Okay, time to fess up. The Crusader Challenge Blog from Thursday the 24th contained several requirements. I'll list them below and tell you how I fulfilled them.
We had to use the random words, "bloviate," "fuliguline," "rabbit," and "blade."
"Bloviate" actually is a word and, according to my source, is enjoying a come-back from it's heyday in 1890. It means to talk aimlessly and boastingly. I believe I used it correctly in the sentence; "I will resist the urge to bloviate endlessly about my "fascinating" life…"
I have no clue what "fuliguline" means, but chose to use it as an adjective. I suspect Rach made the word up. Fess up Rach!
"Blade" was what I hoped you wouldn't stab your computer with due to my aimless and boastful yammering.
And "Rabbit"… you know, the one I didn't want the eagle to eat…well, I really and truly do have one. She's cute, soft, and pretty fierce. I don't think the eagle would fare well in the encounter.
My secret? Blush. I rarely admit to being a Cheerios-lover. It's true. My family turns a blind eye. I was so happy to see all those Cheerios commercials with adults eating them. Made me feel, well, almost normal.
Sadly, habitual Cheerios eating is also one of my annoying habits. My family turns a … well you get the idea.
One of my best character traits is my dependability. Which, of course, feeds into the whole Cheerios-thing again.
And my interesting quirk is…NO! Not the Cheerios! Okay, I'll admit, it's kind of quirky, but I refer to my stop-what-I'm-doing-and-stare-in-awe reaction each time I see an eagle. They take my breath away!
One of my favorite things in the whole world is to gaze at the mountains, and that brings me to ….
I cannot see the mountains from my house. Sad, but true.
For those of you who told me I couldn't write another Thea Campbell Mystery fast enough ...
It's out! At last! Levels of Deception is out on Smashwords and will follow shortly on Amazon, B&N, Apple and other e-book retailers. The print version is in process, and should be available in a couple of weeks. I'll be sure to let you know.
In truth, it's been completed for a while. The final edits took some time, but now it's all done. Here's the back cover blurb:
Thea isn't supposed to obsess about a murder in the basement of Seattle's Burke Museum, even though the victim was her absent boyfriend Paul's colleague -- even though her gut screams at her to pay attention. So when the police connect Paul to thefts at the museum and the murder, despite his being two states away on a dig, Thea secretly launches her own investigation to clear him. Paul's stubborn refusal to give her any information doesn't slow her down, but an attempt on her life does. Coerced into running to Paul's paleontology dig in Montana for safety, what she finds there is far from a refuge. The levels of deception are more personal and extend farther than she could have imagined. The price of her pursuit of truth will be blood.
You can download about 120 pages for FREE from Smashwords, or the entire book for $2.99. Amazon will have it for the same price before the weekend is out, and you can download samples from them, too.
Now, ladies and gents, I need your help. My never ending marketing and promotion lessons have taught me that it takes a village to make a book successful. My success goal for Levels Of Deception is to make it into the top 10 of Amazon's Hot New Release List -- a slightly loftier perch than Death By A Dark Horse. To accomplish this I will need reviews from readers as well as sales. If you like my books, I would appreciate a short review on Smashwords and/or Amazon. My sales goal is 50 books a day! Sound outrageous? It's not, really. But to reach that goal people have to know the book is available. That's where I need your help to spread the word. Only a team effort works!
I'll be reporting back on a regular basis. Thank you all for your help!
As part of the Blog Crusade (see the pretty shield in the sidebar) all participants have been asked to tell our readers somewhat more about ourselves than we generally are inclined to do. I will resist the urge to bloviate endlessly about my "fascinating" life -- if only to keep you patient souls from driving a blade through your computer screen.
You may suspect that the natural beauty of the Northwest is something I appreciate at every opportunity, and you'd be right. I feel very fortunate to live in a part of the country where I can walk out my back door on a nice morning (after my morning coffee has done its job and pried my eyes open) and see a fuliguline view of snow covered mountains. There's an eagle's nest not far from my home, too, and I frequently see one or more of the majestic birds soaring above my home. It's a good thing our rabbit lives indoors -- I'd hate for her to become eagle-breakfast. I'm not that willing to sacrifice for the wild things.
Speaking of breakfast, here's something only my family knows: I love Cheerios. I have them almost every morning along with my coffee. I'm not sure if that's indicative of how dependable I am, or if it speaks to what some would consider annoying predictability. I guess it depends on who you are and how much you value culinary adventurousness!
And now, patient readers, I must confess I may have revealed something about myself that isn't strictly true. Can you guess what it is? I'll let you know in my next post!
Mystery writer Kate George has graciously agreed to sit for a spell and answer some questions about her books and writing. Kate started writing on a dare! She writes mysteries with "a side of laughter" -- and I can tell you it's a good-sized portion. Currently, she writes about things she has experiences with...yes, she used to be a type-setter, paste-up tech and motorcycle safety instructor. The housekeeping department of a swank hotel has been graced with her skills, as well. That’s why her main character, Bree McGowan, does those things. Count on stints as an actor, answering service operator, assistant to the dean of a medical school, instructional assistant, and computer instructor providing fodder for upcoming novels.
She'd really like to write about a back-up singer, but claims she doesn't know a thing about it. How much you want to bet it won't stop her!
