Friday, July 29, 2011

Jennifer Wolf Talks About Breaking Into Print With Breaking Beautiful

What We Are Saying... 
  It's our pleasure to welcome Jennifer Shaw Wolf to As We Were Saying. Thanks for providing some information about yourself and sharing your experience and journey to publication with your debut novel Breaking Beautiful coming in April of 2012 from Walker Books. I know you must be excited.What was this journey like for you? What kept you going?

What Jennifer is Saying...
 I’ve always wanted to be an author but it was a dream I shelved for too long while I raised four kids. (Not that I don’t love being a mommy.) Finally one day, I just decided to do it. I sat down and wrote my first novel. (Not in one day though.) I was obsessed, always on my computer. About mid-way through I sent it to my sister and my then 13-year-old niece. They were my motivation to keep going, because they kept asking if there was more to the story.

I finished it without any real thoughts of publication. My wonderful sister-in-law, author, Angela Morrison set me on that path. I think it was good for me to write the first one just for fun. It removed a lot of blocks that beginning writer’s hit immediately. I wasn’t worried about selling it to anyone. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

A couple of years, some writing classes, a critique group and a bunch of queries, (and rejections) later, I wrote BREAKING BEAUTIFUL. This story felt different than my other ones. More ready. Still I was completely shocked and amazed to receive offers of representation from four agents. I chose the lovely Sara Megibow from Nelson Literary. She sold the manuscript in about three months.

Wow, that was fast!
Jennifer: I know. It  is very fast for the publishing world. I’m still kind of in shock. I did get rejections, a lot of them, even for BREAKING BEAUTIFUL. What kept me going was that I believed in myself. I wanted to make this dream come true and I had an amazing cheering section of family and friends that kept pushing me forward.

 Ruby: Could you share a bit about your book and characters? 

 Jennifer: BREAKING BEAUTIFUL is a story about Allie, a seventeen-year-old girl who’s recovering from the accident that killed her boyfriend, Trip, while trying to hide the truth about their relationship. She has no memory of the night Trip was killed, but as time goes on she wonders if the accident was more than an accident. The main characters that make up this story are Allie, Trip (seen only through Allie’s memories), Allie’s oldest and only real friend (and maybe more), Blake, and her wheelchair-bound twin brother, Andrew.

 Ruby:  What inspired you to write about young adults? Was it difficult to get into character for teenagers?

 Jennifer I honestly can’t imagine writing anything other than YA. I love teenagers. I love their energy and the possibilities that lie ahead of them. I love the “I can change the world” attitude that so many of them have. A feature of my blog, Wolftales is “Teens Doing Great Things.” I love to feature amazing kids for I know teen hood is a huge rollercoaster of experiences and emotions. I remember being a teen (despite what my kids may believe), and I have two teens now. I feel their struggles.

As far as getting into the teen characters… no it wasn’t difficult. I’m still a teen, right? Just with four kids a husband and a few extra years of experience. I love spending time with my teens and their friends. It’s a great way for me to get back into the YA attitude and see their perspective. I’m not sure it they realize that the Friday night hang-out sessions at our house or the free trips to the skate park all goes towards my research.

 RubyHow do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them on?

 Jennifer:  I believe you literally have to spend time with your characters to make them have depth and come alive. One of my writing teachers told me that you circle a character as you write. The more you write of them, the closer you get to them and the more depth that character has. In BREAKING BEAUTIFUL I spent a lot of time with Allie as I wrote the story and in revisions. I thought I really knew her, still, one of the first things my editor told me is that I needed to get into Allie’s head more.

Ruby: What challenge or struggle did you face when you tried to build emotional bonds between the characters.

Jennifer:  One of the hardest bonds to write was the relationship between Allie and her mom. Writing about a mom who doesn’t realize what’s been going on in her daughter’s life was hard because, as a mom, that’s one of my biggest nightmares. What if I really don’t know what’s happening with my kids? Writing a teenage girl’s relationship with her mother is an interesting challenge now that I have teens and I’m on the other side of the fence.

Ruby How do you, then, go about addressing the part you struggle with.

Jennifer: With Allie and her mother, at first I swung the pendulum in the opposite direction and ended up demonizing “Mom” too much. If she was a bad mom, then missing what was happening to her daughter was understandable. But I really didn’t want her to be a bad guy in this, and neither did my editor. I ended up (I hope) making her more of a busy mom who just doesn’t get it sometimes. (We’ve all been there.)

Ruby: Which is more important in your books, character or plot? Did you outline before you wrote the first book?

Jennifer:  I love my characters, but the nature of this book is definitely plot-driven.
I don’t usually outline, (although I’m trying to with my work in progress to save some revision time). When I was writing BREAKING BEAUTIFUL I played the scenes over and over in my head before I wrote them. I tend to overwrite so I had to cut a lot to improve the pacing once I started working with an editor. However, I was having so much fun getting back into my story that I ended up adding almost as much as I cut.

Ruby: How did you get started in writing?

Jennifer:  I’ve always been a writer, even when it was only writing in my head. I used to write and sew picture books together for my little brothers. In sixth grade I started an “underground” newspaper that was short-lived, but a lot of fun. I let my writing sit for years while I waited for my kids to get old enough. I regret that a lot, because writing has been such a fun hobby/occupation/release for me.

Ruby:  What ignites your passion and galvanizes you to write?

Jennifer:  Life. I’m constantly jotting down ideas for new stories. My chaotic brain is always working on something. I see a headline or hear a bit of conversation and my brain tries to form it into a story. Writing itself is my passion. I usually have to pull myself away from the computer and back to the real world. I get blocked when I start to think of writing as a job and I wonder if my next project will be the right one. To get beyond that I try to write at least a little every day, to remind myself that this is fun and rewarding. I do it because I love it.

 Ruby: People often think of writers having “overnight success.” How many years did your “overnight success” take?

Jennifer: I started my first book about three years ago. It took me two years, three completed manuscripts, and numerous queries before I was plucked out of the slush pile. I know in this business that is fast. I worked very hard to get to this point, still I feel incredibly blessed and lucky for how fast I’ve gotten to this point.

Ruby:What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?

Jennifer:  Most rewarding: I can tell my kids that I worked hard and accomplished my dream. That is huge for me.
Most disappointing: I honestly haven’t reached the point where have had enough of a career to be disappointed in anything. I hope that I never reach that point.

Ruby:  If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?

Jennifer:  Improve your craft. Take classes. Go to conferences. Join a critique group. Make sure what you’re putting out is your best possible work. Don’t let yourself settle for less than the best you can do. There are so many outlets for publication now that anyone can be an author, but not everyone will be a good author. Writing is a craft that can always be improved.

Ruby:  What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?

Jennifer:  Overanalyzing! Don’t spend hours pouring over agent or editor interviews or advice on how to break into the publishing world. If you’re trying to write towards what you think will be published, you’ll block yourself effectively before you ever start. Write what you love and write because you love it! Let yourself be creative and trust yourself and your story.


 Ruby:  What book are you reading right now?

Jennifer:  BRUISED, the not yet  released, (sorry), but absolutely fabulous book by one of my agency-mates Sarah Skilton. It’s due to come out in Fall 2012 from Abrams/Amulet and its so good I wish I could share it now.

Ruby: If you could have a beer, coffee, or tea with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?

