Sunday, September 30, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: The Birthday Present

(A 'Will and Diana' Adventure)

NOTE: This story assumes previous familiarity with Will, Diana, and their world.

“It’s the thought that counts.” Diana smoothed the lumpy wool scarf. “She knows I’m not good at knitting.” She pointed to the wooden object in Will’s hand. “What’s that supposed to be? A javelina?”

“A horse.” He shoved his attempt at carving under a blanket. “It was harder than I thought, okay?” He lay back against his thin pillow. “This won’t do, you know.”

Diana lay beside him, resting her head on his chest as she had nearly every night for six years when she was a scared ten year old orphan. “Where would we be without Auntie? We’ll have find something else.”

In the silence that followed, Will stole an arm around her, positioning his hand so that his fingers grazed her breast. She didn’t notice, and he wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved.

“I know what she’d like,” Diana said. “A book.”

By now their guardian’s birthday was the last thing on Will’s mind, but he asked where they would get a book on short notice and with no money.

“That town we passed on the way up here, where they had the cholera epidemic. They had a library.”

“That town was deserted. We don’t know there’s still any books there. And it’s a two hour ride. Probably three in the dark. We wouldn't be back in time for our turn on watch.”

Diana sat up. “I bet the library still has books. You go get the horses and I’ll find someone to cover for us. It’ll be easy.”

* * *

The overcast night and pitted asphalt road made for slow going, but country darkness was familiar to them. The rustle of small animals in the brush and the occasional howl of a coyote meant there were no other humans nearby. Stumbling across a group of refugees would’ve been no matter, but an enemy patrol might capture them or worse. Although Diana rode relaxed, relying on her instincts, Will kept anxious watch from behind, pistol at the ready just in case.

The town looked different than when they passed through the week before. Crumbling buildings and weed-choked lots hid secrets, and over it all the bell tower of the adobe church brooded malevolently.

Diana shivered, although the night wasn’t cold. She opened her mouth to speak, but pointed instead to the low stucco library on the next corner.

They found the double doors locked. “Maybe there’s another entrance,” Diana said.

They checked. It was locked, too.

“Want me to just shoot it?” Will offered.

“Doesn’t seem right to make noise.”

They found a broken window and climbed through it.

Inside was still and dusty, the silence almost tangible. They picked their way toward the stacks, their footsteps muffled by the dusty carpet, the beams of their flashlights barely lighting the way.

“What are we looking for, exactly?” Will whispered.

“Anything you think she’ll like. Something the pages aren’t falling out of.”

They split up. Diana shone her light on the book spines one by one, leaning close and squinting to make out the titles. Automobile racing. Well, that was certainly useless. Engineering principles. Too bad it had nothing to do with trains. Weather forecasting. That might be helpful, but when she tugged on the spine, a scorpion skittered away and she dropped the book and the pages fell in a sheaf at her feet.

“That you making noise?”


They met at the end of the row. “Find anything?” Diana asked.

“Just something about how to trim bushes to look like animals.”

“That could be fun.”

“Damn worthless unless you can eat them.”

They were about to start down another row when something caught their attention. Will crouched over the charred books and examined them more closely. “Doesn’t look real recent. Probably just someone passing through.”

Diana nodded and began searching the next row, but now she was uneasy, starting at shadows and the ordinary whisper of scurrying mice. At the sound of a book falling to the floor, she stifled a shriek. “That you?” she called out.

“Thought it was you.”

She took a few breaths, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart. “Maybe it’s a raccoon.”

“Just hurry up and find something, okay?”

Diana bent her head toward the titles. Child care. How to select a pre-school. Ideas for children’s birthday parties.

Auntie had no need of this.

She selected another shelf. Wedding planners. More uselessness.

She was about to move on when she heard a cautious footstep. She told herself it was a feral cat or some similar creature. And the sound like someone breathing? That was Will, for sure.

A shadow moved. A man-sized shadow.


She heard scuffling on the other side of the stacks. Will’s voice answered hers, but not from the end of her row.

She drew her gun and fired at the shadow and at the same time heard Will’s gun go off from the other side of the room. “Run!”

Books forgotten, she fled toward the broken window, stumbling into things and tripping over clutter on the floor. Heavy steps came after her and she leaped an overturned chair. As she reached for the windowsill, someone grabbed her arm.

“It’s me,” Will said. He lifted her so she could scramble out, then launched himself after. They grabbed their horses and took off at a gallop. A pack of feral dogs bounded out of a ruined store, snarling and barking. Will fired into their midst and kept going.

The sound of gunfire drew the last dying residents of the town to their doorways, haggard and cursing at the strangers who galloped past with no offer of food, medicine or assistance. One man staggered to his gate with a rifle, but his shot went wide.

Once they were safely out of town they slowed their horses and Will pulled up to Diana’s side.

