Character Interview: Dave D’Alessio’s Forest

I ventured into the world of FANTASY/HUMOR author, Dave D’Alessio’s, story ‘The Yak Butter Diaries’ to meet his character, Forest, and asked him some questions. In this interview, ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Forest’ was written by Dave D’Alessio.

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A light snow fell the night before, and for long stretched the prairie was nothing more than a white sheet. It did not snow heavily this far south, and the warmth of the sun rising to the east suggested that the blanket would not last long.

The road was empty. People around here had hunkered down for the winter, living off what they had stored, and what they hunted, and what they could draw from their herds. During the winter here people kept each other warm inside. They had plenty of traveling to do once the spring muds had hardened up, driving their herds north to the great stockyards of Chikasa.

It was noon and the snows had started to turn to slush. In the distance, there was a herd of dark shapes standing quietly. Shaggily furred, with large faces and curved horns and strong shoulders: these must be the musk oxen the city was known for. A solitary bull, head up, kept an eye on the herd, and also, it had to be said, the traveler. It was the wrong time of year for the cows to interest him, but as far as he was concerned they were his cows, and no one was going to take them away without a good head butting.

The cows, more sensible by far, pawed at the ground, turning up tufts of prairie grass. Many were accompanied by a calf or two, each less than a year old, their spindly legs barely able to hold up their stately shoulders.

A man was with them. He wore a fringed leather jacket that looked plenty warm enough for the weather, and soft leather trousers, and a flat, broad hat that he took off and waved. “Howdy!” he shouted. “Town’s thataway!”

The town was indeed thataway. It was a good town, a happy town. It sprawled across the prairie willy nilly, houses built wherever the builder felt best building them, daub smeared on wattle, with a good, warm straw roof atop. Smoke rose from each, a fragrant, pungent smoke that made it clear the people knew which end of the musk ox was in, and which was out (in much the same way that big city folk claim, against all evidence, to know which end is up). Happy children played in the street, and here the riches of the town first could be seen, for the toys the children played with, the geegaws and fozwazzlers, had been made in the workshops of Wenyork, many days travel to the north, or even brought across the great ocean Wenyork sat upon. The men and women carried steel knives and kitchens were lined with copper and iron pots, despite the fact that no one could see a mine or smelter or tinker for miles.

One man watched the playing children, a tall, lean man with a broad smile across his leathery face. He looked up. “Howdy,” he said. “I’m Techs, the headman here. Are you lookin’ fer someone special, or just lookin’? Either way’s good.”

Kelly took a look around at everything, and she set her gaze on the man. “I’m looking for someone named Forest. Could you direct me to him?”

“Figured,” Techs said, amiably. A child’s ball skittered near his feet, and he flipped it back with a twist of the ankle. “This time of year he’s about our biggest attraction. Come on along.” He turned and strode off, clearly knowing his way around the randomly constructed streets.

Kelly furrowed her brows as she followed him through the streets. “What do you mean biggest attraction?”

Techs grinned and clarified. “He ain’t from around here. And then he’s his daddy’s boy. That Tamosan Acorn…he was a strange one.” He looked back at her, and added, “No offense but you to be a pretty strange one yerself, and you know about them birds and feathers and such.” He tipped his broad, flat hat to a passing woman and said, “Mornin’, ma’am.”

Kelly was a little confused but smiled. “Well, I’m not from around here either, but I was told to find Forest to ask him some questions. Don’t worry though, I won’t be hanging around too long. Just long enough to have a chat with him, and then I’d be leaving”

“Sure.” He led the way through the twisting paths, chatting amiably about such esoteric topics as differences in preparing roasted bean broth between cities along the Great Ocean and extinction rates among musk ox predators. “And we’ll never know fer sure, since they’s dead,” he concluded at the door to one hut. He raised his voice. “Howdy, you all. Anyone home?”

The hut was constructed much like the others, although the snow in front of the door, what was left of it by now, had been carefully brushed away. Like the others, it was made up of interconnected domes, rooms for cooking and sleeping and entertaining, typically. Unlike most of the others, a fourth, larger dome was connected. “That there’s the buttery,” Techs said. “His daddy built that.”

A hide drape…from the look of it a musk ox hide of a faintly bluish tint…opened up. The man pushing it aside said, “Howdy, Techs. What’s up? Want some hot broth?” He took in the guest and added, “You look like you could use something warm. Come on in.”

Kelly nodded as she followed him inside. “Are you Forest? I was told I could find you here. I’m Kelly. I’m not sure if you were expecting my visit though.”

