Monday, June 30, 2014

Inside Marine One by Ray L’Heureux and Lee Kelley

As we approach the Fourth of July holiday here in the U.S., it’s the perfect time to share my thoughts on a book that is a bit out of the genres I usually review. But in case I haven’t mentioned it before – I LOVE to fly, especially in helicopters and particularly in the old Bell models.

INSIDE MARINE ONE by Ray L’Heureux and Lee Kelley

Inside Marine One CoverWhile the majority of the world knows about Air Force One (the President’s plane), little is ever heard about Marine One (the President’s helicopter). That changes with Col Ray ‘Frenchy’ L’Heureux’s recent book release, INSIDE MARINE ONE: FOUR U.S. PRESIDENTS, ONE PROUD MARINE, AND THE WORLD’S MOST AMAZING HELICOPTER.

INSIDE MARINE ONE is not a training or technical book about the operating or capability aspects of this majestic helicopter. It’s not a book filled with gossip, military secrets or insider tidbits. It’s a book about a young boy’s love of flying that lead him to become a pilot who served not one, but four U.S. Presidents - - George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The book follows L’Heureux from high school to college where he came to join the Marines to pay for flight training. From there he became a member of Bravo Company. It was when he encountered HMX1, the squadron that flies the President in Marine One, that things changed for L’Heureux. Through hard work and determination, L’Heureux became a part of that elite group, going on to even command it.

INSIDE MARINE ONE is L’Heureux’s story, not that of the prestigious helicopter. It’s his story of dreaming big and achieving that goal. His pride in the Marine and serving his country is greatly reflected in the book, along with his dedication to his work, and his lifelong love of flying.

There are a few antidotes sprinkled throughout the book about the various First Families and L’Heureux’s interaction with them. He especially notes how then President George W. Bush introduced him to mountain bike riding and several outings with him.

This is an inspiring story about a young boy’s dream and how far it lead him.
Inside Marine One: Four U.S. Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World’s Most Amazing Helicopter by Ray L’Heureux and Lee Kelley, St. Martin’s Press, @2014, ISBN: 978-1250041449, Hardcover, 224 Pages 

FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.

Side Note: Here’s a bit of background on both L’Heureux and his co-author Lee Kelley.

COL. RAY “FRENCHY” L’HEUREUX joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1980. In 1991, he joined HMX1 flying Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2006, he became Commanding Officer flying Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He retired in 2011 and lives in Hawaii. 

LEE KELLEY is a writer, former Army Captain and Iraq war veteran. He is the author of three books including A Life Well-Built and has written for The New York Times. He lives with his wife and three children in Utah.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. Do you enjoy flying? If so, which do you prefer – planes or helicopters? Did you know about Marine One?

*This post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Save The Date and Black Cat’s Legacy

Sharing books is one of the many pleasures of blogging. Today I have two different types of books to share with you. Both are great reading/listening material for the summer.

SAVE THE DATE by Mary Kay Andrews

Save the Date coverNothing buy bad luck seems to be the order of the day for florist Cara Kryzik, owner of Bloom, a Savannah (GA) floral shop specializing in weddings.

Narrator Kathleen McInerney does a superb job of giving distinct voices to each of the characters. Her cadence is perfect and her mannerisms will draw you in. Her interruption of the dialect enhances the author’s delightful story.

While at first glance everything seems to be going smoothly for Cara, it’s really falling apart behind the scenes. She owes a huge debt to The Colonel (aka her father) and he wants his money now. Her shop/home needs major repairs including the AC fixed immediately and her land lady won’t return her calls. Her usually trustworthy assistant, Bert, is acting strange. And just as she’s getting ready to go put the finishing touches on a wedding, her golden doodle, Poppy, runs out of the shop.

When Cara finally tracks Poppy down, she’s on the end of a leash being led by Jack Finnerty, who claims the dog is his dog, Shaz. They both call the police and are told to work it out themselves. Cara has to get to the wedding – it could keep her business afloat awhile longer. Seeing the man apparently cares for his own dog, Cara leaves determined to get her dog back as soon as possible.

Running into Jack at the wedding was the last thing Cara needed on top of everything else. Jack, a master carpenter specializing in restoring historic buildings, turned out to be the best man and brother of the groom. As the two clash over just about everything, tiny sparks begin to ignite between them.

Just as it seems Cara’s bad luck may be changing, her world drops out from under her. Cara is determined to keep her business going no matter what. The floral business isn’t all rosy when there’s a thorny competitor in the mix. 

While you may guess where some of the story is going, it’s like a train wreck and you can’t (don’t want to) look away. You want to be wrong or at least find out how justice is served and happiness is found.

SAVE THE DATE draws you in and makes you feel the characters’ highs and lows. The author’s rich, beautiful descriptions of the location and surroundings brings it all to life. The protagonist is someone readers/listeners can relate to and cheer for. Brides-to-be may even get a few wedding ideas from Cara’s brides.

This is a charming and enjoyable story with ups and downs that will have you crying and laughing. It’s filled with humor, romance, friendship, and hope. A great story for the summer or anytime you want to enjoy the wonders of flowers, brides and love.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews, Performed by Kathleen McInerney, Macmillan Audio, @2014, ISBN: 978-1427239402, Unabridged, 11 Discs, Listening Time: 14.5 Hours 

FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this audio book was sent to me by the author’s publicist. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.

BLACK CAT’S LEGACY by Elaine Faber

Black Cat's Legacy coverSometimes secrets are buried deeper than we realize. In author Elaine Faber’s BLACK CAT’S LEGACY, the protagonist (Kimberlee Larsen) discovers secrets from her past she had long forgotten could now jeopardize her future.

Kimberlee and her daughter, Amanda, end up at Fern Lake by accident, fate or unknown desire. Fern Lake is the scene of her father’s cold case murder. Meanwhile, true-crime author Brett Clarke has also arrived at Fern Lake in search of his next big novel. They both cross paths with Dorian Dilman, a determined detective.

The trio work together to find out the truth as Kimberlee’s past returns to claim her. The three have assistance from an unlikely source, the resident black cat named Thumper. Having knowledge from his ancestors, Thumper watches over Kimberlee helping with clues where he can.

This intriguing murder mystery moves at a steady pace with twists to keep you guessing. The characters are well-developed, realistic and for the most part likable – there’s always got to be an unfavorable character or two.

The author mixes murder and mystery with the right amount of romance and a touch of paranormal for a well-blended tale. The setting is mesmerizing and quickly pulls you in.

BLACK CAT’S LEGACY is a fascinating tale of suspense with romance and supernatural undertones that will hold your attention to the very end. This is a great start to a promising series of mysteries, compelling characters, and innovating plots.

Black Cat’s Legacy by Elaine Faber, Elk Grove Publications, @2014, ISBN: 978-1940781020, Paperback, 284 Pages 

FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this book was sent to me by the author. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope I’ve entice to you to check out these amazing novels. What’s on your reading list at the moment?

*This post contains affiliate links.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Author Megan Abbott: The Fever Behind The Fever {+ Giveaway}

The Fever coverI’m excited today to welcome author Megan Abbott to Thoughts in Progress to talk about her latest release, THE FEVER.

Megan had been scheduled to visit with us earlier this month, but due to her hectic physical book tour wasn’t able to stop by until today. To celebrate the release of her book, she’s giving away one copy to a lucky visitor to Thoughts in Progress. Please see the end of the post for details.

First, here’s a brief summary of THE FEVER

        The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.
        In the idyllic community of Dryden, Tom Nash is a popular high school teacher and the father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and Deenie, a diligent student with a close-knit group of friends-who are all horrified one day in class when Deenie's best friend, Lise, is struck by a terrifying, brutal, and unexplained seizure.

        As Lise clings to life in the hospital, the seizures systematically infect more teenage girls, one by one, sending the entire town into terrified, questioning chaos. Is there a dangerous virus at work? Is it something in the school itself? Are the girls faking it? Who or what is to blame-and who will be next?
        As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.