“This was a dumb idea,” Diana said, her hands shaking as she clutched the reins. “I’m sorry.”

“At least we got a book.”

“You did? What book?”

“I don’t know. I grabbed it as we were running out.”

“I hope it’s a good one.”

“Why wouldn’t it be? Mother will read almost anything.”

They rode back to camp in silence, but as they were putting their horses in the corral, their unit commander strode up. “If this was a real army, you’d have been considered AWOL.”

“We covered our watch,” Diana said.

“That’s not the point, and you know it. Where’d you go, anyway?”

“To get Mother a birthday present," Will said. "It’s day after tomorrow, you know.”

Harley mumbled a curse. “I guess I better get her something.”

“Yeah, a woman doesn’t like it when her boyfriend forgets her birthday.”

Their eyes met for a long moment. “I can’t just ignore this,” Harley finally said. "You’ll be on extra watch tomorrow. And you. . .” he turned to Diana, “Are on chow duty.”

“But I don’t like—”

He waved a hand for silence. “I’ll give you your assignments tomorrow, and then as far as I’m concerned, tonight is forgotten. Next time, tell me when there's a special occasion, okay? I might’ve liked to have gone with you.”

Chastened, Will and Diana returned to their tent. Amalia still wasn’t back. “Probably fell asleep in Harley’s tent,” Will muttered.

“I’m just glad she didn’t find us gone. Let’s see what you got.” Diana held out her hand for the book. By the dim light of a solar lantern, she puzzled out the title. “Etiquette Essentials for Office Success.” She flipped through a few pages, her lips moving as she read the words in a whisper. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Will. We’re a sniper unit. I bet Auntie doesn’t even know what a fax machine is.”

“Well, at least I got one. You didn’t get anything.”

Diana shoved the book under her pillow, then reached into a leather pack and pulled out the unevenly knitted scarf. “Maybe if I add some fringe. . .”

Will nodded and retrieved his botched wood carving. “If you really think it looks like a javelina, she’ll never have to know it was supposed to be a horse.”

“Since I'll be on chow duty, I’ll see if I can make a dessert or something.” She crawled into Will’s lap and flung her arms around him. “It’ll be a good birthday for Auntie, no matter what we give her, don’t you think?”

Will ran his fingers along the braid that trailed between Diana’s shoulders. He pulled her closer, relishing the smell of her hair and the warmth of her skin.

“Of course,” he said. “It’s the thought that counts.”

Character Study: Euclid Tanner

This is the last in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

He had no idea where his parents came up with the dumb name Euclid. That’s why he made sure people called him Tanner. Just the one name, like people did in some of those foreign countries he heard about.

Tanner was always hearing about things. He had to keep his ears open and his mind sharp because you could never tell when some random piece of information might save your ass. He had already perfected his listening skills by the time he left his mother’s house at fourteen. She ran a business in drugs and black market goods and Tanner learned everything he could from her, especially the consequences of getting addicted to your own product.

Tanner wouldn’t make that mistake.

Clever and with a gift for telling tales, Tanner honed his skills at cheating, stealing and dealing in stolen goods on the streets of cities all across the Southwest, moving on whenever too many people got wise to his ways. A rootless life suited him. It was a grand way to be young.

But then he reached his thirties and began wondering if there wasn’t more he could be doing with his life. His desire to scam his way into respectability dovetailed neatly with the ambitions of one of his street buddies, who knew of a tent city growing up around some lakes near Roswell. “Where the space aliens go, you know,” Gilchrist said.

Tanner wasn’t sure what space men might need from a store, but humans always needed something and the tent city had nothing. It was a golden opportunity, and if there were aliens around, the more the merrier. Tanner would take anyone’s money.

And so would Gilchrist. Their store had no sooner began to prosper when they began arguing over who was entitled to what. Old habits die hard, and Tanner took what he thought was fair (which was anything of value he could carry on his person) and snuck out into the cold winter night.

Tanner was clever, but so was Gilchrist, who sent a posse to catch him. Tanner escaped with his life, but just barely. It would’ve been a disaster, but for the fact that his rescuers were two pretty girls traveling alone in the mountains. The brown-eyed ex-soldier clearly didn’t trust him, but the other one-- the cute blonde Texan from a rich family, was a total innocent and might just be good for something.

And sex, though it would be nice, wasn’t quite what Tanner had in mind.

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Character Study: Marisa Gonzalez

This is the tenth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Marisa had always been political. She was president of her high school student council and studied history and political science in college. In another time and place, a law degree or master’s in public administration would’ve been her goal, and then perhaps a bid for public office.

But these things were not to be. In college she met a young man whose anger at the way the nation was changing matched her own frustration with war, economic blight and the destruction of civil liberties. Under his tutelage she became a radical and took to the streets in protest with all the fervency of youth.

