The Night Before Carnage — Thriller Adaptation

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

The living were restless. Yes, even the mouse;

The tension was rising, much higher it’d flare;

The murderous plot to become a nightmare;

The family lay helpless all snug in their beds;

While wickedness schemed of taking some heads;

Poor mamma grew nervous, and I sensed a trap,

I tried to ignore it and take a short nap,

Yet unaware, an approaching bad monster,

I embarked on a dream of life as a mobster.

‘Fore midnight we woke at the sound of a crash,

I rolled over and grunted and declined to dash.

Mama scowled yet arose as she called me an ass,

I snatched covers to swaddle, then passed a loud gas.

Yet what to my reluctant ears did I hear,

But a high-pitched scream, no doubt from my dear.

With a sigh and a smirk, I rose none too quick,

Not knowing her fright was a red dressed St. Nick.

I found her spread out and sliced up in pieces.

My love was attacked by a man who ate Reese’s.

“For, Dasher! and, Dancer! and Prancer and Vixen!

For, Comet! for, Cupid! for, Donner and Blitzen!

I seek vengeance my pets! Your plight is my call.

Now slash away! Slash away! Slash away all!”

He stopped and looked up where I stood on the stairs,

His smile a vile sneer brought me fear for my heirs.

“She ran over my reindeer, stole all the toys too.

She ruined Christmas for many, I ask if you knew.”

More candy he munched, awaiting my answer,

While twirling his hatchet, he swayed like a dancer.

Then I drew a breath and searched for some wordage,

Not sure what to say, I hunted for courage.

“I knew nothing dear Santa, if I had, my Claus,

Would have slaughtered already, without a pause,

She put the kibosh on Christmas, so I concur,

No forgiveness, nor pardon did she dare deserve.”

He stared at her carcass, stuck a toe in the gore,

Then shouldered his hatchet and strode to the door.

A wink of his eye and a nod of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He threw open the door and stepped out to go,

The wind howled sharply and blew in some snow.

On the lawn was his sleigh pulled by a strange team.

Six white huskies with wings. It must be a dream.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

Off my yard they all flew like the down of a thistle.

I stepped over the carnage to close the door.

Then went for a mop to clean up the floor.

Soon heard him exclaim, as I recovered from fright—

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

A copy of the classic I read to my daughters when they were young.

Book of Words: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. The words chosen may be familiar, but used in a unique way or not commonplace.

Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in Wilde Lake, a book released earlier this year by author Laura Lippman. Lippman, a best-selling author and absolutely superb storyteller, is one of my very favorite writers.

Wilde Lake is the story of a family, a family full of secrets. It’s also a tale about prejudice and how we may try to deny its existence but cannot truly shed the ingrained natuimg_2597re of it in our society, and in turn, ourselves. Lippman’s skill at pulling multiple tentacles of a story together thrives in this tale, but she eloquently succeeds at something unique even for her. The story is told from the perspective of one character, but some of it comes to us in the first-person account of a remembered childhood, while the rest is told in third-person present tense as all those story tentacles come together for Lu Brant, a newly elected state’s attorney. The combination of first and third person from the same protagonist is so competently handled that I didn’t catch it until well into the book. It seems to bring a more intimate view into the life unfolding in Wilde Lake. The unique characterization provides a deeper grasp of what is happening in Lu Brant’s life as she digs into her own family history while sorting out the facts of her first capital murder case in her new position. The layers of revelations and connections to Brant’s past keep the pages turning. From the book jacket: “If there is such a thing as the whole truth, Lu realizes—possibly too late—that she would be better off not knowing what it is.”

Words from Wilde Lake:

Suborn: v. bribe or otherwise induce (someone) to commit an unlawful act such as perjury. “They might have been led during the interviews. But I don’t think my father suborned perjury, not over so trivial a thing.”

 Ascetic: adj. characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. “AJ stands, walks to the edge of his pool. A lap pool, he defended to Lu when she mocked this expense by ascetic.” AND “He then made his own Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage around the world, although ascetic AJ skipped the eating part.”

 Canard: n. an unfounded rumor or story. “Everyone knows the old canard that an attorney never asks a question to which she doesn’t know the answer, but that’s for court, after investigations, depositions, discovery.”

 Polemics: n. a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something. “’No,’ he says adamantly. ‘No more polemics disguised as memoirs.’”

 Ersatz: adj. (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else. “Heck, her father has had an ersatz wife in Teensy all these years.”

 Imprecation: n. a spoken curse. “The EMT guys decide to let her go home, although with muttered imprecations about concussions, and while Lu scoffs at them, she finds herself unaccountably nervous as bedtime nears.”