Please join me now in welcoming Megan as she discusses the real-life inspiration for this book – ‘The Fever Behind The Fever.’

In January 2012, I was watching the Today Show when this teenage girl appeared on screen. In her hoodie, with her nervous smile, she looked like the All-American girl. But something was wrong. When she tried to talk, her words were broken up by these barks, her head jerking left to right. 

“I was always so active,” she was saying, “Everyone was always so happy to be around me. I just don’t feel like myself anymore.” She was one of 18 girls, all in Le Roy High School in upstate New York, who were afflicted with these sudden tics and motor disorders over the course of several months. Watching them, and their terrified parents, I couldn’t look away. I started writing The Fever that very week. 

From the very start, I had a clear idea how I wanted the novel to unfold—and what the cause behind the mysterious symptoms would be—and it was quite different from the way the real-life case unfolded. I built the story around one family, the Nashes, and around a complicated knot of female friends­ of my own creation. But watching the unfolding in Le Roy definitely helped me. It reminded me, throughout, how high the stakes were for the afflicted girls, how upsetting and destabilizing it was for the community. To see young girls stricken one after another and not understand why—the palpable fear and anger never left my mind. Nor did the face of that first teenage girl, the panic in her eyes. 

Just a few months ago, long after I finished THE FEVER, I talked to Dr. Jennifer McVige, the neurologist who treated many of the Le Roy girls, and the experience was quite moving. Ultimately, the girls were diagnosed with conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness—very real disorders that are psychological in origin (caused by stress, anxiety or trauma) and with very real, involuntary symptoms. But they were all getting better despite everything they’d been through, and it was inspiring. 

In THE FEVER, the real-life case is just a jumping-off point. It became a way for me to tell a story about families and teenage girls and hysteria in a small-town—a story I’d been wanting to tell, in one way or another, since I was a kid reading Shirley Jackson stories and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But I think many of us who heard about the Le Roy girls, saw them on the news or read about them in the newspaper or in the New York Times magazine, were similarly affected. 

It struck a lot of nerves, but the question is why? I wonder if it’s because it reminded us of how vulnerable we all feel, how (despite scientific advances) mysterious the mind truly is, how complex the lives of teenage girls can be (particularly those under stress or recovering from trauma or turmoil) and how the culture at large still tends to want to minimize them, not take them seriously. It’s hard to be a teenage girl and maybe never harder than now. 

These thoughts shuddered through me as I wrote THE FEVER, and continue to do so. As much as we think we’ve made life more efficient, that we have a greater grasp on how to be a parent, how to protect our children, that science now dispels myths and there’s a pill for everything—something can still happen, as it did in Le Roy, as it does in THE FEVER, to remind us the world is still an enigmatic place, filled with surprise and challenge and mystery.

Megan, thank you for sharing this look at how THE FEVER came to be. It’s intriguing how real life gives away to fiction sometimes and you’re so right about terrible things still happening despite all of our advances.


Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of six previous novels. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, Detroit Noir and Queens Noir among other places. She received her PhD in literature from New York University. 

She lives in New York and recently served as the John Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Currently, she is working on the screenplay for her novel, Dare Me, soon to be a major motion picture.

For more on Megan and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


This giveaway is for one print copy of THE FEVER. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end Monday, July 7. 

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load, so please be patient. The winner from this giveaway will have 72 hours to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. The email will have ‘Thoughts in Progress Megan Abbott’s Tour’ in the subject line, just so you know what to watch for (in case it goes into your spam folder).

Thanks so much for stopping by during Megan’s visit. Had you heard about the case involving the Le Roy High School girls before? 

*This post contains affiliate links. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 27, 2014

Stay With Me: A Q & A with Author Alison Gaylin

Stay With Me coverIt’s a delight to welcome USA Today bestselling author and Edgar Award nominee Alison Gaylin to Thoughts in Progress today to talk about her latest release, STAY WITH ME, the third installment in her Brenna Spector series.

In this latest installment of the Brenna Spector Novel of Suspense, STAY WITH ME (on sale June 24, $5.99, Harper mass market paperback), Brenna’s entire world is turned upside down as she faces her most deeply personal case yet... the disappearance of her own daughter, Maya.

Brenna Spector is a prisoner to her past; she has perfect autobiographical memory—hyperthymesia—which allows her to recall in vivid and remarkable detail every moment of every day of her adult life. Yet, she lacks that clarity when it comes to her childhood, leaving her still trying to unravel the mystery of her sister Clea’s disappearance twenty-eight years ago, when Clea was seventeen.

In STAY WITH ME, her growing obsession with finding out what happened to Clea starts taking a toll on her own teenage daughter, Maya, who’s been growing more and more secretive. Then, when Maya goes missing, Brenna fears her worst nightmare has come true.

As Brenna relies on her P.I. skills to find her daughter before it’s too late, evidence surfaces showing a possible link between Maya’s disappearance and Clea’s. But could a case three decades earlier really be connected to her daughter? Or is someone hoping Brenna will play along in a twisted game that there is no hope of winning… or surviving?

By the end of STAY WITH ME, Brenna’s entire outlook on life is changed, and the mystery of her long-lost sister Clea is finally solved -- but at a devastating price.

Please join me in welcoming Alison as she graciously answers questions.

Mason - Where do you do most of your writing and do you have any writing related rituals or quirks like certain music to listen to or a favorite beverage to drink?
I have an office in my home, though sometimes I like to mix things up and bring my laptop to a coffee shop. Either way, my writing beverage of choice is coffee. (I drink it black.)

Mason - Looking back over your latest release, STAY WITH ME, where there any more surprises than when you finished the other two installments in the series?
Oh, there are so many surprises in STAY WITH ME, it's hard to give a plot summary without spoilers! Besides being the third book in the Brenna Spector series, it's the third in the "Clea Trilogy," so I tried to write a final installment that's both surprising and satisfying. It was fun to write, but also very hard

Mason - Who inspired you to write?
My mom teaches memoir writing. And my dad, a hospital administrator, was a voracious reader who loved mysteries. So when I was growing up, reading and writing were pretty much impossible for me to avoid.

Mason - What advice would you give to a new author wanting to write in any of the various genres available?

Focus not on what you think is going to sell, but on telling a good story. Young readers are just as discerning as grown-ups (possibly more-so) and nobody likes being pandered to.

Mason - In writing the series, did it become more difficult to write each installment or did the process flow easier as the series came about?
Good question! I think it gets easier with each book in a series. I feel like I know the characters better than when I started, which makes it easier to plot stories. But boy, writing is always, always hard.

Mason - Are you currently working on any new projects readers can look forward to reading?

Yes! I'm currently working on an adult standalone suspense novel called WHAT REMAINS OF ME for Harper Collins -- about a 17-year-old girl who commits the "murder of the century" in 1980 and spends 25 years in prison -- only to be accused of another brutal killing five years after her release. The action shifts back and forth between 1980 and 2010, with both mysteries unfolding at the same time, so it's a challenge to write. (Plus, I get to listen to a lot of cool old songs to get in the mood!) It should be out next year, in hardcover.

Alison, thanks for sharing this look at the writing life with us. Your current project sounds as intriguing as STAY WITH ME.


ALISON GAYLIN is the author of the Edgar-nominated thriller HIDE YOUR EYES, as well as its sequel YOU KILL ME and the standalones TRASHED and HEARTLESS, and the Brenna Spector series AND SHE WAS and INTO THE DARK

A graduate of Northwestern University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Alison lives with her husband and daughter in upstate New York.

For more on Alison and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

In addition, you can see Alison on tour in the coming weeks at the following locations:
      July 10, 7 p.m.: River Road Books in Fair Haven, NJ. Event with Megan Abbott.
      August 1, 7 p.m.: Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY. Event with Wendy Corsi Staub.
      August 2, 2 p.m.: Westport Library in Westport, CT Event with Wendy Corsi Staub.
      August 9, 7 p.m.: Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs, NY. Event with Wendy Corsi Staub.

