First Chapter Reveal: One-Way Ticket Home by K.C. Hardy

one-way-ticket-homeTitle: One-Way Ticket Home
Author: K.C. Hardy
Publisher: Casbury Lane Press
Pages: 262
Genre: Christian Inspirational Fiction

Days before boarding the plane to Italy for her daughter’s wedding, Julie Whitaker receives an unexpected phone call from her past. The memory of Mark Jennings, a handsome and charming Top Gun pilot, had haunted her for decades. Their fairy tale wedding was everything she’d ever dreamed of, but it quickly turned into her worst nightmare.

Starting a new a life without Mark proved to be much harder than Julie had imagined. But in her darkest hour, God revealed Himself in a miraculous way, giving her the strength she needed not only to battle depression, but to face a diagnosis of breast cancer that threatened to cut her life short.

Now, amidst the splendor of the Italian Alps, on the eve of her daughter’s wedding, Julie’s thoughts are catapulted back to Mark and the reason for his call. After thirty years, will Julie have a chance to see him once again? And would she even want to?

Based on true events, One-Way Ticket Home will take you on an unforgettable journey of love, loss, hope and forgiveness. With grace, candor and an indomitable wit, K.C. Hardy reminds us that it is often in our darkest hours, that the strength of the human spirit shines the brightest.

For More Information

  • One-Way Ticket Home is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

Chapter 1

San Antonio, Texas

June 6, 2008

It happened just as Julie Whitaker turned off the last set of lights in the office. The ever-present amber glow from the receptionist’s desk lamp cast long shadows that gave the normally bustling workplace an eerie, ghost-like feel. Always the last to leave, she stayed long after coworkers had darted off to cart their kids to soccer practice or squeeze in last-minute runs to the grocery store. Having successfully raised two independent daughters, Julie no longer had such obligations. There were no children to pick up from school, drive to soccer, piano, or basketball. There was no husband who expected her to have dinner hot and ready when he walked through the door. She answered to no one…that is, except Clark O’Brien, her boss, mentor, and friend for the past ten years.

And Julie liked it that way—the freedom…the independence…the idea of being able to jet off on exotic vacations whenever she pleased. An idea that always enticed her but which she never had acted upon. Ironically, there still was no time for such luxurious pursuits. There were interviews and database checks at the court house. Deadlines and court dates always loomed. Which was exactly why the grating, high-pitched ring of the phone was even more irritating than usual.

It could only be coming from one place—her desk. She could ignore it, activate the alarm, turn the key in the deadbolt, walk the twelve steps to her car, and be done with work for the next fourteen days. Or…she could answer it. Julie knew who was on the other end of the line. Just before shutting down her computer, she’d shot off a last-minute email to Clark. The message was short, and should have come as no surprise.

Clark,

The Sanchez case has been completed and sent to the D.A.’s office. I’m shutting down my computer after I finish typing this and will see you in two weeks. The offer still stands for you and Jodi to join our family in Italy if you would like. Let me know, and I’ll overnight the tickets to you.

Ciao,

Julie

Why couldn’t she just ignore the ringing like any other rational person on the eve of their first vacation in over two years? Why?

Dedication. The trait that had helped guarantee her job during the recent string of layoffs was now irritating her. She zigzagged across the room, dodging cubicles that impeded a straight shot to her office. Defiantly determined not to be here a single minute longer, she didn’t bother switching on the light in her office, much less sit down. Breathless, she answered the phone before voicemail picked up.

“This better be good, Clark, because my vacation actually started three hours ago!”

“Then what the heck are you still doing at work, Whitaker?”

She almost dropped the phone and had to smother the gasp of shock that made her knees buckle. It wasn’t Clark. There was no mistaking that deep husky voice that sent her heart pounding and her head reeling from the instantaneous churning of emotions. It was a voice she hadn’t heard in over twenty years.

“Jules, you there?”

Running her tongue over her lips to both lubricate and pry them apart, she answered his question with a question of her own.

“Mark. What a surprise! How’d you get my number?”

Working as a private investigator, Julie knew how easy it was to locate anyone, anywhere. And if she was being perfectly honest with herself, she’d secretly longed for this call. Yearned for this somewhere inside the most private chambers of her heart. The lack of closure had left a gaping wound that hemorrhaged for years deep within her soul. A casualty that resulted from the swift, premature severing of their relationship. Forcing emotions and memories to be buried so deep, only Roberta Flack’s sultry voice, late-night showings of Top Gun, or the familiar, nostalgic, musky scent of his signature cologne could unearth them. Still, a part of her wondered: why now? Why after all this time?

“How are you doing?” Julie mustered in the most nonchalant voice possible.

“No complaints. And you?” Typical Mark Jennings. He could’ve been in a Tomcat,

taking fire from all directions, and if someone would have asked how he was doing, he would’ve responded “piece of cake.” It was part of what made him so good at his job.

“I’m doing great.”

He cleared his voice. “So you’re into the Sherlock Holmes thing now, huh?”

“Yep…gotta keep an eye on everyone like you out there,” she teased.

“I bet you make one heck of a private eye.”

“You’re darn right I do,” she laughed. “What about you? You still flying with the Navy?”

“Still flying. But now I’m with American. Been with them nine years. In fact, that’s why I’m calling. I bid the San Antonio run at the end of the month and was wonderin’ if you’d like to meet up for dinner? For old times’ sake?”

Typical Mark, cutting right to the chase. She knew what she should say, what she had rehearsed saying over the years, if this opportunity ever came along again. The phone call from him twenty years ago unraveled the cocoon she so carefully and meticulously constructed. The sound of his voice sent years of therapy, healing, and pieces of her splintered heart swirling erratically into oblivion.

Twenty years ago she had every reason to say no. Back then there was too much to lose. But now things were different. And yet, for some unknown reason, Julie found herself hesitating.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Mark…” She couldn’t believe her own words even as they left her lips. Every part of her yearned to see him. To get lost in his hypnotic eyes and run her hands through his unruly, thick, sandy hair. She yearned to trace her fingers across his full lips and down his toned arms.

He was quiet for a moment. “What have you got to lose?” he asked, breaking the silence as if reading her thoughts.

Everything, she wanted to say. This time there was no longer a marriage, a husband, or children—lives that could be ruined. All the reasons for not meeting him before no longer applied. And yet she wavered, for the one life that could still be ruined was her own.

“I’ll think about it, Mark.”

“That’ll work I guess.”

Suddenly, she was anxious to cut the conversation short before she was reduced to the vulnerable woman who still lurked inside. Even decades later, Julie feared succumbing to the seductive charm of the man who somehow always managed to make her weak in the knees. “Mark, can I get back to you? I’m not trying to cut this short, but I was actually about to

leave—”

“For vacation. I gathered that,” he laughed but with zero mirth. She sensed a tinge of annoyance creep into his voice.

“I thought you were my boss.”

“Wow! You must be really comfortable with your boss!”

“I am.” Julie knew Mark well enough to know exactly what he was insinuating, that her relationship with Clark must extend beyond business. It couldn’t be further from the truth, but she decided to let him squirm a little in the realm of the unknown.

“Well, think you could have an answer for me when you get back?”

“Sure…I’ll let you know in two weeks.”

“Two weeks?”

“I’m going to Italy for my younger daughter’s wedding.”

“Your three year-old’s getting married?” he teased.

“My twenty-six year-old is getting married.”

He let out a long whistle. “Time certainly flies, doesn’t it?” His voice took on a somber tone.

“Does it ever!” Julie sighed, nostalgic. It was a sentiment she had felt a lot lately—

one that had sent her to Sam’s on more than one occasion to stock up on economy packages of Kleenex.

“Jules…”

“Yeah…”

“I really hope we can meet up…”

She didn’t say she hoped so too. “I’ll call you when I get back. And thanks for calling. It’s great hearing from you.”

“Be safe over there.”

“I will…thanks.”

Julie sank deeper into the chair after putting down the receiver. The blinking green light on the laptop bounced off the beige walls in the dark room, sporadically illuminating the framed pictures of her girls. Baby pictures. Pictures of them riding their first bikes. Pictures of their proms. Identical pictures taken at their graduation from the University of Texas with the tower lit up behind them amidst a sea of fireworks. There were so many accomplishments, milestones, other loves, and other losses. She had lived a life largely without looking back. Mostly free of regrets.

That is, except for one….

About the Authors

kc-hardy

Kristie Hardy, whose life is the inspiration behind this book, holds a B.S. in Education, a minor in English, and is a former teacher. But her most recent profession as a private investigator spawned a desire to unearth the long-suppressed details of her own personal story. She is a mother of two, and a thirty year metastatic breast cancer survivor. Kristie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with her husband.

Cate Hardy, Kristie’s daughter and co-author, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. Cate lives in San Antonio, Texas with the loves of her life: her husband and two children.

Kristie and Cate are the mother/daughter writing team of K.C. Hardy. Their latest book is the Christian inspirational fiction, One-Way Ticket Home.

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First Chapter Reveal: 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M. by Robert J. Dornan

23 Minutes

Title: 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M.
Author: Robert J. Dornan
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 550
Genre: Historical Fiction

In the early morning of her sister’s wedding day, Mila Kharmalov stared in stunned silence at the coloured sparks streaming from Reactor Four of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. At that very moment, her life and the lives of everyone she knew changed forever.

Years later and on another continent, Adam Byrd was writing biographies for everyday people looking to leave their legacy in book form. When the woman he loved phoned from Kiev offering him the chance to write the story of a lifetime, he jumped at the opportunity not realizing that his voyage would be a bumpy ride through a nations dark underbelly. With the help of his friend’s quirky cousin, Adam is nudged into a fascinating adventure of love, greed, power and psychotic revenge, culminating with a shocking finale.

23 Minutes Past 1 A.M. is a work of fiction based on factual events from Chernobyl and villages throughout Ukraine.

For More Information

  • 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M. is available at Amazon..
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter

 

Byrd Brain

“Oh, for the love of God… shut up!”

Okay, I didn’t actually say that, but I was thinking it. Trust me, if you were in the same situation, you would be thinking the same.

My name is Byrd. It’s a surname that has inherited a great amount of teasing from a young age but if there’s any consolation, it’s spelled with a “Y” like the Renaissance composer and not an “I” like the Boston Celtics basketball player or your common flying rodent. My friends get a kick out of it and have recently begged me to join Twitter because whenever I send a message, my followers can brag they received a tweet from a Byrd. When trends are catching up to you, you gotta know you’re riding the edge of something or worse – falling off the aforementioned edge.

My tiny name insecurity has led to me ask everyone I meet to call me by my first name, which is Aaron. Yet, like everything else in this world, when you think you’ve got it bad, you can rest assured that someone has it worse. I have suffered the à propos amount of name calling but nothing – and I mean nothing – like my cousin, whom I adore simply because of the courage she has to wake up in the morning. Why you ask? Her first name is Robin.

Some parents don’t deserve their children.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts and decided I would go into business for myself, writing biographies for average, everyday people who wished to leave some sort of legacy for their children and family. Pretty good idea eh? Not really but I guess Lady Luck shone upon me as the business took off fairly quickly. Word of mouth spread and I was soon juggling three clients a month. When I launched an Internet site half a year ago, my clientele shot up to eight a month. Do the math at fifteen hundred bucks a crack and minimum costs. Even I can’t believe how fortunate I am considering any other writing adventure I have finished in the last decade has been a dismal failure.