I loved your book Moonlighting in Vermont, and can't wait to read California Schemin' -- coming out in March. It's the continuing adventures of Bree McGowan, "queen of chaos" and collector of animals. What's she up to this time?
In this book our intrepid Bree goes to California to rest up, per se, from the events surrounding her boss’s death. Beau is hoping that things will settle down and they can live a normal life. Well, as normal as life ever is with Bree.
Unfortunately, there are probably more dead bodies in California than Vermont. Yes, you guessed it; one of those bodies literally falls into Bree’s lap. Madcap adventures ensue, including a couple of flights back and forth between Vermont and California, and Beau gets dragged unwittingly into the fray.
How did the plot for California Schemin' take root in your mind?
Well, I’m a “out of the mist” writer. I start with a basic premise and see where it takes me. The premise for California Schemin’ was that Bree would accept Beau’s offer to spend some time with him in California. She’d get to relax, but in reality adventures would find he there. The thing is Bree’s not all that great at relaxing. She likes to be doing things. That sometimes gets her in trouble.
Once I started writing my memories of growing up in the Sierra Foothills started kicking in and supplying me with details. And really it all just flows out of my head when I’m writing.
Oh, in case you were wondering how I got a shape shifting alien – While on facebook one day, early in the book, I jokingly commented that I was going to write one into CAS. One of my friends jumped in and said she liked it. So I did. I’m kind of impulsive like that.
What is your favorite part of writing your stories?
The beginning when the story is new and I’m in total denial about how much time and effort it’s going to take to finish the book. It’s the rosy honeymoon period when I’m in love with my hero and my villains start to take shape in my mind.
That period lasts about five minutes! No really some books take much longer to go sour.
My other best part is the very end. When it’s done. And the Very Best Part would be the last read for typos and I still get into the story. Like when I re-read California Schemin’ after several months of ignoring it and I still liked the story. I think you’ll have fun reading it.
Do you have more plans for Bree and company?
Yes! I’ve started writing the third Bree MacGowan mystery already. Its working title is How Much is that Dead Guy in the Window. I hope I get to keep that title, it makes me laugh. Quite a few of the characters from Moonlighting and CAS will be in that story too.
You mention that you started writing on a dare. What was the dare? What carried you forward to be persistent enough to publish?
Well, you know, I foolishly declared to my friends that I could write a Stephanie Plum novel. I don’t know if you are familiar with Stephanie Plum. Her books are written by New York Times Best Selling Author, Janet Evanovich. She’s sold millions of those books. They’re fun, and highly addictive.
Anyway, one of my friends immediately said, “Then why don’t you.” And then the two of them dared me to do it. They dared me! So I had to try.
I started writing a chapter a week and passing them to those friends. (You know who you are Buffy and Sara!) And before long I was having fun. Then I thought I should join a writing workshop so I could improve my writing – which I did, and it did. Thank you very much, Joni B.Cole!
I was enjoying writing so much that it didn’t occur to me to quit. Plus I had people expecting chapters from me. I finished it, (It being Moonlighting in Vermont) and got myself come critique partners. Critique partners are crucial for me. They did a lot of correcting style and noticing repeating words. And spelling. I’m a horrible speller.
Eventually I sold Moonlighting to Mainly Murder Press. It takes a while sometimes and you have to have faith, or blinders, and just keep submitting. It’s not so much that I was persistent as I was just sure that I’d eventually find the write publisher. Being blind to your book’s faults is extremely helpful when you are shopping it around.
What advice do you have for new writers?
I firmly believe in the ABC method of writing:
Apply Butt to Chair. You can’t be a writer if you don’t devote time to writing. And, you’ll know this if you read my books, the more you write the better you get. Don’t let life get in the way.
There. That’s my advice.
Where can we keep an eye on you (mention blogs & websites here), and where can your books be purchased?
Books can be purchased at MainlyMurderPress.com, Amazon.com, or ordered from any bookstore. My web site is www.kategeorge.com and that’s where my blog is as well. I have Author pages at Amazon, Goodreads and a handful of other sites. Hope to see you all around!
Thank you, Kate, for stopping by! I can't wait to read California Schemin' and am looking forward to How Much Is That Dead Guy In The Window? Kate's provided us with a chance to view her book trailer for California Schemin' -- have fun!! Then leave some tough questions in the comments section!
Today I'm welcoming 2010 Daphne Du Maurier Award winning author Ann Charles to Writing Horses. Ann's mystery, Nearly Departed in Deadwood, takes single mom Violet Parker on a murder-mystery solving adventure in Deadwood, South Dakota as she tries to hold on to her job, protect her two young children, not fall in love, and stay alive. Deadwood is not without its quirky characters -- and some are quirkier than others. Even sexy Doc has -- shall we say -- his unique side. Here's a little taste of what Violet is up against.
“Do you mind stopping at that gas station up ahead?” Doc asked when we neared Main St. “I’m thirsty.”
I turned into the parking lot of Jackpot Gas-n-Go, coasting past a Toyota pickup fueling up at the pumps. My breath caught when I saw the “Wish You Were BEER” bumper sticker stuck on the tailgate.
Crap! Jeff Wymonds—the last person I wanted to see.
I parked in a spot near the corner of the building, putting as much distance between Jeff’s pickup and me as the lot allowed.