 Jennifer:  Oh, that’s a hard one. Can’t we just have a party and invite them all? If I have to choose one, I think I’m going to go with Laurie Halse Anderson. Her writing is diverse and amazing, she sounds like a cool person to talk to, and I think she could teach me a lot.

Ruby: What’s next for you?

Jennifer:  I’m patiently (or not) waiting for Spring 2012, working on a book trailer for BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, and having lots of fun with my work in progress.

 Ruby: Finally, where can we find you on the web? And thank you for sharing small excerpt of your book.

Excerpt of Breaking Beautiful
Walker Books for Young Readers
Release Date April 24, 2012

Too Late.

I rub the stone between my fingers, searching for the courage that the woman had promised, but none comes.

Someone with courage wouldn't die like this--huddled on a slimy, rocky ledge, listening to the roar of the ocean and waiting for death to come. Someone with courage would run out to meet it, embrace it, welcome it. Not that I've ever done anything courageous. Maybe this, my final act, maybe this could be considered courageous.

But no one will ever know.


Even my last words, scrawled on the back of my college acceptance letter to a place I'll never go, are lies.

I can't tell the truth now. Once I could have stopped all of this from happening by telling the truth. But I didn't.

And now it's too late.

Jennifer Shaw Wolf grew up on a farm in the little town of St. Anthony, Idaho. She spent cold Idaho mornings milking cows in the dark and attended a school where Hunter's Education was part of the sixth grade curriculum. She's always been a writer, whether it was sewing together books to read to her little brothers or starting an underground newspaper in sixth grade. She met the love of her life at Ricks College, (now BYU Idaho), after he dropped her on her head. She graduated from Ricks with a husband and Brigham Young University, Provo with a degree in Broadcast Communications and a son. Now she lives in beautiful, green, (rainy) Lacey, Washington with her husband and four kids. She loves to produce videos, ski, ride horses, and read, but really all she has time for is chasing kids and writing. She is represented by the lovely Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency, and her debut novel, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL comes out from Walker Books for Young Readers in spring 2012.


Thanks so much for stopping by, please submit a question or comment for Jennifer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

And The Winner is...

The winner of GRAY MATTER is Susie Sheehey. Susie if you will contact me, the book will be on its way. Thanks so much for commenting on the excerpt of Dr. Levy's book.


Coming Tomorrow:

Jennifer Shaw Wolf shares her journey to publication and her new YA book Breaking Beautiful. Please come by, we'd love to have you join us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Mining Memories Can Help Your Writing

By Jennifer Wolf
Mining Memories is a concept I just read about today in Orson Scott Card's CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINTS. It means going back to a specific place or time in your memory and seeing what you can glean for your writing. Since I'm visiting the town I grew up in, I thought this would be a perfect time for some memory mining. 
 I decided to take a little detour down memory lane.
I went by my old grade school and saw the big rock fire place on the playground. I remembered third grade after my best friend moved away. I was so lonely. One day I took a branch and swept the leaves into a little path up to the fireplace. Then I made circles of leaves and pretended the rock fireplace was a castle with a beautiful garden all around it. In the middle of my pretending, two girls asked me what I was doing. After I told them the three of us played with the magic fireplace castle every recess until the leaves all blew away and the snow started to fall.
Then I drove by our rival high school to remember my first kiss. It was late at night, and we'd spent the evening dragging main in the back of a pick-up with a guy I had a crush on. (Small town, lots of pick-up trucks, liberal seat-belt laws.) Dragging main basically means you drive up and down main street, wasting a lot of gas, hanging out with your friends, and meeting new ones. (This was before texting or Facebook.) Anyway, we traded cars in the parking lot of his school, our rival high school. I had to leave fast because I was late for my curfew. He walked me to my car. After I got in, he leaned in the window and kissed me. As soon as he turned around my friends were squealing, "Did he kiss you? Did he kiss you?" I was stunned and trying to drive, and trying to act nonchalant, like it wasn't my first kiss. I couldn't answer them until we were half-way home.
I drove around the farms near my mom's house and remembered floating the canals, swimming at the swimming hole, and bridge jumping in the summer. I remembered long horse rides and bike rides on the dirt trails in the fields. The farm that used to be my grandpa's and the field where we once kept the milk cows is now a housing development. I remember all the hours I spent working beside my dad and my grandpa, and thought about how those fields had eventually claimed both of them.
Then I went to the little cemetery where my dad and my grandpa, and even my great-great-grandpa are buried. A place where so many of the last names are familiar.
All of these bits and pieces of my life are the sum of my experience and the basis for my imagination. I sometimes get scared when I hear the phrase "write what you know," because as a small-town Idaho farm girl, what do I know that would be of any interest to anyone?

Orson Scott Card says the process of mining memories isn't about taking the same exact situation and telling it the same exact way. It's putting new characters into the situation, or twisting the situation into something totally new. It's all about playing the "what if?"game.
So maybe one of my characters will get her first kiss in the parking lot of a rival high school, or maybe a lonely little girl will create her own world out of leaves in the playground. Or maybe one of my characters will witness a murder in the parking lot of a rival high school, and maybe a lonely little girl will discover a porthole to another world in an old fireplace that's shaped like a castle.

As I sat down to write this post, I realized I was sitting next to the old Royal typewriter that I hammered out stories on when I was eight or ten. As I type away on my laptop, I can't help but think of how far I've come since then. A part of me will always be that lonely little girl on the playground, or the girl a hurried first kiss in the parking lot, or the even the girl who just realized the most gorgeous guy at school is standing by the barn and she's wearing her milking clothes, (that's an entirely different story).

And even if I will never be the girl who lives in the big city, or if I never go to a fantasy world, I still have me and all of my experiences. I know a piece of myself will go into every character I create. And thanks to Orson Scott Card, now I know that will be okay.

What memories can you mine for your novel or short story?

Author Bio:
Jennifer Shaw Wolf grew up on a farm in the tiny town of St. Anthony, Idaho. She spent cold Idaho mornings milking cows in the dark and attended a school where Hunter’s Education was part of the sixth grade curriculum. She’s always been a writer, whether it was sewing together books to read to her little brothers or starting an underground newspaper in sixth grade. She met the love of her life at Ricks College, (now BYU Idaho), after he dropped her on her head. She graduated from Ricks and then Brigham Young University, Provo with a degree in Broadcast Communications. Now she lives in beautiful, green, (rainy) Lacey, Washington with her husband and four kids. She loves to produce videos, ski, ride horses, and read, but really all she has time for is chasing kids and writing.  Her debut novel BREAKING BEAUTIFUL from Walker Publishers will be released in April 2012.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why You Need A Date Night and The Psychological Power of Three

By Ruby Johnson
I don't know if any of you have seen  Date Night, but it's a comedy starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. The movie is about a harried couple raising two children, who try to have a weekly "date night", but this one goes horribly wrong when they take the reservation of a couple of no-shows.

So why do I bring up this movie? The first scene reminds me of a recent visit with my daughter's family and her two kids. In the movie the mother is always using the counting system before taking action with the kids just as my daughter does. It goes like this with my daughter and son-in-law.

"Put up your toys, and go wash your hands. We're ready to eat supper."

 Response: None. They keep playing.

Two minutes later in a firmer voice..
"Okay, I said to put up the toys and go wash your hands, it's time for supper."