Auto-biographies is not difficult work as long as my recorder functions properly and since I’ve created a template of questions, I’ve found I can complete a minimum one hundred page life story in five days or less if the customer doesn’t call with new information, which of course was often the case. Hey, I was taking a crap this morning, and I remembered a crazy night that involved magic mushrooms and a fat chick named Glory. Experience has taught me that editing for future generations of grandchildren is a gentle topic.

My workload is divided between the very interesting and those who had nothing much to be proud of other than offspring who I figure will eventually turn out just as boring. Today’s client fit the latter profile to perfection.

Rhonda Greenberg was pretty for a middle-aged housewife. Actually, she was drop-dead gorgeous and defining her as a housewife is a misnomer. Her hair was dyed blond to hide the grey that sprinkled her natural brunette but to be fair, the blond suit her. She jogged every day and bragged that she could do two hundred sit up’s in a row. Based on what I was staring at whenever she looked elsewhere, I had few doubts of her exercise routine. In fact, before I learned more about her, I would have considered dating the woman if she wasn’t married. That’s the beauty of attraction, ain’t it? Once we get to know someone better our hormones take a nose dive. Well, not always but if I was a betting man I would lay down my cash each and every time.

Anyway, Rhonda fit the profile of someone I would have dived into if she never said a word but once that mouth opened and she started to drop the f-bomb every second sentence, I kind of went limp. I felt like asking her where she hid the moonshine and straw hats but in the end, fifteen hundred bucks will never be something I’ll say no to, so here I was sitting in the expansive dining room with the posh motif listening to Rhonda talk about her cheerleader days.

Yah… big surprise there.

Not surprising was that this gorgeous woman had found herself a sugar daddy and lived in a home that could only be illustrated as a mini palace. Chandeliers hung from the front hall, in the kitchen and oddly enough outside the first floor bathroom. Clearly, sugar daddy did not pay much attention to Rhonda’s lack of vocabulary or design skills and hell, I don’t blame him.

My buxomly client was about to detail how she lost her virginity to her second cousin while their families were observing a religious fast when mercifully my cell phone rang. Looking at the call display, I saw a very long phone number, which looked more like Bill Gate’s paycheck than any phone number I was accustomed to reading. I was tempted to push the Ignore button but my curiosity got the best of me and I answered hello while lifting a finger, asking Rhonda to hold on.

“Aaron, it’s Lena,” the sexy voice began.

I nodded my head after figuring out the long string of digits was coming from Ukraine. Realizing a need for quiet and privacy, I excused myself from the mammoth dining room and headed to the equally huge front hall. I rolled my eyes when a brooding Rhonda exhaled an exaggerated long sigh.

My friend Lena mentioned last week that she had to fly to Kiev but did so in a rushed text message, which was something that has always bugged the shit out of me. I have told her a countless number of times that it is so much easier to pick up a phone and call but for some unknown reason she is more comfortable with impersonal typing on tiny buttons. Personally, I think she’s conscious of her accent and preferred this mode of communication but I gotta tell ya that this is just silliness because Lena’s voice is both soothing and alluring with only a hint of inflection. I’ve never struggled to understand what she’s saying, so that being said I have to believe she persists on texting just to irk me.

I met Lena at a lackluster conference about three years ago and we immediately hit it off. I can’t recall exactly how we met but we sort of bumped into each other and have remained friends since then. We tried dating but something didn’t click and agreed to stop before our friendship suffered. In hindsight, I wish I knew why things were so awkward at that specific time but no matter how I try to piece together those few months, I can’t find an answer as to why we couldn’t make it work. One thing for sure, I’ve always found Lena rather guarded and not willing to share more than she has to. There were other obstacles of course and many had to do with my experiences with Eastern European women. Don’t get me wrong, Lena is extremely attractive and at times hilarious but in the back of my mind I always waited or expected for the crazy temper to burst through. A temper I have witnessed all too many times from pampered Russian princesses. Aside from that, there was a weird stigma attached to these girls, like they were all con artists working for the mob or some Russian pimp.

“Hey Lena,” I answered, “Good to hear your voice. Wassup? Where are you?”

“I have arrived in Kiev yesterday but had no manner in which to call you,” she answered.

Okay, I’m flattered to say the least but not quite sure why she found it necessary to contact me while on vacation.

“Aaron, my aunt is very ill. The doctors insist she has only three weeks, maybe less to live.”

“Oh,” I said still dumbfounded and wondering what this had to do with me.

I felt a pang of despair for my friend realizing that these situations are never easy. I peeked around the corner into the dining room and saw Rhonda staring at me with blank eyes wondering when I would be done talking so that she could continue talking.

“I’m sorry to hear this but it’s good that you’re there with her.”

Damn, that was lame. I never have any clue what to say in these circumstances.

“This is the aunt I told you about,” Lena replied, fully realizing that I wasn’t following her. “She lived in Pripyat before the nuclear reactor accident.”

Bells whistled in my head and my attention was now focused entirely on the phone call. Lena had once mentioned that if ever I should write a biography on anyone, it should be her aunt.

“Oh yah, I remember now. Pripyat is close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant.”

“Aaron, she has agreed to speak with you but you must leave immediately. Is your passport up-to-date?”

“Say what?” I replied almost too comically. “You want me to fly to Kiev? Are you kidding me?”

“No, I am not kidding you”, she answered back with a hint of anger. “There is a flight leaving Pearson Airport tonight. I checked for seating and there are still some spots available so if you hurry there will be no problem. Call my friend Anna, she is a travel agent and she will book it for you. I will text you her phone number in five minutes.”

I was uncertain how to reply other than, “Another text Lena?” I knew in my gut that this could be the story I had been waiting for since the day I began writing biographies. More than likely, every other piece of work I had written beforehand would pale in comparison.

“This is gonna max out my credit card,” I blurted sheepishly.

My response did not please Lena and I could hear her grumble thousands of miles away. I coughed hoping she would quickly forget my unintentional rudeness.

“This is going to change your life, stop being so indecisive. Text your flight number and I will meet you at the airport. You will stay with my relatives. If anything Aaron, you will do this for me and our friendship.”

She said goodbye without giving me a chance to defend my position and I was left shaking my head in wonderment as was often the case when dealing with Lena.

I hurried back to the dining room, apologized to an extremely displeased Rhonda, packed my laptop and then sped to my apartment. Lena had already text her friend’s phone number and I called the travel agent the second I walked through my front door. The midnight flight was booked fifteen minutes later. The first thing I did following my phone call was surf the Internet for weather in Kiev and then packed accordingly. I was to expect lots of rain and temperatures between ten and fifteen centigrade, which was normal for mid-April. After throwing whatever clean clothes I could find into a suitcase, my final task was the most difficult, and that was of course, calling my mother and letting her know where I would be. She approved of Lena but not of the culture she came from. No matter how many times I explained that Lena was Ukrainian and not Russian, my mom could not let go of her antiquated beliefs. I took most of this with a grain of salt especially since the day she described Russia as the land that nurtured Stalin and John Lennon.

At six a.m. the next day I was flying over the English Channel, eight hours from Kiev.

As anticipated, Lena met me at Kiev International at 9pm Kiev time. Her blond hair was hanging free of her normal head bands and she wore a short blue skirt that accentuated her near perfect body. When she wrapped her arms around my hips the smell of her hair excited me to no end and I was suddenly wide awake. She didn’t normally dress so revealing so I was surprised, albeit very happy.

“Kiev agrees with you,” I complimented.

Judging from her puzzled facial expression, I could tell she was not certain what I meant but had a general idea and it pleased her. After seventeen years in Canada, Lena had still not caught on to many simple expressions.

“I am worried of gaining ten pounds a day. If the prepared food is not sweet, it is filled with mayonnaise. You’ll need new pants by the time we return home.”

Well, in your case it’s ending up in the perfect spots, I thought to myself. “We’ll have to take long walks after each meal. I’m looking forward to meeting your family.”

Lena smiled at the long walk comment. “And they are excited to meet you; I said some nice things. I should warn you that they may have mistaken my words as you being my boyfriend. My Russian is not as strong as it used to be and not only that, many of my family refuses to speak Russian and will only speak Ukrainian so that makes it even more difficult for me.”

“Don’t worry about it. I liked being your boyfriend when I was actually your boyfriend so you won’t hear me complaining.”

Lena looked me in the eye and half-grinned shyly before turning away. Okay, what I am about to say will sound incredibly vain or perhaps over hopeful but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it. Truth be told, I believe that Lena is in love with me and has been for at least the last two years. For whatever reason, she prefers to remain friends and as I said earlier, I don’t get it, as it makes no sense. From what I know from our circle of friends, she has never discussed her feelings with anyone even though many suspect that she wishes that she and I were still together. Anyone who ever saw the two of us chatting at parties or over dinner would come to the same conclusion. The comfort level, the laughter and the obvious sexual tension are as evident as the nose on your face.

I didn’t sleep a wink on the flight and never do on an excursion with moving parts. I once stayed awake throughout a two-day train ride to Moncton. My girlfriend at the time said that by the end of the trip I resembled a ninety-year old Robin Williams on Quaaludes. After a quick stop at a washroom – yah, I was feeling the effects of eight coffees – we stepped outside and found a taxi almost instantly. Lena got in the smallish vehicle first and told the driver where we were heading. I found it odd, and to a certain degree annoying, that she kept looking out the back window. I decided to keep this to myself as arguing half an hour after arriving was never a good idea.

“We can’t visit my aunt this evening,” she said, buckling her seatbelt while advising me to do the same. “It is much too late but I have asked permission for tomorrow morning.”

I didn’t understand the permission remark and like the rear window scenario, my Spiderman senses told me it would be better not to inquire.

“How is she doing?”

“Considering her situation, I would like to say as fine as expected.” Lena replied. “She is in good spirits and burst into tears when she realized who I was. It was very touching Aaron, a moment I will never forget.”

This perplexed me a bit, so I had to ask the obvious. “She has no photos of you?”

“Yes she does but face to face is different. She has been living in the Exclusion Zone for the last fifteen years.”

This piece of information confused me even further and Lena caught on swiftly.

“In time Aaron, there is much to learn. For now I will explain the Exclusion Zone as surrounding villages in and around Chernobyl. It was a very lonely life for her and for the few that choose to live there.”

I wanted to ask why she had preferred such and existence but decided to wait. Even if I had asked, Lena could only have answered what she had been told by her relatives. So instead, I asked the most palpable of questions.

“How does she look?”

Lena shrugged. “She looks like someone who has lived with radiation for twenty-five years. Most of her hair is gone…she has yellowish skin and a few open sores on her arms. The nurses have wrapped the wounds with gauze but she scratches nonstop as if she is filing her nails. She looks like a dying woman, a woman who is prepared and welcome to die yet she has summoned the energy to speak with us.” Lena looked out the rear passenger window for a few seconds and then glanced back at me. “What has both intrigued and disappointed me Aaron is that my relatives are not as anxious to visit her as I. It is disturbing to say the very least and when I question my cousin Boris as to why, he refuses to answer. I want to slap him…but he is a grown man and I am sure he has his reasons.”

Strange, I thought. “I did some research last night, which seems like an eternity ago, but I read that the citizens of Pripyat were not very welcome when they were evacuated.”