Thanks so much for stopping by today during Alison’s visit. Do you enjoy novels that tug on your heartstrings, while they scare you to pieces with suspense and intrigue? Or do you go more for novels that just tug on your heartstrings? 

*This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Author Amanda Lee: Stop You’re KILIM Me? {+ Giveaway}

I’m delighted to welcome author Amanda Lee here today as she makes a stop on her virtual blog tour for her latest release, THREAD END, the seventh installment in her Embroidery Mystery.

You don’t have to be an embroidery expert (or even like to embroider) to enjoy this charming series. As part of Amanda’s tour, she’s stopping by to talk about KILIM. In addition, thanks to Amanda and the lovely Danielle at Penguin Group, I have a print copy of this cozy murder mystery to giveaway. Please see the end of the post for details.

Here’s a brief summary of THREAD END:

Embroidery shop owner Marcy Singer is about to have the rug pulled out from under her....
      Marcy can’t wait to see the new exhibit at the Tallulah Falls museum on antique tapestries and textiles, including beautiful kilim rugs. But her enthusiasm quickly turns to terror when, the day after the exhibition opens, she discovers a dead body behind her store, the Seven-Year Stitch, wrapped up in a most unusual fashion.
      The victim appears to be a visiting art professor in town for the exhibit. Did someone decide to teach the professor a lesson, then attempt to sweep the evidence under the rug? Along with her boyfriend, Detective Ted Nash, Marcy must unravel an intricate tapestry of deception to find a desperate killer. 

Now please join me in welcoming Amanda as she talks about ‘Stop! You’re KILIM Me!’

One of the most challenging, and yet most fun, things to research when I’m working on a new embroidery mystery is the various types of embroidery. I look for something that relates to the story at hand but also something that hasn’t been mentioned in one of the books yet. Naturally, Marcy does her fair share of needlepoint and cross-stitch, but often her customers come in looking for something new…or old, as the case may be. 

In the case of THREAD END, there was an antique textile exhibit coming to Tallulah Falls. I began researching antique textiles and found all different kinds—tapestries, kimonos and other garments, quilts, and kilims. I learned about the different patterns incorporated in kilim rugs and the regional differences in various kilims. 

I learned how antique textiles are cared for and displayed. Large ones are sometimes mounted on stretchers like oil paintings. However, this can stain the fabric and stitches, so it’s best to frame and mount them on fabric-covered acid-free boards with a window mount to keep the fabric away from the glass. My research suggested that antique textiles should often be taken off display, wrapped in acid-free materials (never in colored tissue or newspaper), and stored in a dark dry place.

For THREAD END, I also had to research essential oils. Whenever another character, even a minor one, has a business, hobby, or even conversation about something, the author has to know something about the subject. As a result, I now have three small bottles of essential oils.

I also learned about Cezanne. Did you know he hardly ever signed or dated his paintings? Or that he had four specific periods of work—a dark period, an impressionist period, a mature period, and a final period? I was kind of sorry he didn’t have a delightful period, a sunny period, a carefree period, or anything in the least bit happy and cheerful period. 

I’m happy to report (though probably not as happy as my husband) that my research did not inspire me to buy any fine art or antique textiles. Nor have I taken up weaving to make my own kilim…yet.

I needed to figure out what other types of exhibits might be housed in the Tallulah Falls Museum, and I had a lot of fun researching that! The story I tell about A. C. Gilbert of Salem, Oregon and his toy “atomic energy lab” is entirely true! I’d have loved to have known Mr. Gilbert. I think that guy must’ve been a blast to hang out with.

I also run across some wonderful people while I’m researching. For THREAD END, I got to “meet” Pam and Nancy of The Prairie Schooler, Inc. I’d run across some of their projects online and thought Marcy would love to sell them in the Seven-Year Stitch. I wrote them, and they happily agreed to let Marcy include their products in her shop.

Research can be a blast! Just don’t get so caught up in it you neglect to write your book! Winking smile 

Amanda, thanks for joining us and giving this insight look at your research. It does sound like it was lots of fun and informative.


Amanda Lee is a pseudonym Gayle Trent is using for the new cozy mystery series featuring a heroine who owns an embroidery shop. The series is set on the Oregon Coast and features Marcy Singer, a spunky, thirty-something, entrepreneur who is handy with a needle. 

Marcy Singer left her home in San Francisco, along with the humiliation of being left at the altar, in order to move to Tallulah Falls and realize her dream of owning her own shop. She takes along her faithful companion, a one-year-old Irish wolfhound named Angus O’Ruff. She makes many new friends in Tallulah Falls, but she also makes a few enemies. Thankfully, her best friend Sadie MacKenzie and her husband Blake run the coffeehouse right down the street from Marcy’s shop, the Seven-Year Stitch; and Detective Ted Nash always has her back. 

Gayle also writes the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating series. The cake decorating series features a heroine who is starting her life over in Southwest Virginia after a nasty divorce. The heroine, Daphne, has returned to her hometown of Brea Ridge to open a cake baking and decorating business and is wrestling with the question of whether or not one can go home again. 

Amanda/Gayle lives in Virginia with her family, which includes her own “Angus” who is not an Irish wolfhound but a Great Pyrenees who provides plenty of inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Ruff.

For more on Amanda/Gayle and her writing, visit her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


This giveaway is for one print copy of THREAD END. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and due to the holiday will end Sunday, July 6. 

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load, so please be patient. The winner from this giveaway will have 72 hours to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. The email will have ‘Thoughts in Progress Amanda Lee’s Tour’ in the subject line, just so you know what to watch for (in case it goes into your spam folder).

Thanks so much for stopping by today during Amanda’s tour. Had you heard about kilim rugs before? Have you ever tried your hand at embroidering?

*This post contains affiliate links. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Death Stalks Door County On Tour {+ Giveaway}

Death Stalks Door County coverIt’s a pleasure to welcome author Patricia Skalka here today as she makes a stop on her BreakThrough Promotions Virtual Blog Tour for her new release, DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY, the first book in her new mystery series.

This is an intriguing murder mystery published by Terrace Books/Trade imprint of University of Wisconsin Press. 

Patricia will be joining us to talk about her writing life. Thanks to Patricia and the lovely PJ at BreakThrough Promotions, I have a copy of DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY to giveaway in celebration of the release. Please see the end of the post for details.

Here’s a brief look at DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY

            Six deaths mar the holiday mood as summer vacationers enjoy Wisconsin’s beautiful Door County peninsula. Murders, or bizarre accidents? Newly hired park ranger Dave Cubiak, a former Chicago homicide detective, assumes the worst but refuses to get involved. Grief-stricken and guilt-ridden over the loss of his wife and daughter, he’s had enough of death.
            Forced to confront the past, the morose Cubiak moves beyond his own heartache and starts investigating, even as a popular festival draws more people into possible danger. In a desperate search for clues, Cubiak uncovers a tangled web of greed, betrayal, bitter rivalries, and lost love beneath the peninsula’s travel-brochure veneer. Befriended by several locals but unsure whom to trust or to suspect of murder, the one-time cop tracks a clever killer.
            In a setting of stunning natural beauty and picturesque waterfront villages, Death Stalks Door County introduces a new detective series, “The Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries.”

“Who would have guessed that so many dark secrets and sinister deeds lurk beneath the surface of Door County’s idyllic communities? A very satisfying read, and the arrival of a fresh, talented voice.” — Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River

Now please join me in welcoming Patricia to Thoughts in Progress as she talks about ‘My Writing Life.’

Books were a luxury my working class family could not afford. We had a dictionary, a Bible, a couple of old readers from my father's elementary school days and the occasional tattered, hand-me-down Golden Books. I learned to associate words with stories from the nursery rhymes my mother recited and the comic section my father read to me from the Sunday newspaper. When my older brother came home from school with Dick and Jane, I was hooked.

