new funeral, he sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on?


“Here, put this on.” Bob held out a brown two-inch-wide belt.

Kerry lifted her shirt and showed him the waistband of her dark cotton slacks. “It’s elastic, see? I don’t need a belt.”

“It’s a money-belt. I got two of them yesterday, one for me and one for you. There’s ninety-five hundred dollars in each of them—”

“Ninety-five hundred dollars?” Her eyes grew round. “In cash?”

“Yes. I would have liked to get more, but that’s all we’re allowed to bring into the United States without having to fill out forms, and in our situation, that can get sticky.”

“What would happen if we brought in more than that and didn’t declare it?”

“Maybe nothing unless we got caught, but since we’re traveling with fake IDs, I’d prefer not to complicate matters. When the problem with ISI goes away, I can have some of my money wired to an account in Colorado or wherever.”

“Just some? Not all?”

“It’s safe where it is.” When she gave him a narrow-eyed look, he laughed. “I don’t seem to be able to keep anything from you. It’s in a private bank in Chinatown. Hsiang-li sponsored me, otherwise I’d have to use the same banks as everyone else, and ISI would probably have found my account by now.”

“Wouldn’t ISI have already traced the bank through your traveler’s checks?”

“My bank doesn’t offer that service. I paid cash for them at another bank that does, and since they don’t know me, that’s a dead end for ISI.”

Becoming aware he still held out the money-belt, he said, “Well, are you going to put it on?”

She took it from him, fastened it around her waist, and smoothed her shirt over it. Turning sideways to look in the mirror, she asked, “Does it make me look fat?”

“I don’t even notice it.”

She gave him a laughing glance. “Aren’t you afraid I’m going to run off with your money?”

“No. In fact, you can have it.”

She looked at him aghast. “I can’t take your money.” Reaching under her shirt, she started to remove the belt.

He put a hand on her arm. “Keep it for now. If we get separated, or if anything happens to me, you’ll need it to get back home.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you,” she said fiercely.

He nodded as if he agreed and did not mention the sense of foreboding that made his shoulder blades itch.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt From “Daughter Am I” by Pat Bertram

DAIDaughter Am I: When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. Along the way she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians — former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. She meets and falls in love Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.


Mary blinked in the sudden brightness, then blinked again when she saw Iron Sam. He seemed to be the personification of the inorganic being, as Happy called it. His skin looked ashen. Charcoal bags hung below slate eyes. His hair, still thick, still with the deep widow’s peak, had faded to pewter. The only hint of color in his face was the gold tooth visible between slightly parted gunmetal-gray lips.

He glanced up as they entered, but no other part of his body moved. Nor did he speak.

“Hi, Sam,” Lila Lorraine said.

The slate eyes shifted toward her.

“It’s me. Lila Lorraine.”

Iron Sam nodded, the merest inclination of his head.

Happy stepped forward. “Remember me? Happy?”

Again the tiny nod.

Mary wondered if he were paralyzed, but if so, wouldn’t he be in a wheelchair instead of an ordinary wooden chair?

Any compassion she might have felt withered when his eyes met hers. Feeling like a bug impaled on a pin, she gazed at him, unable to look away, unable to move a single muscle. After what seemed like a long time, but must have been only seconds, he turned his attention to Kid Rags, leaving her feeling limp and very thirsty, as if her vital fluids had been sucked right out of her.

With nonchalance Mary could only marvel at, Kid Rags pulled out his flask and offered it to Iron Sam. When Iron Sam nodded toward the plastic cup sitting on the bedside table, Kid Rags poured two fingers of bourbon and handed the cup to him. He sniffed it, inhaling deeply with closed eyes, then took a mouthful and held it a moment before swallowing it. His lips twitched — a smile perhaps? — then he took another sip.

The alcohol fumes mingling with the hospital odors and the stench of decay emanating from Iron Sam’s pores turned Mary’s stomach. She swallowed hard, then swallowed again, knowing she shouldn’t show weakness in front of Iron Sam, and somehow she managed to get her queasiness under control.

He flicked a look in her direction, as if sensing her struggle, then concentrated on his drink once more.

“My name is Mary Stuart,” she said when she could no longer stand the heavy silence. She introduced Kid Rags, Crunchy, and Teach, then explained about her grandparents’ deaths.

“What can you tell me about my grandparents? You might have known them as Jimmy Boots and Gina Dale.”


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Action Scene from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

Here is an action sequence from A Spark of Heavenly Fire. I worked hard on this particular scene. Rewrote it about a dozen times. Took out all extraneous words. Removed most of the character’s thoughts. Condensed the descriptions. Shortened the sentences. I wanted the action to zing! And maybe I accomplished my goal. Today a woman told me that A Spark of Heavenly Fire was so intensely emotional and so tightly written that she had to pause to rest while reading it. She said was glad of the breaks because it stretched the book out longer. Made me feel good to know the book meant that much to her.

Pippi watched the two boys come nearer. With their eyes alit with laughter, they looked young and innocent, like children playing a game.