All it got her was a jail term which turned into a prison sentence when she refused to rat out her radical friends. Prison gave her plenty of time to read, and Marisa emerged from the experience chastened and conversant in Constitutional law, case law, and the Federalist Papers. She knew her rights as a citizen, but now favored peaceful change by legal means, instead of fighting for it in the streets with torches, bombs and bullets.

But her boyfriend remained a radical and was now a leader in the secessionist movement. Although he was the love of her life, they had each changed too much to try again.

So Marisa resigned herself to a quiet life, outwardly conforming to the prevailing political winds, but secretly doing what she could to support the Constitution and the eventual reunification of the United States.

Years passed and as she reached middle age, Marisa wondered if this was to be the sum total of her life, if she would die a lonely old woman who had failed at both love and action, neither daring nor achieving very much.

Then her cousin showed up with a delirious young woman lying in his cart. Ernesto didn't know what to do with her. The girl was obviously sick and Marisa was the only person he knew who had been immunized.

Marisa considered. Not only was the young lady babbling about plots and rebellions, but she needed a doctor. The town physician was a Constitutionalist like herself, handsome and recently widowed.

Here was Marisa's chance to have something amazing happen! With a mysterious stranger in her guest room and the nice doctor making daily house calls, life was about to get very interesting.

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Totally Flattered

A co-worker borrowed the beta copy of my book and now she can't return it or even read it herself because her boyfriend got caught up in it and won't give it back!

Another co-worker bought a copy to take on his upcoming cruise.

Yeah, I'm happy. Flattered, in fact!

Character Study: Sam Johnston

This is the ninth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

The son of survivalists, Sam grew up on an isolated family farm with a cellar stocked to the rafters with ammunition and MREs. He learned at an early age how to shoot game, tan hides, repair simple machinery and keep an eye out for strangers.

But the hard-edged Christianity his parents believed in didn't mesh with what he read about Jesus in his leather-bound Bible, and his natural gregariousness found no outlet in deep forest isolation. So when he met a pretty girl gathering forest plants while he was hunting game, his rebellion was a certainty. Phoebe and her large network of friends and family were open and welcoming, ready to share what they had with anyone in need. In thier eyes, everyone was equally worthy of the fruits of the earth, no matter who they were or what they believed. Hoarding was a sin. Sam was enchanted by their philosophy and by Phoebe.

Sam and Phoebe's happy life together was cut short by her death in childbirth. Needing time to sort things out, Sam struck out on his own, wandering the countryside and hiding from recruiters before meeting up with a group of rebels working to depose the United States government and restore the original Constitution.

He spent many years with this group, eventually becoming a communications expert. When a new United States government was instated and pulled the nation out of the resource wars, Sam came out of hiding and decided to try city life for awhile. He settled in Lexington, Kentucky, where he opened shop as a radio operator.

But Sam's ambitions ran to something a little bigger than just being a ham. He had always liked meeting new people and helping them, and was fascinated by the old technologies. Building computers was impossible with no way to acquire the necessary components. Television was unrealistic, too.

But telephones... Well, those weren't so hard. People had been running phone lines two hundred years ago. All he needed was backers, and who in town wouldn't want to have phone service after all these years?

But phone companies, like Rome, aren't built in a day. He needs money, copper, tools, workers, and money. Lots of money. His little business of sending messages for people just barely keeps him fed, with not much left over to finance grander dreams. And it doesn't help that he's a soft touch when people come to him in need. People like the pretty young lady who is out of food, out of patience, and down to her last coins.

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Character Study: Susannah Parker

This is the eighth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Susannah was a daddy's girl, and luckily for her, her father wasn't a draft candidate. Running a funeral home was not only a good business, but with the pandemic and wars going on it was considered an essential civilian job, making him safe from being sent to the front lines.

Susannah's friends were put off by her father's line of work, but she didn't care. At least she had a father! And he could afford to indulge her with pretty dresses, fancy dolls and bedroom furnishings that were the envy of every girl in their Missouri town.

It was quite a shock when he dropped dead of a heart attack. Susannah's mother had no head for business and her two brothers were too young and irresponsible to be much help. Someone had to keep things going or they would soon all be out on the street. So Susannah rolled up her sleeves and went to work.

She knew a lot about the funeral business from all those years as her father's shadow. But the pretty teenager wasn't prepared for the way it would bleed her life dry. She had no time for friends, no time for romance, and she entered her twenties bitter and lonely.

Ben was one of the few bright spots in her life. He lived on a property on the lake and was a widower with a tragic past. Many people in town still blamed him for a long-ago tragedy, but Susannah only knew that he was kind. When someone couldn't afford a burial or a headstone, she could always count on Ben to help out.

But just when she thought he was beginning to really notice her, along came this rustic upstart from God alone knows where, looking like Ben's long-dead wife and capturing his attention! She says she's only staying until her injured horse is well, but everyone in town says she's going to be Ben's new wife.