“Let my Aunt Tania tell her story,” Lena said quietly. “Hearing it first hand is better than an article off the Internet.”

I agreed and held Lena’s hand. Thankfully, she did not push away and instead held my hand tightly.

Within half an hour, we arrived at the home of Lena’s cousin, a heavy set man with one brow that seemed to begin and end at each ear. He was much darker than everyone else in the room and appeared to me as someone with a Gypsy heritage. He was introduced as Boris Kharmalov, a merchant who owned a successful cell phone store. It was obvious the man was doing well as his apartment in central Kiev was very large with every imaginable luxury. I was amazed at the size of the dwelling considering contradictory stories that clearly said most residents of this city lived in one bedroom apartments. This home had three bedrooms, a spacious chrome kitchen and a living room the size of six pool tables. Original paintings hung on most walls and a large television graced the wall in front of a leather lounger. I was graciously welcomed by several of Boris’s friends including a couple of stunning women who hung on every word Boris spoke. Before I had an opportunity to shake hands with every guest, I was handed a shot glass of Vodka.

“Drink,” Boris said with a heavy accent. “Welcome to my home, Aaron.”

It didn’t take me long to notice that Boris was near fluent in English although I didn’t ask where or when he learned a second language. Three hours and several shot glasses later, I was allowed to say goodnight and sleep came very quickly. The only thing I cared to remember this morning was that Lena never left my side the previous evening and more amazingly, was lying next to me when I awoke.

About the Author

Bob Dornan

Robert J Dornan is someone who wishes to leave a better world to his children. He realizes that the odds are slim but he will do whatever he can to increase the probability of success. He is always open to discuss new and innovative ideas and hopes someday to see the building of a functional solar city as well as a fair and community-driven compensation system.

 

Robert’s latest book is the historical fiction, 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M.

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First Chapter Reveal: 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M. by Robert J. Dornan

23-minutesTitle: 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M.
Author: Robert J. Dornan
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 550
Genre: Historical Fiction

In the early morning of her sister’s wedding day, Mila Kharmalov stared in stunned silence at the coloured sparks streaming from Reactor Four of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.  At that very moment, her life and the lives of everyone she knew changed forever.

Years later and on another continent, Adam Byrd was writing biographies for everyday people looking to leave their legacy in book form. When the woman he loved phoned from Kiev offering him the chance to write the story of a lifetime, he jumped at the opportunity not realizing that his voyage would be a bumpy ride through a nations dark underbelly. With the help of his friend’s quirky cousin, Adam is nudged into a fascinating adventure of love, greed, power and psychotic revenge, culminating with a shocking finale.

23 Minutes Past 1 A.M. is a work of fiction based on factual events from Chernobyl and villages throughout Ukraine.

For More Information

  • 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M. is available at Amazon..
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter

Byrd Brain

“Oh, for the love of God… shut up!”

Okay, I didn’t actually say that, but I was thinking it. Trust me, if you were in the same situation, you would be thinking the same.

My name is Byrd.  It’s a surname that has inherited a great amount of teasing from a young age but if there’s any consolation, it’s spelled with a “Y” like the Renaissance composer and not an “I” like the Boston Celtics basketball player or your common flying rodent. My friends get a kick out of it and have recently begged me to join Twitter because whenever I send a message, my followers can brag they received a tweet from a Byrd. When trends are catching up to you, you gotta know you’re riding the edge of something or worse – falling off the aforementioned edge.

My tiny name insecurity has led to me ask everyone I meet to call me by my first name, which is Aaron. Yet, like everything else in this world, when you think you’ve got it bad, you can rest assured that someone has it worse. I have suffered the à propos amount of name calling but nothing – and I mean nothing – like my cousin, whom I adore simply because of the courage she has to wake up in the morning.  Why you ask?  Her first name is Robin.

Some parents don’t deserve their children.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts and decided I would go into business for myself, writing biographies for average, everyday people who wished to leave some sort of legacy for their children and family. Pretty good idea eh?  Not really but I guess Lady Luck shone upon me as the business took off fairly quickly. Word of mouth spread and I was soon juggling three clients a month. When I launched an Internet site half a year ago, my clientele shot up to eight a month. Do the math at fifteen hundred bucks a crack and minimum costs.  Even I can’t believe how fortunate I am considering any other writing adventure I have finished in the last decade has been a dismal failure.

Auto-biographies is not difficult work as long as my recorder functions properly and since I’ve created a template of questions, I’ve found I can complete a minimum one hundred page life story in five days or less if the customer doesn’t call with new information, which of course was often the case.  Hey, I was taking a crap this morning, and I remembered a crazy night that involved magic mushrooms and a fat chick named Glory.  Experience has taught me that editing for future generations of grandchildren is a gentle topic.

My workload is divided between the very interesting and those who had nothing much to be proud of other than offspring who I figure will eventually turn out just as boring. Today’s client fit the latter profile to perfection.

Rhonda Greenberg was pretty for a middle-aged housewife. Actually, she was drop-dead gorgeous and defining her as a housewife is a misnomer. Her hair was dyed blond to hide the grey that sprinkled her natural brunette but to be fair, the blond suit her. She jogged every day and bragged that she could do two hundred sit up’s in a row. Based on what I was staring at whenever she looked elsewhere, I had few doubts of her exercise routine. In fact, before I learned more about her, I would have considered dating the woman if she wasn’t married. That’s the beauty of attraction, ain’t it?  Once we get to know someone better our hormones take a nose dive.  Well, not always but if I was a betting man I would lay down my cash each and every time.

Anyway, Rhonda fit the profile of someone I would have dived into if she never said a word but once that mouth opened and she started to drop the f-bomb every second sentence, I kind of went limp. I felt like asking her where she hid the moonshine and straw hats but in the end, fifteen hundred bucks will never be something I’ll say no to, so here I was sitting in the expansive dining room with the posh motif listening to Rhonda talk about her cheerleader days.

Yah… big surprise there

Not surprising was that this gorgeous woman had found herself a sugar daddy and lived in a home that could only be illustrated as a mini palace. Chandeliers hung from the front hall, in the kitchen and oddly enough outside the first floor bathroom. Clearly, sugar daddy did not pay much attention to Rhonda’s lack of vocabulary or design skills and hell, I don’t blame him.

My buxomly client was about to detail how she lost her virginity to her second cousin while their families were observing a religious fast when mercifully my cell phone rang. Looking at the call display, I saw a very long phone number, which looked more like Bill Gate’s paycheck than any phone number I was accustomed to reading. I was tempted to push the Ignore button but my curiosity got the best of me and I answered hello while lifting a finger, asking Rhonda to hold on.

“Aaron, it’s Lena,” the sexy voice began.

I nodded my head after figuring out the long string of digits was coming from Ukraine. Realizing a need for quiet and privacy, I excused myself from the mammoth dining room and headed to the equally huge front hall. I rolled my eyes when a brooding Rhonda exhaled an exaggerated long sigh.

My friend Lena mentioned last week that she had to fly to Kiev but did so in a rushed text message, which was something that has always bugged the shit out of me. I have told her a countless number of times that it is so much easier to pick up a phone and call but for some unknown reason she is more comfortable with impersonal typing on tiny buttons. Personally, I think she’s conscious of her accent and preferred this mode of communication but I gotta tell ya that this is just silliness because Lena’s voice is both soothing and alluring with only a hint of inflection. I’ve never struggled to understand what she’s saying, so that being said I have to believe she persists on texting just to irk me.

I met Lena at a lackluster conference about three years ago and we immediately hit it off.  I can’t recall exactly how we met but we sort of bumped into each other and have remained friends since then.  We tried dating but something didn’t click and agreed to stop before our friendship suffered. In hindsight, I wish I knew why things were so awkward at that specific time but no matter how I try to piece together those few months, I can’t find an answer as to why we couldn’t make it work. One thing for sure, I’ve always found Lena rather guarded and not willing to share more than she has to. There were other obstacles of course and many had to do with my experiences with Eastern European women. Don’t get me wrong, Lena is extremely attractive and at times hilarious but in the back of my mind I always waited or expected for the crazy temper to burst through. A temper I have witnessed all too many times from pampered Russian princesses. Aside from that, there was a weird stigma attached to these girls, like they were all con artists working for the mob or some Russian pimp.

“Hey Lena,” I answered, “Good to hear your voice. Wassup?  Where are you?”

“I have arrived in Kiev yesterday but had no manner in which to call you,” she answered.

Okay, I’m flattered to say the least but not quite sure why she found it necessary to contact me while on vacation.

“Aaron, my aunt is very ill. The doctors insist she has only three weeks, maybe less to live.”

“Oh,” I said still dumbfounded and wondering what this had to do with me.

I felt a pang of despair for my friend realizing that these situations are never easy. I peeked around the corner into the dining room and saw Rhonda staring at me with blank eyes wondering when I would be done talking so that she could continue talking.

“I’m sorry to hear this but it’s good that you’re there with her.”

Damn, that was lame. I never have any clue what to say in these circumstances.

“This is the aunt I told you about,” Lena replied, fully realizing that I wasn’t following her. “She lived in Pripyat before the nuclear reactor accident.”

Bells whistled in my head and my attention was now focused entirely on the phone call.  Lena had once mentioned that if ever I should write a biography on anyone, it should be her aunt.

“Oh yah, I remember now. Pripyat is close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant.”

“Aaron, she has agreed to speak with you but you must leave immediately. Is your passport up-to-date?”

“Say what?” I replied almost too comically. “You want me to fly to Kiev? Are you kidding me?”

“No, I am not kidding you”, she answered back with a hint of anger. “There is a flight leaving Pearson Airport tonight. I checked for seating and there are still some spots available so if you hurry there will be no problem. Call my friend Anna, she is a travel agent and she will book it for you. I will text you her phone number in five minutes.”

I was uncertain how to reply other than, “Another text Lena?”  I knew in my gut that this could be the story I had been waiting for since the day I began writing biographies. More than likely, every other piece of work I had written beforehand would pale in comparison.

“This is gonna max out my credit card,” I blurted sheepishly.

My response did not please Lena and I could hear her grumble thousands of miles away. I coughed hoping she would quickly forget my unintentional rudeness.

“This is going to change your life, stop being so indecisive. Text your flight number and I will meet you at the airport. You will stay with my relatives. If anything Aaron, you will do this for me and our friendship.”

She said goodbye without giving me a chance to defend my position and I was left shaking my head in wonderment as was often the case when dealing with Lena.

I hurried back to the dining room, apologized to an extremely displeased Rhonda, packed my laptop and then sped to my apartment. Lena had already text her friend’s phone number and I called the travel agent the second I walked through my front door. The midnight flight was booked fifteen minutes later. The first thing I did following my phone call was surf the Internet for weather in Kiev and then packed accordingly. I was to expect lots of rain and temperatures between ten and fifteen centigrade, which was normal for mid-April. After throwing whatever clean clothes I could find into a suitcase, my final task was the most difficult, and that was of course, calling my mother and letting her know where I would be. She approved of Lena but not of the culture she came from. No matter how many times I explained that Lena was Ukrainian and not Russian, my mom could not let go of her antiquated beliefs. I took most of this with a grain of salt especially since the day she described Russia as the land that nurtured Stalin and John Lennon.

At six a.m. the next day I was flying over the English Channel, eight hours from Kiev.