The larger boy stopped, raised his rifle to shoulder height. All at the same time, she felt something whizzing by her face, heard the crack of the rifle, and saw a piece of bark flying off the tree next to where she stood.

She stayed rooted to the spot. She knew she should run, wanted desperately to run, but her body refused to cooperate.

Jeremy grabbed her coat and yanked her behind a thicket of bushes, where they stood ankle-deep in leaves.

“Listen,” he said urgently. He tugged at her coat. “Are you listening?”

With robotic jerkiness, she turned her head to look at him.

“Yes,” she answered, marveling at how far away her voice sounded.

He lay face down on the ground. “Cover me with leaves.”

She gazed at him, not comprehending.

“Cover me with leaves,” he said harshly. “Now! Do it now.”

She dropped to her knees.

As she scooped the wet, soggy leaves over him, he said, “As soon as you’re done, I want you to start running. Zigzag through the trees. Make a lot of noise so they think we’re both running away. And whatever you do, don’t look back.” He turned his head and looked up at her. “Got it?”

Pippi nodded, but refused to meet his eyes. How could he talk to her like that? Blinded by tears, she finished covering him with leaves, then took off running.

The binoculars banged against her chest, branches tore at her hair, rocks tripped her, and still she ran.

She stopped for a moment to massage a stitch in her side. To her horror, she saw the boys up ahead, coming straight at her.

She looked around in confusion. Seeing the thicket of bushes and the mound of leaves covering Jeremy, she realized she had come full circle.

She glanced at the boys; they leered at her and licked their lips.

Her skin prickled.

The smaller boy, whose hair had been dyed a deep crayon blue, thrust his pelvis forward and cupped his crotch with his hand. The larger boy, blond ponytail swinging, flailed his arms and legs in a gross burlesque of a woman running.

The boys convulsed with laughter.

Still laughing, the blond boy raised his rifle. With his finger crooked on the trigger, he aimed it at her.

Suddenly the mound of leaves at the base of the bushes erupted. A creature—barely recognizable as Jeremy, with his tensed body and his rage-distorted face—sprang toward the young blond rifleman.

The boy didn’t even have time to turn his head.

Dressed in camouflage clothes as Jeremy was, it looked as if the very leaves reached out, grabbed the blond ponytail, pulled the boy close, and made three rapid sawing motions across his throat.

Blood spurted in a bright red arc from the boy’s neck.

It happened so fast that when Jeremy tossed the blond aside, the blue-haired boy was still cupping his crotch and laughing.

Jeremy turned to confront him. The grin slid off the boy’s face. He dropped his rifle and raised his hands. His eyes, the irises rimmed with white, were riveted on the bloody knife.

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Excerpt from Light Bringer by Pat Bertram

Light Bringer is my latest novel, scheduled for release by Second Wind Publishing in March, 2011.

Description of Light Bringer:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt (Prologue):

Helen Jenks gripped the steering wheel and squinted into the darkness beyond the beam of the Volkswagen’s headlights. Nothing looked familiar. Was she almost home? The snow had stopped falling, but in these hills so far from town, the county didn’t bother to plow. She didn’t know if she drove on the right road, or any road at all. There were no other cars, no tire tracks.

Where was everyone?

She sighed. Home in bed, probably, where she would be if she hadn’t pulled a double shift at the hospital.

Hearing an odd drone, she cupped a hand behind an ear and tried to isolate the sound from the rumble of the Volkswagen engine. Was something wrong with the bug? Oh, please, no.

All at once the sky lit up. She leaned forward for a better view and caught sight of a brilliant star that seemed to throb in time with her heartbeat, growing brighter with each pulsation.

She sat back and rotated her head around her stiff neck. Maybe it was Venus. Hadn’t she read that at certain times of the year, under certain conditions, Venus could be as big and as bright as the moon?

Leaning forward again, she saw the star pulse one last time, then wink out. As she became used to the darkness it left behind, it reappeared, darted toward the horizon, and vanished. So, not Venus. Perhaps a meteor or two.

She listened for the drone, but no longer heard it. Good.

Ten minutes later, she noticed a pin prick of light in the distance: her porch light. Her car slid to the side, and she gripped the steering wheel harder. Be careful, she cautioned herself. You’re not safe at home yet.

When at last she parked in front of her old frame house, she pried her fingers off the steering wheel and stumbled out of the car. Except for the dings and pops of the cooling engine, the world was silent, appearing so new and un-touched, she hesitated to mar the opalescent expanse with her footprints. Then her eyebrows drew together. The snow wasn’t untrodden after all. Tracks led to the house where a small gray creature huddled against the door.

She clapped her hands. “Shoo. Shoo.”

The creature did not stir.

“Go on. Get,” she shouted.

The creature still didn’t move. Was it dead? This wouldn’t be the first time a dying animal had been attracted to the warmth seeping from beneath the front door.

She approached gingerly, relaxing when she saw what appeared to be an old gray blanket that had somehow ended up on the stoop. She bent over to collect the wad of fabric, then straightened. Bad idea. Who knew what vermin had taken refuge in the folds.