 Perambulate: v. walk or travel through or around (a place or area), esp. for pleasure and in a leisurely way. “’Your house? No, I just­—I just sometimes like to . . . perambulate,’ Davey said.”

 Frisson: n. a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill. “Lu feels a strange frisson of nerves when she goes before the grand jury to obtain a formal indictment against Rudy Drysdale.”

 Nascent: adj. (esp. of a process or organization) just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential. “I wish he had saved his nascent memoir. I would have loved to read his version of his life, then and now.”

 Scrim: n. strong, coarse fabric, chiefly used for heavy-duty lining or upholstery. “As the song reached its climax, a scrim depicting the Tree of Life fell and somehow it seemed as if the chorus had become a living, breathing Tree of Life.”

Pejorative: adj. expressing contempt or disapproval, or n. a word expressing contempt or disapproval. “The original ‘villages’ of Columbia are now called the ‘inner villages,’ and the pejorative echo of inner city is not accidental.”

 Dilettante: n. a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge. “During the campaign, Fred called her a dilettante, tried to suggest that she wanted his job so she wouldn’t be bored.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary.

What interesting words have you taken note of lately? What do you do when you come across an unfamiliar word while reading?

Book of Words: EXHUME by Danielle Girard

“The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.”

— J.K. Rowling

I’m using this blog to offer a chance at building a better vocabulary through the books I read. I’ll provide a short review of the book followed by a few words I think the author used in an interesting way or that might not be familiar, at least to me.

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Exhume (Dr. Schwartzman Series, Book 1) by Danielle Girard

I really enjoyed this thriller and had a hard time putting my Kindle aside until the end. The protagonist, Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman, is very well written by Girard. I found myself feeling it all as the young medical examiner works to solve the murder of a woman who could be her twin. She soon realizes the killer chose the victim for that very reason. As the plot thickens and the threats mount against her, Schwartzman gains strength rather than cowering in the knowledge that her own life is in danger. I found the story gripping. Girard is an excellent writer. Check her out at daniellegirard@com.

This book, because of its medical examiner character, offered a number of unfamiliar words.

Words from Exhume:

Manubrium: The broad upper part of the sternum of mammals, with which the clavicles and first ribs articulate.  “She fingered the place where her necklace always lay flat against her manubrium.”

Parasympathetic: (adj.) of or relating to the part of the automatic nervous system that counterbalances the action of the sympathetic nerves. It consists of nerves arising from the brain and the lower end of the spinal cord and supplying the internal organs, blood vessels and glands.  “Her parasympathetic nervous system now back in control, her empty stomach ached, leaving her nauseous and exhausted.”

 Hemangioma: A benign tumor of blood vessels, often forming a red birthmark.  “Behind Stein’s right knee was another birthmark, this one a hemangioma. The hemangioma—sometimes called a raspberry—was the result of blood vessels that clustered in utero and never fully dissipated.”

 Aquiline: (adj.) Like an eagle. Special usage: (of a person’s nose) hooked or curved like an eagle’s beak.  “Plenty who were tall and thin as she was, even some with an aquiline nose like her own and others who had been born with a nose like hers and then had the hump surgically removed.”

 Whorls: A coil or ring, in particular: a complete circle in a fingerprint.  “’I’ve seen documented cases where they’ve pulled whorls off flesh.’ ‘Whorls?’ T.J. asked. ‘From fingerprints,” Harper explained.”

 Clinodractyly: A medical term describing the curvature of a digit (a finger or toe) in the plane of the palm, most commonly the fifth or little finger towards the adjacent fourth finger or ring finger.  “Her long, lean fingers, fingers like her father’s had been, like her own, their tips curved in just slightly, making them appear slightly arthritic. The clinical term was clinodactyly, a condition that caused a curvature of the digits, though theirs was mild enough to go unnoticed unless one knew to look.”

 Alveoli: A small cavity, pit, or hollow, in particular: any of the many tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. “Oxygen flowed into the bronchi, then into the smaller bronchioles and into the alveoli. Two adult lungs were the home to some three hundred million alveoli where the oxygen dissolved into the moisture-rich covering of the alveoli and diffused into the blood.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia.

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

Laura Lippman to be at Eureka’s Books in Bloom

I’m so excited to hear Laura Lippman speak this Sunday at Books in Bloom in Eureka Springs. I intend to be there and pick up a copy of her new book, Wilde Lake while I’m at it.

I reviewed After I’m Gone a couple of years ago on this blog, and I’m confident I’ll enjoy her new book just as much. That confidence comes from the fact that I’ve yet to be disappointed with a Lippman story. She is one hell of a storyteller. Her characters are always rich, and her plots very well woven together with surprises along the way.