Should she kill Diana with kindness, cut her losses and give up, or just be a bitch about the whole thing? Anger and bitterness come easy for Susannah. Doing something different would require changing her entire outlook on things. But maybe changing her ways is exactly what she has needed to do all along if she's ever going to find a way to be happy and get Ben to love her instead of wallowing in his own past and self-pity.

But first, Miss Southwest has got to go.

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Coyote

(A 'Will and Diana' Adventure)

Coyote tethered his horse to a mesquite and unstrapped a canvas pack that clanked as he carried it through the high grass. He scrambled up the embankment with the careless agility of fifteen and stood balancing on a gleaming rail, sighing with pleasure at the tracks stretching to infinity. Although there was nothing to hear but the whisper of the desert wind, he listened carefully and nodded in satisfaction. This was the place.

He dropped the pack, took out his tools and got to work. Sweat beaded on his forehead, then evaporated in the desert air. His calloused hands worked the crowbar and pried the spikes free. When he had enough, he went down the line, placing each spike carefully on the rails, stepping back to admire them, as if they were works of art.

And indeed they were. The voices said derailments were a matter of physics. Science. But Coyote had been doing this for three years, since he wasn't even quite a teenager. His early attempts had been crude, but now he knew better. Derailing trains was an art.

Spikes laid, he nearly danced back to where he had started and began energetically working the wrench and crowbar to pull the tracks out of alignment. By the time he was through, not even the dry wind could keep up with his sweat and he mopped his face with a dirty bandana before picking up his bag of tools and walking back to his horse. He traded tools for a rifle and a canteen, then returned to the tracks.

This time he selected a spot farther down the line. Far enough to be out of danger, but not so far he couldn't get a close view of the fun. He had done this so many times he could calculate the correct distance the way a watchmaker could make an old timepiece tick. He paused, listening again.

It wasn't time yet.

He made himself a nest in the warm gramma grass, drank some water and stretched out on his back, head pillowed in his clasped fingers. He gazed so long at the intense blue sky that eventually blueness surrounded and overwhelmed him, and the next thing he was aware of were voices. Unlike the ones he had been listening to earlier, these were outside his head. He grabbed his rifle and jumped to his feet.

A girl and boy, both about his own age, stood looking at him. The boy was tall and powerfully built, with a hard look about his eyes. But the girl seemed harmless enough, for all that she was pointing a pistol right at him. The expression on her face was one of wariness, but not malice.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the boy said.

"Why do you care? You with the train company or something?"

"We're clearing the lines for a delivery. And if you know what's good for you, you'll fix these rails."

Coyote darted a glance at the tracks. He listened for the familiar voices but heard only the wind.

"Well?" the girl asked.

"No time. The train should be along any minute."

"Don't be ridiculous," the boy said. "It's not coming until tomorrow."

"That's not what they said." Coyote looked from one to the other of them in confusion. Suddenly the voices flooded back, deep inside his brain, audible to him alone. "Dammit!" He threw down his rifle. "The bastards tricked me! They said to come here, they said this was the spot, they said if I came today--

The girl and boy were staring.

"I swear I'm not crazy! They talk to me all the time! They know things!"

"I believe you," the girl said, lowering her weapon and ignoring her companion's warning look. "You're him, aren't you? The maverick. The demolition expert."

"I'm no expert. I just like trains."

"Then why do you destroy them?"

He ducked his head. "I don't know."

The boy took a step toward him. "Look, we need tomorrow's train to get through. We can't stop the war just so people like you can play games. But we could use someone like you. I'm--

Coyote had only been half-listening. The whispering in his head took precedence. "I know who you are," he said. "You're Will Channing and this is your sister, Diana. You're with Unitas, the 'free and fair elections' people." He rubbed his face and gave a final glance down the tracks. His beautiful derailment was not to be.

"They sent me here so you could find me," he said in resignation. "Go ahead, take me to your unit commander. The voices want me to work for you."

"The what?" Will asked.

Coyote picked up his canteen and rifle. "Never mind. Let's just go, before I change my mind about listening this time."

He walked toward the scrub, scowling, with Will and Diana trailing behind and speaking in low tones. He couldn't make out all their words but he distinctly heard Will say, "We can't trust him. He's obviously insane."

"I heard that!" Coyote called over his shoulder.

They retrieved their horses in silence, swung themselves into the saddles, then sat looking at each other.

"Well?" Coyote asked.

"What do you mean? Don't the voices know where our camp is?"

Coyote ignored the note of sarcasm in Will's voice. "Of course they do," he said. "But that doesn't mean they want to tell me." He looked from one to the other of them. "So come on. Do you want someone to destroy trains for you or not?"

NOTE: This is one of a series of just-for-fun short stories that tie loosely to my blog fiction and book.

Character Study: Craig Fontaine

This is the seventh in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

During the darkest days of the resource wars, when secession movements were splitting the nation apart, the army couldn't stand on niceties. James and Delia Fontaine had a young son to care for, but that was what grandmothers were for. Fit young people were needed for the war effort.