The man called Techs waved amiably and ambled off as the man led her inside. “Yes, I’m Forest, this is Bethan, and our little girl, Singa,” the man said. He stood out from the others of the town in small ways that the woman did not. Like the other villagers she was very lean, her skin burned dark, and her hair blond and curly. Her eyes were bright, clear, and happy, and she smiled straight white teeth. He was, well, not quite like that. He seemed rounder, somehow, not fat, but rounder at the joints and rounder in the face. He seemed naturally darker of skin, not sun burnt but naturally the color of roasted bean broth with a lot of milk in it, and his short-cropped hair was black and straight. The others seemed athletic, while he appeared graceful as well. And his smile seemed crooked, somehow, as though he’d been fed oddly early in life. “Kuuky’s around here somewhere, too,” Forest added, peeking through the door flap. “I think he’s gone to get some water from the well.”

The hut, for being a daub and wattle hut, was remarkably clean and nicely appointed. Furniture was simple, most just rugs and cushions scattered across the floor, but the rugs and cushions were clean, well-made, and attractively patterned with geometric shapes in primary colors. Clean whitewash on the walls brightened the room. Again, many of the objects scattered around the room informally had a foreign look to them, as though they had been made elsewhere. One, a doll figure of a man with grotesquely padded shoulders caught Forest’s eye. “My dad brought that back from Chikasa,” he explained. “It’s a game they play there.” He pushed the doll into his daughter’s arms. Typical of a child that age, she promptly threw it across the room.

Kelly smiled at the small family. She nodded specifically toward Bethan. “My niece’s name is Bethan. She’s wonderful.” She smiled at her then set her gaze on Forest, watching as he dealt with his child. “So this place seems to be a ‘everyone-knows-everyone’ kind of place, and outsiders are quite obvious. Has that made your life easier or difficult?”

Bethan smiled at the implied complement. “Thank ‘ee,” she said, snatching up little Singa before she could hurtle into the fragrant fireplace. As for Forest, he just shrugged. “For me, no. I love it here. I must have been one when Daddy brought me here, something like that. I’ve never lived anywhere else that I remember.” He glanced to his wife and she said, “Don’t ask me. I don’t remember those days any better than you do.” Forrest waved his hand toward the west, toward the high ground barely visible on the horizon to the west. “Daddy carried me down from out there, and I’ve never seen a reason to go back.”

“So you’ve never left?” Kelly lifted her brows then glimpsed out the window to the horizon. “You’ve never ventured too far?”

“North,” he said immediately. With Bethan holding down the child fort, he got up to pour mugs of fragrant liquid from a pot hanging over the fire. “Want some roasted bean broth?” he asked, handing a mug to Bethan and taking one for himself. “North,” he repeated, “and east to the ocean. Every spring we run the muskies up to Chikasa, trade em up for food and such, and run that over the hills to Wenyork.” He shook the kettle, swirling it. “It’s good Wenyork bean,” he offered. “We make out pretty good working the triangle route for trede.”

“I’m good, thank you.” Kelly declined politely. “It’s definitely beautiful countryside. And it looks like you are very happy here…all of you.” She smiled at the family before setting her gaze on Forest. “Yet I understand that your father isn’t your birth father but rather adopted you. Do you know what happened to your birth parents?” She furrowed her brows.

“I told him,” Forest recalled. “I musta been thirteen, something like that. I told him, ‘You’re not my father, but you’re my daddy.'” He pulled up a cushion, sat on it cross-legged, and blew across his mug. “He helped my mama birth me. She died, and he carried me to the nearest town and took care of me. As for my real father, I don’t know him, I don’t want to know him, and if I meet him I’ll probably punch him in the eye.” “You could hit him with your stick,” Bethan suggested, smiling to indicate she was joking, but he answered seriously, “Do-se-d’oh is for self-defense. If I want to hurt someone personally…” He rubbed his hand across his knuckles and laughed. “But I ain’t gonna see him, so it won’t come up.”

“I don’t blame you for your hostility toward him even though you’ve never meant him, but have you ever simply wondered ‘why’ he wasn’t there? Why he left?” Kelly looked at him. She hadn’t been invited to sit yet, so she didn’t sit. She wasn’t sure what the customs were of this place, but she knew to wait until she was invited rather than simply presuming. “I’m good friends with some siblings that were adopted, and they’ve always had questions. Not because they are unhappy or discontent in their life. They just want to know why. Has that ever plagued you?”

Forest leaned back on his cushion and stretched out his legs. Jokingly, Bethan pushed him aside. “Make room for someone else,” she said, still hanging on the the squirming little girl. Forest pulled his legs back and said, “Take a load off, Mary…Sorry. I know your name is Kelly. It’s a line from an old song.” He smirked to himself. “My daddy couldn’t sing at all…Him I miss. He headed off north a couple years back and no one’s seen him since, not even in Chikasa.” He pulled his legs in and wrapped his arms around them. “You know who I’d like to see? My godmother. But all I know about her is that he name was Mother Nanaw, she gave me my baby name, and she owns a couple donkeys.” He glanced toward the west and asked, “There a lot of ladies that own two donkeys that way?”