Three year old Stomps foot, "No! I don't want to."
Eight year old. " Can't we just finish the game?"

"No. put up the toys. Go wash your hands  now."

Three year old. "No, I said no, no, no.. I want to play. Waaa..."
Eight year old.  "Oh here we go again. Quit rolling on the floor Tessa."


Three year old. "No. No. No. Can't you understand me? Waaa..."
Eight year old.   "Quit kicking the box. Stop it right now. I'm trying to put up the puzzle. You're the winner okay?"

One minute later..
"We're having hot dogs, Mac and Cheese and fruit salad for lunch. It's getting cold."
Side note: They love Mac and Cheese and hot dogs. What kid doesn't?

Eight year old. "Wow, I bet you can't get the puzzle in as fast as me, ."
Three year old."Yes, I can. I'll beat you to the table."

"Go wash your hands first."

Three is the number that signals punishment--taking away a favorite toy, a fun activity, banishment to their rooms.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember doing that, but there was no counting system. When one of my daughters, whose main interest in life was riding, slacked off at school, my husband called her in and asked her to sit. He looked at my daughter ( an A student) and said, "We got your report card today. Now if you were mentally retarded, we would be really proud. But you aren't and we are really disappointed."  Then he took away her riding privileges. That was the last time, we had to resort to that type of parenting. Side note: I mean no disrespect toward parents of children who are mentally challenged, because they have to be blessed with patience and caring that most of us don't have.

We don't grow up with parenting skills and there were many times I wished I had taken a course before I had children. Because of my nursing background, I knew how to care for sick children but I'd never been around well children. There's a big difference. I never spanked my children, but as they got older I learned the firmness needed and the word "No."
My daughters said we were too strict and they wished that I had been willing to negotiate. But they survived and became nice responsible adults. That's all any parent can hope for. But parents need a few survival skills. Here are my thoughts.
Parents need some quiet time. And that means getting kids involved in activities that involve strenous exercise during the day.
If kids are at home, they need an hour alone in their room without video games, computers and TV. . They don't have to go to sleep, but they need to slow down for an hour, maybe with a book.
Limiting TV time to one hour a day and giving kids chores is important. They need to learn they are contributing members of the family who follow rules to make the home better and that means going  to bed early so that they aren't falling asleep in school.
Sharing activities as a family: meals, cooking, gardening, chores, sports, church , but also parents doing things alone and giving themselves some time to catch their breath and enjoy their own and each other's company. A date night is a good thing to preserve sanity.

As a parent today, it's difficult to keep your children happy, healthy, and prepare them to be responsible future adult citizens. What lessons are you teaching your children each day?
If you are a writer and parent, what do you do to get some writing in if you have children? What are your time management skills.

And just for fun, you might enjoy "Date Night."

Friday, July 22, 2011


David Levy, MD
What We Are Saying: 
It's our pleasure to welcome David Levy MD to our blog.
What Happens When Surgery and Prayer Mix?
 Neurosurgeon, Dr. David Levy shares his personal stories of faith, forgiveness, and the power of prayer in his neurosurgery practice.
Science and religion don’t typically mix well. David Levy says the role of prayer in healthcare is itself a gray matter. So when he, a  highly-respected neurosurgeon,  decided to ask his patients if he could pray with them prior to surgery, he had no idea what to expect.
What if the surgery went poorly? Who would be to blame? What if it went well? Would science or God get the credit? And how would introducing prayer into the surgical process change his patients’ and colleagues’ opinion of him as a surgeon?
Discover more and get a fascinating glimpse into the elite field of neurosurgery.
and leave your name and email address for a chance at winning  a free copy of his book.
 About the Authors 
 David Levy, MD practices neurosurgery in San Diego, California. His articles have been published in a variety of neurosurgical journals, and he is an accomplished and engaging speaker and presenter. In his off time, David enjoys helping those less fortunate who live in California and in other parts of the world.

Joel Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has been featured in Time magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today, CBS Radio, the Dallas Morning News and many other newspapers and magazines. He lives in southern California with his wife and children 

 What David Levy, MD  is Saying... 

 I wanted to have it both ways-to pray for people and see the power and comfort that it brought them, but not be thought of as someone who prayed for people or believed that God is relevant to medical care. To stop living that lie would take courage, but it would also provide relief if I could do it-no more waiting around for nurses to leave, no more agonizing or hiding my actions. I saw before me tantalizing freedom that would come from being bold and single-minded. I also saw the risks to my reputation and my pride. I had a choice to make.” ~

Chapter One-Risk Factors

 Maria, the well-dressed businesswoman sitting in my office, had a brain aneurysm.

One of the blood vessels in her brain had weakened, causing the vessel wall to balloon out in one place like a snake that

has swallowed an egg. From the size and irregular shape of the aneurysm I had concluded that if not dealt with relatively

quickly it might burst and kill her.

She was employed in high-level management and looked the part: she wore a black suit and heels, and an attaché case

that appeared to be full of paperwork, presentations, and might be here on a lunch break between important meetings.

I half expected her to say something like, “I’ve got ten minutes until my face-to-face with clients, Doc. Make it

snappy.” But I could see that this sudden and unexpected diagnosis was causing her concern—a brain aneurysm isn’t
exactly one of those things you put on your calendar and schedule into your life.

It was our first meeting. She had been referred to me  week earlier by the neurologist who had picked up on the
aneurysm, an unexpected “catch” that might very well save Maria’s life. Many brain problems don’t announce themselves.

Aneurysms, notoriously, give no warning; they hide in the brain until one day, when the blood pressure proves
too great for the strength of the artery wall, they rupture and bleed, causing a tremendous headache, loss of
consciousness—and eventual death. Sometimes, in the fortunate cases, the aneurysm will push against a nerve or brain
structure and prompt some odd symptoms that might alert someone before a catastrophic rupture. In Maria’s case, there
hadn’t even been a suspicion of an aneurysm. The MRI scan had been ordered for a completely different, minor concern.

But like a video security system that happens to catch images of a wanted killer lurking in the background, the scan had
detected this menace inside her skull. My job was to fix it before it could do any real damage.

If you have a brain aneurysm less than seven millimeters in size, a quarter inch in diameter, the chance of it bleeding
is relatively low, less than 2 percent per year. That means the chance of it not bleeding is greater than 98 percent every
year, which is not a large risk. However, if it does bleed, the risk of death is high—30 percent of those whose aneurysms
burst don’t even reach the hospital alive. They die from the trauma of blood flooding the skull and having nowhere to
exit. Of those who make it to the hospital, 30 percent end up with a major cognitive deficit of some sort, losing their
ability to talk or walk or recall information or even recognize loved ones. They are not able to resume their previous
lifestyles. These are the kinds of facts I have to lay out for patients when discussing whether or not to treat them. I have
to tell them whether I think that aneurysm or other malformation we see on the scan has a good chance of bursting or
harming them and, if so, how to fix it before it does. As for Maria, I felt she had no choice. The nine-millimeter
aneurysm had multiple weak spots, or “daughter sacks,” and was large, unstable, and unpredictable. It had to be treated.