Craig never saw his parents again. He and his grandmother weren't even given bodies to bury.

His parents' last instructions were to stay in school and study hard, so Craig did. And when the wars ended, he found himself in the vanguard of a new elite of young men and women who were ready to rise rapidly through the ranks of local and national government. With few members of an older generation to slow them down, they could rise as far and fast as their abilities would take them.

And so at only twenty years old, Craig found his success hindered only by his grandmother. The woman who had raised him and been strong for all those years of doubt, worry and loss, had succumbed to the temptations of the bottle and the bitterness of her memories. Caring for her while holding down a job left Craig no time for a girlfriend or even much of a social life. By the time he finished a long day at the office and stood in line at the stores for whatever food might be available, what little time he had for himself was given over to the needs of his increasingly senile and drunken grandmother.

Sometimes he wishes she would die, then he hates himself for thinking such a thing about the woman who sacrificed so much for him. Then just as things might be looking up, Grandma goes and scares off another potential girlfriend, fires another cook or cleaning lady, and Craig wonders once again if he shouldn't just dump her in a displaced persons camp somewhere and pretend he never knew her. He can't even have a girl stay the night as a guest without his grandmother thinking the worst and attacking the poor girl, calling her filthy names!

It's just too much some days. Craig owes his grandmother a heck of a lot, but he deserves a life too.

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Character Study: Sumitra Kumar

This is the sixth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

There was a time when Sumitra was rich.

Her father had owned several hotels in their Mississippi River town, but he bankrupted himself during the race riots, selling nearly everything he owned in order to distribute food and medicine, buying the goodwill of the town and saving his family. The strain led to an early death, and Sumitra's mother slumped into a deep depression at the loss of her husband and creature comforts.

Sumitra was left to run her family's last remaining property alone. It wasn't much-- just a shabby motel, pock-marked from the recent fighting, with an entire wing uninhabitable.

Having a man around the place might help, so she married. But her husband was a n'er-do-well who had little interest in helping around the motel or working for someone else. It was almost a relief when he got picked up by the recruiters and sent to fight in the resource wars. Maybe he'd be more useful there.

Sumitra ran the motel, raised her son Balin, and as her mother's health failed, tried to please her by donning her grandmother's saris, honoring the old Hindu gods, and learning the recipes of her grandmother and great-grandmother. Not that Sumitra believed in any of the old ways. She was as American as anyone.

She did like the curry, though. Too bad it was so expensive and hard to come by!

When Balin became a policeman, Sumitra's culinary life took a turn for the better. With his beat on the waterfront, Balin knew the comings and goings of all the boats, and was privy to the various protection rackets going on. It wasn't hard for him to extort a little cumin, curry or cardamom. And with Sumitra's hens thriving and her spinach and onions growing so well in the crumbling motel courtyard, a good tandoori or vegetable korma could be whipped up for dinner almost every night.

Yes, it was tedious running one of the cheapest motels in town. But at least with a policeman for a son, her place had protection from roving criminals and she could spin her creative dreams in the kitchen. And each passing traveler had a story. All of them coming from somewhere, on their way to someplace else...

Why should Sumitra travel in pursuit of her own dreams when she could sit right here by the curry pot and wait for others to bring their dreams to her?

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways. Curry isn't on the list of prizes, but other snacks are!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Character Study: Sgt Darrell Bonner

This is the fifth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Darrell Bonner grew up in a decaying Atlanta suburb. God and family were central to his life and he was a youth leader in his church, known for his ability to organize the local young people to get the job done, whether it was a plastic collection drive, an emerging virus awareness day, or simply a new garden to be dug on the esplanade of a crumbling boulevard.

It was only natural that he should volunteer to fight in the resource wars, but his faith and commitment were badly shaken when his family and many of his friends died in an epidemic that broke out in Atlanta while he was on campaign in the Canadian tar sands. But Darrell was a man who honored his commitments, and his dedication and leadership didn't go unnoticed. After the retreat from Canada, he was reassigned to the White Sands with a special mission. The secessionist movement in the southwestern United States was getting serious and the overextended US government would have to make some tough choices. If they could get their most dangerous weapons out of the desert, the rebels could have it until the US was in a better position to regain control.

Things didn't go as planned. Before the weapons could be safely removed or disabled, disturbances along the Mississippi demanded immediate attention. The desert would be allowed to secede for now, but some men would be left at White Sands to guard the weapons until the army could return.

Years passed and keeping up morale was hard. Men from some of the other units in the White Sands defected to Alamogordo. A black market grew, with soldiers trading army surplus gear for much-needed food from the locals. Preying on passing travelers was often a good bet, but Darrell drew the line there. He couldn't control what other sergeants let their men do, but his own soldiers would be respectful of honest travelers or there would be hell to pay.