Kelly sat finally and furrowed her brows, a little uncertain what he was asking. “Neighbor’s family owns donkeys, but not me or anyone I know other than that.” She shook her head, but then she set her gaze on Forest. She realized he didn’t answer the question she had asked, and she would let it slide–for the moment. “Why did your daddy leave?”

Forest sighed, probably unconsciously. “He was raised by monks, you know?” He voice is quieter. “They send him out down the mountain to find his place in the world…That’s what he was doing before he found me, looking around the world for his place. Man, the stories he used to tell. I think half of us here didn’t believe any of them. Then a couple days before the wedding, a stranger come to town and gave him a walking staff and a pot. It had real yak butter in it,” he said as Bethan reached out to take his hand in hers. “That told him it was time he was on his way again. ‘Now you have your place,’ he told me, ‘and I must find mine.'”

Kelly frowned as she leaned forward.  “But if he was here with you, had a life here, wouldn’t that be his place?”

Forest shrugged. “I guess not. Everyone here thought he was a little strange, so maybe you could say he had a good life in the wrong place.” He thought back, eyes looking away to nowhere. “He used to get up every morning, to meditate and practice his do-se-d’oh, when a regular fellow would have just stayed in the sleeping furs. And he set up the buttery.” He laughed. “We made out good with that. They give us great trades on musky butter, don’t they. After that cow butter they get in Chikasa, they can’t get enough of the musky butter…But dad always said yak butter was better.” He fell silent for a second and said, “Maybe once you’re raised on something, a substitute just isn’t right, if you know what I mean.”

Kelly nodded. “But you’ve settled in quite well, it seems. Even though you too are a bit different, it seems you’ve found your place.” She smiled at him. “So do you wonder about him? Where he is now? If you could tell him anything, what would it be?”

Forest glanced over to Bethan, but she wasn’t looking. Sometimes a mother has nothing better to do than fuss with her daughter. “I think about him all the time,” he said in a quiet voice. “I mean, I’ve talked to old Kuuky. He’s like sixty, and he says you never stop missing your daddy. When he is?” He shrugged. “We went outside that night, out in the dark after the wedding. I asked him where he was going, and he tossed his staff in the air, and in came down pointing north, and he said, ‘North.'” He thought back to day night. “It was pushing fall, so north was not best way to be going that time of year, but the stick pointed north, so north he went. He was like that.” He shrugged his shoulders. “If you see him, tell him he’s welcome back any time. Maybe it’s not his place, but he’s welcome to put his feet up for a while.”

Kelly nodded as she smiled. She thought about the course of the conversation and determined that this was a good stopping point. “Well, I would stick around to ask more questions, but I have elsewhere I need to be, and I think I’ve imposed on all of you for long enough.” She rose to her feet. “Thank you though for agreeing to meet with me and for answering my questions. It was delightful to chat with you.”

Forest got up to his feet, standing politely for the guest. “Sure, you, too,” he agreed. “Want a pot of butter for the road? It’s good musky butter, fermented for three months. Real good on a stack of flat cakes or a porridge.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to take it with me where I’m going, but thank you.” She smiled at him. “I’ve got to get going. May all of you have a wonderful day. And thanks again for the meeting! Take care of yourself.” She nodded to them before heading out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Dave D’Alessio’s novel, ‘The Yak Butter Diaries’ can be found on Amazon. Also, be sure to follow him on social media for more updates on his work!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N202JXA

SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/Dave-DAlessio-595586537188347

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/David-W.-DAlessio/e/B0070GLS9E

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dalessio_dave

Author Interview: Dave D’Alessio

For this interview, I ventured into a sci-fi convention to ‘meet’ with FANTASY/HUMOR author, Dave D’Alessio. After finally locating each other in the crowd, we sat down in a quiet corner and talked about his book. As always, ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Dave’ was written by Dave D’Alessio.

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Kelly parked her car and started at the crowd going into the sci-fi convention. She had to admit, she’d never been to one of these in her life, so this was new. The only question was, how was she going to find her interviewee in this mass of people? “I’ll be dressed as Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart,” he had told her, At least that narrowed it down…to the cosplay people.

Getting out of her car, she sent Dave D’Alessio a message letting him know she had arrived. She decided to get through the crowd and find a quiet place and let him find her. Otherwise she’d spend all her time here lost, and that wouldn’t be beneficial.