As anticipated, Lena met me at Kiev International at 9pm Kiev time. Her blond hair was hanging free of her normal head bands and she wore a short blue skirt that accentuated her near perfect body. When she wrapped her arms around my hips the smell of her hair excited me to no end and I was suddenly wide awake. She didn’t normally dress so revealing so I was surprised, albeit very happy.

“Kiev agrees with you,” I complimented.

Judging from her puzzled facial expression, I could tell she was not certain what I meant but had a general idea and it pleased her. After seventeen years in Canada, Lena had still not caught on to many simple expressions.

“I am worried of gaining ten pounds a day. If the prepared food is not sweet, it is filled with mayonnaise.  You’ll need new pants by the time we return home.”

Well, in your case it’s ending up in the perfect spots, I thought to myself.  “We’ll have to take long walks after each meal. I’m looking forward to meeting your family.”

Lena smiled at the long walk comment. “And they are excited to meet you; I said some nice things.  I should warn you that they may have mistaken my words as you being my boyfriend. My Russian is not as strong as it used to be and not only that, many of my family refuses to speak Russian and will only speak Ukrainian so that makes it even more difficult for me.”

“Don’t worry about it. I liked being your boyfriend when I was actually your boyfriend so you won’t hear me complaining.”

Lena looked me in the eye and half-grinned shyly before turning away.  Okay, what I am about to say will sound incredibly vain or perhaps over hopeful but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it.  Truth be told, I believe that Lena is in love with me and has been for at least the last two years. For whatever reason, she prefers to remain friends and as I said earlier, I don’t get it, as it makes no sense. From what I know from our circle of friends, she has never discussed her feelings with anyone even though many suspect that she wishes that she and I were still together. Anyone who ever saw the two of us chatting at parties or over dinner would come to the same conclusion. The comfort level, the laughter and the obvious sexual tension are as evident as the nose on your face.

I didn’t sleep a wink on the flight and never do on an excursion with moving parts. I once stayed awake throughout a two-day train ride to Moncton. My girlfriend at the time said that by the end of the trip I resembled a ninety-year old Robin Williams on Quaaludes. After a quick stop at a washroom – yah, I was feeling the effects of eight coffees – we stepped outside and found a taxi almost instantly.  Lena got in the smallish vehicle first and told the driver where we were heading. I found it odd, and to a certain degree annoying, that she kept looking out the back window. I decided to keep this to myself as arguing half an hour after arriving was never a good idea.

“We can’t visit my aunt this evening,” she said, buckling her seatbelt while advising me to do the same.  “It is much too late but I have asked permission for tomorrow morning.”

I didn’t understand the permission remark and like the rear window scenario, my Spiderman senses told me it would be better not to inquire.

“How is she doing?”

“Considering her situation, I would like to say as fine as expected.” Lena replied. “She is in good spirits and burst into tears when she realized who I was. It was very touching Aaron, a moment I will never forget.”

This perplexed me a bit, so I had to ask the obvious. “She has no photos of you?”

“Yes she does but face to face is different. She has been living in the Exclusion Zone for the last fifteen years.”

This piece of information confused me even further and Lena caught on swiftly.

“In time Aaron, there is much to learn. For now I will explain the Exclusion Zone as surrounding villages in and around Chernobyl. It was a very lonely life for her and for the few that choose to live there.”

I wanted to ask why she had preferred such and existence but decided to wait. Even if I had asked, Lena could only have answered what she had been told by her relatives. So instead, I asked the most palpable of questions.

“How does she look?”

Lena shrugged. “She looks like someone who has lived with radiation for twenty-five years. Most of her hair is gone…she has yellowish skin and a few open sores on her arms. The nurses have wrapped the wounds with gauze but she scratches nonstop as if she is filing her nails. She looks like a dying woman, a woman who is prepared and welcome to die yet she has summoned the energy to speak with us.” Lena looked out the rear passenger window for a few seconds and then glanced back at me. “What has both intrigued and disappointed me Aaron is that my relatives are not as anxious to visit her as I. It is disturbing to say the very least and when I question my cousin Boris as to why, he refuses to answer. I want to slap him…but he is a grown man and I am sure he has his reasons.”

Strange, I thought. “I did some research last night, which seems like an eternity ago, but I read that the citizens of Pripyat were not very welcome when they were evacuated.”

“Let my Aunt Tania tell her story,” Lena said quietly. “Hearing it first hand is better than an article off the Internet.”

I agreed and held Lena’s hand. Thankfully, she did not push away and instead held my hand tightly.

Within half an hour, we arrived at the home of Lena’s cousin, a heavy set man with one brow that seemed to begin and end at each ear. He was much darker than everyone else in the room and appeared to me as someone with a Gypsy heritage. He was introduced as Boris Kharmalov, a merchant who owned a successful cell phone store. It was obvious the man was doing well as his apartment in central Kiev was very large with every imaginable luxury. I was amazed at the size of the dwelling considering contradictory stories that clearly said most residents of this city lived in one bedroom apartments. This home had three bedrooms, a spacious chrome kitchen and a living room the size of six pool tables. Original paintings hung on most walls and a large television graced the wall in front of a leather lounger. I was graciously welcomed by several of Boris’s friends including a couple of stunning women who hung on every word Boris spoke. Before I had an opportunity to shake hands with every guest, I was handed a shot glass of Vodka.

“Drink,” Boris said with a heavy accent. “Welcome to my home, Aaron.”

It didn’t take me long to notice that Boris was near fluent in English although I didn’t ask where or when he learned a second language.  Three hours and several shot glasses later, I was allowed to say goodnight and sleep came very quickly. The only thing I cared to remember this morning was that Lena never left my side the previous evening and more amazingly, was lying next to me when I awoke.

About the Author

bob-dornanRobert J Dornan is someone who wishes to leave a better world to his children. He realizes that the odds are slim but he will do whatever he can to increase the probability of success.  He is always open to discuss new and innovative ideas and hopes someday to see the building of a functional solar city as well as a fair and community-driven compensation system.

Robert’s latest book is the historical fiction, 23 Minutes Past 1 A.M.

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First Chapter Reveal – Killer Pursuit by Jeff Gunhus

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Title: KILLER PURSUIT
Author: Jeff Gunhus
Publisher: Seven Guns Press
Pages: 352
Genre: Thriller

When a high-society call girl is murdered in her Georgetown home, investigators find two cameras hidden in the walls of her bedroom. One has its memory erased, presumably by the murderer. The second is connected to the Internet through an encrypted connection…and no-one knows who’s on the other end.

Special Agent Allison McNeil is asked by beleaguered FBI Director Clarence Mason to run an off-the-record investigation of the murder because of the murder’s similarity to a case she worked a year earlier. Allison knows the most direct path to apprehending the killer is to find the videos, but the rumors that the victim’s client list may have included Mason’s political enemies has her worried about the director’s motives. As she starts her investigation, she quickly discovers that she’s not the only one pursuing the videos. In fact, the most aggressive person racing against her might be the murderer himself.

For More Information

Killer Pursuit is available at Amazon.

Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Killer Pursuit

First Chapter:

Allison McNeil tensed when she spotted the first shadow dart through the mist and take cover behind a tree. In the early-morning light it took her a while to pick out all six members of the Hostage Rescue Team approaching the cabin, but within a minute she could clearly see the tactical team converging on their target.

The small building stood on a rise, up from the swampy, flood-prone land around it. Wood-slated walls tilted precariously inward, twisting the windows into deformed rectangles. Moss and dead leaves covered the roof. The place smelled and looked like decay, well on its way to inevitable reclamation by the weeds and vines choking the cabin to a miserable death.

And, if Allison was right, the place deserved what it got. Hell, if she was right, she had half a mind to take a match to the place after everything was done.

She hunkered down behind a fallen tree, her head barely clearing the top to see the building and the team closing in. A trickle of sweat started at the base of her neck and went the length of her spine. She adjusted the Kevlar vest, under her light windbreaker emblazoned with large yellow letters. FBI. It felt ridiculous to wear the windbreaker when it was in the ’80s before daybreak with the Louisiana humidity hovering at about a thousand percent, but if it meant that the hotheads with assault rifles could more easily identify her as a friendly, then she was happy to have it.

Garret Morrison shifted his weight next to her, stretching out a leg and rubbing his knee. She gave him a sideways look.

“You all right?” she whispered.

He scowled at her. They both knew she didn’t give a damn about him. The comment was intended as a dig at the fifty-three-year-old Garret who prided himself on being in better shape than the agents beneath him. Even though he ran the Behavioral Analysis Unit, home of the FBI’s fabled profilers who spent more time in the heads of the criminals they chased than in the field, he required an aggressive physical program for his people. Everything about Morrison is a throwback to the old male-dominated Bureau. A slicked-back head of hair with just the right amount of grey to lend him gravitas without making him look old, a square jaw out of a mountaineering magazine, cold steel-blue eyes that seemed to look through people instead of at them. Unless they were trained on an attractive female, in which case his eyes gave their full attention to the area below the chin and above the waistline.

“Worry about yourself,” Garret grumbled. He turned to Doug Browning, a junior agent who followed Garret around like a little puppy. “Jesus, Doug. Not so close.”

Allison turned back to the cabin and raised her binoculars, not bothering to hide the smile on her lips. Garret was a legend in the Bureau for his work hunting America’s worst criminals, but Allison’s own legend had grown since her work on the Arnie Milhouse case a year earlier. While that case had given her credibility, she knew she was just as likely to be referred to as the woman who’d broken Garret Morrison’s nose when he’d made one too many unwanted advances while she was a trainee. And, while she wanted to be known for her work, she didn’t mind that piece of fame following her around.

“Alpha team in position,” said a voice through the small speaker in her ear. She noticed Garret put a finger to the side of his head and nod. He looked over at her.

“You better be right about this,” he whispered.

Allison shook her head. For all his brilliance—and, regardless of how she felt personally about him, she recognized that he was brilliant—Garret’s transparency could border on the inane. What he was really saying was that if the lunatic Allison’s research had tracked to this location wasn’t holed up in this backwoods cabin, if the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team had been activated and deployed for no reason, then the blame would drop on her like a bag of bricks. If Sam Kraw was in there, Allison knew it would be Garret standing in front of the cameras taking credit for the HRT mission and the capture of America’s most wanted fugitive.

She pushed the thought away. As long as they caught the bastard and ended his multi-year killing spree in the Southeast, she didn’t give a damn who got the credit.

Allison moved her binoculars. The tactical team was in place around the cabin, peering through scopes with infrared capabilities. If there was someone hiding in the shadows of a window or doorway, they wouldn’t be hiding for long.

On some signal unseen by Allison, the men began a steady, crouched advance to the building. She realized she was holding her breath so she blew out her air slowly between pinched lips.

“Relax, McNeil,” Garret muttered. “You’re making me nervous.”

The two members of the tactical squad approaching from the front reached the deck that wrapped around the front of the building. As they strode across it, the old wood floorboards groaned. The men froze. The seconds stretched out. Allison became suddenly aware of the hum of insects in the air around her. The dampness of her own skin. The sound of a bird calling in the distance. All of her senses were wired tight. An entire year of her life was wrapped up in the next few seconds. And if she’d got it wrong, Garret would have the ammo he’d been looking for to get her out of his unit once and for all. But she wasn’t worried about herself. What really bothered her was the chance that she had it right, that this was Kraw’s hideout, but that somehow they’d spooked him and he’d already slipped away. If that had happened, he’d be hundreds of miles away by tomorrow, scouting for his next victim as he traveled.

