Posted in short story

A Little Christmas Story

A Leeward Christmas Carol

“Mom! Mackenzie’s in my room again!” Toby shouted dropping his school bag. “Aw, no. Give it!” He reached for the card his little sister was chewing. “Not my Pokemon card!”

The little girl wiggled away with her prize, shouting, “No!”

“It’s ruined. You ruin everything. I wish you’d never been born.”

“Tobias Anthony Roberts!” His mother shouted stomping down the hallway. “She’s just a baby. When did you become so intolerant?”

“Since she started getting into my room and destroying all my stuff. Mom, you have to keep her out. It’s not fair,” he whined.

His mother glared. “Fair. If you’d clean up your room, she wouldn’t get to your things…”

Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Toby shouted, “No!” He leaped over the unmade bed and tangled in the blankets and discarded clothes.

The two-year-old tipped the platform holding his Star Wars model and pulled it down on her. The death star shifted as she dropped it to the floor. Toby watched in horror as all of his and his dad’s hard work was destroyed. It was the last thing they’d had time to do together before hurricane Mackenzie started terrorizing the family. Now no one had time to spend with him, it was always about the baby. He glared at his mother. “Are you happy now? She’s ruined everything!”

“Can’t you see she’s hurt?”

“She did it to herself. If she’d just left it alone…”

“She’s a baby…”

“She’s a baby! That’s all I’ve heard since she was born. She’s a baby Toby let her play with your toys. She’s a baby Toby we don’t care about you anymore. Well, I didn’t ask for a baby.”

“No? You’re asking for a grounding. Clean your room. I’ll see if your sister needs to go to the hospital.”

Toby looked and realized Mackenzie was bleeding near her eye. Guilt silenced him. He watched as his mother carried the crying baby from the room. The stew of feelings left angry and upset. He shoved stuff under his bed and into his closet, dragging the covers onto his bed and tossing the clothes into the hamper.

He picked up the Pokemon card. It was ruined. Everything was ruined. He gathered up the pieces to the model tears blurring his vision. He couldn’t go play with his friends because he had to help out with his little sister. He’d had to quit basketball because no one had time to take him to practice. It just wasn’t fair. Things were much better when it was just him and his mom. Even when his mom was working a lot, Uncle Mike or his grandparents would do stuff with him. Now Uncle Mike had his own daughter, and she was older and didn’t want to play with him. Grandma and Grandpa were more interested in playing with Mackenzie, or doing stuff with Mikayla their other granddaughter, than spending time with him. They all forgot about him.

Peeking out his bedroom door, Toby wasn’t checking on his bratty sister, he just wanted to see how much trouble he was in.

“I think he needs to be grounded,” his mother was saying.  

He winced and backed into the room, peering through the crack in the door.

His parents were cuddled with Mackenzie on the couch making googlie eyes at each other. That’s all they wanted to do anymore. Boring. He rolled his eyes. Mackenzie was sucking on a popsicle, her eye puffed up like a hot marshmallow.

“Give him another chance, Jenna. Mackenzie is a handful, and he is only a little boy.” His father kissed Mackenzie’s head, examining her swollen eye.

“Fine, he can go on the hayride, but he needs to change his attitude.”

The rec department hosted an annual hayride. Toby was excited. This would be the first year he was old enough to ride in the back of the truck. “Comme on Mom, we’re going to be late.” They were putting on their coats and she’d gone to gather blankets but returned with only one for him. She handed it to him. “Won’t y’all need a blanket?”

“We’re going to be riding in the cab of the truck,” his mother said as she checked his sister’s shiner. There was a nasty gash where she’d cut her eyebrow and a bruise around her eye.

Toby looked away still angry and guilty over the incident. “I thought we were all going to ride on the back of the truck together?”

“I’m sorry Buddy,” his dad said. “Getting up and down from the back of the truck is rough on me and with your mom and Mackenzie, it’s just easier for us to ride in the cab. I offered to drive, but you can still ride on the back.”

Toby nodded, sucking in his tears as he walked away. He could ride on the back of the truck alone, like he was no longer part of the family. He bet they wouldn’t even notice if he ran away.