So when he started providing extra protection to one of the local desert guides, he told himself it was only as a courtesy. Isabel was twelve, and although wise and competent beyond her years, it was still a dangerous thing she was doing, guiding caravans of travelers across the old missile range. And her so small and delicate, with her big dark eyes and serious ways!

It took him two years to admit to himself that he loved her. He was almost twenty years older, and she was still a child! Was it the lack of women in the desert that made him feel this way, or was there something horribly wrong with him? He questioned his God and he questioned himself, but the feelings wouldn't go away.

That Isabel returned his interest enthusiastically was of no import. Having lost friends, family and even the support of his government, all he had left was his high standards for himself. By the laws of the local community, Isabel would be of legal age to marry at sixteen. If she was still interested, and if he could find a way to cope for another year and half, maybe things could work out in a way that satisfied everyone's honor.

But in the meantime, it's no help that one of Isabel's latest customers is determined to see them together. Thank goodness the other one-- the serious young lady named Diana-- is more reasonable. But that Texan girl, Charlene, is going to be a handful!

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Character Study: The Amazing Madame Violet

This is the fourth in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Viona Haddler had all the answers from a very early age. That no one at the orphanage paid her any mind was a mere detail. Not only did she know what she wanted, but she had something none of the other orphanage kids had-- a silver trumpet in a leather case lined with purple velvet. It had belonged to her father, and although her teachers told her she had a tin ear, Viona knew better and would learn to play the darn thing if it took her a lifetime to do it!

At eighteen she was turned out into the world with nothing but the clothes on her back and the trumpet. Viona renamed herself Violet (which surely was the name she should've had-- the orphange must've read the papers wrong) and set out to earn her living as a musician.

Sadly, what little she could squeak out of the silver horn didn't appeal to paying audiences and Violet found herself playing on street corners for handouts from passersby. But her cute figure and bright red hair garnered attention and soon she had a boyfriend. The boyfriend had a band that played the local dives for food and tips. Violet wasn't allowed to play with them, but the food was nice and the sex was nicer.

Violet tried her best to manage the band's gigs, but for some reason they weren't interested in her suggestions. And when the baby came along, her boyfriend not only refused to marry her but wouldn't follow her advice about guarding his own safety and was picked up off the street by "recruiters" and sent to fight in the resource wars. If only he had listened to her!

Alone with her boy Aaron and her trumpet, Violet sought some means of support, finally happening upon a traveling carnival that thought her music was just fine. It wasn't a very good carnival-- even with her limited experience in such things, Violet could see that. But she would whip them into shape, oh yes she would!

She billed herself as The Amazing Madame Violet, and over the years she improved her act, adding a parrot and eventually a bicycle. She watched with pride as Aaron grew up and became an expert in running sideshow games. She suspected he might be cheating the customers, but their steadily growing nest egg quieted any concerns she might otherwise have had. Aaron wanted to buy her a house!

Someday soon, she would have the last laugh on all those people who dismissed her trumpet-playing and thought badly of her for having a son and no husband. She would sit on her front porch in a home of her very own and smile as she thought of all those smug people who once thought she would amount to nothing.

But in the meantime the show must go on. Now if only she could keep up with that damn parrot!

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Character Study: Father Joaquin Estrada

This is the third in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Joaquin was the spoiled son of the richest rancher in Valle Redondo, New Mexico. During the oil crisis and resource wars, his sheltered valley was overlooked by the federal government, which was too short of soldiers, trucks and fuel to seek out hoarders in remote areas. The entire valley was moderately prosperous, with no one going hungry, although only the Estrada family consistently enjoyed luxuries.

As insurance for their son's safety from the draft, the Estradas pushed Joaquin into the priesthood, even though women, fast horses and lazy days drinking with friends at the family compound were more his style. When the priest of the valley's only church died under suspicious circumstances, the Estradas were ready to install their young and frivolous son in his stead.

He fulfilled his duties haphazardly, and even a pretty wife and a daughter (thank God for Vatican III!) didn't put much of a damper on his former ways. He showed up to Mass late, cursed at the altar boy, forgot the words to the Mass and never had a sermon prepared. He hated to hear confessions and would wave people off, flippantly telling them to say a few Ave Marias and forget about it.

Then the government was tipped off about the hoarders in the valley.

Although Joaquin and his family had their lives spared because the Guard commander was a Catholic, Joaquin saw his family's tenants cut down as they tried to defend their holdings, and he saw his animals, seeds, tools, fuel and hoarded coins and jewelry taken away. The entire valley was left destitute and as the survivors brought their dead to the cemetery and the bodies piled up, Joaquin found himself faced with the first serious work of his life. Everyone looked to him for guidance, and he knew nothing.