At seven or eight, I started writing my own stories. Equipped with nothing more than a limited vocabulary, a large imagination, a sharp pencil and a tablet of lined paper, I sat at the kitchen table and neatly put down my thoughts. To me, writing was like magic; the intangible-- thoughts, memories, ideas -- made concrete and real. 

Before writing DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY, my debut mystery, all of my work was nonfiction. I wrote and ghosted books and magazine articles. I was a Staff Writer for the Reader's Digest for a number of years and though there's a huge difference between writing for a magazine like the Digest and writing fiction, I learned many useful skills. Like listening to people, what they said and what they were trying to say. Like searching for the exact word I needed to convey a thought or emotion. Like organizing my thoughts and knowing what I wanted to say before I started to write. Like discipline, because a missed deadline meant a late paycheck.

When I'm working on a book, I write daily for a minimum of four hours, five to six days a week. Sometimes I'll write for six hours a day but that's pretty much the upper limit. Although the writing time varies, it's always in a chunk. Early morning to noon or mid-afternoon to evening. I set a daily goal. Number of words or specific scene to be completed. If I reach the goal, I give myself a pat on the back; if not, I analyze why -- was I distracted, had I been overly ambitious, did the scene require more thought and detail than I'd realized.  

If I run into a wall of genuine writer's block, I move to a different scene or chapter to keep the words flowing and to stay connected to the story. While I'm writing, I don't have much trouble avoiding Facebook and email but find that phone calls are most distracting. So I screen them and only answer if I recognize the caller and suspect the call is important.     

I don't really have a favorite author. I read different writers for different reasons. Jean le Carre for complexity, Donna Tartt for the sheer joy of her way with words, Kate Atkinson and Martin Cruz Smith because I adore their protagonists, Joyce Carol Oates for inspiration, Russell Banks for the raw power he brings to the page, Patricia Ann McNair for the rarified beauty of her short stories, Francine Prose for her wit and intelligence, Jane Hamilton for the unadulterated honesty of her work, Mary Oliver for the simplicity of her vision. 

There's no question that writing is hard work but now that  DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY  has been published, I look back and remember only the joy that went with the process. The pain, the doubts, the revising all fade into the shadow. The magic that I experienced as a child at the kitchen table endures.

At the moment, I'm between books. I've completed the final draft of book two in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series and am taking a bit of break before jumping into book three. I have one page synopses for four more but need to decide which makes the most sense in terms of Cubiak's growth as a character. In the meantime, I have a stacks of books to read and flowers to plant on the deck. 

Patricia, thanks for joining us today. It’s always a treat to learn more about an author’s writing life.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Patricia Skalka is a former Reader’s Digest Staff Writer and award-winning freelancer, as well as one-time magazine editor, ghost writer and writing instructor. Her nonfiction book credits include ON OUR OWN, the true story of two pioneering, local nurse practitioners.

More on Patricia and her writing, visit her website and her blog, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


This giveaway is for one print copy of DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end Wednesday, July 3.

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load, so please be patient. The winner from this giveaway will have 72 hours to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. The email will have ‘Thoughts in Progress Patricia Skalka’s Tour’ in the subject line, just so you know what to watch for (in case it goes into your spam folder).

Thanks so much for stopping by and joining Patricia for her visit. Do you enjoy mysteries where the officer in charge has his/her own personal issues they are dealing with?

*This post contains affiliate links. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Delicious Launch Day Blitz

I’m delighted to welcome author Adrianne Lee back to Thoughts in Progress once again for the Launch Day Blitz for DELICIOUS, the second installment in her Big Sky Pie series.

DELICIOUS hits bookshelves today in the form of Mass Market Paperback. 
Here’s a brief synopsis:

        Workaholic Nick Taziano is the proud owner of a successful marketing company in Montana. But his career takes a backseat when he learns his dad plans to remarry his ex. Nick fears she'll break his heart . . . again. And he doesn't like being reunited with her obnoxious daughter-until the all-grown-up beauty kisses him at the engagement party. The kiss might be a mistake, but once he tastes Jane's lips, nothing-not even her famous blueberry pie-compares.
        A promising chef at Big Sky Pie, Jane Wilson never, ever wanted to see Nick Taziano again, but he's just been hired to do the pie shop's marketing. How's a girl supposed to bake the best pastries in town when he's a constant reminder of their steamy chemistry? His chocolate eyes and sexy dimples heat up the kitchen-and every part of her body. Jane has no room for a man in her life, yet sometimes the most delicious dishes don't follow the recipe . . .

This is another installment in the laugh-a-minute series that will have you craving scrumptious pies as you fall in love all over again with the characters from Adrianne’s Big Sky Pie stories.


Adrianne Lee lives with her husband of many, many years on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula in Washington State in a pole barn building her husband transformed into an upstairs apartment with a shop below for his hot rods. 

Adrianne creates her stories on her laptop, in her recliner with her adopted cat, Spooky, curled between her calves, snoozing.  Over thirty years of summer vacationing in the Flat Head Lake area near Kalispell and Glacier Park has given her a love for all things Montana.

For more on Adrianne and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

DELICIOUS is available at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Amazon.


Now here’s an excerpt from DELICIOUS for your reading pleasure.

     Andrea hadn’t really asked for more whipped cream, but Jane figured she’d better bring some with her just in case BiBi was still in the kitchen when she returned. Although she hoped her assistant would be gone by then. The chill air brushed her bare arms as she stepped deep into the room and started walking to the Sub-Zero. A creak sounded behind her. She spun to see the door closing.
     Jane swore. The music and crowd noise was barely discernible thanks to triple insulated walls, but it was too cold to be in here for more than a couple of minutes in a sleeveless sundress, apron, and sandals. She grabbed a container of Reddi-wip from the Sub-Zero and hurried to the door. The knob wouldn’t turn. She tried again. It was locked. Was this a joke? Recalling BiBi’s mean girl comment, she decided it might not be. She banged on the door. “This isn’t funny, BiBi. Let me out! BiBi!”
     BiBi didn’t answer. And Jane realized that no one would hear her over the music and voices or through the soundproof walls. It wasn’t so cold she would freeze to death. It wasn’t so airtight she’d lose oxygen, but she was stuck here until someone realized she was missing or came looking for her. She gave the door a couple of good whacks, then hugged herself against the cold as a tear rolled down her cheek.
     She turned back toward the room and saw the Devil standing there, looking as annoyed as she felt. Her heart almost stopped. “Why didn’t you tell me you were here?”
     “I didn’t want to startle you.”
     “Too late.” Her heart was thudding beneath her hand pressed to her chest.
     He seemed to notice the tears on her cheeks. He set his camera equipment on a shelf and started toward her. “Ah, don’t cry, Pain. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
     “Did you lock this door?”
     “Me? Hell no. I was near the back wall photographing some fresh strawberry and cherry flats for the blog.”
     “Swear on your father’s life?”
     He looked as though her request was ludicrous. “Seriously, why would I lock us in here? Oh my God, you’re shivering.” Nick tugged off his white dress shirt and draped it over her bare shoulders.
     His body heat lingered in the shirt, along with his citrusy scent. Jane hugged the shirt to her, her gaze fixed on his bare chest. She shivered. Nick seemed to mistake it for the cold. She let him reach for her, pull her into his arms, and dry her tears. The yearning she couldn’t deny filled her so full that she thought she’d explode.
     “Oh, God, Jane, don’t look at me like that…please…or I won’t be responsible—” He swallowed hard and tried to release her, but her mouth found its way to his…
     “Is like knowing what pie is-a your favorite, Nicola. The taste, she lingers on-a your tongue long after the last little bite is-a gone, and you can no wait until you have-a some more. Then-a you know. Is the one.”
     And Jane was the taste he’d longed for, the one he couldn’t get over. His heart’s favorite flavor. His body knew the second her lips met his, the kiss speaking to some primal part of his being, telling him that this was the woman. His woman. His mate.
     Music seemed to surround them, not the country beat the DJ was playing, but violins and harps, a love song as enchanting as the ages. Nick felt swept up in it. Desire flared through him, a wildfire, sizzling his blood, burning every thought that wasn’t Jane from his mind. He swept her to him, his arms filled with her wonderful curves, his body instantly hard and thrumming, his breath coming quick and sharp, like his heartbeat.
     He reached into her hair, and soon, loosened pins fell through his fingers, the French braid unknotted, and Jane’s satin curls bounced free, smelling like lilacs after a spring rain. The chill in the room stole across his naked back like a cool breeze, and Nick pulled Jane closer, fearing that she might be too cold still, but everywhere he touched felt toasty, inviting him to touch more.
     He couldn’t resist. His hand slid beneath her filmy dress and up her sleek legs to snag on a flimsy bit of silkiness, his fingers moving it aside to find the nest of dense, damp curls, finding the center of her passion. She reacted with a soft, sweet squeal…his name on her lips spiking his need higher, her hands on his back erasing all memory of chilly air. He deepened their kiss, pleasuring her again, finding his enjoyment linked with hers. The greater her bliss, the greater his.