With his parents busy packing Mackenzie’s diaper bag, Toby went to his room and packed his backpack. Hiding it under his blanket as they head headed out to the school. He stood alone as everyone loaded on the hayride, his family up front in the cab, he in the back with strangers. Okay, not strangers but not his family either. He huddled alone in the corner, his arms wrapped around his backpack. They stopped at the senior citizens center, and everyone got out and started singing Christmas carols. They all scrambled back in and drove down to the apartments where the old people lived. Then they went out to the country. On one of the dirt lanes, they walked from house to house singing. When no one was looking, Toby took his bag and his blanket and hid in the woods. He waited until the taillights from the truck disappeared before setting out down the dark dirt road.

It was cold, Toby wasn’t sure how far he’d walked but he was tired. He saw a fire glow in the distance and crept closer. An old man was hovering over the fire.

“Don’t just stand there freezing, come warm yourself by the fire.” The old man smiled, his round cheeks and laughing eyes reminded Toby of his grandpa and maybe Santa Claus. He took a seat on a log as far away from the old man as he could but still be by the fire. “Cautious, that’s good,” the old man said and offered Toby some hot chocolate. Toby knew not to accept food and drink from strangers, so he pulled out his own and with the help of the old man, made a mug. He told the old man he was running away. That things were so much better when he and his mom were on their own. “Change can be difficult, young man, but was it truly so wonderful before?” The old man’s voice held a soft, hypnotic note.

Toby yawned and his eyes drifted shut. The dream reminded him of the movie he’d seen, The Christmas Carol.

Hovering above he watched his mom as she tried to scrape together enough money to buy him Christmas gifts. She was exhausted and fell asleep after supper cuddled with him on the couch watching TV. In another scene he saw his mother clutching a photo of his dad, Tar, to her chest and crying herself to sleep. On her days off she barely had the energy to get out of bed. He wiped a tear.

“Better before, huh?” The old man’s voice whispered through his dream.

Toby was flying and abruptly the scene was of his dad, Tar, holding a gun in his hand. Toby stared at the gun, the bottle of pills and his father’s artificial leg and tears streaming down his cheeks as understanding filled him with shame. The phone rang. Tar looked at the number and shook his head. “You’ll be better off without me. You both will.” It rang again. “What kind of father can I be like this? What kind of husband?” It rang a third time and Tar set down the gun and answered the phone.

Toby took a deep breath and whispered a prayer.

Toby awoke cold and alone. The old man was gone, and the fire was dying. Shaking with shame and remorse, he kicked dirt on the embers and waited until the fire was out. He tried to figure out which way would take him home. The night was heavy with darkness and silence. Suddenly the silent night exploded with the sound of branches shattering. The ground shook, and there was a deafening roar, something big and scary was crashing through the woods. His heart raced as fear threatened to choke him. Grabbing his backpack, Toby ran. The shadow of the beast overtook him, and he screamed. Falling into the light dusting of snow he fell into another dream…

The street was decorated for the holidays. The tinny sound of Christmas bells filled the air. People with their heads down staring at their phones, rushed past oblivious. Carolers on the corner were singing and trying to collect for the poor, but few stopped or even acknowledged them.

An old man in a wheelchair leaned forward holding up an aged poster and in a ragged voice asked, “Have you seen this boy?”

The young woman pushing his chair, whispered, “Dad, Toby wouldn’t be a boy, now. It’s been thirty years.”

The old man looked tired, defeated. “We can’t stop looking for him. Your mother would want us to keep trying.”

“Dad, Toby doesn’t want to be found. I’m sorry.”

Nodding his gray head, the man said, “This will be my last Christmas. I’m sorry Mackenzie, it’s not been much of a life for you.”

She kissed his cheek as her tears fell. “I loved him too, dad. I wish we could have found him before mama…” She pushed the wheelchair down the street.

Toby called after them, but they couldn’t hear him. He tried to run to them, but it was as if he were smoke drifting away on a breeze.

Toby rolled over and blinked, there was no monster. He was alive. Leaping from the cold ground he ran the sky lightening to daylight as home came into view. Through the window he watched his mom and dad wrapping presents. “I never want Toby to do without, not like I did,” his father said.

“All he really wants is time with you.” His mother stood and stretched. “And for Mackenzie to stay out of his stuff.” She shook her head. “She’s really embraced the terrible twos.”

“I feel as if I’ve failed him.” Tar stood, groaning as he adjusted his prosthetic leg. He wrapped his arms around his wife. “If I were able to do more…”

“No,” Toby burst through the front door and ran to his father. “No, dad. You’re the best.” He clung to him.