“Be right back.” Doc hopped out.
Through the passenger-side window, I watched him stride along the walkway to the front glass doors. He pushed inside, and when the door swung back, Jeff stepped out. My heart dropped to my toes.
I cranked my rearview mirror to the side so I could spy on Jeff as he crossed the lot and climbed into his pickup. He looked less Neanderthal-ish with his hair damp and combed back, but he still sported the stained white T-shirt and blue jeans, the same facial scruff. As he rolled toward me, I slunk way down in my seat, my fingers crossed that he didn’t recognize my Bronco.
I waited for the growl of his engine to disappear, but it didn’t. Instead it rumbled up next to me, idling just outside my door. I heard his door slam.
Oh, fuck! I hit the door lock button and then waited for his face to appear in the window next to me.
Twenty seconds later, I was still waiting.
I inched my way up in my seat, peeking out the window. Jeff was marching toward the Dumpster in the back corner of the lot, carrying a big black garbage bag. As he neared the Dumpster, he looked left then right and then over his shoulder. Then he lifted the Dumpster lid and tossed the bag inside. I saw a hint of something pink before the lid crashed down again.
Someone knocked on the passenger-side window. I yelped and jerked, hitting my knee on the underside of the dash.
Doc stood on the other side of the glass, staring down at me with a furrowed brow.
I unlocked the doors and sat up, straightening my dress, avoiding eye contact as he climbed in next to me and held out a bottle of water.
“Oh, thanks. Let me give you some money.”
He waved me off. “You feeling okay?” I could hear a hint of laughter in his tone.
“Yeah. Sure. I’m great.”
The slam of a pickup door to my left drew my attention out my window. I looked over and ran smack dab into Jeff’s gaze.
His eyes narrowed to a squint as he stared back.
My mouth went dry.
He pointed at me.
I locked the door again.
Jeff’s crazed grin reappeared.
Nearly Departed In Deadwood won two prestigious Daphne du Maurier awards this year. One for mainstream mystery and the other for overall excellence. Tell us about your journey to this much sought-after award.
During my teen years, I spent my summers in Deadwood, South Dakota, exploring its streets, learning its notorious history, soaking up its sounds and smells. The story idea for Nearly Departed in Deadwood came to me one summer day while I was in Deadwood visiting my mom. I wanted to write something that incorporated Deadwood’s past and present—a mystery, along with a healthy dash of romance, and some paranormal, too. It took me a month to figure out enough details of the plot to get rolling, eight months to write and polish the story until it was suitable for professional eyes. My agent loved it out of the gate, and we hooked the attention of an editor at Mira (aka Harlequin) pretty quickly. But the manuscript didn’t make it through the acquisition process at Mira, and after that, the market got really tight for new authors. For the next several months, the rejections were the same: editors liked the story enough to read it through The End, but it continued to get rejected for marketing reasons. My level of frustration crested to new levels with each “Sorry, but no thanks.”
I began writing the second in the series in spite of the rejections, so sure in my gut that this book was going to be published. At this point, I entered the Daphne du Maurier (early 2010), looking for some helpful reader feedback from the judges, crossing my fingers that the story would be earn a finalist spot in the contest. You can imagine my shock when it not only landed a finalist position, but went on to win my division and the overall prize. I’d been so sure it wouldn’t win anything due to my quirky voice that I didn’t even bother with a Thank-You speech, something I regretted when accepting the award in front of 150 fellow authors and publishing professionals. I slept with my Daphne award for the first month, then moved it to the night stand for the next two. Now it graces the top of the piano, where I gaze at it fondly most evenings before kissing it goodnight. J
You haven't stayed strictly inside the confines of one genre with this book. Was this intentional or did the story "ask" to be that way?
I like genres how I like my margaritas—blended. The last five books I’ve written have been mixed, because I’m lousy at sticking with one genre. I could have tried to write Nearly Departed in Deadwood as a straight mystery, but it wouldn’t be as rich and mayhem-filled as it is with the addition of romance and paranormal elements. To answer your question, the lack of just one genre is intentional. I wanted to make Violet Parker’s life messy. With this genre mix, I’ve succeeded in that goal.
Why did you choose Deadwood, South Dakota for your setting?
Partly because I have been in love with Deadwood and its history since I was a kid, but also because I know it and the surrounding area pretty well. It was my home away from home while growing up, and I have been creating stories about it in my head since I roamed the brick streets and gravel back roads. I want to share with others what makes Deadwood so special, lure more people there to witness its pine-scented gulches and learn about its gold-laden history. I want to give something back to the town and its inhabitants for all they have given to me over the years. One of my favorite things many readers have told me after they have finished reading Nearly Departed in Deadwood has been how much they want to go visit Deadwood and see it for themselves.
What, in addition to the setting, inspired the story?
Besides the town of Deadwood, and its history, is my love of strong female protagonists. Plus, having kids opened my mind to the idea of having a heroine who had children of her own to take care of and keep safe. I have so much respect for single parents now that I’ve had children of my own. I’m fortunate to have a husband to help me raise our kids. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for a single parent to have to go it alone and keep his or her children safe, fed, and sheltered without the relief of someone there to lean on at times. My hat is off to all of the Violet Parkers (in the female and male form) of the world who are determined to provide for their families on their own and keep them protected from the boogey man.