We sat across from each other in my exam room at the San Diego hospital where I practice. The room is nothing
special, your typical ten-by-ten medical box with a sink, cabinet, and window looking out on the trees in the parking
lot. Nothing about it bespeaks comfort. Only my own nature photography hanging on the walls sets it apart from
any other room in any other medical facility in America. Lining one wall are seats for the patient and family, though
there was nobody here today but Maria and me. Just off to one side is a rolling computer stand into which I enter data
and can review a patient’s scans. Now I turned the computer screen around and showed Maria a 3-D rotational picture
of the aneurysm from the CT angiogram. The multilobed, balloon-shaped aneurysm arose from her smooth brain artery
like a phantom from a drainpipe.

“Let me lay out how I would approach this technically,”I said.

On the wall behind me was a whiteboard on which I drew a picture of her aneurysm and then detailed the treatment
plan, to help her understand what would be taking place inside her skull while she was asleep. After a moment,

I swiveled gently away from the board to face her. This was an important moment for both of us. In spite of her
professional demeanor, Maria was now giving all the visible signals of agitation: arms and legs held uncomfortably tight
against her body, eyes and facial muscles tense and alert. She keptmaking quick motions with her head and unconscious
repetitive movements with her fingers. If she was trying to hold the anxiety in, it wasn’t working; the tension was spilling

Maria seemed to be wondering if her life, so full of the things she had hoped and planned for, was coming to an end. It was
as if someone had slammed on the brakes and turned sharply into a blind alley called brain surgery.

As the neurosurgeon walking her through this difficult news, I had a complex set of tasks to perform. I had to ease
her mind about the upcoming procedure, giving her the confidence that it could be successful and that she could come
out of it without any loss of function. I also had to be honest with her about the level of risk it involved—of blindness
coma, paralysis, or death—so that she could properly set her own expectations and those of her family. We could not
avoid the possibility that, as with any surgery in so delicate an area, things could go terribly wrong. I had to convey all
this in a calm, honest, and straightforward way—to someone who really didn’t want to hear it.

So much of a doctor’s job is in not just diagnosis but in demeanor and presentation as well—the way you come across
as you speak, the way you comport yourself, the way you relate to patients. Are your eyes steady, or are they shifty? Do
you look into their eyes or over their shoulders or around the room? What does this subtly tell them about their
prognosis? What can they read into your body language, your hand motions, your almost imperceptible movements of
facial muscles, your ease or lack of ease, and your willingness to engage with them as persons, not just medical problems?

Pre-surgical consultation is a dance. You have to practice it, becoming light on your feet and making the right moves in
sequence, for it to seem graceful to you and to your patients. Fortunately, I have a calm manner that seems to set people at
ease. Still, it takes a great deal of experience to make bedside manner seem effortless and ultimately that is what you want
to achieve: a sense of peace and confidence in spite of a bad diagnosis. I explained the risks and benefits of intervention,
and the risks and benefits of doing nothing. She nodded and followed along, taking it all in. As she looked at me, her eyes
pleading for good news, I knew she was waiting for me to tell her that there was a pill or an easy treatment—something
quick and painless that would solve her problem. Most patients believe, or at least hope, that a doctor can do anything.

We are the modern medical high priests, called upon in almost spiritual fashion to rid people of the inconveniences of
illness and to heal on demand. At least, that’s how people treat us and how, especially in my field of neurosurgery, we
often want to be treated. But I had made a decision to give up the role of high priest, even if I still looked like one in my
white coat and light blue scrubs—the standard, intimidating outfit that helps to signal the surgeon’s separation from and,
technically speaking, superiority to the people around us. Yes,I am a highly trained medical professional, but I am not my
patients’ ultimate healer, and I certainly am not their god. I believe that position is already taken.

I glanced over her scans one more time, knowing full well that, with her, there was only one way to go.
“Maria, I recommend we take care of that aneurysm,”I said. “It is the type we call a berry aneurysm because it has
a small ‘neck’ holding it to the parent vessel. The aneurysm itself is round like a berry. Unfortunately, this kind has thin
walls, and your thin walls have thinner walls called ‘daughter sacks,’ which I believe make it more likely to burst.”

She didn’t even exhale when I said this. It was as though she were holding her breath, waiting for the good part. She
wanted me to tell her that she would be fine, but I could not promise that. Looking at this woman in the prime of her
ife and career, I was struck yet again by the fact that people with nothing outwardly wrong can have a ticking time bomb
inside their heads.I felt compassion and a familiar sense of peace. It would be tricky, but I had the skills to help her, and I
loved using those skills; we were going to mend this thing so she could get on with the rest of her life. I wanted nothing
more than to help put this incident firmly in her past. Ideally, she wouldn’t see the inside of a hospital again until we did
follow-up scans several months later to monitor her progress. Unlike other relationships, most surgeon-patient
relationships should be temporary. We come together, solve the problem, and then go our separate ways.

“Can it wait?” she finally asked.

Statistically, it could; an aneurysm of that size had been there a long time. But those who have been in the business
long enough have seen people bleed before they can get into surgery.

“If your aneurysm were perfectly round or smaller, I would have no problem waiting,” I said. “We could wait
a month—but I don’t feel good about the size and shape.”

She nodded slightly. “Then I guess that’s what I have to do,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll have more questions when I’ve
had a chance to digest this and research it a little more, and after I tell my family.”

We both sat quietly as she considered again what I had said. After a moment, I leaned forward slightly and did what
had become customary for me, something that I had never seen another doctor do, something that in a single moment
stripped me of any semblance of godlike status.

“I know that I have given you a lot to think about. Would it be okay if I said a prayer with you?” I asked in a tone that
made it safe for her to say no if she wished.

 I had asked earlier about her spiritual history and learned that her parents were Catholic but that she did not attend

She tilted her head to one side and looked at me curiously, as if reading a financial report she didn’t understand. She
relaxed slightly and nodded.

“Uh, okay,” she said, a little confused. “Fine.”

I slid my rolling chair over to her and slowly reached out my hand. As surprised as she was, she instinctively reached
out with both of her hands and grabbed it as if grabbing a lifeline. I bowed my head to give her privacy. Then I began
to pray.

“God, thank you for Maria and for allowing us to find this problem,” I said. “This is a surprise to us but no surprise
to you. I am asking that this aneurysm not cause her any problems until we can fix it. Please give her peace and good
sleep leading up to this surgery. God, we are asking you for success for this surgery. Give her the sense that you are with
her. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I opened my eyes after the short prayer. Maria’s chin was on her chest and she was crying softly. Tears had made water
marks on her skirt. Peace seemed to blanket her, and she was tranquil and centered, like a visitor in a church or other
sacred place. Gone were the extraneous movements born of high stress. She breathed deeply and seemed to exhale the
concerns that had nearly overtaken her. This sudden change might have surprised me if I hadn’t seen it happen so many
times with so many other people.

After a few moments she looked up at me. Tears were blending with her mascara and running down her cheeks in
gray streaks. She nodded her affirmation of the prayer and dabbed her nose with a tissue that I handed her from the box
I keep on my computer stand.

“Thank you, Dr. Levy,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes that spoke of calm and hope. “I’ve never prayed with a doctor

I smiled. I’d heard that many times. This simple act had done what no conversation, no psychological analysis, no
recitation of the medical facts had ever done, in my experience. She had received something no insurance company,
medical provider, surgeon, or drug could offer: confidence and peace from a simple prayer.
And even, I believe, a welcome touch from God.Maria’s surgery went flawlessly—until the very end. Then a tear in the
aneurysm caused blood to flow  into the spaces of her brain with every heartbeat. I feared the worst; we might not be able
to save her.