Hmmmm, now did that tempt your reading taste buds? Hope so. I can’t wait to see what else happens. Thanks so much for stopping by today. Have you ever gotten locked in a walk-in cooler?

*This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Blessed Are The Dead On Tour {+ Giveaway}

Blessed Are the Dead coverIt’s a pleasure to be participating in author Kristi Belcamino’s Partners in Crime Virtual Blog Tour for her recent release, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, the first installment in the Gabriella Giovanni Mystery series. 

As part of the tour, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on this intriguing story and Kristi is sharing an excerpt to tempt your reading taste buds even more. In addition, she is hosting a tour-wide Rafflecopter giveaway. Please see the end of the post for more details on that.

Here are some of the book details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Witness
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
Number of Pages: 100 (Goodreads)
ISBN: 13: 9780062338907
Series: Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads

BLESSED ARE THE DEAD offers chilling, authentic glimpses into the mind of a psychopath while also mining the psyche of a likeable protagonist. The novel sets up a new series featuring Gabriella Giovanni, an Italian-American Bay Area crime reporter. BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, the second book in the series will be published in July.

Here’s a brief synopsis of BLESSED ARE THE DEAD:

To catch a killer, one reporter must risk it all …
        San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter Gabriella Giovanni spends her days on the crime beat, flitting in and out of other people's nightmares, yet walking away unscathed. When a little girl disappears on the way to the school bus stop, her quest for justice and a front-page story leads her to a convicted kidnapper, Jack Dean Johnson, who reels her in with promises to reveal his exploits as a serial killer. But Gabriella's passion for her job quickly spirals into obsession when she begins to suspect the kidnapper may have ties to her own dark past: her sister's murder.
        Risking her life, her job, and everything she holds dear, Gabriella embarks on a quest to find answers and stop a deranged murderer before he strikes again.

Here are what others are saying about this new release:

        * “Kristi Belcamino uses her newsroom background to grand effect in this crackling, savvy debut. Insider know-how and deft detail make every page come alive — and those pages fly by as the story reaches out and grabs you by the heart. Blessed are the Dead is a great read, Gabriella Giovanni is a one-of-a-kind character, and Kristi Belcamino is a writer to watch.”—David Corbett, award-winning author of DO THEY KNOW I’M RUNNING?
        * “A fast-paced and remarkably assured debut, featuring an immensely likeable protagonist and a reporter’s eye for detail. Belcamino puts her experience on the crime beat to good use, creating the kind of villain who’ll lurk in your nightmares long after the book ends. Double-check your locks before you crack this one open!”— Owen Laukkanen, author of THE PROFESSIONALS

Here are my thoughts.

BLESSED ARE THE DEAD by Kristi Belcamino

Author Kristi Belcamino does an excellent job accurately portraying what a true journalist is. She captures the adrenaline rush that comes with getting the scent of a great story mingled with the gut-wrenching knowledge it will mean pain and suffering for someone else.

Reporter Gabriella Giovanni enjoys her job as a crime reporter even though secrets from her past haunt her daily and she has problems keeping a steady boyfriend.

The kidnapping of a young girl leads Gabriella to a story she knows she has to pursue at all cost. While trying to deal with an-up-and-coming reporter, as well as inner office politics, Gabriella gets closer to finding a killer. When the killer targets her family, there’s no stopping Gabriella.

Belcamino’s characters are realistic, well-developed and likable. Her vivid descriptions places the reader in the middle of the action. 

This is a fast-pace story filled with twists and turns keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. The action gives the reader a roller coaster ride with little time to catch their breath. The story quickly draws you in, holds you spellbound and doesn’t let go until the very end. And even then, the story holds promise of more to come.

The author’s extensive background shines through with brilliant perception as she weaves this tantalizing tale of murder, mystery and intrigue. She blends it with humor, loyalty, and a touch of romance for a well-balanced read. She captures the drive of a journalist along with the energy and occasional undermining of a newsroom with great clarity. 

This is a nail-biting thriller with a charming protagonist that readers will want to visit time and time again. 

Blessed Are The Dead by Kristi Belcamino, A Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries Book #1, Witness, @2014, ISBN: 978-0062338914, Paperback, 304 Pages 

FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this book was sent to me as part of the author's virtual blog tour in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.


Kristi Belcamino is a writer, photographer, and artist who also bakes a tasty biscotti. In her former life, as an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, watched autopsies, and conversed with serial killers. During her decade covering crime, Belcamino wrote and reported about many high-profile cases including the Laci Peterson murder and Chandra Levy disappearance. She has appeared on Inside Edition and local television shows. 

She now writes fiction and works part-time as a reporter covering the police beat for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Her work has appeared in such prominent publications as Salon, the Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News, and Chicago Tribune.

For more on Kristi and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.