As you mentioned, even a major award doesn't guarantee a publisher will offer you a contract. Tell us about your route to publication. How long did it take you to get an agent? What is your working relationship like with your agent? Is it common? What has your experience been with publishers and the current state of the publishing world? Is it an unusual one, or is it becoming more common?
I’ve been working on getting a book published for thirteen years now. Yes, thirteen long freaking years full of life’s messy adventures and a lot of fingers hitting the keys in between. Nearly Departed in Deadwood is my seventh novel I’ve written, so it took me some time to perfect my craft, figure out what works best with my voice, and create something I’m ready to put out there for the world to read. I signed on with my agent after writing book five. She liked my voice and asked me to write a sequel to that story, which I did, but she couldn’t find someone interested in buying it. We’ve stayed together ever since, and with this book, she came very close to selling it, but we were shot down in acquisitions.
Our working relationship is pretty laid back. I write the books and send them to her, she tells me if she wants anything tweaked before sending it off to editors. In between, we talk to each other about once or twice a month in order to touch base. I don’t wantsomeone who is in constant contact, and in that way, she’s perfect for me. We hang out once or twice a year at conferences and have become friends as well as partners in this business of getting published. I don’t know if this is common or not, because I’ve only had her as an agent. I know many authors who are friends with their agents and work as a team, so I think this is pretty normal. I believe it is key to find someone you trust, someone who gives you whatever you need—whether it be plenty of space or routine weekly contact.
My experiences with publishers have been frustrating. I have had several editors who like my book and read the whole story (a rarity in this day and age because they don’t have the time to waste on many books they are going to buy), but most have come back with the same type of rejection—it isn’t “big” enough of a story, meaning they don’t feel it appeals to a wide enough audience, or they don’t think it will get through the marketing department’s narrow filter. At first, I was ready to chew glass over this attitude, but then I decided that the best thing I could do was to learn as much as I could about marketing and promotion and publicity. Then I could either convince them to buy the book with the help of a solid marketing plan or figure out another way to sell and market the book, skipping the traditional New York route.
I think this route I’m taking is becoming a beaten path. Many new authors are tired of hitting their head against the brick wall in New York. They’ve been learning all about selling their book for years and are no longer willing to have someone at a large publishing house determine if they get to be a published author or not. They are willing to take a chance, work their hind ends off, and head out on their own into the crazy world of publishing and promoting.
You've taken control of your writing career and made the decision to proceed with publishing your book in e-format and then print format. What did it take for you to get to that decision?
I decided to chart a new course and take the e-book route after I won the Daphne du Maurier award this summer and still received no interest from a large publishing house. The message was clear, I wasn’t going to land a contract. However, another message was also clear after that win—readers liked my book. For years I’ve believed in testing out my stories on volunteers, getting their feedback on what they liked and didn’t. I did the same with Nearly Departed in Deadwood initially, but after I won the Daphne du Maurier, I sought out even more readers, testing the book, asking for feedback. The results came back and the book was a big hit. I decided to listen to the readers and send this book out into the world to see if it would fly on its own. It’s a big experiment, but how can over 50 test-readers be wrong? With the super positive results I’ve had so far, I have to try, because I refuse to shelve this book.
You are the co-founder of the very popular 1st Turning Point website. You have more information on author promotion there than I've seen anywhere else. It really is a treasure chest full of useful articles to help authors promote themselves and their work. What lead you to create this site?
The birth of 1st Turning Point came after spending almost two years learning all I could about marketing and promotion. I knew I needed to start a blog to help build name recognition, but I also knew most people wouldn’t care much about me and my life and my writing pursuits, so I wanted to come up with a blog that would offer some “What’s in it for me?” value to the reader. However, I didn’t think I could do what needed to be done on my own, so I approached my long-time critique partner and good friend, Jacquie Rogers, who I knew had a lot of wisdom to share about marketing and promotion. With just a little arm twisting, she agreed to create the website with me. We figured that I would write a post on Mondays, she’d write on Fridays, and we’d find someone to help fill in on Wednesdays. Five months after we agree to create this site, we opened our doors with over 20 volunteer columnists and four crew members. Three months later, Jacquie and I didn’t have to do any writing at all each month because we had so many authors willing to share what they know monthly with readers. Ever since then, we just keep growing and growing. It’s incredible, really, and I feel very fortunate to get to have so much information on marketing and promotion at my fingertips. Jacquie and I couldn’t keep the site running without the help of our now 30+ columnists and 6 crew members. (And we’re always looking for more help, so if you’re interested in joining our crew, email me!)
Your approach to marketing and promotion is creative, well organized, and highly tactical. It is also long-term. Can you explain a little about your overall approach to what is essentially "career-building"? Do you have any marketing philosophies that guide you?