Movement in the cabin. Just a flutter. Like a bird trapped in a cage. Only her intuition told her it was more than a bird. It had been an arm. A human arm. Sam Kraw.

Based on the lack of movement from the tactical team, she realized no one else had seen it.

“I’ve got movement,” she whispered into her mic. “Window to the right of the front door. An arm.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Garret whispered.

Allison ignored him. The men around the cabin responded immediately, reorienting to the front door. Guns pointed at the window.

One of the men produced a miniram, a high impact, brute force breaching tool. Coordinating with his partner, he crouched next to the door while the other man readied a flash-bang grenade.

There was a pause, as if someone had pressed a button on a TV remote. Everyone was in place. The air seemed to still as if the world knew something was about to happen. Allison had her binoculars trained on the window where she’d seen the movement. If Kraw was inside, then the nightmare was almost over. She’d know in a few seconds whether that was the case or not.

But in that second, she saw the movement again.

Only this time, she knew something was wrong.

It was a man’s arm, she saw it clearly this time. But it was too stiff. The color was off. And, attached at the shoulder, she saw a coil of wire.

A mannequin arm on a spring.

Meant to make them think someone was inside.

It was a trap.

About the Author

Jeff Gunhus

Jeff Gunhus is the USA TODAY bestselling author of thriller and horror novels for adults and the middle grade/YA series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year-old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His books for adults have reached the Top 30 on Amazon, have been recognized as Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalists and reached the USA TODAY bestseller list.

After his experience with his son, he is passionate about helping parents reach young reluctant readers and is active in child literacy issues. As a father of five, he leads an active life in Maryland with his wife Nicole by trying to constantly keep up with their kids. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel or on JeffGunhus.com.

His latest book is the thriller, Killer Pursuit.

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First Chapter Reveal: Girl Within Girl by S.P. Aruna

girl-within-girlTitle: Girl Within Girl: An Erotic Thriller (Book 1: Unraveling)
Author: S.P. Aruna
Publisher: BookBaby
Pages: 170
Genre: Erotic Thriller

Katrina is never alone. She is bound to others inside her, tighter than any Siamese twins could ever be: Cherry, the freewheeling photojournalist, Anisa, the covert spy-assassin, and others as yet unknown, all sharing her body and mind as she goes about her work in a psychiatric hospital. But she is starting to unravel, and her sole hope is the handsome Dr. Sean Paisley, the only one who can make her whole again.

Girl Within Girl is a dark erotic thriller that wanders through a sensual maze of mind control and torture.

For More Information

  • Girl Within Girl is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

That morning, April 11, 2016, could very well have been a turning point in my life, the morning I awoke and didn’t know where I was, and even more frightening, who I was.

In my bed, I was rising out of a foggy void that separated dreams from drowsy wakefulness, when, in a flash of alarm, I bolted upright to sit up, frantically looking around me. I could almost hear the whirring of the cogs in my head as my mind searched its recesses for the answers. My surroundings slowly focused into a scene of familiarity: my Hemnes six-drawer dresser, my Morvik wardrobe with the full-length mirror, the Gaugin print hanging on the white stucco wall just beside it; the cream-colored low-pile carpeting covering the floor up to my bathroom door, and the window to my left adorned with the lace curtains I had bought at Jack’s Second Hand Furniture.

My name is Katrina. I’m in my apartment. I think it’s a Monday.

I got out of bed and stepped over to the full-length mirror with a curious urge to examine myself. The first thing I noticed was my dirty blonde hair flowing in waves to my shoulders. With my not-too-wide forehead I have no quarrel with, but my bushy eyebrows get away from being too distracting only because of the fair hair. My eyes though, I hate them, cold and grey, even spooky, making me look away for a moment.

But then I had to look again. My sharp nose, like a bird’s beak, pointed at me from the reflection. Nondescript lips told me that I was plain. My pointed chin only bolstered that impression.

Yet my body wasn’t too bad: softly sloping shoulders, my breasts the shape of delicate bowls, a waist that flared into wide hips, and legs that were shaped into long perfect curves. And why shouldn’t my body be so ideal, after all I’m only…I’m only…shit…twenty-three…twenty-four?

My surname is Novak. In Czech that means, “The New One.” That’s what somebody told me once.

I turned abruptly and went into my kitchenette, hoping that a cup of coffee could bring me to a more functional state. While brewing it, I fell into an instinctual routine mode, somehow intuiting that I had to be at work by nine.

I’m a nurse at a psychiatric hospital.

That’s not exactly a pleasant job, I agree. Even the building I work in, the Gottlieb Memorial Institute, is spooky in its Gothic, horror castle type architecture: roughly hewn grey stone capped by roofs that slanted at ridiculously sharp angles; and yes, I mean more than one roof, each corner having its own tower-like extension melding into the main one, each pointing like spikes into the sky. Inside is not much better; with the reception room painted a drab grey, and the corridors leading to those unfortunate souls interned within enveloped in white ceramic tile and neon strip lights. The place was noisy as well: shrieks and moans always serving as a background clamor which we staff regularly ignored. But still, I like my job because it fills me with the satisfaction that I’m doing something meaningful.

Entering the hospital, I faced the day with stoic acquiescence.

Sometime in the afternoon, at the nurse’s station on the third floor, I encountered Dr. Babcock. Tall, balding, a long face highlighted by a pencil thin silver mustache, his scholarly spectacles giving him a fatherly look, his lips severe, I felt an inexplicable attraction to him, as if pleasing him was a priority. “Yes, Dr. Babcock?”

“I think it’s time we transfer Mrs. Wheaton to the Sleep Room.”

“Yes Doctor.”

If there was a place in the hospital that I loathed more than the Electro-Shock Room, it was the Sleep Room, and as I wheeled Mrs. Wheaton, already out of it to the point of drooling, her head rocking back and forth with every slight turn of the gurney, an icy shudder zipped through me. With one hand on the gurney, I opened the door. Inside were eight other patients, comatose as zombies, some having been unconscious for three months or more. After depositing her there, I spent the rest of the day engaged in my usual duties of administering drugs, taking care of bedpans. and shuffling patients to and fro.

But then, while I was in the female staff dressing room, something strange happened to me. I lost track of time and felt myself a participant inside a sexual fantasy. I was naked upon a bed… my breasts were tingling as if they had just been bitten and suckled, and a hairy brute of a man was looming over me, snarling and growling and even shouting at me, and I could feel a pleasurable hammering in the middle of my body, and even though it hurt, it was giving me an incomparable gratification. A sharp sensation pierced me, stole my breath, and caused me to wake up gasping, where I found myself back in the hospital changing room, my loins embarrassingly moist.

“Tough day, I bet,” said one of the nurses who was also coming off-shift, a bleach-blonde called Sheila.

I was ashamed to be so discombobulated in front of her, so my only response was, “Yeah.” I really didn’t want to talk to her. In fact, I hardly ever want to talk to anybody.

People describe me as distant, shy, aloof… I am what I am: a cautious, sensitive person who avoids contact with others at all costs. I don’t know what made me so; I just accept my nature as it is.

“So where were you last week?” she asked.

Where was I? Wasn’t I here?

“At St. Lukes?” she proposed. “I heard that you rotate between here and there.”

Do I? “Yes, St. Luke’s’,” I said, only because I didn’t want to prolong the conversation.

After that, I made haste to get dressed, anxious to head back home. Before I left, though, I checked my duty roster from last week. There was nothing unusual about it – it documented that I was here. Silly woman must have been confused.

Back in my apartment, I was still disturbed by these events. First, that strange reverie I had, so sudden, so unexpected…and yet, it was somehow familiar. Pain and pleasure, a sweet feeling of submission, a breath-taking fascination at being dominated…now where did that come from? And Sheila’s impression that I had been absent last week was disturbing to say the least, and that too still continued to hound me.

After a shower and a chamomile tea, I finally felt relaxed. Then the phone rang. The only phone in the apartment is on the wall of my kitchenette, where fortunately I was sitting nearby at the foldable metal card table. I got up and reached for the receiver. “Hello?”

“Tick-tock… tick-tock… tick-tock.”

About the Author

s-p-aruna

Half French, half Khmer (Cambodian), I’m a woman whose head is filled with fantasies and intriguing stories, and who wants to share them with others.

S.P. Aruna’s latest book is the erotic thriller, Girl Within Girl: An Erotic Thriller: Book 1: Unraveling.

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First Chapter Reveal: Killer Pursuit by Jeff Gunhus

Killer Pursuit banner 2

Title: KILLER PURSUIT
Author: Jeff Gunhus
Publisher: Seven Guns Press
Pages: 352
Genre: Thriller

When a high-society call girl is murdered in her Georgetown home, investigators find two cameras hidden in the walls of her bedroom. One has its memory erased, presumably by the murderer. The second is connected to the Internet through an encrypted connection…and no-one knows who’s on the other end.

Special Agent Allison McNeil is asked by beleaguered FBI Director Clarence Mason to run an off-the-record investigation of the murder because of the murder’s similarity to a case she worked a year earlier. Allison knows the most direct path to apprehending the killer is to find the videos, but the rumors that the victim’s client list may have included Mason’s political enemies has her worried about the director’s motives. As she starts her investigation, she quickly discovers that she’s not the only one pursuing the videos. In fact, the most aggressive person racing against her might be the murderer himself.

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Killer Pursuit is available at Amazon.

Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Killer Pursuit

First Chapter:

Allison McNeil tensed when she spotted the first shadow dart through the mist and take cover behind a tree. In the early-morning light it took her a while to pick out all six members of the Hostage Rescue Team approaching the cabin, but within a minute she could clearly see the tactical team converging on their target.

The small building stood on a rise, up from the swampy, flood-prone land around it. Wood-slated walls tilted precariously inward, twisting the windows into deformed rectangles. Moss and dead leaves covered the roof. The place smelled and looked like decay, well on its way to inevitable reclamation by the weeds and vines choking the cabin to a miserable death.

And, if Allison was right, the place deserved what it got. Hell, if she was right, she had half a mind to take a match to the place after everything was done.

She hunkered down behind a fallen tree, her head barely clearing the top to see the building and the team closing in. A trickle of sweat started at the base of her neck and went the length of her spine. She adjusted the Kevlar vest, under her light windbreaker emblazoned with large yellow letters. FBI. It felt ridiculous to wear the windbreaker when it was in the ’80s before daybreak with the Louisiana humidity hovering at about a thousand percent, but if it meant that the hotheads with assault rifles could more easily identify her as a friendly, then she was happy to have it.

Garret Morrison shifted his weight next to her, stretching out a leg and rubbing his knee. She gave him a sideways look.

“You all right?” she whispered.

He scowled at her. They both knew she didn’t give a damn about him. The comment was intended as a dig at the fifty-three-year-old Garret who prided himself on being in better shape than the agents beneath him. Even though he ran the Behavioral Analysis Unit, home of the FBI’s fabled profilers who spent more time in the heads of the criminals they chased than in the field, he required an aggressive physical program for his people. Everything about Morrison is a throwback to the old male-dominated Bureau. A slicked-back head of hair with just the right amount of grey to lend him gravitas without making him look old, a square jaw out of a mountaineering magazine, cold steel-blue eyes that seemed to look through people instead of at them. Unless they were trained on an attractive female, in which case his eyes gave their full attention to the area below the chin and above the waistline.