With my crew waiting for instructions, I called for the specific tools I would need to repair the breach. Everything
seemed to happen in slow motion, and I felt my frustration rise. There is nothing surgeons hate more than surprises,
especially the kind that could rob this family of a wife and mother. I guided my instruments up the carotid artery just below
the bleeding aneurysm and tried another method to stop the bleeding from the potentially fatal tear in the vessel wall.
After five minutes of intensely focused work, I injected dye to see if I had succeeded. My heart sank as I watched the
screen and saw the dye leak from the top of the aneurysm as she continued to bleed.

She had been bleeding into the brain for more than five minutes. Would she survive? And if she did, what would she be


It took several more minutes of delicate, painstaking work and periods of agonizing waiting, but finally the bleeding
stopped. It took another hour to determine that Maria would survive the bleed and had not suffered a major stroke; she
was moving her arms and legs and was talking.

As she went into the intensive care unit and continued to improve over the next few days, I thanked God for answering the
prayer that Maria and I had prayed together in my exam room. I believe it made the difference for Maria—and for me.
Because in neurosurgery, you never know what might happen.

• • •

I have no way of knowing exactly how many nurses, doctors, surgeons, or even other neurosurgeons take the spiritual
lives of their patients seriously or pray with their patients as I do. It’s certainly not a subject that comes up at medical
conferences or with coworkers in the elevator or hospital cafeteria. In fact, if spirituality is not introduced in a way that
honors the patient and his or her faith, it can lead to ostracism by the medical community or worse—discipline of some

The role of prayer in health care is itself a gray matter.

Copyright 2011 by David Levy. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.  Dr. Levy's book may be purchased at any major book seller.

Dr Levy is giving away one copy of his book to a lucky winner. Please leave your  name and email address so that we may contact you if you win the book. Thank you so much for taking time out of  your day to spend with us.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Winners and Upcoming guests..

And The Winner is...
Congratulations go to Brandon Gallop Rice who won the $25 Starbucks gift certificate! Thank you for commenting on our blog. Just email me your address at and the gift certificate will be on it's way.

Guest David Levy, MD With A Book Giveaway
Coming on Friday we have David Levy MD who is sharing an excerpt of Gray Matter and one lucky commenter will get a copy of his book.
A perfect blend of medical drama and spiritual insight, Gray Matter is a fascinating account of Dr. David Levy’s decision to begin asking his patients if he could pray for them before surgery. Some are thrilled. Some are skeptical. Some are hostile, and some are quite literally transformed by the request.
This is truly an inspiring book. Come back tomorrow to read the excerpt.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

8 Fiddly Things You Can Do To Your Manuscript To Make Your Editors Day

It's our pleasure to welcome Alison Janssen to our blog. Alison is a graduate of Vassar and is a freelance editor for Carina Press and is also a freelance editor for Alison Edits. Allison blogs regularly for Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room.If you find her tips helpful, kindly leave a comment at the end of the post.

Allison Janssen

by Alison Janssen

Yes, plot, character, pace, and resolution are very important in a manuscript. Big ideas and beautiful sentences and each and every word choice should be executed in your narrative with purpose. Your editor will engage you on all these levels, asking pesky questions and poking at plot holes, and after some hard work on revisions, your manuscript will be better.
But today I'm not talking about big picture character motivations or the problems of a deus ex machina ending.
Today is devoted to the fiddlies. These are small mechanics-level things you can address before sending in a manuscript file, and I promise they will make your editor smile.
  1. Word consistency. This will depend on a house style guide, but there's no reason to wait for a contract before making your word usage consistent. Decide if you're the kind of author who uses okay or OK. Figure out your preference between dammit and damn it, (janet!) and then stick to one usage. Are you a til, till, or 'til, kinda writer? Pick one and stay true. You may need to change your preference once you see a house style guide, but at that point it'll be a simple Find/Replace for you in the revision stage, and your editor will love you.
  2. Emdashes. Double hyphens are not emdashes. (Though I will admit I use double hyphens on this blog, but that's only becase this is a blog and not a manuscript file -- and I can't figure out how to make an emdash in the Typepad world.) Some word processing programs auto-change double hyphens to emdashes, but they never catch all of them. Do a Find/Replace for this, and your editor will love you. Bonus points if you consistently use spaces around the emdash, or no spaces, but not a combo of both.
  3. Apostrophes. Word does this annoying thing where if you type the word 'em, it treats the punctuation before the word as a single quote, rather than the apostrophe it should be. Annoying! If you're using Word, consider this solution (or figure out a Macros-based one of your own), and your editor will love you.
  4. Single spaces after sentences. I know, some of you hate this. But it's just the way things are now, I'm sorry. If you really can't train yourself to type with one space after a sentence, do a Find/Replace once you're all finished, with two spaces in the Find box and one space in the Replace. Voila! Your editor loves you.
  5. Page breaks. Please, please, please, PLEASE don't hit Enter/Return a bunch of times to get to a new page (like at the end of a chapter). Familiarize yourself with "Insert Page Break," and your editor will love you. In fact, experiment with Invisibles -- if you set your view to include invisibles, Word will show you all the formatting marks as well as the text. It's a wonderful way to spot extra line breaks, extra spaces between words, etc.
  6. Tabs. Along the same lines, please don't use Tab anymore. This tip may be slightly controversial and may not apply to every editor/house, but especially in cases where you're publishing the ebook format first, don't use tabs. You want to set your paragraph indentation using the menu instead. As with tip 5, if you can't train yourself to do this, then just use Find/Replace after you're finished writing. In the Find box, put the Tab symbol. In the replace box, nothing. Then Select All, and set the paragraph indentation. Your editor? In love with you.
  7. Timeline. Unless your story takes places all in one day, Keifer-style, then it will help you to have a timeline. Not just a vague one in your head, but a written timeline you can share with your editor. Nothing fancy, but a list of the events that occur on each day, and an accounting of any days that pass by off-page. You will be astounded how many times you think it's Thursday when it's actually Tuesday, and your editor will love you for it.
  8. Character bible. If you're writing a series, be sure to keep track of character details in one place. It needn't be a huge and unwieldy Trapper Keeper full of overlong character histories and artist's renderings, but hey, that couldn't hurt. Mostly you'll want to keep track of hometowns, eye color, phobias, any pertinent but small details that you may mention in Book 2, and bring up again in Book 7. Having a source to check details against will prevent you from accidentally renaming your main character's girlfriend's sister's godchild, and it will prevent your editor from needing to dig back through all your books to prove it. This, naturally, will make your editor love you.

 Thanks for stopping by. Don't forget to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Coming Tomorrow- Editor Alison Janssen

Alison Janssen will be with us on Wednesday to discuss 8 Fiddly Things You Can Do To Your Manuscript to Make Your Editor's Day.
Come back and join us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

9 Things I've learned about Being Plugged Into Facebook and Twitter

I have a Twitter address  @rubypjohnson and a Facebook  Page (   but I don't have and haven't aspired to thousands of 'friends'  because I don't yet have a book to promote on an Author Page. So for the time being this works better for me.