I think of myself as an entrepreneur, not just an author. I am building an empire here. Not only do I have to act as a creator of the story and characters, I also have to be the QA department, marketing, sales, administration, and customer service. I often seek out help from friends and family for help in building this empire, but I am the head honcho in charge of success. If I don’t lead and push onward through thick and thin, I will not succeed. So, when I think about my career, I think about it as a whole business, not just the writing part. I am constantly learning about marketing and promotion, publicity, taxes, craft, and more. I am always on the lookout for people who may be able and willing to help me find success, and thinking about how I can repay them for their help and generosity. I write up daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. I have a career plan I update twice a year. I eat, drink, and sleep the writing business, coming close at times during the year to being on the receiving end of a family intervention due to my obsession with writing. I’m not in this for a little bit of income on the side, I’m in it to become a best seller. I know from studying the bestsellers that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifice to succeed, so I’m hunkered down and in it for the long run.
When it comes to marketing and my career, I have many inspiring quotes tacked to my wall that keep me motivated. Here are a few of my favorites:
If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.—Jonathan Winters
Don’t think “can’t.” Because if you think you can’t, then you won’t.—Unknown
Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.—John Wayne
There is nothing like Authorhood to keep a bitch humble.—Amber Scott, author (and my career coach)
Thank you, Ann! It's been a pleasure having you here, sharing your story. I'm sure you've been an inspiration to many. Your approach and dedication to the success of your career is a blueprint the rest of us would be wise to study and emulate. Nearly Departed in Deadwood is about the most fun I've had in a year! I have no doubt it will be a huge hit!
Thank you for having me here, Susan. I’m a huge fan of Death By A Dark Horse and can’t wait to read the second book in the series when it comes out.
We're working hard, getting closer to the release of Levels Of Deception -- the second in the Thea Campbell mystery series! This adventure starts in Snohomish, Washington before sending Thea into the fossil-laden hills of Montana on a mission to clear Paul of the suspicion of theft and solve the murder that brought the thefts to light. How she manages to stay alive, much less hang on to her sanity is a wonder!
Here's the first chapter!
Levels of Deception -- Chapter 1
Paul's e-mail said the craters left at the dig site in Montana had likely been made by big earth-moving equipment. They were literally deep enough to swallow a truck. Every last fossil Paul located last year was gone.With a scant two days before the start of his fieldwork class, he needed my help. Now. He was the professor in charge.
I shut down my computer, shoved my camera and the other assorted items he'd listed into a tote bag, and dressed at a rate that would have impressed Wonder Woman. He and I had been together for three blissful, intense months, and this was my first opportunity to show him I'd be there for him when he had a crisis. I flew out my front door and into the fickle Northwest summer sunshine, headed for Seattle and the Burke Museum. I was "girlfriend on a mission" doing everything she could to help the man she was crazy about.
In the short while it took to drive south from Snohomish, and the long while I spent bogged down in Seattle's frustrating rush-hour traffic near the University District, I mentally reviewed Paul's instructions and rehearsed the procedures: Find the parking garage, speed-walk to the museum's archives, locate and photograph each of the fifteen fossils he listed, in the manner he indicated, zip home and e-mail him the photographs. Piece of cake. I'd be a hero and have time to take a dressage lesson on my horse after a full day of work, exactly as I'd planned before reading Paul's e-mail.
However, the annoying delays I'd experienced negotiating the U District's narrow, clogged streets were nothing compared to what I found when I went through the big double doors to the museum's basement archives. My mission stood in danger of being aborted. I stood toe-to-desk with a guard-dragon masquerading as a severely coiffed, gray-haired receptionist. She would not let me pass and would not give me information. There was no negotiating with this woman. I wanted to smite her precious rules right off her thin, tight, policy-reciting lips.
"I'm sorry, Miss Campbell, I told you. I can't let you into the archives," Mrs. Mildred Peabody said, with a sanctimonious lift of her chin and a haughty flare of her nostrils.
Sorry my ass. I drew a breath to plead my case, but she cut me off.
"You're not a student or staff member. The regulations are clear. You missed your appointment time by an hour. General access to the archives must be limited to staff and students or research will suffer. Appointments are meant to be kept." She folded her hands on her aircraft carrier-sized desk. Her gaze did not budge, and her mouth formed an exact, upside-down U.
Freaking stubborn lizard-woman.
"I didn't have an appointment," I said, lowering my heavy bag to the floor and pulling out the printed e-mail. "My instructions arrived at eight this morning." I waved the print-out like a battle flag. "I drove in immediately. Thirty-four and a half miles from Snohomish. Dr. Hudson said," I cleared my throat, "'Go to the archives, find the specimens listed below, use your digital camera and take three views of each. Get them to me yesterday.'" For a long moment the dragon and I locked in a glare-off over the top of the paper. "Dr. Hudson made no mention of an appointment." He'd also failed to mention this potentially mission-foiling road block. I flipped the paper around and held it at arm's length for her to verify.
Her gaze skimmed along the e-mail over the top of her red-framed glasses, then flashed back to me as though she believed eye contact was all that held me in check. Clearly she had no intention of reading anything. Her rule was law. Any reasonable person would have recognized this as an emergency. Any reasonable person would have pitched in to help. Any reasonable person would have been, dammit, reasonable.
"I don't understand why you can't make an exception in an emergency." I crossed my arms. The e-mail still clutched in my hand now sported new creases thanks to my frustration.
"This is not an emergency." The little lines that led the way to her upper lip deepened into furrows.
"Yes, it is." I forced my jaw and mouth to relax so they wouldn't match hers.
Her eyes sparked. "If we make an exception for one person then it won't be long until we have a veritable stream of people wandering in off the street. That's what the museum upstairs is for. Those are the rules."