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My library includes plenty of Laura Lippman books, and I’ve read a few of them more than once.

After I wrote that review and noted that I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Lippman years ago, I was thrilled when she sent me a note stating she remembered meeting me. I attended “Of Dark and Stormy Nights,” a conference held in Chicago by Mystery Writers of America where she spoke. I was absolutely delighted when we happened to share a shuttle to O’Hare Airport at the end of the conference. I talked to her about my book idea, and she told me to go for it, to write the book about a corrupt prison system, a serial killer and a reporter from the Ozark Mountains who puts it all together. That book, A Lovely County, came out last year. The second one in the series is due out in November. Pen-L Publishing is set to release A Lovely Murder in November, and I’m now writing the third one, A Lovely Grave.

I plan to take a copy of A Lovely County to Lippman this weekend and hope to be able to pass it to her! Wish me luck, because I’d love to personally thank Laura Lippman for encouraging me and teaching me by example about good plotting.

 

M.G. Miller’s Character Chills

Caroline Turner is down on her luck. She has lost her job and hit a bottom she’s struggling to understand. She could have handled her husband’s betrayal, but betrayal by her only child breaks her heart. Who wouldn’t feel for the poor woman when on top of all else she’s forced to move back home to take care of her ungrateful bedridden mother?

jack6.000x9.000.inddM.G. Miller drags the reader deep into Caroline’s mind from the start. We feel the trepidation as she approaches the rundown house and enters the dark gloomy interior. We know what awaits upstairs isn’t going to be good, but Miller’s able to shock with a sharp whack from Mama’s cane. From that first blow, the horrors are set in motion.

Who can blame Turner for taking that cane? Can we condemn her for feeding Mama cold soup and slipping in a little tranquilizer to make her sleep through the night?

We root for Caroline and hate her mother right along with her. The downtrodden woman struggles at first with moments of hope that she can withstand Mama’s abuse and provide the basic care she needs. Mama’s actions and words drive away any such aspirations.

millerWith each chapter, Miller pulls back layers of Caroline’s mix of ego and self-hatred. Through Mama’s horrible words, we know why she has no self-esteem, and why she struggles with her image in the mirror. The reader comes to understand the levels she’ll go to in order to feel loved. It’s apparent Mama never cared for her own daughter, and that she was jealous of Caroline’s relationship with her long-dead father. We don’t know the horrifying secrets that are buried deep in Caroline’s mind, but Mama manages to pull them out and shove them bluntly and cruelly like a pile of feces smack in her face.

This chilling narrative told in first person draws a mix of sympathy and disdain that swells in a gripping crescendo as the relationship between Mama and Caroline comes to a horrifying climax. Miller’s storytelling talent is evident in his ability to make the reader hate, yet sympathize with the character, to understand the misery and despair that propel her toward a terrifying end, and force internal questioning of what they’d do in her place, how far they’d go.

Murderous is an absolute must for thriller lovers, but any reader will be drawn in by the characterization in this gripping tale.

Find Murderous on Amazon, along with other must reads by M.G. Miller. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss…

Shouting in the Wind, Spitting in the Torrent

It’s not easy. I never thought it would be, but then the tiniest glimmer of hope landed in my lap. I finished my first novel and felt confident in it. I had a couple of small publishers interested and accepted the terms from one. Since A Lovely County published a year ago, I’ve come to realize how hard it is to make that a dream worth pursuing in today’s publishing world.

The waterfall that feeds the stream behind our home in Northwest Arkansas.

The waterfall that feeds the stream behind our home in Northwest Arkansas.

I feel like a drop of water in a rushing waterfall.

I blog. I’m not especially good at it, but I put my thoughts out there. I have a Pinterest presence. I Pin things writerly, beautiful landscapes, yummy looking recipes, and more. I even Tweet. In addition, I have an author’s page on Facebook and on Goodreads. I talk about things other than writing. I don’t overly push my book on social media, just try to keep my presence there and hope to be noticed. Does any of it mean anything?

I shout, I scream, I type, but it does little to bring attention to my book, my struggle to get readers, reviews, NOTICED!

I’ve even entered contests and have had some success. (Thank you, Ozark Writer’s League for the recognition with your prized President’s Award last year.)

Is Amazon, today’s Mega-God of Publishing, to blame? Surely, the legions of wannabe authors who’ve flooded the market with unedited or poorly written work can take some credit for the hard struggle of authors today. My book isn’t published by one of the big New York houses. It’s not sold in bookstores. (Maybe someday.) But, frankly, the bookstores want publishers to send them X number of copies and vow to reimburse them when they only sell Y number of copies. A small publisher, even many mid-range publishers, can’t afford that risk.