Once she found another place, she sent him another message, letting him know her location, and then she began to watch people as this was a wonderful opportunity for that.

A man in a green commando sweater and a tan beret with a UNIT badge pinned to it made his way through the gang, stopping once to admire a young lady in a purple cadet’s uniform and carrying a katana. “She’s here every year,” he explained. “Once someone asked her if this was just a bunch of people playing dress-up games and she recited the program to him from memory. Poor guy was dying.”

When Kelly heard this, she laughed. “Oh, that’s hilarious. You must be Dave D’Alessio.” She rose to her feet and extended her hand to shake his. “Great cosplay. Is this a good place to hang out? Or do you know someplace quieter?”

“Dave” took his beret off and put it down on the. “Now I’m out of character, so, yes. You must be Kelly. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He looked around the floor and then up into the air, as though visualizing the floor above. “We could look for an empty panel room, but people here are pretty cool. They won’t take pictures without asking permission, and they’ll leave us alone. That’s the rule. Cosplay is not consent.”

“That’s a pretty good rule to have. As long as we don’t get interrupted too much because an hour time is really not that long.” Kelly shook her head, and the two of them sat down. She glimpsed around at the crowds then looked back at Dave. “I tend to avoid these events because of the terrible headaches I get, so it’s nice to actually experience it.” She smiled at him. “I want to ask you about your life as a writer, but first I’ve got to ask, how did you get involved in cosplay?”

He rubbed a hand over his bald head, clearly older than most of the others. “I started coming here to listen to the writing guests. The first year I came they had Brandon Sanderson, Leona Wisocker, and Michael J. Sullivan, and they blew my mind. Sanderson is a really giving guy, and just took over the panels and made sure we got lots of great information. But in between I saw how cool everyone was with everyone else, so it seemed like a fun way to participate to get into character. Last year I came as Doctor Who #2 and got hooked up with my new friends in the Connecticut Whovians, so I guess it worked.” He smiled and ran a hand over his bald head.

Kelly smiled. “Sounds like a lot of fun. I’m glad you get to participate like that. Now though, let’s talk about your life as a writer.” She shifted in her seat to turn to look at him more fully, and she smiled at him. “When did you first become interested in writing?”

“High school,” he said immediately. “But I didn’t do much with it for years. Too busy having jobs.” He laughed. “But in 2007 a friend of mine from playing online RPGs, Jennifer Lautenschlager, told me about this NaNoWriMo thing. ‘You’d like it,’ she said, so I tried my first one starting on November 7th. Man, that book sucks!” He laughed again. Stuff just seemed to crack him up all the time.

Kelly chuckled when she heard this. “Well, NaNoWriMo is always supposed to be a rough draft, so…” She gave a shrug but smiled at him. “But that was when you became interested in writing once more? How have you progressed from there to here?”

His eyebrows went up. “Good one,” he said. “Let me see…By 2008 I was ready for NaNo, so I was really excited to start. And I found a local group, the Fairfield County Writers Group, and they meet year-round, so even when we’re no NaNoing, we’ve got something going on. I  got my first published short…well, no, second. I got one out in the 1980’s…I got my second published short story out of a game we played at one meeting. Have you seen Rory’s Storycubes?” He takes an aging iPhone from his OD green pants. “I’ve got the app here if you haven’t.”

Kelly shook her head and looked at his phone as he showed her the app. She furrowed her brows. “So what exactly does it do?”

He fired up the phone and tapped the icon. “There are nine dice here, nine d6, and they each have different pictures on each side. So you roll them and try to make a story from the imagery…” He shook his phone and the cubes danced. “There’s um…keyhole, flashlight – that was one of the one’s I got that time – clock…I’m not sure what that is, a rainbow maybe…the scales of justice, or maybe just scales…” He poked at the screen, moving dice around. “I dunno…moon…It’s a way of generating visual prompts. The symbols can mean whatever you want them to.”

“Very interesting.” Kelly nodded. “I’ll have to look up the app once we’re done.” She smiled, sitting back in her seat. “So is that how you came up with the idea for your book? Or were you inspired some other way?”

“You mean this book, The Yak Butter Diaries?” Of course he had a copy. He took it from his backpack and riffled through the pages. “This was my 2014 NaNo project and I wanted to do something other than another space opera. So I made a list of things I thought people think make the world go around…you know, love, money, stuff like that. I threw it to the group, too, and they came up with some doozies. So, then I created a character, a sort of naif, and had him react to those things. It’s the journey of discovery,” he finished naming one of the seven basic plots.

Kelly looked over the cover of the book and nodded then had to smile at Dave’s simplistic way of describing the book. “Well, there’s a lot of stuff for sure. Who exactly is the main character? Tell me a bit about the story world you created.”