I'd be damned if I was leaving the museum's archives without the pictures. I opened my mouth, intending to defeat her with the calm, faultless logic that pointed out how a professor's emergency needs for his class pre-empted her trivial protocol, but my temper substituted words and turned up the volume of my voice.
"Then I guess you'll have to be the one to explain to Dr. Hudson why he can't get the material he needs for his fieldwork class, and why the robbery of his dig site isn't as important as your, your rules."
"Is there a problem here?" The man's voice came from behind me.
I spun, ready to defend my mission to the newest obstacle on the scene, but didn't get the chance. A girlish purr answered the very tall and angular middle-aged man first.
I swiveled back to see who else had shown up. No one. No one new, that is. A glow bathed Mrs. Peabody's cheeks. She removed her glasses and delicately touched the edge of her crisp, white collar. The dragon had turned into the damsel, and she wasn't in distress. Astounding.
"This is Thea Campbell. She --"
"Oh, you're Thea," he said, his tone both surprised and pleased.
I made another quick pivot.
Dr. Fogel extended his hand. Pure reflex caused me to shake it. "Nice to meet you. I'm Andrew Fogel. Paul dropped me a note, said you'd be by sometime this morning. Helping him with some material he needs, eh?"
The unexpected courtesy caused me to stumble over my "Yes." I darted a sideways glance at Mrs. Peabody. Her gaze narrowed ever so slightly at me before focusing softly on Dr. Fogel.
"Dr. Fogel, Miss Campbell isn't a student or staff member." She seemed to be having trouble holding down a confident little smirk -- like she'd found the trump card necessary to boot me out.
I geared up to argue my case once more, but didn't get the chance.
He smiled thinly at Mrs. Peabody. "I guess you'll need to give her directions, then. I'm off to my meeting." He turned to me. "I'm sure Mrs. Peabody will give you all the assistance you need." With a minute nod, he was out the door. I hadn't had time to gather my wits and thank him.
"Through there." Mrs. Peabody pointed her glasses to a set of double doors to the right, her expression a wintry shade of neutral. "Take the first right and second left. There will be a door on the right. The sign says 'Storage: Vertebrate Fossils'. The light switches are to the left, just inside the doors."
"Thank you," I said, shouldering my bag.
She ignored me, slid her glasses on and returned to her typing. If I pounded on my keyboard the way she did I'd break a finger. I walked away, shoulders braced against possible flying objects. None came.
When I rounded the first corner in the dank hallway I pranced an impromptu jig complete with a victory arm-pump. The dragon was conquered. I'd get Paul's errand done and save his class. His relief when he saw my pictures would light up the phone lines -- when he could get to a phone to call. Yes sir, we were a team, despite the hundreds of miles separating us.
I followed Mrs. Peabody's directions of a right turn then a left, separated by a couple of long hallways she didn't mention, until I reached the heavy metal doors with the sign "Storage: Vertebrate Fossils." I pushed through into darkness that smelled of frigid, dry dirt, and shivered. My skin shrank under my cotton tank top and summer-weight crop pants. My sockless ankles felt like they'd been splashed with ice water. A steady, low hum from an air-conditioning duct somewhere above virtually announced I wouldn't be warming up any time soon.
Feeling my way along the rough concrete wall, I located the bank of light switches, and flipped them all up. So far, so good -- until I turned around.
Row after row after row of industrial-heft racks stretched to the ceiling far above and marched away into the distance. Specimens crowded every shelf.
Like a little boat with a big hole, my mood sank, and with it my confidence in providing Paul the fast rescue he needed. Hope was lost before I'd begun. Hell, I was lost before I'd begun. If I moved away from the door I'd vanish, forgotten until my desiccated body was discovered years from now by some fledgling paleontologist who'd speculate over my remains, assign me a number, and shove me onto a shelf for possible future study.
Then my gaze settled on a scrap of salvation.
A paper scrap.
An index card taped to the end support of a unit.
I hurried over for a closer look. Hot damn. I'd been tossed a life preserver. On the card were handwritten numbers. Numbers with the same format as the ones on my list. A quick survey confirmed that there were cards affixed to each unit. My morbid musings dissolved. I was buoyant with hope once again.
I found the correct aisle, and located the first fossil. The dang dinosaur bone was heavier than it appeared. I wrapped both arms around it, hugged it to my chest, and staggered to the back of the storage room where Paul told me I would find work space. Sure enough, there was a large, sturdy table. I eased the fossil onto it and investigated the area. Lights, magnifying glasses and other tools that even an untrained person, namely me, could see were meant for examining specimens were stored neatly on open shelves or hanging on pegboard. A computer station was set up next to the table, a typed sheet of instructions taped to the desk top beside the keyboard -- coffee rings indicated its preferred use. I emptied my bag of the camera and other supplies, positioned the fossil on top of a large square of black felt, and arranged the lights. In no time, my makeshift photography studio was ready for business.
"At least three clear, shadow-free views of each specimen" were my instructions. I experimented with different orientations of the piece and took a number of shots, being careful to include a metric ruler to show size. Paul already had pictures of dinosaur bones, in situ, that he'd taken with him to Montana for the lecture and PowerPoint presentation that would start off his class. My guess was that the photographs I was taking were similar to what had been stolen, or what he expected to find at the new site. He probably wanted his students to see what the entire object would look like once recovered. Made sense. I'd sure need to see what I was supposed to be looking for.