Another boyfriend pissed off at me over a dead body. Or in this case, two dead bodies. The silence on the other end of the line confirms it.
Snapping my cell phone shut, I swipe my key card and hurry in the back door of the newspaper. The smell of fresh pizza makes my stomach grumble as I pass the cafeteria, but there’s no time to eat. Deadline is looming. I forget about my limping love life — the clock is ticking. The paper goes to bed in three hours, so I’ve got to hustle.
Entering the newsroom, a jolt of excitement surges through me. It’s that special friction, that palpable energy in the air that is always present close to deadline. Giant windows, black with night, reflect the bustling activity around me. A big screen TV with its volume muted dominates one wall and smaller TVs hang from the ceiling throughout the room blaring local and national news. The room smells like burned broccoli and musty books, but still manages to always feel like home. It’s where I’m meant to be.
“Giovanni, you got 17 inches,” my editor, Matt Kellogg, hollers. Nobody at the Bay Herald ever calls me Gabriella. In the news business, you are your last name. Luckily, I like mine.
I want more space, but there’s no use arguing. He’s right. It’s sad, but it’s the same old story we’ve all seen before — big-living San Francisco businessman up to his Gucci eyeglasses in debt kills his wife and then turns the gun on himself.
The momentum of the newsroom engulfs me, sending adrenaline soaring through my limbs. The space hums like a beehive. Deadline is the one time you can find nearly every metro reporter at a desk. Most are pounding the keyboard, flipping through notebooks, or talking on the phone, getting last-minute quotes for their stories. Our desks are in gray cubbies with low walls so we can see each other and the rest of the newsroom.
I catch snippets of different conversations floating in the air. Our political reporter is losing patience with someone on the other end of the phone line.
“Now come on. You know that’s a bunch of bullshit,” she says. “We’ve known each other for ten years, Jeff. You never once said it was off the record. You know the game. You know the rules. This isn’t amateur night here.”
Across the room, the sports department erupts in cheers as an Oakland A’s batter hits a homerun on the big screen. One of the investigative reporters slams down his phone, stands up, pumps his fists into the air, and yells to no one in particular, “Fuck yeah. Fuck yeah, you motherfucker. I knew I’d catch you in a lie. Now it’s going in the paper, you douchebag.”
Nobody except the reporter right beside him even looks up. He only does so to scratch his chin. I keep walking. A veteran reporter lifts his head. “Thought you had a hot date.” We both like to cook and I had tantalized him earlier with descriptions of the birthday dinner I was going to make for my boyfriend.
“Murder-suicide,” I say. He nods and turns back to his computer.
My teeth clench when I see May DuPont, the night police reporter, at the cop reporter’s station, two desks with a stack of police scanners between them.
I try to straighten my skirt and smooth my hair before I get to my desk. It’s useless. It’s been a long day. I’ve already filed two stories for tomorrow’s paper – a car crash and a brush fire – and the traces of hiking after firefighters cling to me. My hair smells like smoke, and small bits of grass have adhered to my sandals.
Each morning, I dress nice in an effort to create la bella figura like my Italian mother taught me. But by the end of the day, this is what I’ve become – smelly, rumpled, and bedraggled.
May, a waiflike twenty-four-year-old is — as usual — dressed in a Brooks Brothers shirt and crisp slacks. A get-up she was probably born wearing. She’s an upper-crust heroin chic girl — pretty much the opposite of me. My boyfriend, Brad, says Sophia Loren’s got nothing on my curves. It sounds great in theory, but the truth is even at my fighting weight, all that extra padding makes me feel like an elephant next to girls like May.
I give her a cursory hello before I log onto my computer.
“I’m writing a story you missed about a bank robbery,” she says without looking away from her computer screen. “The editors might put it on the front page. It was a take-on style.”
“It’s called take-over,” I say.
May’s fresh from her master’s program in journalism at Berkeley. The gossip in the newsroom is that her dad is sleeping with the executive editor, Susan Evans. I stare at the huge pearl studs in her ears.
Every night, May manages to dig up some crime that slipped by me during my day shift and she makes damn sure the editors know I missed it. She’s only been at the paper seven weeks, but I already get the feeling she thinks my job is the next rung on her ladder to success.
Her job — the night cop reporter — is the lowest beat at any paper. I’ve been there. But I also put in the time to get where I am today — the day cops reporter. And it involved working long hours for near poverty wages at several rinky-dink newspapers. I didn’t have the luxury of attending grad school and then being snatched up by a big daily paper because my dad’s screwing the editor.
May’s mother is dead and I’m sorry for that, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to hand over my job. She’s not the only one who’s had to deal with tragedy around here.
“You have black stuff on your forehead,” she says, getting up and heading to the copy desk.
Must be soot from the fire. I’m about to grab my compact mirror when something on the police scanner makes me pause. The crackle of the scanners switching from channel to channel is a comforting sound, like white noise, that usually fades into the background if it’s just routine radio traffic.
This time, the officer’s high-pitched and out-of-breath-voice calling in a felony traffic stop alerts me. The scanner frequency shows its Berkeley PD. Within a moment, the officer is calling Code 4 — all clear — so I turn back to my computer. But then I hear something that makes my fingers freeze on the keyboard.
“Rosarito PD says the girl’s nine years old. Mom says she never came home — ” More routine traffic about the felony stop interrupts the dispatcher’s voice.
My stomach is doing loop de loops as I lean over and try to see which department was talking about the girl. I punch in the frequency for Rosarito PD on the other scanner, but the channel is quiet.
I dial the Rosarito Police Department watch commander – the sergeant on duty overnight while the main office is closed. No answer. He must be out on the streets patrolling, so I leave a message, saying I heard something about a girl who didn’t come home today.
In my five years as a Bay Area reporter, every instance of a possible missing child has ended up being a misunderstanding. Most times the kid lost track of time or didn’t tell someone he wasn’t coming straight home.
In the silver-framed photo hidden in my desk drawer, Caterina’s pink lips and dark eyes are surrounded by a halo of black hair. My sister looks solemn, wise, and beautiful, even though she’s only seven. I remember thinking she looked like a bride when I pulled myself up to look into her casket and saw her lying there in the lacy white first communion dress and veil she never had a chance to wear.
What I heard on the scanner made my face flush and my insides somersault, but I know it’s rare that a child is kidnapped and killed by a stranger. Every once in a while, I hear something like this on the scanner and it ends up being nothing. I hope this little girl just forgot to call home. I make the sign of the cross and May, sitting back down, gives me a snarky look.
The clock shows it’s 9 p.m. I’m running out of time. I got the basic details about the murder-suicide at the press conference earlier except for the identities of the dead. A source at the morgue slipped me the names, but I’m going to have to get one more off-the-record confirmation before Kellogg will let me run with them. I dial homicide detective Lt. Michael Moretti and speak fast before he can protest, reeling off the two names I have.
“If I print them will I be wrong?”
“You were at the press conference. You heard me. We’re not releasing the names. Sorry, kiddo.”
At twenty-eight, I’m too old to be his daughter, but he always calls me that. Moretti and I bonded a long time ago on the Italian-American thing, but his blood pumps blue. He’s been a cop longer than he hasn’t. It took years for him to believe me when I said I’d go to jail rather than give him up as a source.
“I don’t need you to tell me the names.” I try to sound as logical as possible. “I just need to verify them. Besides, you know the Trib is going to run the names.”
I cringed earlier when I saw a reporter from The San Francisco Tribune at the crime scene. When the bigger paper swoops into our territory and scoops us, my editors don’t like it. I hate it.
Moretti makes a guttural sound. “Did you see those gray hairs on my head tonight? About ten are from you. Don’t you have anyone else you can pester?”
I do. I have some crack sources — cops who call me and say, “Hey, there's a dead body in Civic Park, try not to beat the homicide detectives there.”
But this is Moretti’s case.
“Another cop already gave it up,” I say to convince him. “I just need confirmation. How about this? If I have the names right, don't say anything.”
Silence. I wait a few beats, twirling the phone cord around my fingers.
“Okay, I’m going with it,” I say, bright and cheery. “Thanks. Anything else going on tonight? Heard something about Rosarito.”
He takes a minute to answer. “You didn’t hear this from me.”
“I know, I know.” I roll my eyes even though he can’t see me.
“A nine-year-old Rosarito girl didn’t make it to school today —”
“What?” My stomach gurgles and churns. Sweet Jesus, if Moretti knows about it, this might be the real thing.
“She hasn’t even been gone twenty-four hours. Too early to say if it’s legit or not. Rosarito PD hasn’t issued an AMBER Alert. They’re waiting to find out if she turns up at grandma’s or a classmate’s house.”
He’s right. It’s probably nothing. But dark memories overwhelm me. I do some deep breathing to try to relax, but my heart is racing. I’ve avoided a story like this so far. I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I will ever be ready.