He grinned again. “Tamosan Acorn,” he said. “I was watching Yojimbo and there’s the one scene where the geishas come out and play the shamisen, but I couldn’t call him shamisen because I couldn’t spell it. And Acorn because he’s a founding brought to the monastery at the top of the Temple of Enlightenment, and the monks name all the foundlings ‘Acorn.'” He fingered a curving road on the cover of the book, leading into, or away from, the mountains. “The monks teach that each person has to find his own place in the world, so they send him off to find his place.”

“And so the story is about him finding his place in the world?” Kelly lifted her brows, looking back at the book. It sounded intriguing for sure.

He nodded. “Yes. It’s a bit of an allegory, so he runs into people in isolated villages who have their own view of the world, you know, that the world revolves around…Oh, sport, in one place, or fitness in another.” He smacked a hand across his mouth. “Sheesh, I actually said ‘allegory,’ and almost came out with ‘weltenschauung.’ That would have been a killer.”

Kelly laughed. She appreciated Dave’s sense of humor. “So, was there anything in the book that surprised you when you wrote it? Don’t need any spoilers! But…I’m curious.”

“I know the answer to that is supposed to be yes,” he said, “But the truth is I had that list of places, and I laid them out ahead of time, so I knew what he was going to run into.” He though back two-and-a-half years to the first draft. “The only rule I had was that he had to have a crock of yak butter and a staff, and for most of the book his friend Singhan, to get him out of trouble. Sometimes I caught him using one or more of them with a little more ingenuity than I would have shown.”

“Why did you have those requirements though?” Kelly furrowed her brows. She noticed the bold digital clock on the wall and saw their time was nearly up, but she turned her attention back to Dave to hear his answer. They still had a little more time.

“I caught you,” he said, looking at the clock himself. “Got a panel at 1 myself. Why those? Well, I wanted yak butter, or I couldn’t have called it The Yak Butter Diaries. I just thought it was suitably absurd. And as for his staff, well, he’s a monk so he needs a staff, and as for Singhan, I needed someone to tell the jokes. Tamosan is not an especially funny guy.”

Kelly nodded when she heard this. “Well, all of that makes sense. Now, is this the first of a series, or is it a standalone book?”

“Standalone,” he said immediately. “Part of it was an experiment…I mostly write space operas, so I have one series of seven books plus a prequel and sequel. I’m working on a alternative history trilogy that turned into a quadrilogy, got a new series of what I call space light opera, comic space operas inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan plays…I just wanted to write something that stood on its own for a change. That’s why I self-published it,” he added. “They others I’m looking for agents and publishers for, but,” he held up the book, “This is so unlike what I normally write, except for the jokes, that it didn’t make sense to keep it with the others.”

Kelly smiled. “Well, it sounds like a wonderful experiment, and I really wish we had the time to talk more about your other work! But maybe another time! For now though, I need to get going, but I’ve really enjoyed this chat. Am quite curious how the character interview will go.” She rose to her feet with a smile. “Thanks for meeting with me and for answering my questions!”

Dave got up as well, and gave a polite half-bow. “Thank YOU! This was fun.” He looked around. “You’ll get out okay, right?” A giant Groot cosplayer walks by, twelve feet tall.

“Yep, I’ll find my way!” She saw the tall cosplayer and shook her head. That must have taken a lot of work. But then she looked back at Dave with a smile. “Have a great day!” With a wave and a smile, she headed out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Dave D’Alessio’s novel, ‘The Yak Butter Diaries’ can be found on Amazon. Also, be sure to follow him on social media for more updates on his work!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N202JXA

SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/Dave-DAlessio-595586537188347

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/David-W.-DAlessio/e/B0070GLS9E

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dalessio_dave

Character Interview: Melissa E. Beckwith’s Rhiannon

Fantasy author, Melissa E. Beckwith, invited me into her story world to meet with her character, Rhiannon Kossi. This gave me the opportunity to sit down with the young woman originally from modern day Montana who found herself in a whole different world when she was trying to discover what happened to her mom. She learned a lot more than she ever expected, and this interview explores a bit of it. ‘Kelly’ is written by me, and ‘Rhiannon’ is written by Melissa E. Beckwith. Enjoy!

melissa-beckwith

Rhiannon Kossi watched as Flath and Teo brought out a table and sat it in a sunny spot of the small opening.  Tim followed behind them carrying two chairs then quickly ran back to camp to bring some refreshments.