1.Home page:

You may find yourself bookmarking your profile page, thus skipping the homepage. There are several reasons a visit to the homepage each day is a must. First, it holds a collaborative news feed of all your friends so you can see what has been going on  recently.Secondly, all friend requests, friend detail requests, event invitations, group invitations, and friend’s birthdays are listed in the right sidebar on the homepage. Unless you have email notifications on (click on account and then notifications to decide what actions send you notifications and what ones don’t), this is the only way you will be notified of these (and for birthday’s the homepage is the *only* way to receive “notification”), so check it or you might  be the only person that didn’t say Happy Birthday on one of your friend’s walls on their big day.

Notes and shares: Notes can happen via one of two methods on Facebook. You can either import your blog or you can hand type them in. If you mention people in your note, you are supposed to tag them. If your note is a question or something you want seen by all your friends, you can tag anyone you want in your friends list and a notification will show on their wall.

2.You may want an Author Page which is mainly a tool for promoting  books and keeping in touch with  readers. Authors sometimes have two pages on face book, one an author page for fans of their books and a "personal profile" for family and personal friends You may want to use a different email address for each page.
3. You can't change your name on facebook. You have to open up another account. Make sure you check the name you want to use. You may find some partially clothed individual has the same first name.


1.To build a following on Twitter from scratch, you need to come up with tweets that are interesting and informative. When you set up your account, people will look at your profile so have something interesting to say in that too, so that viewers will not dismiss you at first glance.
You also need to be active if you intend on getting followers.  Reply to any tweets that interest you. If you get a response from that person and start a conversation, your Twitter link will wind up on their profile page. This could have a snowball effect in turn as their followers could be interested in your content and start to follow you. Always start the whole process by following people you actually know. Generally, people who you follow will return the favour so beginning with friends is a great way to start a following.
After you get started, there are various tools that can help you increase your followers. 
2. Learn about lists. Place people in lists according to their profession etc. Writers, marketers, professionals for ease of navigation. Want to find people in particular professions use the #mark in front of the name of the profession. Learn about @ and shorten web addresses.

3.Tweet meaningful things that show who you are as a writer and person. Don't flood everyone with sales pitches and spam. Despite one person who tweeted S**T my D** Said. Don't expect to get a book or TV series from using profanity. If you're not funny normally, you're not likely to accomplish it on twitter.

Facebook and Twitter:

1. Don't bash your boss, where you work, your ex-wife or husband, mother-in-law or say anything you don't want to come back to haunt you. Posting personal problems are a no-no. No one wants to hear about problems that go on and on that never get resolved. And keep your political, religious and sexual beliefs to yourself or you definitely run the risk of offending someone and losing "friends".

2. Don't friend people if they don't offer something that will benefit you. Recognize spam for what it is. If they can't speak your language on twitter, you don't want to follow back.

3. If you don't have time to post  two or three times a day on facebook and twitter, you won't get the benefit from them that you are seeking.

What has been your experience on Facebook and Twitter? Do you have  ideas to share?

Friday, July 15, 2011

John Hart Shares Iron House

John Hart
What We Are Saying...
By Ruby Johnson

 It is our pleasure to welcome John Hart to our blog. John is already a two time Edgar Winner and his new book Iron House has just been named a number one pick by the Indies for August 2011. John Hart's three bestselling books have been translated into twenty-six languages and published in over thirty countries. A former criminal defense attorney, John has also worked as a banker, stockbroker, and apprentice helicopter mechanic. Other than writing, his favorite job was pouring pints in a London pub

So now you may think you have John Hart figured out, but you don’t.

 His new novel IRON HOUSE (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press; July 12, 2011), is mesmerizing and is a great read.

If you like this post and excerpt, kindly leave a comment after reading and you may win a $25 Starbucks gift card.

What John is Saying...
In a recent interview on Author2Author, and the Salisbury Posthe said he didn't outline because he liked to enter a story wide-open to possiblility and living with characters for a year or so presented all kinds of opportunity to plumb their depths and draw out the facinating bits of them. He believes character and plot, plot and character are fundamentally enwined and both are challenging. He likes to write about families and says the human condition is universal and the bonds between mother and son or brother and sister are just as powerful. THE KING OF LIES dealt with brothers and sisters, DOWN RIVER with fathers and sons, THE LAST CHILD with a brother, sister, mother. As a man he says he feels the power of brotherhood "thunder throughout the pages" of IRON HOUSE as he does life itself. It is why he writes about family... the power of those bonds. Love is more intense, hurts run deeper and memory is a timeless thing. Those are strong elements if one is trying to write a thriller that twines deeply into the readers' emotions. He says this novel was harder to write and it took longer, Thinking he could hammer out a plot-driven novel, he tried to do more with more plot, make the characters deeper with a plot that was on fire but he couldn't turn his back on what he enjoys - writing deep, messed up characters. You can visit him at

Back Cover Copy...
 IRON HOUSE tells the remarkable story of two brothers raised in abject brutality and separated by a shocking act of violence at a tender age. When a boy is found viciously stabbed in their hardscrabble orphanage high in the North Carolina mountains, one of the brothers, Michael, is accused of murder and flees, eventually finding his way to the streets of New York City and into the heart of organized crime. Two decades later—a seasoned killer—he returns to North Carolina with a sentence on his head, the mob in hot pursuit, and his long-lost brother in trouble of a different kind. Meanwhile, his brother Julian, who has since been raised in relative wealth and prosperity by a prominent North Carolina senator and his accomplished wife, still mourns the sudden separation from Michael—and remains constantly haunted by memories of their vicious past together in the Iron House orphanage.

With vast sums in play, personal and political fortunes at risk, and bodies piling up at an alarming rate, the once inseparable brothers reunite to solve the mystery of their shared past in a tour de force narrative of loss and courage—one that poignantly illustrates the consequences of abandonment and violence, and the redemptive power of family.

Iron House – Chapter 1

Trees thrashed in the storm, their trunks hard and black and rough as stone, their limbs bent beneath the weight of snow. It was dark out, night. Between the trunks, a boy ran and fell and ran again. Snow melted against the heat of his body, soaked his clothing, then froze solid. His world was black and white, except where it was red.

On his hands and under his nails.

Frozen to the blade of a knife no child should own.

For one instant the clouds tore, then darkness came complete and an iron trunk bloodied the boy’s nose as he struck a tree and fell again. He pulled himself up and ran through snow that piled to his knees, his waist. Branches caught his hair, tore skin. Light speared out far behind, and the sound of pursuit welled like breath in the forest’s throat.

Long howls on the bitter wind .

Dogs beyond the ridge . . .


Michael woke reaching for the gun he no longer kept by the bed. His fingers slid over bare wood, and he sat, instantly awake, his skin slick with sweat and the memory of ice. There was no movement in the apartment, no sounds beyond those of the city. The woman beside him rustled in the stew of their sheets, and her hand found the hard curve of his shoulder. “You okay, sweetheart?”

Weak light filtered through the curtains, the open window, and he kept his body turned so she could not see the boy that lingered in his eyes, the stain of hurt so deep she had yet to find it. “Bad dream, baby.” His fingers found the swell of her hip. “Go back to sleep.”

“You sure?” The pillow muffled her voice.

“Of course.”

“I love you,” she said, and was gone.