He did what he could. He helped dig graves, he prayed over the dead, and he offered words of comfort and wisdom that he didn't feel. His wife, and not his faith, sustained him through the crisis. He and his family settled into a poorer life, living at the church and surviving off the charity of neighbors and what food they could grow or scrounge.

Joaquin tried to view it as a test of his faith. He and his wife had a second child, newcomers moved into the valley, crops came in and things got better. After the Southwest seceded from the United States, there were no more laws about stockpiling and people were free to save again. The civil wars never came as far as their remote valley, and Joaquin could almost think himself blessed, until his wife injured herself doing ordinary farm chores and died of septicemia.

He hasn't believed much of anything since then, but he goes through the motions. People count on him for blessings and words of comfort. But who will comfort him, when the written words of the God he professes to believe in aren't enough?

When Diana Channing shows up bringing a friend for burial, Joaquin has to once again confront his memories of the day their valley was raided and everything changed. And if he's struggling, how much worse must it be for her, who lost everything?

Being the strong and compassionate man of wisdom the Church wants him to be isn't as hard as it once was, but it's damn hard enough at times like this!

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways. All prizes include one of Diana's favorite Southwestern snacks!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Character Study: Charlene Engleton

This is the second in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Charlene was born into a rich and politically well-connected ranching family in the Texas panhandle. Her father was cruel and controlling and her mother was willing to support his behavior because it kept her in a big house with running water, electricity, and servants. These things matter when you're keeping up appearances in the resource-impoverished independent Republic of Texas.

Charlene was the clown of the family, always in trouble for one thing or another. She ignored her studies at the ranching compound's school and prefered to flirt with the ranch hands and entertain the servants with her silly songs, skits and dances. Unlike the rest of her family, Charlene never thought she was better than anyone else just because her clothes were nicer, her food better, and she slept in a real bed in a room of her own. Her family despaired of her, but the servants loved her as the one person in the family they could trust to keep their secrets and intercede on their behalf.

At eighteen she ran away. Her destination was a commune in Colorado she once heard about. But she never got there. Her trains got diverted or held up, when they didn't run out of fuel and stall on the tracks. Her money and patience ran out near Deming, New Mexico, where she got off the train vowing to never get on another one.

She found employment as a bar waitress where she was popular for her jokes and friendly ways. She eventually caught the eye of a railroad employee whose route brought him to Deming every few weeks. It was Charlene's first real love and a lot of fun until she became pregnant and her boyfriend's route suddenly stopped bringing him to Deming. When one of her bar customers told her that he had seen him squiring some other girl around in another town, Charlene resolved to go home. She dreaded facing her family and their strict notions of honor, but didn't see how she could raise a child alone when she was living in a hovel and barely supporting herself.

But she won't go home by train. She'll pay whatever she must to hire an appropriate escort to guard her on the long and dangerous journey back to the Republic of Texas.

So what a stroke of luck that the famous Diana Channing should show up in her bar one night, asking questions about a recent derailment! No one will give her any answers because who knows what her real motives might be? But if Diana will agree to take her with her on her trip east, Charlene can talk to her bar clients and get her all the answers she needs.

And Charlene won't be any trouble to Diana on the journey to Texas. None at all. Really.

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways. One of the prizes is the carved wooden rabbit Diana got in Missouri.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Character Study: Vince Mott

This is the first in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.

Vince leads a small gang in the ruins of Albuquerque. He and his sister Sara were orphaned in their early teens when their parents died in one of the pandemics sweeping the post-collapse world. Vince vowed to take care of his little sister and started trading in drugs and stolen goods so she could stay in school and become a nurse.

Once Sara finished her nursing training (which didn't take forever like it does in our era because the needs of the post-petroleum era are so dire), she thought she would use her salary to pay for Vince to re-train in something respectable. But Vince was having too good a time to quit. He was leading his own gang by now, working as a middleman for larger gangs that needed a job done or goods moved without bringing heat down on themselves.

Vince can be vicious and doesn't hesitate kill a rival or even turn a gun on one of his own gang members if they're disobedient and endangering the rest of group. But he's also loyal, generous, and the first to jump into a fight or cover the rest of his team's escape. Although he's always coming into money, he's usually broke because he gives it away to his team, his sister, his latest girlfriend, or some random stranger, and only later remembers he might owe someone money. Oh well. Just let them try and get it from him, especially if he's armed and has his half-insane lieutenant, Speedball, covering his back.

Vince always has a new girlfriend or two, but he's no sneak. He genuinely likes and respects women. All of them. He's honest about his intentions and never lies about his philandering ways. And if a girl is as straight with him as he is with her, she's got a loyal friend for life. Even years later, if an ex-girlfriend is having trouble with her new man or needs morphine for her dying mother, or just needs a loan, Vince will do what he can to help. Come to think of it, Vince doesn't give loans. He gives what he's got and forgets about it. Try and pay him back and he'll look at you like you've lost your mind and invite you to some shady bar for a shot of cheap whiskey, instead.