Before she could figure out what to do, the blanket moved. She jumped back and stared at it. The blanket moved again, giving her a glimpse of a coppery curl.

She lifted the bundle, cradled it in her arms, and drew back the blanket. Two dark eyes, shining with intelligence, gazed at her.

She sucked in a breath. An infant, no more than nine months old.

As the infant continued to gaze at her, its eyes brightened to gleaming amber. Then it beamed at her—a welcoming smile, both joyous and knowing, as if it had recognized a dear friend.

Helen’s face felt tight. “Who are you?”

The baby chortled in response.

“And who left you here?” She glanced at the tracks. They led in only one direction—toward the house.

Feeling dizzy, she crouched to examine the tracks more closely.

They were footprints. Tiny footprints in the snow.

Rubicon Ranch Preview

I am working on my next chapter for Rubicon Ranch, the collaborative novel I am writing online with eight other Second Wind authors. If you haven’t yet checked the story out, you can find what we’ve written so far at: Rubicon Ranch.  JJ Dare’s chapter is especially chilling. My chapter isn’t due for a while, but I need to get a head start, since who knows what writing projects I will be involved with when my turn rolls around again. Here’s a bit of what I wrote today:

The sheriff poured two cups of coffee from an urn on a rosewood sideboard, set them on the table, and slid into a chair opposite Melanie.

“What do you want with me?” she asked.

He gave her an innocent look as if he didn’t know what she meant. “I just want to feed you.”

“Yeah, feed me to the sharks,” she muttered.

“You’re very clever, aren’t you?”

She sat up straight. “What?” The word came out almost as a shriek. She modified her tone, but did not try to conceal her anger. “Are you suggesting that I had something to do with that little girl’s murder?”

“Why do you assume she was murdered?”

“You’re saying she wasn’t murdered?”

“Did you know the girl?”

“No. I might have seen her, but I didn’t pay much attention to what went on in the neighborhood. Wait! I bet she’s the one Alexander told me about. Right before his accident, he caught a little girl snooping around in our backyard.”

“I never saw the report.”

“Report? Oh, police report. He didn’t turn her in. Professional courtesy, he said. He was a bit of a snoop himself. Supplemented our income with photos of celebrities.”

“Did he ever take photos of your neighbors?”

Something in his expression—an added alertness—alarmed her. “Are you thinking Alexander might have been killed?”

“Why do you ask that?”

She shot him an exasperated look. “Having a conversation with you is like trying to talk to a four-year-old who has an attention disorder.”

Excerpt From My NaNo Novel

My grieving woman novel is taking shape. Amanda and her twenty-nine-year-old daughter Thalia are having problems that seem to antedate her husband’s death. I’m not sure why the daughter has such a problem with her mother, but perhaps we don’t need to know. It could just be more of the unfinished business the woman has to deal with.

In the scene I wrote today (keeping to my writing schedule, yay!), the daughter accuses her mother of hastily redoing her old bedroom:

“This doesn’t look at all like my room any more,” Thalia said. “There’s not a trace of me here. You could hardly wait to get rid of me.”

Amanda opened her mouth to reply, but for a few seconds, no words came out. She’d completely forgotten that when they first came to this parsonage, Thalia had been a sulky thirteen-year-old. Trying to put a smile on her daughter’s face, she’d promised Thalia she could decorate the room any way she wished. Amanda hadn’t expected pink paint and eyelet ruffles, but she’d been appalled by the black walls and red curtains that gave the impression of dripping blood. The posters of movie vampires and band members who looked as if they’d crawled out of a crypt seemed almost cheerful by comparison.

When Thalia went to college, David claimed the room for a den, but it had been Amanda who been cajoled into doing the work. “Shouldn’t we at least wait until Thalia’s out of college?” Amanda pleaded. For once, David had not been thinking of their daughter. “I need a place to work here in the house. We can put in a sofa bed. Thalia can use it during the summer.” But Thalia had never come back, and secretly Amanda had not blamed her.

“I wish this house were bigger,” Amanda said. “Then we could have kept your room for you.”

“Yeah, right.” Then, sounding like the little girl she had once been, she added, “couldn’t you have turned the parlor into Dad’s den? Nobody has a parlor and a living room anymore.”

“I wanted to, but Dad said he needed a place for receiving visitors. He always thought it was important to keep the living room for us, so we could have some privacy as a family.

“I’m glad he had a place to get away from you.”

Amanda flinched at her daughter’s words, but didn’t bother to correct them. When David had moved out of their shared bedroom into this room after his diagnosis, it had been to spare her his relentless pacing and allow her to sleep undisturbed, not to get away from her. Or so he said.

Could Thalia be right? Maybe he’d mentioned something to her that he wouldn’t say to Amanda. The two often excluded her from their conversations. She used to worry about feeling jealous of her daughter, but she hadn’t been jealous, not really. She’d liked that David and Thalia got along so well. She and her father had been virtual strangers.