Michael watched her fade and then put his feet on the floor. He touched old scars left by frostbite, the dead places on his palms and at the tips of three fingers. He rubbed his hands together and then tilted them in the light. The palms were broad, the fingers long and tapered.

A pianist’s fingers, Elena often said.

Thick and scarred. He would shake his head.

The hands of an artist . . .

She liked to say things like that, the talk of an optimist and dreamer. Michael flexed his fingers and heard the sound of her words in his head, the lilt of her accent, and for that instant he felt ashamed. Many things had come through the use of his hands, but creation was not one of them. He stood and rolled his shoulders as New York solidified around him: Elena’s apartment, the smell of recent rain on hot pavement. He pulled on jeans and glanced out the open window. Night was a dark hand on the city, its skin not yet veined with gray. He looked down on Elena’s face and found it pale in the gloom, soft and creased with sleep. She lay unmoving in the bed they shared, her shoulder warm when he laid two fingers on it. Outside, the city grew as dark and still as it ever got, the quiet pause at the bottom of a breath. He moved hair from her face, and at her temple saw the thread of her life, steady and strong. He wanted to touch that pulse, to assure himself of its strength and endurance. An old man was dying, and when he was dead, they would come for Michael, and they would come for her, to make Michael hurt. Elena knew none of this, neither the things of which he was capable nor the danger he’d brought to her door, but Michael would go to hell to keep her safe.

Go to hell.

Come back burning.

That was truth. That was real.

He studied her face in the dim light, the smooth skin and full, parted lips, the black hair that ran in waves to her shoulder then broke like surf. She shifted in her sleep, and Michael felt a moment’s bleakness stir, a familiar certainty that it would get worse before it got better. Since he was a boy, violence had trailed him like a scent. Now, it had found her, too. For an instant, he thought again that he should leave her, just take his problems and disappear. He’d tried before, of course, not one time but a hundred. Yet, with each failed attempt, the certainty had only grown stronger: he could not live without her; he could make it work. Michael dragged fingers through his hair, and wondered again how it had come to this place. How had things gone so sour so fast?

Moving to the window, he flicked the curtain enough to see down into the alley. The car was still there, black and low in the far shadows. Distant lamplight starred the windshield so that he could not see past the glass, but he knew at least one of the men who sat inside. His presence was a threat, and it angered Michael beyond words. He’d made his bargain with the old man, and expected the deal to be honored. Words still mattered to Michael.


Rules of conduct.

He looked a last time at Elena, then eased two silenced thirty-eights from the place he kept them hidden. They were cool to the touch, familiar in his hands. He checked the loads and a frown bent his face as he turned from the woman he loved. He was supposed to be beyond this, supposed to be free. He thought once more of the man in the black car.

Eight days ago they’d been brothers.

Michael was at the door and almost out when Elena said his name. He paused for a moment, then lay the guns down and slipped back into the bedroom. She’d shifted onto her back and one arm was half raised. “Michael . . .”

The name was a smile on her lips, and he wondered if she was dreaming. She shifted and a warm-bed smell rose in the room. It carried the scent of her skin and of clean hair. It was the smell of home and the future, the promise of a different life. Michael hesitated, then took her hand as she said, “Come back to bed.”

He looked into the kitchen, where he’d left the guns next to a can of yellow paint. Her voice had come as a whisper, and he knew that if he left, she would ride the slope back into sleep and not remember. He could slip outside and do the thing he did well. Killing them would likely escalate matters, and others would certainly take their place; but maybe the message would serve its purpose.

And maybe not.

His gaze traveled from Elena to the window. The night outside was just as black, its skin stretched tight. The car was still there, as it had been the night before and the night before that. They would not move against him until the old man died, but they wanted to rattle him. They wanted to push, and every part of Michael wanted to push back. He took a slow breath and thought of the man he desired to be. Elena was here, beside him, and violence had no place in the world they wished to make. But he was a realist first, so that when her fingers flexed on his, his thoughts were not just of hope, but of retribution and deterrence. An old poem rose in his mind.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . .

Michael stood at a crossroad, and it all came down to choice. Go back to bed or pick up the guns. Elena or the alley. The future or the past.

Elena squeezed his hand again. “Love me, baby,” she said, and that’s what he chose.

Life over death.

The road less traveled.

The New York dawn came scorching hot. The guns were hidden and Elena still slept. Michael sat with his feet on the windowsill and stared down into the empty alleyway. They’d left around five, backed from the alley and sounded a single blow of their horn as the sightlines collapsed. If their goal had been to wake or scare him, they’d failed miserably. He’d been out of bed since three and felt great. Michael studied his fingertips, where flecks of yellow paint stained them.

“What are you smiling at, gorgeous?” Her voice surprised him and he turned. Elena sat up in bed, languorous, and pushed long, black hair from her face. The sheet fell to her waist and Michael put his feet on the floor, embarrassed to be caught in a moment of such open joy.

“Just thinking of something,” he said.

“Of me?”

“Of course.”


She was smiling, skin still creased. Her back arched as she stretched, her small hands fisted white. “You want coffee?” Michael asked.

She fell back against the pillows, made a contented sound, and said, “You are a magnificent creature.”

“Give me a minute.” In the kitchen, Michael poured warm milk into a mug, then coffee. Half and half, the way she liked it. Café au lait. Very French. When he came back, he found her in one of his shirts, sleeves rolled loosely on her narrow arms. He handed her the coffee. “Good dreams?”

She nodded and a glint sparked in her eyes. “One in particular seemed very real.”

“Did it?”

She sank into the bed and made the same contented noise. “One of these days I’m actually going to wake up before you.”

Michael sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on the arch of her foot. “Sure you will, baby.” Elena was a late sleeper, and Michael rarely managed more than five hours a night. Her climbing from bed before him was a near impossibility. He watched her sip coffee, and reminded himself to notice the small things about her: the clear polish she preferred on her nails, the length of her legs, the tiny scar on her cheek that was her skin’s only imperfection. She had black eyebrows, eyes that were brown but could look like honey in a certain light. She was lithe and strong, a beautiful woman in every respect; but that’s not what Michael admired most. Elena took joy in the most insignificant things: how it felt to slip between cool sheets or taste new foods, the moment’s anticipation each time she opened the door to step outside. She had faith that each moment would be finer than the last. She believed that people were good, which made her a dash of color in a world blown white.

She sipped again, and Michael saw the exact moment she noticed the paint on his hands. A small crease appeared between her brows. The cup came away from her lips. “Did you paint it already?”

She tried to sound angry, but failed; and as he shrugged an answer to the question, he could not keep the smile from touching every part of his face. She’d envisioned them painting it together‚Äîlaughter, spilled paint‚Äîbut Michael couldn’t help it. “Too excited,” he said, and thought of the fresh yellow paint on the walls of the tiny room down the hall. They called it a second bedroom, but it was not much larger than a walk- in closet. A high, narrow window was paned with rippled glass. Afternoon light would make the yellow glow like gold.

She put the coffee down and pushed back against the bare wall behind her. Her knees tented the sheet and she said, “Come back to bed. I’ll make you breakfast.”

“Too late.” Michael rose and went back into the kitchen. He had flowers in a small vase. The fruit was already cut, juice poured. He added fresh pastry and carried in the tray.

“Breakfast in bed?”

Michael hesitated, almost overwhelmed. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he finally managed.