Someday he'll die in a gun or knife fight, but he doesn't care. Life in post-collapse America is dirty, dangerous, and never certain. So why not live it while you're here, since there may not be a tomorrow, anyway?

REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways. One of the prizes is the necklace Vince gave Diana when she left Albuquerque.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Book Promo / Contest

NOTE: This is cross-posted on my main blog.

Okay, I’ve got all the goodies on order and there will be four winners drawn randomly from among those who buy my book between now and September 30. If the prizes aren’t here by that date, I’ll extend the deadline until they’re here so I can make sure everything is in order.

The prizes are quite nice and consist of items that are mentioned in the story. At least one lucky winner’s prize will include a duplicate of the necklace Diana got from Vince when she left Albuquerque, and someone else will get a carved wooden rabbit like the one she got at Talmadge Pond, Missouri. So buy My New-Found Land and let me know you’ve done it so you can be in the running!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Exciting Announcement!

Announcing the print version of Diana's Diary, available at my storefront!

I've titled it My New-Found Land: A Post-Apocalyptic Journey. If you've already read Book One of the Diana's Diary blog, then you know the story. This is the much more tightly edited version, with the repetitions, inconsistencies and 3AM over-rambling edited out. What works on the web doesn't work so well in print, but one thing I've tried to keep in the book version is the "start-anywhere" quality that made Diana's travels fun. Whether you begin with the street gang, the carnival, the rich Texas ranchers, the tornado, the white sands or the riverboat ride, it's the sort of story you can pick up and read for a few minutes or an hour and have just as good a time, either way.

I included a lot of pictures in the book-- not as many as on the website, but enough to make the page count pretty high, in spite of the nearly 50,000 words I cut. (Yeah, I seriously rambled on some of those late-night posts!) Lulu charges by the page, and since it seemed silly to profit off something I'm already giving away for free online, I have made the book available at cost.

I'm thinking of doing a promo, but I first need to check on availability of the giveaways. If you want to be in the running for one of the prizes, buy the book and save a copy of your online confirmation. I'll be saying more about the promo once I've checked on a few things.

There will also be a few free copies available for persons with decent hit counts who would be willing to review the book on their site. Drop me a line if you're interested. Just because I'm not making any money off this doesn't mean I don't want people reading it! I already have a job. I write to share and it makes me happy to know people are enjoying it.

So if you read the web version and want a more permanent copy, or if web fiction doesn't appeal and you'd enjoy a good road trip story you can read in bed at night, go check out my book-- now in print!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Halfway There

I'm about halfway through the edit of my book. I'm so glad I ordered a private copy first! I never stop being amazed at how different it all looks when you change font or format, or when you move from screen to paper. I've found a lot of things to improve.

With internet out in my neighborhood tonight (thanks a lot, Comcast), I should be able to make quite a bit of progress once I get home from the office, which is where I am right now. I'd like to have the book ready when I make my last post on the Bella Diana blog, since the book and the blog it's derived from are the sequel.

We'll see how that goes, though. I have some changes to make to the cover, too, and I'm still quite a novice with PhotoShop. I accomplish a lot of things by pure happenstance and then spend hours trying to figure out what I did so I can do it again.

Anything to keep the brain cells busy, though!

I'm going to read a little more news, check my email and friends' blogs again and go home. Maybe my internet is working now, but I'm not holding my breath. I guess it'll force me to stay on track with my book edits though, and there's nothing wrong with that!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

It's Here!

My first print of the book version of Diana's Diary is here! I was hoping I'd get it before the long weekend and I'm so excited!

Already I'm seeing formatting things I want to change. That's the whole reason this first version is private, not available for anyone else to purchase. My project for the next few days (or weeks, however long it takes) is to go through and make all the changes that will make it better. Then I'll order another copy, check that all my changes look good, and then make it available to anyone who is interested.

I'm especially pleased with how my cover came out. I'm still such a novice at PhotoShop, but it came out all right:

In all, I'm very pleased so far with Lulu, and I encourage anyone to give it a try.

Here are just a few reasons to use POD:

  • It helps your editing to see what your story will really look like in print. This is great for your beta readers, or for you! Keep your POD version private, and you can still seek traditional publication.
  • If you have something that won't be attractive to a traditional publisher (like in my case, where the whole story is available for free online), you can still make a book version for yourself, friends or family.
  • If you've shopped your story around for awhile and are tired of waiting to get lucky with an agent, POD will give you something to hold in your hand, share with friends and even try to market yourself, if you chose.
  • If, like me, you choose to do all the formatting and cover design work yourself, you'll learn a lot about what goes into putting a book together. Of course a traditional publishing house has specialized software to make things easier. But there are certain thought processes that are almost certainly the same-- certain ways of thinking about your end product. It's quite a learning experience.
  • It's fun and cheap!

There's more to come on this topic so stay tuned!