“Listen, gotta go,” Moretti says. “Remember, you and I didn’t talk tonight. Omerta.”
“Very funny,” I say, but he’s already disconnected. Omerta, an Italian word, refers to the Mafia’s code of silence.
I hang up and dial Kellogg. “Rosarito cops might have a missing kid.”
“Yeah?” He sounds interested. “You got this confirmed?”
“Not yet. Working on it.”
“Get it nailed down.”
I have no sources in the Rosarito Police Department. Because the city lies on the periphery of our paper’s coverage area, we only report unusual or high profile crimes that occur there. The watch commander hasn’t called me back, so I punch in the number of the department’s public information officer. She works banker’s hours, but if a child is missing, she might be there. No answer.
I dig up an old file of Rosarito cop numbers and find a main number for investigations. Nothing. Only voicemail. Then I try an old reporter’s trick and start dialing numbers, each time changing the last digit of the main number. It works. Although no one picks up, I leave messages for six detectives.
I try the watch commander’s line one more time, then call 911 dispatchers in Rosarito to ask if they can track him down. The dispatcher is in a good mood. “Sure, I’ll send the sergeant a message for you,” he says.
With an eye on the clock, which is nearing ten, I dial Kellogg. “I can’t get anyone from Rosarito to confirm a missing kid. Can’t we go with it anyway, citing an anonymous source? My source is solid.”
“No can do. Evans would kick up a shitstorm.”
Kellogg used to be ballsy. He never cared what senior editors would think or say. That is, until Susan Evans was hired as executive editor two years ago. I heard he was up for the job but they hired her instead. Ever since, he’s been walking around mopey and fearful like a puppy that was kicked. I miss the old Kellogg.
“It’s late,” he says. “I needed your story half an hour ago. Get cracking, Giovanni. You can track down the missing kid — if there is one — tomorrow.”
He’s right about one thing — it’s past deadline. I stare at the blank screen and try to figure out a lead. If you don’t draw a reader in with that first sentence, you’ve lost him. Editors have drummed this into my head for years. I’ve trained myself to come up with a lead driving back to the office on deadline, but tonight my mind kept wandering to Brad eating his birthday dinner alone. And now, in the back of my mind, much farther back than I’m willing to go right now, a little girl’s familiar face peers out at me. I shake the image off and try to concentrate. May’s voice beside me makes it even harder.
“Oh, stop it,” she says. She laughs and fiddles with her silky scarf. “I do not. I’m usually in bed by then. Let me know if you make an arrest tonight. I would love to put it in the paper with your name as the arresting officer. Talk to you soon.”
I close my eyes and tune out her girlish giggle, thinking about the man who killed himself and his wife tonight. And even though it would kick my story to the front page, I leave out the most salient detail about the slaying — the man was wearing nothing but lipstick and high heels when he offed his wife. My morgue source slipped me this sensational little morsel. Although, I know I’ll get in trouble with the editors if I leave it out and the Trib has it, I can’t do it. As soon as I found out the couple had small children, I knew I wouldn’t print it. Those kids are going to have enough to deal with as it is.
I try to imagine the wife’s last moments of terror. The details of her frantic 911 call revealed she was hiding from her husband in a closet. I’m sure she prayed the police would show up and save her, like in the movies. One thing I’ve learned is that the world is rarely like what you see on the silver screen. The most outlandish and nightmarish stories are the ones that happen in real life.
I file the story in the editing queue and hope I’ve scooped the Tribune on the murder-suicide story, especially by getting the names confirmed. Tomorrow, I’ll try to find out more about the couple for a follow-up story.
When I became a police reporter, I decided that every single person I wrote about deserved more than just their name in the paper when they died. Every time I sit down with a family who has lost a loved one, I give a shit. And they can tell. The shitty part is that I feel like a fraud. Maybe because I’m forging a relationship that is not real. Maybe it’s something else. Even though I really do care – it still boils down to me trying to get a scoop and a front-page story.
Sometimes I wonder why anyone grieving would ever talk to someone like me. Maybe they sense the darkness I keep hidden deep inside. Maybe there is something in my eyes that shows I’ve already been to hell and back. I sit on their couches and take notes as they cry into tissues and flip through photo albums of the loved one they lost, sharing intimate memories with me – a stranger.
Before packing up, I make one last call to the Rosarito watch commander. He doesn’t answer. I grab my sweater and bag. Before I leave I force myself to turn to May who looks at me with a little smirk.
Seeing her smarmy look makes me hesitate. Although the thought of writing about a missing child sends waves of panic through me, I also don’t want May to get a scoop based on a tip from my sources.
Unfortunately, I know I need to cover my ass with the editors by giving her a heads up.
“Keep an ear out for a missing kid in Rosarito.”
“Another story you missed?”
I stop and narrow my eyes at her. “It’s a tip. From a source. Do you know what those are? They’re what you get when you prove yourself. They take years to develop, so maybe someday you’ll get your own source. Or maybe not. Cops don’t trust just anybody.” And I don’t trust May as far as I can toss her little waiflike body. The first week she was here, she “forgot” to give me a press release I’d been waiting for all day about a big drug bust by the DEA. It was the final piece I needed to top a story I’d been working on all week. After I left, she wrote up the information from the press release and put her byline on the story instead of mine. When I confronted her, she lied about when the press release had come over the fax. My source later told me he’d sent it earlier in the day and the time stamp on the release backed him up. When I complained to Kellogg, he simply shrugged and changed the subject.
Tonight, I stare at May for a few seconds and then walk away before I completely lose it. I hover nearby as Kellogg reads my story.
Kellogg’s 6-foot-tall body is scrunched into his cubicle, like a giant brown teddy bear among the dolls at a child’s tea party. I stand beside his desk staring at the pictures taped to the fabric wall of his cubicle: school photos of his two sons who live with their mother. They go to some fancy private school in Marin County. His ex manages to squeeze every penny she can out of Kellogg claiming she needs it for the kids. He sleeps on the couch in his one-bedroom apartment to make sure his boys feel like they have their own bedroom at his place.
I wait, shifting from foot to foot. Finally, he’s done.
“Looks fine. No questions.”
I turn to leave but he stops me.
“You couldn’t get the missing kid confirmed?”
I shake my head no. When I see the concerned look in his eyes, I wait, wondering if he has something else to say. But he immediately turns to his black and green screen. He’s onto editing another story.
An odd mixture of frustration and relief flutters through me as I walk to my car. Although I want to avoid writing about a missing kid, my failure tonight amounts to me missing a scoop on what could potentially be a huge story on my beat. And underneath all of those emotions, there is also a tiny flicker of worry gnawing at me when I remember the look in Kellogg’s eyes.
Halfway across the Bay Bridge, I catch glimpses of the city as the hazy fog begins to dissipate and reveal a crisp night sky. Twinkling lights dot skyscraper windows. The sky behind them is not black but a deep blue like a Van Gogh nightscape. With the city spread out before me, a sense of buoyancy spreads through my chest as if I could fly. Even on the darkest nights of my life, I’ve always found comfort looking at the San Francisco skyline. Rolling down my window, inhaling the salty air, I punch the radio dial until I find something that will lift my spirits.
I sing along to UB40s “Red, Red Wine” and reassure myself that I have nothing to worry about — that little Rosarito girl will turn up before morning. The Trib probably won’t get tipped off about the story. Brad is not answering the phone because he fell asleep.
My phone rings, sending my heart skipping into my throat, but it’s not Brad. It’s my mother. Again. I ignored three calls from her back at the office. I know if it were urgent, she would have left a message. I’m not in the mood to hear her complain about how I never have time for the family anymore. I missed my niece Sofia’s first communion last weekend covering a high-speed car crash that killed two local teens. I’ve been a reporter for five years, so you think my mother would be used to it by now, but in my family, missing a get together is practically grounds for a vendetta.
I dial Brad again. The phone rings and rings. I debate letting it ring all the way home, but decide that’s a bit childish. Maybe he’s angry I bailed on his birthday dinner. I get it. I understand he’s upset, but it’s not my fault. It’s the nature of my beat — I never know when a story is going to break.
I shove my phone back in my bag and exit on Fremont Street. The city streets downtown are quiet on the way to North Beach. Once I hit China Town, the city bursts into color and sound like a fireworks finale. The crowds of people on the sidewalks of Columbus Avenue thicken right where China Town and North Beach meet. Men stand in groups ogling the women walking by, their faces lit up with the flashing neon lights of the strip club marquees. Restaurants have flung open their French doors and café tables spill out onto the sidewalks with late-night diners. Music pours across the streets like smoke.