“Worry about yourself,” Garret grumbled. He turned to Doug Browning, a junior agent who followed Garret around like a little puppy. “Jesus, Doug. Not so close.”

Allison turned back to the cabin and raised her binoculars, not bothering to hide the smile on her lips. Garret was a legend in the Bureau for his work hunting America’s worst criminals, but Allison’s own legend had grown since her work on the Arnie Milhouse case a year earlier. While that case had given her credibility, she knew she was just as likely to be referred to as the woman who’d broken Garret Morrison’s nose when he’d made one too many unwanted advances while she was a trainee. And, while she wanted to be known for her work, she didn’t mind that piece of fame following her around.

“Alpha team in position,” said a voice through the small speaker in her ear. She noticed Garret put a finger to the side of his head and nod. He looked over at her.

“You better be right about this,” he whispered.

Allison shook her head. For all his brilliance—and, regardless of how she felt personally about him, she recognized that he was brilliant—Garret’s transparency could border on the inane. What he was really saying was that if the lunatic Allison’s research had tracked to this location wasn’t holed up in this backwoods cabin, if the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team had been activated and deployed for no reason, then the blame would drop on her like a bag of bricks. If Sam Kraw was in there, Allison knew it would be Garret standing in front of the cameras taking credit for the HRT mission and the capture of America’s most wanted fugitive.

She pushed the thought away. As long as they caught the bastard and ended his multi-year killing spree in the Southeast, she didn’t give a damn who got the credit.

Allison moved her binoculars. The tactical team was in place around the cabin, peering through scopes with infrared capabilities. If there was someone hiding in the shadows of a window or doorway, they wouldn’t be hiding for long.

On some signal unseen by Allison, the men began a steady, crouched advance to the building. She realized she was holding her breath so she blew out her air slowly between pinched lips.

“Relax, McNeil,” Garret muttered. “You’re making me nervous.”

The two members of the tactical squad approaching from the front reached the deck that wrapped around the front of the building. As they strode across it, the old wood floorboards groaned. The men froze. The seconds stretched out. Allison became suddenly aware of the hum of insects in the air around her. The dampness of her own skin. The sound of a bird calling in the distance. All of her senses were wired tight. An entire year of her life was wrapped up in the next few seconds. And if she’d got it wrong, Garret would have the ammo he’d been looking for to get her out of his unit once and for all. But she wasn’t worried about herself. What really bothered her was the chance that she had it right, that this was Kraw’s hideout, but that somehow they’d spooked him and he’d already slipped away. If that had happened, he’d be hundreds of miles away by tomorrow, scouting for his next victim as he traveled.

Movement in the cabin. Just a flutter. Like a bird trapped in a cage. Only her intuition told her it was more than a bird. It had been an arm. A human arm. Sam Kraw.

Based on the lack of movement from the tactical team, she realized no one else had seen it.

“I’ve got movement,” she whispered into her mic. “Window to the right of the front door. An arm.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Garret whispered.

Allison ignored him. The men around the cabin responded immediately, reorienting to the front door. Guns pointed at the window.

One of the men produced a miniram, a high impact, brute force breaching tool. Coordinating with his partner, he crouched next to the door while the other man readied a flash-bang grenade.

There was a pause, as if someone had pressed a button on a TV remote. Everyone was in place. The air seemed to still as if the world knew something was about to happen. Allison had her binoculars trained on the window where she’d seen the movement. If Kraw was inside, then the nightmare was almost over. She’d know in a few seconds whether that was the case or not.

But in that second, she saw the movement again.

Only this time, she knew something was wrong.

It was a man’s arm, she saw it clearly this time. But it was too stiff. The color was off. And, attached at the shoulder, she saw a coil of wire.

A mannequin arm on a spring.

Meant to make them think someone was inside.

It was a trap.

About the Author

Jeff Gunhus

Jeff Gunhus is the USA TODAY bestselling author of thriller and horror novels for adults and the middle grade/YA series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year-old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His books for adults have reached the Top 30 on Amazon, have been recognized as Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalists and reached the USA TODAY bestseller list.

After his experience with his son, he is passionate about helping parents reach young reluctant readers and is active in child literacy issues. As a father of five, he leads an active life in Maryland with his wife Nicole by trying to constantly keep up with their kids. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel or on JeffGunhus.com.

His latest book is the thriller, Killer Pursuit.

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John Sibley Williams Talks About Newest Book, Disinheritance

john-sibley-williamsJohn Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Controlled Hallucinations (2013) and Disinheritance (2016). A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Midwest Quarterly, december, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, Nimrod International Journal, Hotel Amerika, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Our guest today is John Sibley Williams, author of the new poetry collection Disinheritance.

What made you decide to become a published author?

I’m lucky to have been passionate about books since childhood. Perhaps it’s in part due to my mother reading novel after novel over her pregnant belly every day. Perhaps it’s in part due to my own restlessness, my need to make things, and my love of words. But I began writing short stories in middle school, and I continued in that genre until my early twenties. A handful of those stories found publication in literary magazines, which was eye-opening and oddly humbling.

I was 21 when I wrote my first poem. Before that, I had never enjoyed reading poetry and had certainly never considered writing one. It was summer in New York and I was sitting by a lake with my feet dragging through the current caused by small boats when suddenly, without my knowing what I was doing, I began writing something that obviously wasn’t a story. What was it? Impressions. disinheritanceColors. Emotions. Strange images. I didn’t have any paper, so I used a marker to write a series of phrases on my arm. Then they poured onto my leg. Then I realized I needed paper. I ran back to the car, took out a little notebook, and spent hours emptying myself of visions and fears and joys I don’t think I even knew I had. That was 17 years ago. Since that surreal and confusing moment by that little city lake, I’ve written poetry almost every day.

Would you consider your latest book, Disinheritance, to be a one of a kind?  How so?

Well, I suppose every book is one of a kind. But in my case, Disinheritance is a bit different than my previous collections. Most of my work is not overly narrative or overly personal, so it was an exciting challenge to write from a part of my heart still raw and healing.

Disinheritance is a collection of tender, lyrical poems exploring the various voices of grief, including those of the broken, the healing, the son-become-father, and the dead. These poems acknowledge loss while celebrating the uncertainty of a world in constant revision. Though many are based on personal experiences, the poems speak to larger, universal human concerns about how to approach mortality and what role we play in each other’s’ lives.

Although I’m sure countless other poets have written on similar themes, Disinheritance is definitely unique to my own body of work.

Where is your writing sanctuary?

I don’t really have a specific location or time of day. Ideas and phrases and images emerge at the oddest times, so I’ve taken to carrying a pocket notebook everywhere I go. During my daily work commute. In the hospital visiting an ailing friend. While walking my dog. Even in the middle of a live concert or film. Though I tend to write best when outside, inspiration can come from anything. At its core, I think creativity is all about curiosity and how one chooses to communicate with the world. As adults, we’re programmed to think linearly, reactively, and, dare I say it, boringly. But if we retain a bit of that childhood innocence, that unabated curiosity, then we can find metaphors in everything. Why look at the night sky and think “sky, moon, stars”? Why can’t the sky be a river? Why can’t the stars be that part of our hearts we leave open to love?

My process (and my “sanctuary”) is a bit different with every poem. Some pour forth as if on their own, leaving me the easier task of revising for sound and clarity. Other poems take serious effort, time, and struggle. But generally my approach is to have one or two notebooks filled with phrases and images splayed out before me. Whenever I feel stuck, I reread my old notes and see if any fit the poem I’m working on. Interestingly, that approach tends to yield results that even surprise me.

What inspires you?

Not to sound coy, but I believe everything is a storehouse of inspiration. It all depends on the author’s curiosity and on retaining an open mind. From other books and current events, from overheard conversations and history, from memories and mythology and the way a bridge sways against the sky and my son’s hand brushing against mine. And I’m heavily inspired by the landscape itself, from weather patterns and bridges and rivers and animals and cityscapes. And sometimes ideas seem to materialize from the ether, as if they never existed until that moment.

But I think most of my ideas stem from how things interact with other things. Be it people in love or coyotes sniffing a deer carcass or clouds darkening the sky or trains shooting through the night, warming the rails. The effects one thing has on every other thing are astounding, ever-changing, and so very inspiring.

What is one thing you learned about your book after it was published?

Although it’s not a new lesson as I’ve been writing for decades, still I am always surprised and enthused by the reactions readers have when first encountering a poem that speaks to them. We have all read poems or novels that truly moved us, that made us reconsider ourselves, that illuminated the beauty and power of language. It has been indescribably rewarding to know my work has touched others in that way. When a total stranger who perhaps stumbled across your book or had it recommended to her contacts you out of the blue to say how much it inspired her, that is a potent feeling. When you’re giving a reading and you can see that glow in the audience’s eyes, that is unforgettable. Even after around 50 or so readings across the country, I am touched every single time someone goes out of their way to express their thoughts on my work. That’s what it’s all about. Trying to use language that lifts up off the page and resonates with people.

Did any real life experiences find their way into your book?

Disinheritance was inspired by a few pivotal moments that occurred within a few months of each other, namely the illness and passing of my mother, a terrible miscarriage, and my wife and I’s struggles to move forward and redefine the landscape of “family”. To explore grief more fully, I adopted the voice of our miscarried child, along with the hypothetical boy he might have grown up to be. I adopted my mother’s voice and my father’s and my wife’s and my own.

Aside from writing, what’s your passion?

I sort of feel like I’m always writing. Even when at work, when driving, hiking, reading, listening to music. Inspiration can come from anything, so wherever I go I carry a pocket notebook and pen, just in case. But apart from writing, most of my time these days is spent raising my wife and I’s newborn twins. Fatherhood is a full time job, as is writing, so my various other passions have taken a back seat for the time being. Before that, I spent most of my non-writing time reading, watching films, exploring the gorgeous mountains and rivers and deserts of Oregon, and supporting my local literary scene by attending various readings and literary conferences.

What’s next for you?

I have just completed a new book, Skin Memory, which I’m currently pitching to publishers and submitting to book awards. Skin Memory is a collection of free verse and prose poems that tackle some of the same themes in Disinheritance, including family, grief, and American culture, while adding a slightly harder edge, risking a bit more personally and creatively, and exploring in a deeper way those fears and joys that haunt me.