“Thank you, boys!” Rhiannon called and smiled up at Flath

“Anything for you, your Highness.”  Flath gave a ridiculous bow then stood up and smiled at her.  A soft summer breeze ruffled his blond hair, his golden panther earring glinting in the sunlight.  She leaned in and kissed his lips.  “Do not linger too long, Greannmhor, we must be on our way north soon,” he said then turned and left to help the others pack up the camp.

Rhiannon walked over to the table.  Tim had put out some hard bread and a little cheese and some sliced apples.  There was a jug there she knew held some kid of dark liquor and two wooden cups.  Rhiannon sighed, no silver tea service here, she thought.  She hoped Kelly would not mind.

Nervously she walked around the table and picked things up then mindlessly sent them back down.  She thought it was odd that The Muse would want to interview her, but ever since she got taken through that darn Tree of Jur and brought into this world, nothing made sense. Oh well, what harm would there be in giving an interview?  Queen Baobh already knew she was in Beaynid with the rebellion and was now on her way north to Ventra, to her people, the Archigos.

Rhiannon looked through the trees for any sign of Kelly, The Muse, and so far, saw nothing.  She turned her face up to the warmth of the sun and took a deep breath.  Soon she would face the Archigos.  Would they even accept her?  With her eyes closed she listened to the sound of the camp being packed away.  She heard men’s relaxed voices and horses off in the distance.  Song birds sung joyfully in the boughs of trees as squirrels scolded each other.

Suddenly she heard soft foot fall coming towards her and Rhiannon opened her eyes.  There was a beautiful young woman standing in front of her with a knowing smile on her face.  She could only be Kelly, the Muse.

Rhiannon held out her hand in greeting, “Hello, Kelly, it’s nice to meet you.”

Kelly smiled as she shook Rhiannon’s hand, but she also gave her a respectful bow at the same time. “So, what am I to call you? ‘Your Majesty’? ‘Empress’? People with titles can be finicky with how others address them.”

“Oh, well, you  can just call me Rhiannon, really.  I’m not sure how all that will go when we finally reach Ventra,”  Rhiannon laughed nervously, “I’m not the Empress yet, right?”  Rhiannon motioned over to the table.  “Here, please set down.  You’ve probably traveled far.  I mean, we are out in the middle of the Alba Forest.”

Kelly followed Rhiannon to the table and sat down. Then she glimpsed around, taking in her surroundings. “It’s quite a pretty place here. How do you like it compared to Earth?” She glimpsed back at Rhiannon.

“It’s different, that’s for sure.  Every decision I seem to make is either life or death.  And I’d kill for a bubble bath right about now,” Rhiannon snickered. Just then Luna, Rhiannon she-wolf trotted up and lay at Rhiannon feet.  “Please don’t mind, Luna.  She comes and goes as she pleases.”  Rhiannon smiled and petted her wolf’s furry head.

Kelly smiled at the beautiful wolf. “She’s lovely. However though, before we start talking about life here and how you’re adjusting, tell me a bit about what life was like back on Earth for you. Where did you work? Did you get a degree? I’m just curious to see how that life may have helped prepare you for this life.”

Rhiannon looked out over the forest basking in the summer sun trying to remember her life on the ranch.  Then she suddenly remembered she hadn’t even offered Kelly anything to eat or drink.  Please forgive my manners.  Would you like something to eat.  I’m afraid we don’t have anything very fancy here.  But we do have some strong liquor.” Rhiannon smiled nervously and cursed herself for not being more outgoing.  How would she ever lead a nation of warriors if she can’t even keep herself under control during a cozy interview with a friendly woman?

Rhiannon quickly poured two cups for her and Kelly and then she took a quick drink.  The liqueur burned her throat and warmed her body.   “Okay, back to the question.  Sorry. I grew up on a cattle ranch.  My father, Peter was a ranch hand working for Daniel Foster.  My childhood was pretty normal.  I went to public school, and though I was mercilessly teased for having darker skin and being the tallest kid in class, I liked school.”  Rhiannon took another drink trying to bolster her confidence.  Why was talking about her childhood so hard?  She started talking again, “I didn’t want to go to college, though  I just stayed on at the Ranch.  Eventually, Daniel’s son, Matthew, and I fell in love and we were engaged.”  Rhiannon smiled at the thought of Matthew and wondered how he had taken her disappearance.

Kelly leaned forward, setting her chin in her palm as she was curious. “And what happened between the two of you?”

Rhiannon was brought back to the present by the sound of Kelly’s voice.  “Oh, well over the winter I started having these really vivid nightmares.  I could really understand them but slowly I just started to feel numb about Matthew.”  A sad look darkened Rhiannon’s face.  “After a while I broke up with him and moved off the ranch.  I started waiting tables.  God, I hated that.”  Rhiannon shook her head and frowned.  “Finally, in the spring I had had enough and called my father and told him that I wanted answers about how my mom died.  I knew all those nightmares had something to do with her.”  Rhiannon shook her head and sighed.  She quickly took another drink from her wooden cup.  “My father finally said he would tell me everything, so the next afternoon I showed up at his cabin but he was missing!”