So, all the experts say an author has to push themselves on social media, get recognition and you’ll get reviews on Amazon and sales. I do that, but so do thousands of others. We shout at each other on social media, but who else cares?

I’ll never stop writing. I have dozens of Danni Edens mysteries in my head, one ready to go the publisher, a half-written thriller, and a young adult paranormal series I’d love to start writing.

I push on and hope for the best, but I have to wonder if it wouldn’t be easier on me to give copies to a few friends and family, and call it good. I love to write, love to tell the stories that bang around in my head, and that trumps all the struggle, so I press on.

If you have the same dream, tell me how you deal with the challenge.

A Tidbit From A Work in Progress

My mystery novel A Lovely County was published in January. I’m in the final stretch of writing the second in the series, tentatively titled A Lovely Murder. I’m anxious to write these last few chapters and read back through it. Over the next few months the hard part will be the editing, but I’m confident the pain will be eased with the help of my favorite editor Gil Miller, a dedicated and skilled member of the Oghma Creative Media staff.

Below is an excerpt tease from A Lovely Murder: 

“She shook her head and scanned the area around her. There was nothing but trees and brush between her and the lake. Whoever she chased had to be up the hill. Had to be trying to get out of the woods.

Running again, she tripped on something hard and fell face first to the ground. Her shirt snagged on a sapling as she went down. The cotton tee shirt yanked to the side. It ripped but held and helped to break her fall, or at least slow the momentum of the tumble.

She pulled the shirt loose from the tree, rolled over on her back, and fought to catch her breath.

Her heart pounded.

The siren grew louder, then stopped.

A turkey vulture circled in the window of sky in the canopy of leaves above her. The bird arced to one side, disappeared for a few seconds above the trees, and came back into view, its graceful flight similar to a ballerina with arms wide open gliding silently across a stage.

Silence. Only her own breathing.

“Who are you?” she screamed.

“Why?” she screamed louder.

“Oh my God, why?”

A lump caught in her throat, but she didn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. Tears would make it real, not a nightmare. It had to all be a nightmare.

Holding her breath, she listened.

Nothing for a minute.

She exhaled.

A car ignition started from somewhere up the hill. Then the sound of gravel spraying behind it as it sped away.

She lay still, watching the vulture.”

Book cover by Casey Cowan, Oghma Creative Media

Book cover by Casey Cowan, Oghma Creative Media

You can pick up A Lovely County on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lovely-County-Lori-Ericson-ebook/dp/B00S5I1ILY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435930767&sr=1-1&keywords=lori+ericson

Also, check out Gil Miller’s blog The Book of Writing at https://gilmiller.wordpress.com. He’s got a lot of good advice on the craft. I loved his recent post on Stephen King and how we can admire but not copy his work.

Thanks for stopping by!

Daughter of the Howling Moon

I’ve read paranormal, but it’s not my favorite genre. I may have to change my mind after reading Daughter of the Howling Moon by R.H. Burkett, but this tale is more of a mystery/thriller with some paranormal elements. I was so impressed with the writing style, the storyline and the characterization that I had to tell you about it here.

FullSizeRender-2This book absolutely draws you in with the first chapter and keeps you in its claws with every turn of plot.

Here’s a taste of one of the most engaging characters I’ve ever read, Bethany Ann from Chapter 1: “Mama looked like always. Well, maybe there was hint of paleness around her mouth and a funny rattle to her breathing, but certainly not anything close to the feared shadow of Death. Then again, what was Death supposed to look like, anyway?

‘Is that you, Bethany Ann?’

‘Yes, Mama,’ I said and took her outstretched hand in mine.

Her hands looked the same too. Hard and calloused from years scrubbing clothes on the old washboard out back and permanently faded from the harsh lye soap. Washing, cooking, and cleaning, that was Mama in a nutshell. Probably would be the exact words chiseled on her tombstone too.”

I was intrigued by the synopsis and the first few pages of this book. I read on and couldn’t stop. I realized the thrill of the mystery in this story was pulling me from page to page, keeping me guessing and dying to know more. Burkett does an outstanding job of presenting her characters and immersing the reader in the story through her portrayal of those characters, making you care, root for them, against them and everything in between. When I turned to the last page, I was absolutely disappointed to have to let go of Bethany Ann and her Ben! The story was complete and Burkett did a great job of telling it, but I wanted more!