 

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First Chapter Reveal: On Top of the World (Until the Bell Chimes)

on-top-of-the-worldTitle: ON TOP OF THE WORLD (UNTIL THE BELL CHIMES)
Author: David Lamb
Publisher: Woolly Mammoth Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Contemporary Romance/Multicultural/Humor/Satire

2016 BEST FICTION-Pacific Book Awards. FROM THE FUNNY AND NATURALLY BRILLIANT DAVID LAMB, award-winning playwright of the New York Times celebrated play, Platanos Y Collard Greens, comes a modern spin on Dickens’ classic tale that perfectly combines humor and romance in a story re-imagined for our digital, consumerist age. This version of Scrooge and Belle is familiar, yet unlike any you’ve come across before. Scrooge, or rather Scrooje, is music’s biggest superstar, with one hundred million albums sold, fifteen million devoted YouTube subscribers, two and a half million Facebook likes, and twenty-five million fanatical Twitter followers known as Scroojites. Belle, is a legal shark who gulps down her opposition voraciously and whose beauty and stunning figure causes traffic accidents as she zips through the sidewalks of Manhattan stylishly adorned and taking no prisoners. They never imagined being music’s most powerful couple, but that’s exactly what happened when Belle fell head over heels and gave the Coke-bottle glasses wearing, plaid and stripe attired, scrawny, biggest nerd on her college campus the ultimate makeover, turning him into a fashion impresario whose style sets trends from Milan to NY Fashion Week and who can be seen courtside at the NBA Finals sporting a perfectly-fitted cashmere suit. Then it happens. Belle realizes too late that she’s created a chart-topping monster as Scrooje’s ego explodes and he starts acting a fool. Now, it’s been three years since they ve spoken. But tonight at Hollywood s biggest red carpet event, with the whole world watching, they’ll be given a second chance. Will Scrooje listen to the ghostly-advice of Marley, his best friend since the fourth grade, who at the time of his untimely drowning at his Brazilian poolside birthday bash was as big a star as Scrooje? Will Scrooje finally do right by his number one artist, Cratchit, a genius comedian, who Scrooje invariably rip offs every chance he gets? And with twenty-five million viewers tuned in will Scrooje finally shed his ego, jeopardize his image and declare his love for Belle, the one he betrayed and let slip away? Second chances don’t often come around. Will Belle even give him a chance? Mixing heart, soul, bling and romance in a fresh, original satire about race, class and celebrity worship Lamb establishes himself as one of the most talented and amazing writers today. And leaves no doubt that the Pacific Book Awards chose wisely when they selected On Top Of The World as the year’s Best Fiction.

Purchase Information:

Amazon | iTunes | B&N

First Chapter:

Life’s a Beach; I’m just playing in the sand. I had to thank Lil Wayne for that one. It was my motto. I had it inscribed on the door of my office underneath my crown.

Why did I have a crown?

Because I’m musical royalty. That’s why I’d insisted the government carve my face on Mt. Rushmore. People said I was crazy spending $5 million suing to make it happen. But hey, a king must get his due.

Look, I know the Revolution of 1776 liberated America from the grip of kings. But I was a new kind of king, one who’d created an empire no poor boy had any business ever dreaming of. Yes, Fitty netted $100 million when Coca-Cola gobbled up Vitaminwater, whoop-de-damn-do. And yes, Jigga sold Rocawear to Iconix for $204 million, big damn deal. Peanuts. I had my eyes on the man Forbes proclaimed the richest human being who ever walked the earth—my own handsome ancestor (and one day, DNA tests will prove this), Mansa Musa, the emperor of Mali whose face adorns history’s most famous map, the Catalan Atlas, where he’s pictured seated regally and holding a big-ass gold nugget. The man Forbes estimated to be worth $400 billion.

Now, this wasn’t to say my wealth was in Mansa Musa’s neighborhood (truth be told, I was still trying to reach Diddy’s financial zip code), but no one could deny what I’d achieved. Musical royalty; forty million albums sold; a $100 million concert tour; the hottest-selling clothing lines; and my sneaker sales were on the road to making Air Jordan’s look like chump change.

This was my destiny.

From the moment of my birth, I was enamored with my own distinction. How do you think I was so motivated to beat those millions of others racing for the prize? I guess the blame for what some deride as my massive ego goes to the boisterous celebrations sweeping the country the year I was born. Two hundred and some odd years after the Thirteen Colonies declared independence; I happily broke free from nine months of solitary confinement in my mother’s belly. It was 1984, and once I escaped, I couldn’t wait to get the party started. From the first slap on my bare behind to my first scream that soon followed, I absorbed America’s Olympic celebrations like a sponge. I decided right then and there I wanted my name to live forever.

Okay, so that sounds a little much, but just imagine if you’d grown up a little Black boy named after a Charles Dickens’ character. Your ego might be a little warped, too.

So please, before you judge, hear the whole story. Before I was headlining concerts, people had no idea how to pronounce my name; and even today, most believe it’s my nom de plume, completely unaware that it’s my family’s legacy, the result of an overseer’s bitter attempt at vengeance. How else could I end up with a name like “Scrooʝe?”

Yes, today Dickens is one of the world’s most beloved writers. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1840s, a young Charles Dickens decided to, as the English say, “take a trip across the pond” to see what life was like in America.

When he published his travel memoir, American Notes, nine months later, the excrement hit the fan.

Dickens had unmasked the brutality of what the good folks of the South called “the peculiar institution,” thereby helping spur Britain’s expansion of abolition with the passing of the Indian Slavery Act of 1843, and pissing off slaveholders that Dickens had opened his big fat mouth in the first place.

As fate would have it, in this overheated atmosphere, my great-great-great-grandfather was born on a plantation run by Virginia’s cruelest overseer. Who, according to the family history my grandma passed down to me, was so angry when he learned Dickens had printed one of his runaway slave ads in American Notes, that his face turned red as an apple while he cursed like a sailor. He then promptly ordered “ten Nigras whipped” because Dickens had the gall not to recognize how kind such a fine gentlemen as himself was to the slaves. Not one to take insults lightly, the overseer started a petition to have Dickens’ books banned from the States then tried to sue him for libel. A year and a half later, after having failed on both fronts, he vowed to extract his revenge by naming the next slave born on the plantation after Ebenezer Scrooge. And just to be sure to pour a little extra salt on the wound, he decided to change the order of the names because as he said, “Nigras get everything ass backwards.”

So that was how my great-great-great-grandfather came to be named Scrooge Ebenezer.

Miraculously, despite enduring indescribable brutality on the plantation, Scrooge Ebenezer ultimately triumphed. During Reconstruction, he became one of the first Black congressmen. Since that time, all of his male descendants have been named “Scrooge.” As the decades passed and times changed, my father decided to give the spelling some Ebonics flair.

Now you have to understand, my father (in his youth) had been the embodiment of cool, so much so that he’d once run a marathon at high noon in August in Arizona—without so much as breaking a sweat, all while delivering up-to-the-minute analysis of the race as he ran. Naturally, a man whose magnetism was so strong that college debutantes patiently waited in line to ask to be his high school prom date, wanted to bestow some of his overflowing charisma on his firstborn son. So when Dad came up with his Ebonics-inspired translation, he proudly proclaimed: “Now if that ain’t cool, I don’t know what is.”

Unfortunately for me, it was the first time in my father’s life his cool barometer was off. All of the fallout from Dad’s ill-timed miscalculation fell upon my scrawny shoulders (or more accurately, upon my young ears). On a daily basis, my classmates took unbridled delight in twisting my name into unflattering caricatures.

“Screwed-yuh,” was at the top of the list, but there were plenty of others. “Screw-gee poop” and “Scrooʝenezer” were popular. But “Ebonsneezer” was the hardest to shake because it had a revival every allergy season when I would have sneezing fits so loud and powerful, I felt like I could blow the windows off their hinges. Even my teachers, who weren’t trying to make fun of me, struggled with the pronunciation, mangling my name so many times I lost track. I would cringe every time Mr. Manigold came to my name when he checked attendance. “Scroogie Ebon-eye-zer” was the closest he ever came to getting it right, and that was only after a half-dozen other mess-ups.

As a little boy, I’d lie awake wondering why my father couldn’t have just kept the original spelling. I promised myself that if it were my destiny to be named after a Victorian character then one day the whole world would know my name.

I kept my promise.

Wish my pops were here to see what I’ve done. Sometimes onstage—even with twenty-two thousand people screaming my name—I’d feel all alone and retreat inside the music, letting the rhythmic bass lines invade my soul until I was one with it. Then everything would stop, and I could sense my heart pulsating on the downbeat. I’d close my eyes and imagine I was three years old again, laughing as my father spun me in the air, telling me I could achieve anything.

And it felt beautiful.

About the Author

david-lamb

David Lamb is a native New Yorker, born and raised, bitten with the writing bug since he was in elementary school and had handwriting nobody could decipher. Like Charles Dickens, David grew up a poor boy in the big city who found that the pen really is mightier than the sword. In middle school Lamb’s hero was David Lampel whose velvet voice could be heard reporting the news over David’s grandmother’s radio. Whenever he heard him on the radio, David would substitute Lamb for Lampel and pretend he was delivering the news. Sure that he was destined to be a famous reporter David was happy to go to a high school with a journalism program. Like most kids, by the time he finished high school he had a whole new career in mind. After high school he went to Hunter College and majored in Economics because he wanted to be cool like that college kid who came to speak at his last year of high school. He was an Economics major, he was dressed sharp and above-all the girls thought he was the man! So like any unreasonable high school boy fueled by overactive hormones David figured if he majored in Economics they’d think he was cool. After finishing college David went on to law school at NYU, but all the time writing was still his heart. While working as a lawyer by day, at night he transformed into a writer and eventually wrote and produced the award-winning hit off-Broadway romantic comedy Platanos Y Collard Greens. Being a writer and having the chance make people laugh out loud while challenging them to think about the world around them, and inspire each of us to believe in the power of love and our own ability to overcome life’s challenges is a great gift that David truly enjoys and thanks you for allowing him to share with you in On Top Of The World (Until The Bell Chimes).

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First Chapter Reveal: On Top of the World by David Lamb

on-top-of-the-worldTitle: ON TOP OF THE WORLD (UNTIL THE BELL CHIMES)
Author: David Lamb
Publisher: Woolly Mammoth Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Contemporary Romance/Multicultural/Humor/Satire

2016 BEST FICTION-Pacific Book Awards. FROM THE FUNNY AND NATURALLY BRILLIANT DAVID LAMB, award-winning playwright of the New York Times celebrated play, Platanos Y Collard Greens, comes a modern spin on Dickens’ classic tale that perfectly combines humor and romance in a story re-imagined for our digital, consumerist age.  This version of Scrooge and Belle is familiar, yet unlike any you’ve come across before. Scrooge, or rather Scrooje, is music’s biggest superstar, with one hundred million albums sold, fifteen million devoted YouTube subscribers, two and a half million Facebook likes, and twenty-five million fanatical Twitter followers known as Scroojites. Belle, is a legal shark who gulps down her opposition voraciously and whose beauty and stunning figure causes traffic accidents as she zips through the sidewalks of Manhattan stylishly adorned and taking no prisoners.   They never imagined being music’s most powerful couple, but that’s exactly what happened when Belle fell head over heels and gave the Coke-bottle glasses wearing, plaid and stripe attired, scrawny, biggest nerd on her college campus the ultimate makeover, turning him into a fashion impresario whose style sets trends from Milan to NY Fashion Week and who can be seen courtside at the NBA Finals sporting a perfectly-fitted cashmere suit.   Then it happens. Belle realizes too late that she’s created a chart-topping monster as Scrooje’s ego explodes and he starts acting a fool.   Now, it’s been three years since they ve spoken. But tonight at Hollywood s biggest red carpet event, with the whole world watching, they’ll be given a second chance.   Will Scrooje listen to the ghostly-advice of Marley, his best friend since the fourth grade, who at the time of his untimely drowning at his Brazilian poolside birthday bash was as big a star as Scrooje? Will Scrooje finally do right by his number one artist, Cratchit, a genius comedian, who Scrooje invariably rip offs every chance he gets?   And with twenty-five million viewers tuned in will Scrooje finally shed his ego, jeopardize his image and declare his love for Belle, the one he betrayed and let slip away?   Second chances don’t often come around. Will Belle even give him a chance?   Mixing heart, soul, bling and romance in a fresh, original satire about race, class and celebrity worship Lamb establishes himself as one of the most talented and amazing writers today. And leaves no doubt that the Pacific Book Awards chose wisely when they selected On Top Of The World as the year’s Best Fiction.