“Toby, did you skip school?”

Toby shook his head and hugged his mother. “I’m sorry mama. I’ll do better at helping with Mackenzie and cleaning my room.”

“Toby?” She returned his hug.

“We need to get ready for the hayride,” Tar said. “Toby and I will ride on the back. Are you going to ride with us?”

Jenna nodded. “Yeah, mom and dad said they’d watch Mackenzie.”

They looked at the clock with its digital readout that gave the time and date.

Toby frowned. It was the day before. Had it all been a dream?

Posted in backstory, my books

Sleepless Night

Leeward Police Department

Mike McKenzie struggled to keep his eyes open. Too many sleepless nights were starting to take their toll. He sighed and saved the file he’d been working on. Standing he stretched. His jaw cracking as he gave into another yawn.

“You’re not going to get another cup of coffee,” Tar said barring his path to the break room. “Go home.”

“I need to finish the reports.”

“I’ll work on them, anything I don’t know you can finish tomorrow. Go. You’re about to fall out and all of that coffee can’t be good for your heart.”

“Yes mother.” Mike sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. Was it starting to thin? “How do you manage to deal with it?”

Tar lifted his chin and met Mike’s eyes. The two men were of a similar size and build. Tar had a little more bulk to his muscles, but neither was tall. Tar was just barely six foot and Mike fell just shy at 5’, 10”.  He was average. Average height and size, average income.

There was nothing remarkable about him so why did he push himself to be super-cop? Mike felt the overwhelming pressure to protect the town of Leeward and its citizens.

“How do I deal with the loss?” Tar asked his voice gruff with emotion.

Shit, he didn’t want to deal with the other man’s emotions, he didn’t want to deal with his own. He shrugged. “Yeah.” His mouth felt dry and his hands clammy. “How do you sleep at night?”

Tar took a deep breath and turned away. “Jenna,” he said and his dark skin reddened.

Mike wanted to laugh at the man’s blush but since they were talking about his sister, he kept his comments to himself.

Tar moved into the office and began toying with the pens and stuff on the desk. “Your sister is a pain in the ass when she wants something.” He sighed. “She won’t let me brood. She forces me to talk about things even when I don’t want to.” He laughed. “She’s the best but don’t you tell her I said that. She’ll just think it’s a license to nag more.” Tar grinned. “You need to talk about it.”

Mike nodded. He knew his brother-in-law was right, he did need to talk about what happened. So much had happened between the sex trafficking ring to the explosion, losing Jake but there wasn’t anyone he could talk to. A vision of Janie Harrell flitted through his thoughts, but he shoved that away. He’d blown that relationship before it ever had time to grow.

“You know, you could come over for dinner, let Jenna grill you for a while.”

Mike shrugged. “I’d hate to add to her list of chores. She already has you and Toby to look out for and soon this new baby. Do you know what we’re having yet?”

Tar grinned. “Jenna wants to have one of those gender-reveal parties. She and Dana have been making big plans.”

Mike’s smile froze. Dana. Jake’s fiancé. The new mayor. “How’s Dana doing?”

Tar shrugged. “You’ve seen her. She’s thrown herself into fixing this town…”

The guilt threatened to overwhelm him. “Losing Jake was hard.”

Tar agreed. “Unfortunately, it comes with the job.”

“Not in a small town like Leeward. Things like sex trafficking and explosions shouldn’t happen here.”

Posted in backstory, my books, Thoughts

Criminals and Monsters

Not all Criminals are Monsters

In my Leeward Files novels, I have truly horrendous monsters: murderers, pedophiles, rapists, sex and drug traffickers, and extreme racists, but not all bad guys are truly monstrous. Sometimes, a good guy can be pushed into doing bad things, other times, a good person will do bad in the hope of something good coming from it. The old adage, “The end justifies the means.” In fiction, as in real life, we know that someone committing a crime, even for the “right” reason, is still guilty. Murdering the men who raped your daughter or wife might be justified but it’s still against the law.

What would cause you to commit murder? We are often quick to say I would kill for this or I would never kill for any reason, but I don’t believe we truly know what we are capable of until we are faced with it.