“And you went to look for him but somehow ended up here,” Kelly assumed with a nod. She furrowed her brows though as she thought back this some more and sat back in her chair. “And now you’re the leader of a rebellion on an entirely different world. How did that happen?” She chuckled, bewildered at the thought.

Rhiannon looked over at the men still breaking down camp.  She saw Flath busy at work and smiled affectionately at him.  She looked back over to Kelly and smiled.  “Well, Flath is leading the rebellion.  He and his men have been fighting Queen Baobh for over a year now.  But I guess me and my Archigos Warriors are their only chance.  That’s why they are taking me north.  I’m not sure if they will even accept me, but I guess they have to…”  Rhiannon’s voice trailed off.  Then she pulled the neck of her tunic open and showed Kelly the bright, red diamond-shaped birth mark over her heart.  “This is supposedly the Mark Of The Empress.  I don’t think they will have a choice since I am the daughter of Sernia, their Empress that was killed when I was six.”  Rhiannon sighed, “But I’m still nervous about being accepted.  The stakes are so high.  Flath and the Rebellion can’t win without the help of the Archigos.”  Rhiannon had a sad look on her face as she looked at Kelly.

Kelly considered Rhiannon for a moment, and then she leaned forward, locking eyes with her. “Going from being a nobody to being an Empress is a massive change. Are you ready for that?”

Rhiannon laughed softly, bitterly.  “No way.”  She shook her head.  “I don’t want it.  But I’ve seen too much here.  I’ve discovered who I am and what my purpose is in all this and it is as The Empress of Ventra.”  Rhiannon ran her hand through her long dark hair and leaned towards Kelly, looking into her eyes.  “I was told about about a prophecy,”  she began.  I didn’t want to believe it.  I fought not to believe it.  But I can’t fight it any longer.  I must take my place in this prophecy and bring an end to Baobh’s rule.”

“But how do you expect people to believe in you and to follow you when you have nothing to show for it?” Kelly lifted her brows as she sat back in her chair. “I’m merely asking these questions to get you to think, so when the time comes, if others ask the same questions, you will have a ready answer. But truly, these people have dealt with their current ruler for quite sometime now. You’ve a complete stranger. What knowledge do you have of the ways of the court? Or all the traditions and rituals of this land?  Has Flath or someone sat you down and given you a crash course?”

Rhiannon’s laugh was bitter again.  “Living here has been a crash course.  I don’t know anything about the way of the court, and even if I learned about things in Sona Tuath, I’m sure things are much different in Ventra.”  Rhiannon shook her dark head.  “All I have as proof of who I say I am is this birth mark,” she put her hand over the birth mark on her chest.  “and the memories I know have of my mother, their empress, and how she was killed by Baobh.”  Rhiannon took a deep breath and patted Luna’s head for reassurance.  “I suppose the Archigos will train me in the ways I need to know to rule their nation.”  Rhiannon got an unfocused look in her dark eyes as she pictured what it might look like in Màrrach, the capitol city of Ventra.  “The problem will be getting them to agree to come down here and fight with rebellion.  You see, the Suens and the Archigos hate each other.”  Rhiannon gave Kelly a direct look.

“Ahh…” Kelly nodded. “Sounds like you have quite a few complications ahead of you. Okay, so…to understand correctly, is Flath Suen? And you technically Archigo? I’m sorry I don’t know the terminology. Consider this a mini-crash course for me.” She smiled at Rhiannon. “I need to understand a little better, so I can ask the right questions.”

Rhiannon laughed and gave Kelly a warm smile.  “Yes, I am, so I’ve been told constantly since I arrived in this world, an Archigos.”  Rhiannon looked back over to Flath who was in an animated conversation with Tim and Teo.  She looked back over to Kelly.  “And Flath is a Suen, yes.  There in lies the rub…”  Rhiannon’s voice faded away.

“Because you and Flath have feelings for each other?” Kelly raised her brows.

A huge, bashful smile crossed Rhiannon’s face.  She almost blushed.  Oh, come on, she thought.  You’re almost 30, what is wrong with you, acting like a school girl. She looked back up to Kelly, still smiling.  “Yes.  I have quite fallen for the rebellion’s leader.”  She laughed quietly.  “The Archigos will have a hard time accepting him, but they won’t have a choice.  After this war is over he’s going to come up to Ventra and help me rule.”  She lifted her chin, almost in defiance, then thought her self silly.  Kelly didn’t care.  She must be practicing for when she had to face the Archigos.