A month or so ago I'd been leafing through one of his journals, looking at pictures of bones not yet removed from the ground where they were found. In most cases it was difficult for me to tell the difference between fossils and regular old rocks, even when someone was pointing to them.
"It takes practice to develop an 'eye'," my lover said. Delighted at my interest, he explained what to look for, pulling visual aids from his briefcase and dragging me out to the garden behind the house for a live comparison with actual rocks.
After that, every time I went out to the garden to weed I'd examine each rock for fossil potential. Every time he'd grin, kiss me, say, "Nope," and toss it into the blackberry bushes at the back of the yard.
After a week of that routine I uncovered a fist-sized, pulse-quickening treasure.
"Excellent example of lepus silicis." He hefted the smooth, gray, probable fossil, turning it with care.
Then he pitched it.
I jumped, too late, for his arm.
"Hey! That's a lepus silicis!" I restrained myself from smacking him with my gardening gloves. "Go get it out of the blackberries."
"You never took Latin, did you?" The edges of his eyes crinkled.
"No. I took Advanced Calculus to feel superior."
"Lepus silicis. Rabbit rock."
"What the hell's a rabbitrock?"
With solemn authority he laid a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. "A rock you throw at rabbits."
I punched his arm. Laughing, he caught me before I could hit him again, threw me over his shoulder, and carted me back to the house. Frickin' comedian.
An hour later, when we were both smiling contentedly, he enticed me to accompany him in July to Montana where he'd teach his six-week fieldwork class. But, there was no way I could leave my accounting business. The best I could arrange was two weeks. At the time it was barely May, and although he wouldn't be leaving until the end of June, a missing-him ache already surrounded my heart.
In hindsight, it turned out to be a good thing. My dedication to my clients made it possible to run these errands today.
I finished photographing the first fossil and admired the images on my camera. All twelve of them. I'd send them all. He'd be thrilled, and with the help I was giving him he'd still have time to scout out a new location for the students to explore and excavate. I was swimming in self-confidence.
After returning the first fossil to its proper shelf, I located the next one and repeated the process. As I was setting up the third specimen there was a whoosh and thump as the big storage room door opened then closed. I didn't expect to be the only one doing work but was a little surprised when the echo of footsteps came closer. A young man, probably a few years short of my twenty-nine, dressed in khakis and an almost white short-sleeve shirt, rounded the end of the stacks and approached. His aquiline nose found the perfect accompaniment in the unrestrained, enthusiastically curling brown hair that brushed his shoulders. However, an aggressive scowl trumped any potential friendliness his appearance might have produced.
"Hello," he said, and crossed his arms.
"Hi." I lowered my camera and smiled.
His gaze barely touched my setup before snapping back to me. "Taking pictures?"
Wow. What a masterful command of the obvious. In the pause before I answered, a flush crept up his neck and he shoved his hands into his pockets. Poor guy. He really didn't have a firm grip on "man-in-charge."
"Yes. Dr. Hudson asked me to take some photographs and e-mail them to him. I'm Thea Campbell, by the way." I held out my hand.
"Scott Loch." He extracted a hand from his pocket and gave mine a damp, cursory shake. "I'm surprised the web site photos aren't sufficient." His gaze went to the list of fossils sitting on the table. "Is this yours?" He picked up the e-mail printout.
"Yes. The web site shows only one view of each fossil." I was surprised he didn't know that. "Are you part of the Paleontology Department staff?"
Instead of replying, he took a long look at the e-mail with my name and Paul's in the heading. Call me crazy, but I was willing to bet he hadn't shown up out of curiosity. He was checking on me, and I suspected Mrs. Peabody had put him up to it. The woman wasn't going to give up. He put the paper down before he answered my question.
"More or less. I'm a grad student and Dr. Whitaker's secretary for the summer. Are you an undergrad?"
"Oh, right. Actually," I said. "I'm a friend of Dr. Hudson's. I'm just running this errand for him."
A hank of his hair fell forward. Frowning, he pushed it back, briefly snagging his fingers. "He could have asked one of us. Why didn't he?"
"I'm sure I don't know." And as much as I hated to admit it, he had a point.
"Are you sure you're able to manage this?" He picked up the copy of Paul's e-mail again. This time he seemed to be reading the instructions. He kept glancing at my setup. "Pat should have gotten in touch with me."
"Pat?" I asked. The name wasn't familiar.
"She's Dr. Hudson's graduate assistant this summer."
My molars slammed together with enough force to send a sharp pain through my temples. Paul's graduate assistant out in the wilderness with him was a woman? Was there a reason he had not told me his assistant was female, had not corrected me when I'd commented on how pleased he seemed to be that he had gotten him for an assistant? This was phone call material. E-mail was too easy to evade. Not that I was jealous. Just cautious. And not stupid.
"The camera? Can I see it?" Scott's hand extended toward me and flapped in a give-it-to-me gesture. I guess I missed the first request.
Although I tried to think of one, I couldn't find a reason why he shouldn't see my photographs. Irritated, I passed the camera to him and waited for him to ask me how to operate it. He scanned the shots I had taken with the assurance of a techno-geek, then returned it to me.