As I am finishing up the Leeward Files series and moving into the next series, The Heroes of Leeward, I am delving into why Todd, Devin and Phil were so evil. It has been documented that too often, children of abuse become abusers. These men were emotionally tortured and sexually molested as children. Todd went from a sadistic little boy to a serial rapist and murderer. Devin is more of a manipulator. He preys on those he sees as weaker but runs from confrontation. Phil believes he is a hero and wants to rid the world of the monsters, but he doesn’t have the honor and guidance to aid him. He believes the ends justifies the means, and it is more important to stop the bad guys that preserve the good.

Not all criminals are monsters, some are coerced into a life of crime, like Dana’s cousin in White Gold. Family is everything but what if you come from a family of monsters, does that make you a monster too? After his father dies, Robbie JR is raised by his angry, racist grandfather who blames him,( sins of the fathers and so on), for the disappearance of his rebellious daughter and her biracial daughter. The grandfather feels it is his duty to rid the world of the abomination who shares blood with him. His sadism and anger drive him to attempt murder.

In the real world we see crimes committed in the name of religion and morality. People too often hate and fear what they do not know, they lash out and try to conform it, or erase it. Centuries of wars fought in the name of religion or country has seen whole tribes wiped out. We may have evolved in some aspects but we have devolved in others. People still hate, are still consumed by vice and greed, no matter how much we preach love and compassion, there will always be those who refuse to live in peace. But thankfully there are those who overcome prejudices, fight the battle for equality, heroes who keep the world safe, and give us hope for the future. I believe in hope and happy endings. Wishing you all your own happy ever after.

Posted in Thoughts

Labels and Genres

Where do my stories fit?

When I first started writing I believed I was a romance writer. In the past ten years, I’ve focused my attention on writing what I call romantic suspense. Defining my stories and finding the right home for them hasn’t been easy. Although the Leeward Files is a series, each book is a little different. Chrome Pink is more women’s fiction, focusing on Rae Lynne’s healing journey to love herself as well as her battle to allow herself to love and be loved. Thus, I called it romance.

Romance, the genre has definitive rules, Chrome Pink breaks nearly all of them. Rae doesn’t meet her romantic hero in the first few pages of the book, and while the romance is an important part of the book, it is not the driving force. So, is it a romance novel?

I’m not sure what category my stories belong, women’s fiction, romantic suspense, suspense thriller with romance, or something else. Chrome Pink stars a strong but flawed female character. It is set in a small, southern town. There is a meet-cute scene. The hero is the heroine’s counter balance, while he is not the reason for her healing, he adds to her reasons to be sober and strong. There is a dark side to the suspense, but the romance is almost sweet, but I can hardly market this book as a sweet, small-town romance, especially not with the language and adult situations. So, how do I categorize this book, this series?

If you have read or are reading Chrome Pink, let me know what you think. Is it romance, suspense, fiction? What label do we put on it?

Posted in event, News, promo

Back Where It All Started

Join me Tuesday, June 18th, 2019, 7 pm at the Hazel Guilford Memorial Library. Back to where it all started.

I have been writing since I was a kid. I remember writing my first romantic story in fifth grade. I wrote short stories, poems, skits and plays for church and school but my passion has always been fiction, namely romance.

As a teenager, I had a short story published in the Pamlico News, later I became a reporter for the paper, writing up the local happenings. Even with all the writing I was doing, I had boxes full of notebooks in the bottom of my closet, under my bed and stacked on shelves in my tiny office, I shared very little of my writing.

It was only after becoming friends with Alice and Robina Norman, that I became brave enough to share some of what I’d written. Their encouragement gave me the boost to start thinking of doing something more with my passion.

I took classes with Stephan Horvath at Pamlico Community College, took classes by mail, sent off short stories and essays to contests, attended two Romantic Times Readers and Writers Conventions, joined Romance Writers of America and Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, as well as Writers Read NC and Pamlico Writers’ Group. I would still be hiding my work in boxes if not for the support and encouragement of my family and friends.

When Robina and my husband, David teamed up to push me out of my comfort zone, I should have known I’d never be the same again. While I miss those days of writing for my own pleasure, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from seeing your idea in print is priceless.

The support of this community has been humbling. It has meant so much to me to be able to thank each of you for your continued support. I hope you all will join me at the library for another book signing. I’ll share with you my plans for the next part of the Leeward Files and my upcoming Holiday book, where most of the characters get there happy ever after and a few only get a “the end.”