Purchase Information: Amazon | iTunes | B&N

First Chapter:

Life’s a Beach; I’m just playing in the sand. I had to thank Lil Wayne for that one. It was my motto. I had it inscribed on the door of my office underneath my crown.

Why did I have a crown?

Because I’m musical royalty. That’s why I’d insisted the government carve my face on Mt. Rushmore. People said I was crazy spending $5 million suing to make it happen. But hey, a king must get his due.

Look, I know the Revolution of 1776 liberated America from the grip of kings. But I was a new kind of king, one who’d created an empire no poor boy had any business ever dreaming of. Yes, Fitty netted $100 million when Coca-Cola gobbled up Vitaminwater, whoop-de-damn-do. And yes, Jigga sold Rocawear to Iconix for $204 million, big damn deal. Peanuts. I had my eyes on the man Forbes proclaimed the richest human being who ever walked the earth—my own handsome ancestor (and one day, DNA tests will prove this), Mansa Musa, the emperor of Mali whose face adorns history’s most famous map, the Catalan Atlas, where he’s pictured seated regally and holding a big-ass gold nugget. The man Forbes estimated to be worth $400 billion.

Now, this wasn’t to say my wealth was in Mansa Musa’s neighborhood (truth be told, I was still trying to reach Diddy’s financial zip code), but no one could deny what I’d achieved. Musical royalty; forty million albums sold; a $100 million concert tour; the hottest-selling clothing lines; and my sneaker sales were on the road to making Air Jordan’s look like chump change.

This was my destiny.

From the moment of my birth, I was enamored with my own distinction. How do you think I was so motivated to beat those millions of others racing for the prize? I guess the blame for what some deride as my massive ego goes to the boisterous celebrations sweeping the country the year I was born. Two hundred and some odd years after the Thirteen Colonies declared independence; I happily broke free from nine months of solitary confinement in my mother’s belly. It was 1984, and once I escaped, I couldn’t wait to get the party started. From the first slap on my bare behind to my first scream that soon followed, I absorbed America’s Olympic celebrations like a sponge. I decided right then and there I wanted my name to live forever.

Okay, so that sounds a little much, but just imagine if you’d grown up a little Black boy named after a Charles Dickens’ character. Your ego might be a little warped, too.

So please, before you judge, hear the whole story. Before I was headlining concerts, people had no idea how to pronounce my name; and even today, most believe it’s my nom de plume, completely unaware that it’s my family’s legacy, the result of an overseer’s bitter attempt at vengeance. How else could I end up with a name like “Scrooʝe?”

Yes, today Dickens is one of the world’s most beloved writers. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1840s, a young Charles Dickens decided to, as the English say, “take a trip across the pond” to see what life was like in America.

When he published his travel memoir, American Notes, nine months later, the excrement hit the fan.

Dickens had unmasked the brutality of what the good folks of the South called “the peculiar institution,” thereby helping spur Britain’s expansion of abolition with the passing of the Indian Slavery Act of 1843, and pissing off slaveholders that Dickens had opened his big fat mouth in the first place.

As fate would have it, in this overheated atmosphere, my great-great-great-grandfather was born on a plantation run by Virginia’s cruelest overseer. Who, according to the family history my grandma passed down to me, was so angry when he learned Dickens had printed one of his runaway slave ads in American Notes, that his face turned red as an apple while he cursed like a sailor. He then promptly ordered “ten Nigras whipped” because Dickens had the gall not to recognize how kind such a fine gentlemen as himself was to the slaves. Not one to take insults lightly, the overseer started a petition to have Dickens’ books banned from the States then tried to sue him for libel. A year and a half later, after having failed on both fronts, he vowed to extract his revenge by naming the next slave born on the plantation after Ebenezer Scrooge. And just to be sure to pour a little extra salt on the wound, he decided to change the order of the names because as he said, “Nigras get everything ass backwards.”

So that was how my great-great-great-grandfather came to be named Scrooge Ebenezer.

Miraculously, despite enduring indescribable brutality on the plantation, Scrooge Ebenezer ultimately triumphed. During Reconstruction, he became one of the first Black congressmen. Since that time, all of his male descendants have been named “Scrooge.” As the decades passed and times changed, my father decided to give the spelling some Ebonics flair.

Now you have to understand, my father (in his youth) had been the embodiment of cool, so much so that he’d once run a marathon at high noon in August in Arizona—without so much as breaking a sweat, all while delivering up-to-the-minute analysis of the race as he ran. Naturally, a man whose magnetism was so strong that college debutantes patiently waited in line to ask to be his high school prom date, wanted to bestow some of his overflowing charisma on his firstborn son. So when Dad came up with his Ebonics-inspired translation, he proudly proclaimed: “Now if that ain’t cool, I don’t know what is.”

Unfortunately for me, it was the first time in my father’s life his cool barometer was off. All of the fallout from Dad’s ill-timed miscalculation fell upon my scrawny shoulders (or more accurately, upon my young ears). On a daily basis, my classmates took unbridled delight in twisting my name into unflattering caricatures.

“Screwed-yuh,” was at the top of the list, but there were plenty of others. “Screw-gee poop” and “Scrooʝenezer” were popular. But “Ebonsneezer” was the hardest to shake because it had a revival every allergy season when I would have sneezing fits so loud and powerful, I felt like I could blow the windows off their hinges. Even my teachers, who weren’t trying to make fun of me, struggled with the pronunciation, mangling my name so many times I lost track. I would cringe every time Mr. Manigold came to my name when he checked attendance. “Scroogie Ebon-eye-zer” was the closest he ever came to getting it right, and that was only after a half-dozen other mess-ups.

As a little boy, I’d lie awake wondering why my father couldn’t have just kept the original spelling. I promised myself that if it were my destiny to be named after a Victorian character then one day the whole world would know my name.

I kept my promise.

Wish my pops were here to see what I’ve done. Sometimes onstage—even with twenty-two thousand people screaming my name—I’d feel all alone and retreat inside the music, letting the rhythmic bass lines invade my soul until I was one with it. Then everything would stop, and I could sense my heart pulsating on the downbeat. I’d close my eyes and imagine I was three years old again, laughing as my father spun me in the air, telling me I could achieve anything.

And it felt beautiful.

About the Author

David Lamb is a native New Yorker, born and raised, bitten with the writing bug since he was in elementary school and had handwriting nobody could decipher. Like Charles Dickens, David grew up a poor boy in the big city who found that the pen really is mightier than the sword. In middle school Lamb’s hero was David Lampel whose velvet voice could be heard reporting the news over david-lambDavid’s grandmother’s radio. Whenever he heard him on the radio, David would substitute Lamb for Lampel and pretend he was delivering the news. Sure that he was destined to be a famous reporter David was happy to go to a high school with a journalism program. Like most kids, by the time he finished high school he had a whole new career in mind. After high school he went to Hunter College and majored in Economics because he wanted to be cool like that college kid who came to speak at his last year of high school. He was an Economics major, he was dressed sharp and above-all the girls thought he was the man! So like any unreasonable high school boy fueled by overactive hormones David figured if he majored in Economics they’d think he was cool. After finishing college David went on to law school at NYU, but all the time writing was still his heart. While working as a lawyer by day, at night he transformed into a writer and eventually wrote and produced the award-winning hit off-Broadway romantic comedy Platanos Y Collard Greens. Being a writer and having the chance make people laugh out loud while challenging them to think about the world around them, and inspire each of us to believe in the power of love and our own ability to overcome life’s challenges is a great gift that David truly enjoys and thanks you for allowing him to share with you in On Top Of The World (Until The Bell Chimes).

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A Bookish Conversation with Mark Connelly, author of ‘Wanna-be’s’

mark-connellyMark Connelly was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey.  He received a BA in English from Carroll College in Wisconsin and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  His books include The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Orwell and Gissing, Deadly Closets:  The Fiction of Charles Jackson, and The IRA on Film and Television.  His fiction has appeared in The Ledge, Indiana Review, Cream City Review, Milwaukee Magazine, and Home Planet News.  In 2014 he received an Editor’s Choice Award in The Carve’s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest; in 2015 he received Third Place in Red Savina Review’s Albert Camus Prize for Short Fiction. His novella Fifteen Minutes received the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in 2005.

Mark’s latest book is the literary fiction/humor/satire, Wanna-be’s.

Connect with Mark on Facebook and Twitter.

What made you decide to become a published author?

I began writing in high school and have published a dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction.  I write both for myself and as a teacher and scholar.  I enjoy sharing my thoughts, observations, and experiences.  A day without writing is a day wasted.

Would you consider your latest book, Wanna-be’s, to be a one of a kind?  How so?

Definitely.  I created a man of our times, Winfield Payton, as an aspirational figure bumbling through a series of politically-incorrect misadventures.  We live in a world of wanna-be’s who appear on reality shows, post selfies, and pontificate on YouTube.  Winfield is wanna-bestrying to hustle his way to fame and wealth, sleeping with a cougar to secure investment capital, pretending to be a mobster to influence African investors, and playing dumb when things get too tough.  I think people will see a lot of themselves in Winfield if they are honest.

Where is your writing sanctuary?

My second-floor study in a converted brewery.  The walls are three feet thick, so I never hear the traffic.

What do you believe a writer should not do as far as getting his or her book published?

Assume he or she will be recognized as a genius.  A book is a work of art when you write it.  It is a work of art when someone reads it.  In between it is a commodity that has to be realistically marketed and sold.  Don’t expect to be seen as the next James Joyce or the next J. K. Rowling.  Approach a publisher with a target audience in mind.  Try to establish credibility by getting parts of it published.  Enter contests to win awards.  Even honorable mentions demonstrate that people see merit in your work.

What inspires you?

Great books, good ideas, and the unexpected charm, wit, and insight of everyday people.

What is one thing you learned about your book after it was published?

The week after Wanna-be’s appeared on Amazon, I got a five-star review that promoted the book better than I ever could.  The reviewer said Wanna-be’s could be an HBO series, and that’s how I conceived it –  with each chapter being a self-contained episode.

Why do you love to write satire?

I have a slow mind.  I can never come up with the perfect thing to say off the top of my head.  I have to draft and revise my quips and comebacks.  So I take all the affronts and failures of daily life, exaggerate them, and create characters who can say all the things I wish I could.  I also love to criticize, expose, and poke fun at the hypocrisy and idiocy of the talking heads I see on cable television.

You’re concocting a recipe for a best selling book.  What’s the first ingredient?

A compelling character

What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?

Dr. Veraswami bears the name of a character in George Orwell’s first novel Burmese Days.

Did any real life experiences find their way into your book?

I briefly worked as the sole white employee of a black contracting company. So like Winfield, I was a “chicklet” or token white who would go “undercover” when needed to meet potential clients, vendors, and investors without tipping them off the company was minority owned.

Aside from writing, what’s your passion?

Travel

What’s next for you?

More books, both fiction and non-fiction.  I write for work and write for fun, so something is always on my desk needing attention.  My most important project is a novel called Newman’s Choice.  Three chapters have already been published, so I am anxious to finish it.

 

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