I’m almost home. I’m looking forward to having a glass of wine and spending some time with Brad. My street is off the main drag and three blocks up the hill. I circle the block a few times until finally I spot a group of women heading up my street and slowly cruise behind them. I yawn and wait for them to maneuver out of their tight parking spot. It takes me about five minutes to cram my old Volvo sedan between two other cars. My apartment’s about a block away, so the parking spot is lucky. I’ve had to park up Russian Hill before, about six blocks straight up. Living in the city automatically means I’ll never have to join a gym. I get enough exercise hiking to and from my car each day.
From the front my apartment building is a concrete block lacking any of the charm you might expect in the old Italian section of the city. However, the back of the building reminds me of a secret garden, dotted with balconies overlooking North Beach. I’m almost to my front door when he steps out of the shadows in front of me. I nearly scream.
“Brad? You scared me half to death.”
He looks guilty. Then I realize why. He’s holding a small gym bag.
“I was going to wait … ” he says, his words trailing off. He won’t meet my eyes. “Here are your keys. I got my things.”
I blink. At first, not comprehending. Then I decide to pretend that he’s not telling me it’s over.
“Listen, I’m really sorry I missed your birthday dinner. I promise to make it up to you. You know what my job is like.”
I look away. I truly am sorry, but I’m also tired of defending my job to every man I date. For once, I want to have a boyfriend who gets it. They like how passionate I am about my career until it interferes with their plans.
If it wasn’t for my job, I’d be married with three kids by now. Since my wedding was called off, I’ve racked up four failed relationships in as many years. Sadly, this is a familiar conversation and it always ends the same way.
I stare at Brad, willing him to be the guy who gets it. He’s already turning toward the street when he says, “It’s not the first time this has happened and you know it.”
He’s right. Six months into the relationship and I’ve already stood him up a few times. He spent New Year’s Eve alone while I rode along with the cops. I ran off before Easter dinner because a small plane crash-landed on the freeway. A few weeks ago, I canceled a getaway weekend to wine country when cops busted a meth lab in an expensive gated community. There’s nothing I can say to defend myself.
Silence. The only sound is the faint strains of opera music coming from one of the Columbus Avenue restaurants. It’s from La Traviata. For some reason, an image of Violetta, alone and unloved on her deathbed makes me sad. But I don’t cry. I never cry. I haven’t cried since the day they lowered my sister’s casket into the ground.
“I know my job is crazy —” I begin.
“It’s not just that,” Brad says, interrupting. “It’s not only your job … I’m tired of trying to break through the walls you’ve built up.”
“What?” What the hell is he talking about? In the dim glow cast by the streetlight, it’s hard to discern his expression. I peer at him, but his baseball cap casts a shadow over his face, obscuring the look in his eyes.
He shrugs his coat collar tighter against the cool breeze swirling down my street, bringing with it the salty scent of the ocean. How odd that I’m in the middle of getting dumped by my boyfriend and all I can think about is how much I love the smell of the ocean.
“Listen,” Brad says, hoisting the duffle bag over his shoulder. “I don’t want to date around anymore. I don’t want to be an older father. I want to start a family.”
I’m quiet for a moment, thinking about this. “I want all that one day, too.” It’s all I can come up with. I don’t say anything else. Something deep inside me won’t let me say more. He’s going to walk away now. I know it. I fight back tears. Die before cry. It’s my private mantra. It always works.
“So, that’s it?” he asks. I know I should say something to stop him, but I can’t. “Okay. See you around,” he says and starts to walk away, but then he pauses. “By the way, you’ve got black shit smeared all over your forehead.”
I stand and watch until he rounds a corner. He never glances back.
I awaken in the morning with dark smudges under my eyes from my smeared makeup and a tangled mess of smoky smelling hair. It just adds to the Halloween-like appeal of the black gunk that won’t come off my forehead. I can almost hear my mother’s voice chiding me for going to bed without washing my face. I’m a bit dismayed myself after having it drummed into me from childhood that not taking off your makeup at night adds an extra five years to your face. At this point, it doesn’t even matter if it’s true because I experience major Catholic guilt every time I fall asleep without a thorough face cleansing.
No wonder Brad beat it out of here last night, I think, as I peer in the mirror. I look like a freak show. Thinking of Brad, weariness overcomes my body. I wonder if there was something I could have said to make things right with him. What did he want me to say? That I worry deep down inside that I’m incapable of having a real relationship and possibly unlovable anyway, but that he should still stay with me? Obviously, that wouldn’t have worked. Maybe I’m meant to be alone. As much as I dream of having my own family someday, it may never happen. And part of me, the dark part, can’t help but wonder what’s the point in loving someone anyway? They just leave. One way or the other they always leave.
I angrily wipe away a few salty tears that are trying to slip out. Die before cry. I can already hear the sigh my mother is going to give when she hears that Brad is out of the picture and there’s not a chance for any new grandbaby bambinos for her in the foreseeable future.
In the shower, I contemplate taking a break from dating. Or better yet, to just stop caring. Maybe I’ll be like a guy and date and sleep around and not get hurt because I won’t care. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t expect anything
Dressed, I pad across my wood floor into my kitchen, tucked into a corner near the big sliding glass door leading to the balcony. The bulk of my studio apartment is filled with overflowing bookshelves, a beat-up red velvet couch, a small dining table, and my bed shoved up against one wall. My place is tiny, but it’s in North Beach and I get a great deal on the rent because the landlady went to Catholic school with my grandfather.
I grind some espresso beans into a fine powder and stick some sourdough bread in the toaster. As the coffee begins to percolate, I stand over the chessboard on the end table and chew on my lower lip examining the pieces.
It’s my move. Tomas sent me his latest move two days ago. Then, right when the toast pops up, startling me, I see it. Knight takes bishop’s pawn. I grab a postcard from a stack already addressed and stamped with international postage. I scribble my move. As an afterthought, I add a small smiley face to soften the blow. He might be able to escape it, but if he does what I want him to, my next move will be checkmate.
Juggling my toast, coffee, and a stack of newspapers, I step onto my balcony. The sun is streaming over the Oakland Hills to the east as I settle everything on my cafe table. I pull a wooly sweater around me and warm my hands on my big bowl of coffee. The fog is already receding this morning, revealing the shops below. My perch overlooks the rest of North Beach, the Italian section of San Francisco where my great grandparents settled after coming to America.
My full name is Gabriella Maria-Grazia Giovanni. Both sides of my family are Italian-American, living in the Bay Area suburbs southeast of here. As a child, during the summer on Saturdays, my mother would take us to North Beach, where she grew up. We would join the throngs of people on Columbus Avenue doing early shopping for Sunday dinner or drinking espressos at sidewalk tables. Our afternoons included eating pistachio gelatos in stainless steel bowls and picking up tins of amaretto cookies to bring home. It was always a day of treats and laughter with my joy-filled mother.
That was before. Those were the happiest days of my life, before a dark shadow fell upon our family, blotting out our light, smudging it into a gray smear.
After graduating from college in San Diego, I searched hard to find a place in North Beach I could afford, maybe in an attempt to hold tight to those happy childhood memories.
Sitting on my balcony this morning, I scan the morning paper, sip my coffee, and munch on my toast. I still get a thrill out of seeing my name in print, just as I did the first time I saw it in the college newspaper.
I’m reading my story about the murder-suicide when I do a double take. The part about the father being in drag is now in my story. What the hell? How did the copy desk know about this detail and why would they insert it without checking with me first? Then my eyes fall to the bottom of the story and the answer is clear: “May DuPont contributed to this story.” She somehow found out, threw it in my story, and gave herself a tagline.
I can feel my face flush with heat. I can’t even complain to the editors because they will scold me for leaving that detail out, especially if the competing paper has it.
Then I scan the Trib. Damn. They do have it. Andy Black, my nemesis, has the drag part and the names confirmed. As I continue scanning the Trib, my day gets worse — Black managed to nab the story about the missing Rosarito girl. Shit.
Time to face my fears. My legs are suddenly heavy as I stand.

You can also connect with Kristi and learn more about her writing by dropping by the other blogs participating in her tour.

6/04 – Showcase @ Housewife Blues and Chihuahua Stories
6/09 – Review @ Deal Sharing Aunt
6/16 – Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
6/18 – Showcase @ My Devotional Thoughts
6/20 – Review @ Books and Needlepoint
6/22 – Interview @ Suspense Magazine Blog Talk Radio
6/24 – Interview @ Writers and Authors
6/27 – Interview and Showcase @ CMash Reads
6/28 – Showcase @ Hott Books

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Thanks so much for stopping by today and visiting. Do you enjoy the anticipation that follows after reading the first book of a new series? Or had you rather wait and have at least two books in the series to read at once? 

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