Contests, prizes, readings and books for sale. Come join me where it all began, at the library.

Posted in my books, promo

Join My Takeover at Bently’s Book Babes!

Join me for my Takeover and let’s talk about books, writing and the inspiration for my Leeward Files Series.

A rape survivor accused of murdering her dates
must prove her innocence before becoming the next victim.
Plus-sized diva, Dana Windley battles her own
self-image, racism and learns she is the heroine of her own story.
After losing his leg in Afghanistan and battling PTSD, Tar believes he can handle anything in order to get his family back. Fate will test that theory.

Join me in Leeward, North Carolina where everyone knows your name and your business, and will do anything to keep their own secret.

Posted in event, News

Pamlico Writers invade Aurora Fossil Festival

The Pamlico Writers’ Group will host a tent at the 26th annual Aurora Fossil Festival, Saturday, May 25th. Our members will take turns signing and selling books, and answering questions about our group’s upcoming events and regular critique meetings.

The Aurora/Richland Township Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Aurora Fossil Museum will welcome vendors, musicians and more to the town of Aurora Friday, May 24th. Opening ceremonies and entertainment on Friday evening start at 6 pm.

 Starting at 8 am on Saturday: vendors, rides, exhibitors with crafts, fossils, minerals, jewelry, food. Fossil displays, talks, digs and an auction that supports the museum, 5K run, veterans breakfast, parade, and more …

Tammera Cooper, author of the Water Street Chronicles

Tammera will have the newest addition to her series, the Water Street Chronicles, “Sleeping Mallows,” as well as her first book, “Drenched Sunflowers.” (Look for more about Tammera in our upcoming chat.)

Alison Paul Klakowicz author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

For Alison Paul Klakowicz, the Fossil Festival is a homecoming. Stop by and visit, buy a book and learn what other projects she had planned. (You can also check out our previous interview!)

Donna Holloman, author of YA Christian thriller

Retired nurse and former Children’s Church minister, LaDonna Holloman shares her faith through her fiction. Come check out this exciting young adult Christian Fantasy/mystery. (Check out our interview coming soon on this website!)

S L Hollister, author of the Leeward Files series

Local author, S L Hollister will have her latest book, “Titanium Blue,” on sale along with the rest of her Leeward Files series. (Leeward is the fictional version of Aurora, complete with Fossil Festival.)

Presenting Jim Keen with his service award for his years of dedication to the Pamlico Writers
James Keen, author of Trinidad Express, a true account of his sailing adventure.

Jim Keen is the finance officer, webmaster and former chairperson for the Pamlico Writers’ Group. He is an avid sailor and writes non-fiction about sailing and family.

The second book in M K Graff’s Manhattan Mystery Series
“Marni” M K Graff, award-winning author, speaker and mentor.

M K Graff is the award-winning author of the British cozy mystery, Nora Tierney series and the Trudy Genova, Manhattan Mysteries. She is a favorite of Pamlico Writers’ conference attendees.

Stop by and visit, let’s talk books and writing. We’d love to meet you.

See you at the Aurora Fossil Festival.

Posted in Uncategorized

When Fiction Becomes Real Life

If you have been following the news lately, you know that a little boy in our area disappeared from his home. Several days passed before he was found. Thank God, he was found safe and sound. I do not know the little boy who was missing but I know his family and felt guilty because what I’m writing is so similar to what they were experiencing. I would never wish to profit from someone else’s tragedy, thankfully, this little boy’s story ended on a happy note.

As I continue to work on this story, I hope to show respect to the families who have had to go through this kind of trauma. I hope to honor the first responders and searchers and the volunteers who spent hours away from their homes and their own families. There were a lot of heroes who devoted hours to searching, serving, praying and watching for this little boy’s safe return.

If this true story has showed me anything, it is that there are still good people in this world. The companies who sent food for the searchers and volunteers, those who came out and offered to help, those who prayed and kept the faith. Living in a small town where everyone is connected to each other, it is that connection that inspired me to write my small-town stories. But like the rest of the world, we have our dark side. We must not get complacent and believe tragedy cannot strike here. While we may not be hot bed of criminal enterprise here in eastern North Carolina, the bad stuff still reaches out to touch occasionally. I’m rejoicing over a little boy I do not know while plotting the peril of a fictional character but don’t worry readers, I believe in happy endings.