"Don't let me keep you from your work," he said. "Nice to meet you."
Within two undisturbed hours I'd relegated Pat to the status where she belonged -- an academic necessity -- and photographed nearly all the fossils. There were four I couldn't locate, although I spent a good deal of time trying. Paul needed them. Maybe someone had checked them out, like library books. I rolled my shoulders and sighed. There was only one thing to do. Get help. I would have to go back to the dragon.
She wasn't there, but Dr. Fogel was. My jaw unlocked.
He stood, absorbed in some papers, and didn't notice me walk up.
"Excuse me," I said.
He paused in his reading, gave me a blank look, then a congenial nod.
"Miss Campbell, done already?" He pushed his glasses up his long thin nose.
"No, I'm afraid not. I ran into some problems and wondered if you could help."
"I can try." Although the man was all straight lines and angles, his expression held soft humor.
"I'm having some trouble locating some fossils on my list." I handed it to him. "I circled the catalogue numbers of the ones I couldn't find."
All at once his edges and angles sharpened. "Ah yes, I see. How's everything going at the dig?"
He should know. Paul told him I was coming, he must have told him why as well. A zing of warning spiked up my spine. It was the same feeling I got whenever a horse I was riding telegraphed his tension when sensing a possible threat. Instinct kicked in; minimize my reaction, and divert attention. "He hasn't said much. So, the fossils I couldn't find -- I was wondering if someone might have checked them out."
Affable once again, his warm brown eyes regarded me with amusement over the top of his glasses. "No, all specimens remain in the archives. Although it's possible someone might have put them back on the wrong shelf. That happens sometimes." He perused the list, his eyebrows making journeys up and down his forehead as he read. "Well, let's go see what we can find."
He preceded me down the hallway at a brisk pace, my list fluttering in his grasp. I sprinted, catching the storage room door just before it closed behind him, slipping once again into the chilly, dry-earth-scented repository.
Dr. Fogel had already reached the first fossil location and was scanning the shelf above and below its assigned spot when I caught up. He made an about-face and examined the shelves on the opposite side of the aisle, just as I had done. He harrumphed, consulted the list, and hustled to another aisle. This he did twice more with the remaining specimens while I followed anxiously waiting for an exclamation of success that never came. With a shake of his head, he headed to the computer, pulled up a search screen, and typed in the catalogue numbers, his large hands moving with surprising dexterity over the keyboard. Then he repeated the search using the Latin name of each specimen, and again with other search criteria. With each effort his frown grew more pronounced, and the furrow between his eyebrows deeper. He consulted my list again, then headed for the stacks. Again. I listened to his rummaging as he moved from one area to another, checking areas of the storage room I hadn't. My worry grew right along with my irritation at being left uninformed. After several long minutes he returned.
"Let me check something else."
I chewed my lip and traipsed after him to the computer. He clicked on a couple of links, and stared at the screen, one hand resting on his hip and the other covering his mouth and chin. The blue and white screen cast an eerie reflection on the lenses of his glasses, making him appear eyeless.
"At least I can get the rest off to Paul." I tried to sound unworried.
"What? Oh, right, yes. Good idea." He lightly tapped his jaw.
"Maybe the photographs I have already will be enough."
He nodded as though he were responding to the sound of my voice rather than the words, then shut down the computer and walked away. He stopped and turned, his index finger touching his lips before pointing at me. "Perhaps the specimens you found will be sufficient."
"Thank you for your help," I said to his now-retreating back.
I combed my fingers through my hair and massaged the back of my neck, rolling my head. There was nothing to do but go home with what I had. The idea didn't make me happy. I should be able to do better than this. Giving up never sat well with me, whether riding my horse, working on my clients' books, or anything else. Paul was fast becoming the most important person in my life, yet I had to give up on something that was important to him. But, dammit, what else was I supposed to do?
I packed my camera and supplies in my bag and left. I'd found and photographed eleven of the items on Paul's list. I paced, distracted, down the now-familiar, long hallway flogging my memory for some clue, some approach I'd missed that would help me get the remaining four fossils.
Paul was efficient. Every photograph would have a specific purpose for his lecture, and he was missing better than a quarter of them. If I'd planned the presentation my list would … include back-ups -- duplicates, or near duplicates, just in case there were problems.
I stopped. Why hadn't I thought of that earlier? That was it!
Had he thought of that -- to include back-ups?
My excitement sputtered. How was I going to find out? Why hadn't I asked Dr. Fogel before he left? The dragon was probably back at her desk. Now I'd have to ask her where I could find him. Damn.
I hiked my bag more securely on my shoulder. Okay, then. I'd faced her once. I could face her again. As I rounded a turn in the corridor Dr. Fogel's voice echoed softly ahead, coming toward me but still some ways away. Hope I could avoid Mrs. Peabody again quickened the pat-pat of my sneakered feet until Scott's angry, strident pitch cut off Andrew Fogel's quiet tone, halting my rush.
"If you don't do something I'll --"
"You'll do nothing. I'm certain he already suspects me. If you're found out it will --"
Their voices were getting closer.
"I won't jeopardize our plan." Scott's tone was a sneer. "But I'm telling you we have to do something about her."