Here’s a snippet from Ben’s point of view: “Maybe he imagined it. Maybe the effects of a long day in the heat and sun coupled with a hungry gut, a tried butt and a short night of drums pounding his head had scrambled his thinking. He didn’t know. But stagnant, humid air cooled and whispered to the tree tops. Night sounds of swamp creatures hushed as if the crickets and bullfrogs were holding their breath. A shimmering, much like moonbeams on still water, danced just out of reach. He blinked, not trusting what he saw. And the girl in front of him stood taller and spoke with a dangerous, powerful voice that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention.”

The reader gets easily and totally immersed in the scenery because of the outstanding description. I was in the head of Bethany Ann and Ben with Burkett’s fine and inspiring writing style. This is without a doubt a fantastic book with a storyline that will keep you guessing until the end.

I highly recommend this read. Published by Pen-L Publishing, Daughter of the Howling Moon is a sure bet for any reader of mystery, paranormal or thriller.

Check it out on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Daughter-Howling-Moon-R-Burkett/dp/1940222710/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427400245&sr=8-1&keywords=Daughter+of+the+Howling+Moon

The Thrill of FINALLY Getting in Print

After years, I mean decades, of working toward a goal, it’s really a great feeling to meet it. I started thinking about writing a novel based on a series of stories I wrote in 1994 about problems in the Arkansas 309 prison program. Lack of confidence, life, and other issues kept me from ever starting to work on the novel for ten to fifteen years. Then I piddled at it forever. My daughters will even tell you that I wouldn’t even call it a book for years. It was “my project.” Seven or eight years ago I got more serious about it, joined Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop and rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again, and again, and again.

A Lovely County FrontThanks to Shannon Press, a division of Oghma Creative Media, A Lovely County has been published and released on Amazon this week!

I can’t tell you how thrilled and excited I am with this accomplishment. Yes, I am writing still. I have a thriller in the works that may turn out to be a novella, and I’m working on the second in a series about reporter Danni Edens, the protagonist in A Lovely County.

Thank you to everyone who supported me through this process, especially Sara and Hillary, my daughters, and my ever-proud husband Lloyd. Also, I doubt I’d ever get to this place without the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop. Thank you to everyone who read and critiqued and encouraged in our weekly sessions.

Here’s the link to my newly born Amazon page:

Laura Lippman Offers Another Great Read

Photo by Lori Ericson

Photo by Lori Ericson

Laura Lippman has the ability to put together a mystery plot like a tightly stitched patchwork quilt with a mixture of fabulous fabrics that you want to wrap yourself in and never let go. I get to the end of one of her books and am always amazed at how the story comes together with twists and turns around amazingly real characters that are fleshed out in revealing layers. This is particularly the case in her 2014 novel After I’m Gone.

The story easily jumps around a time period spanning several decades of family life, albeit a unique family life. Told from the perspective of five different family members and a few additional key characters, each reveals human qualities that bring out the best and worst innermost workings of heart and soul.

It’s a story of love, greed and betrayal as Felix Brewer creates a life of luxury for Bambi Gottschalk and their three daughters with somewhat shady business dealings that eventually catch up with him. He takes the chicken’s way out, avoids the penitentiary, leaving behind his family and a lover, along with a briefcase full of instructions and clues to where enough money is stashed to keep them living in style. But his family never knows about that briefcase and are left wondering if his mistress is the only one he cared enough about to provide something to sustain her in the wake of his departure. When she disappears exactly ten years after Felix vanished, it’s assumed that she has joined him on some tropical island. Years later her body is discovered. That discovery brings out secrets the Brewer women have kept from each other that nearly cost them all, until one of Felix’s women puts it all together. She finds that long-held desire created the mess and robbed her family of a life they deserved.

After I’m Gone is an excellent read, a complex mystery that won’t disappoint. The reader is likely to be slapping their forehead as the story unfolds in the end. I find myself doing that often at the end of Lippman’s books. I particularly like her standalone novels, but her Tess Monaghan series is also worth every turn of the page.

In full disclosure here, I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Lippman years ago. I attended “Of Dark and Stormy Nights,” a conference held in Chicago by Mystery Writers of America. I was fascinated to hear one of my favorite writers explain her craft, but absolutely delighted when we happened to share a shuttle to O’Hare Airport at the end of the conference. And, of course, I took a few precious moments of her time and shared a story idea I had brewing in my brain. She told me to go for it, to write the book about a corrupt prison system, a serial killer and a reporter from the Ozark Mountains who puts it all together. That book, A Lovely County, is coming out in a few months, and I’d like to thank Laura Lippman for encouraging me to get it written. I can only hope to be a Lippman kind of writer that keeps readers enthralled until the final page.