“It’s not . . .” She paused, and then got it.

Yesterday, she’d told him she was pregnant.

Seven weeks.

They stayed in bed for most of the morning‚ reading, talking‚ then Michael walked Elena to work in time to get ready for the lunch crowd. She wore a small black dress that accented her tan skin and dark eyes. In heels, she stood five-seven and moved like a dancer, so elegant that beside her Michael looked angular and rough, out of place in jeans, heavy boots, and a worn T-shirt. But this was how Elena knew him: rough and poor, an interrupted student still hoping for a way back to school.

That was the lie that started everything.

They’d met seven months ago on a corner near NYU. Dressed to blend in and carrying heavy, Michael was on a job and had no business talking to pretty women; but when the wind took her scarf, he caught it on instinct and gave it back with a flourish that surprised him. Even now, he had no idea where it came from, that sudden lightness, but she laughed at the moment, and when he asked, she gave him her name.

Carmen Elena Del Portal.

Call me Elena.

She’d said it with amusement on her lips and a fire in her eyes. He remembered dry fingers and frank appraisal in her glance, an accent that bordered on Spanish. She’d tucked an unruly strand of hair behind her right ear and waited with a reckless smile for Michael to offer his name in return. He almost left, but did not. It was the warmth in her, the utter lack of fear or doubt. So, at two fifteen on a Tuesday, against everything he’d ever been taught, Michael gave her his name.

His real one.

The scarf was silk, and very light to land with such force on two lives. It led to coffee, then more, until emotion came in its wildness, and the coming found him unprepared. Now here he was, in love with a woman who thought she knew him, but did not. Michael was trying to change, but killing was easy. And quitting was hard.

Halfway to work, she took his hand. “Boy or girl?”

“What?” It was the kind of thing normal people asked, and Michael was dumbfounded by the question. He stopped walking, so that people veered around them. She tilted her head.

“Do you hope it’s a boy or a girl?”

Her eyes shone with the kind of contentment he’d only read about in books, and looking at her then was like looking at her on the first day they’d met, only more so. The air held the same blue charge, the same sense of light and purpose. When Michael spoke, the words came from the deepest part of him. “Will you marry me?”

She laughed. “Just like that?”


She put a palm on Michael’s cheek, and the laughter dwindled. “No, Michael. I won’t marry you.”


“Because you’re asking me for the wrong reasons. And because we have time.” She kissed him. “Lots of time.”

That’s where she was wrong.

Elena worked as the hostess for an expensive restaurant call Chez Pascal. She was beautiful, spoke three languages, and at her request, the owner had hired Michael, eight days ago, to wash dishes. Michael told her that he’d lost his other job, that he needed to fill the days before he found a new one or the student loan finally came through; but there was no other job, no student loan, just two more lies in a sea of thousands. But Michael needed to be there, for while no one would dare touch him while the old man breathed, Elena was under no such protection. They’d kill her for the fun of it.

Two blocks from the restaurant, Michael said, “Have you told your family?”

“That I’m pregnant?”


“No.” Emotion colored her voice, sadness and something dark. Michael knew that Elena had family in Spain, but she rarely spoke of them. She had no photographs, no letters. Someone had called once, but Elena hung up when Michael gave her the phone. The next day, she changed the number. Michael never pushed for answers, not about family or the past. They walked in silence for several minutes. A block later, she took his hand. “Kiss me,” she said, and Michael did. When it was done, Elena said, “You’re my family.”

At the restaurant door, a blue awning offered narrow shade. Michael was slightly in front, so he saw the damage to the door in time to turn Elena before she saw it, too. But even with his back to the door, the image stayed in his mind: splintered wood, shards of white that rose from the mahogany stain. The grouping was head-high and tight, four bullet holes in a three inch circle, and Michael could see how it went down. A black car at the curb, gun silenced. From Elena’s apartment, the drive was less than six minutes, so it probably happened just after five this morning. Empty streets. Nobody around. Small caliber, Michael guessed, something light and accurate. A twenty-two. Maybe a twenty-five. He leaned against the door and felt splinters through his shirt, a cold rage behind his eyes. He took Elena’s hand and said, “If I asked you to move away from New York, would you do it?”

“My job is here. Our lives . . .”

“If I had to go,” he tried again. “Would you come with me?”

“This is our home. This is where I want to raise our child . . .” She stopped, and understanding moved in her face. “Lots of people raise babies in the city . . .”

She knew of his distrust for the city, and he looked away because the weight of lies was becoming too much. He could stay here and risk the war that was coming, or he could share the truth and lose her. “Listen,” he said. “I’m going to be late today. Tell Paul for me.” Paul owned the restaurant. He parked in the alley, and had probably not seen the door.

“You’re not coming in?”

“I can’t right now.”

“I got you this job, Michael.” A spark of rare anger.

Michael showed the palm of his hand and said, “May I have your keys?”

Unhappy, she gave him the set Paul let her use. He opened the restaurant door and held it for her. “Where are you going?” she asked.

Her face was upturned and still angry. Michael wanted to touch her cheek and say that he would kill or die to keep her safe. That he would burn the city down. “I’ll be back,” he told her. “Just stay in the restaurant.”

“How strange you’re being.”

“I have to do something,” he replied. “For the baby.”


He placed his hand on the plane of her stomach and pictured the many violent ways this day could end. “Really,” he said.

And that was truth.

John's books may be purchased at a variety of stores - Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, Borders, Indie Bound as well on Kindle and Nook.

Don't forget to comment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Celebrate National Ice Cream Month With An Ice Cream and A Book

 It's National Ice Cream Month.
 I like ice cream, and have since I was a small child. One of my fondest childhood memories was ice cream suppers at a local church where every family brought a churn and churned their favorite flavor. There were always some flavors better than others, but with fifty families with ice cream churns, the variety was infinite.
 There is only one person who probably is more fond of ice cream than me, and that is Wendy Lyn Watson.

 Advice is always being given to writers to write what they know and Wendy knows ice cream. She even features ice cream recipes on her website.
In fact three of her novels take place where the amateur detective owns an ice cream parlor.

Her latest novel A PARFAIT MURDER is a perfect blend of mystery heaped up with a scoop of humor, served by the funniest characters you'll see this summer. It went on sale  June, 2011.

Hot August nights of Texas and the Lantana County Fair bring back Tallulah (Tally) Jones and her wacky small-town  group from Scoop To Kill.When Tally’s cousin Bree spots her deadbeat ex-husband strolling the Lantana County Fair with a fat wallet and a vixen on his arm, she immediately files for back child support. But when his lawyer is found dead, things get a little sticky. Did Bree serve up a dish of cold, sweet revenge? Or is she another hapless victim of a parfait crime?

Cousin Bree is accused of murdering egotistical attorney Kristen Ver Steeg in one of the carnival rides. Tally and Finn, her reporter boyfriend, are using their investigative abilities to figure out who wanted Kristen dead—aside from Bree.A variety of family secrets make for some bumps in the ride and keep us guessing as we travel through the investigation. VERDICT: Laugh-out-loud humor and snappy dialog create a perfect read for a summer afternoon.
Wendy's Books may be purchased at:

Barnes & Noble
Penguin Group

For some really outstanding ice cream recipes, go to Wendy's website.

So what's your favorite flavor of ice cream?

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