Kelly regarded Rhiannon for a long time, seeing the defiant look on her face. “Want my personal opinion? Marry him before you become Empress. That way the court won’t have any say in who you marry. Once you become Empress, your life is no longer your own. The people and court will dictate what you will and will not be allowed to do. You may think you will be the most powerful person in the land, but…” Kelly shook her head. “You are a stranger. All you have is a birthmark and memories–which may or may not be induced by some magic user. You need them to trust you. So before all that happens, if you and Flath love each other, marry him before all the royal requirements come into play.” But then Kelly shrugged and smiled. “Of course, you may do it however you see fit, but…knowing how royal courts can be…just because you and a few people believe you are the rightful ruler, doesn’t mean everyone will have the same opinion…especially if they’ve been ruled by another by some time.”

Rhiannon took another drink from her cup and set it down slowly, thinking about just how true Kelly’s words were.  She wondered if Flath would marry her now, before they went to Ventra?  She sighed.  It did look so hopeless.  Kelly was right, all she had was this birth mark.  Would her cousin, Shankee, who had been ruling as the proxy empress for twenty-four years even accept her?  Rhiannon looked up at Kelly and smiled.  “You are very wise, Muse.  I think you’ve seen much.”  She smiled.  “You have given me a lot to think about, for sure.”  She lifted her head and laughed, “even more to worry about, too!”

“I’d rather you know the possibility that are ahead of you instead of having you go in with blind confidence.” Kelly shook her head. “Of course, if you marry him now, the court may demand you annul the marriage before allowing you to take the crown. But on the other hand, if you don’t marry him before you take the throne, they would demand you marry other suitors, and if you insist on Flath, they may want you to abdicate your throne. It’s a tricky situation you’re in. If you can get the two different races to come to an agreement and not hate each other so much, then you have a chance.” Kelly then tilted her head to the side. “How do you plan on accomplishing that anyway?”

Rhiannon shook her head.  “It sounds hopeless, doesn’t it?”  She frowned a little, thinking.  “Well, most of the hatred for the Archigos comes from the Seuns within Sona Tuath.”  Rhiannon swept her arm across the opening.  “Out here, further from the castle people seem to be more tolerant.  But I figure that if the Archigos finally rid Beaynid of their despised queen, they will feel enough gratitude to at least start feeling less hateful towards their neighbors to the north.”  Rhiannon took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “Now the Archigos might be a whole different story.  I have no idea how deep their hatred of the Suens goes.  I will have to asses the situation once I get there.”  Rhiannon shook her head.  That seemed like a lame plain, even to her.

“Do you have any idea why the hatred is there?” Kelly lifted her brows.

“Luckily it’s not a long standing hatred, so perhaps there is hope.”  Rhiannon looked out over the forest as a flock of starlings flew overhead.  She slowly gathered her thoughts.  Finally she started talking again.  “After Baobh killed my mother and took her necklace, The Necklace of Verna, so that she could take the throne of Beaynid, the Archigos descended upon Sona Tuath seeking vengeance.  However, with the power of the necklace and the help of Lord Rull, the mighty Archigos were slaughtered.  But not without taking most of the men of Sona Tuath down with them.”  Rhiannon shook her head.  “Even though they were not happy with Baobh, they never forgave the Archigos for that war.”  Rhiannon smiled sadly. That is what I have to overcome.

“Well, since it isn’t longstanding, as you said, it should be a bit easier for you to unravel, but you’re gonna have to sit down and talk with them and not let them leave the table until they’ve resolved their issues. That…that’s not going to be a fun conversation.” Kelly grimaced. She knew how complicated it was with such discussions in her own family, and that wasn’t even royalty or members of a court. She did not envy Rhiannon for what she would have to do.

“However, on to another topic,” Kelly smiled. “How did you meet Flath anyway? And what about him has you so…taken?”

Rhiannon immediately seemed a smile, all thought of bloody wars behind her.  “I had just escaped Baobh’s men, the ones that pulled me through the Tree of Jur, and was wondering around lost when Teo found me.”  Rhiannon turned and pointed over to a stocky man in his late thirties with a shock of bright red hair and a bushy red beard.  She turned back to Kelly.  “Teo took me to Flath who thought I was spy,”  She laughed and shook her head.  “He didn’t know what to do with me.  He took e to the Prophecy Keeper, who happens to be Teo’s mother, and that’s where we learned of the prophecy that says I am supposed to be the one to bring ruin to Baobh.”  Rhiannon got a sad look on her face again.  “It was then that Flath decided he needed to take me to the Archigos so that I could be trained and hopefully lend help to the rebellion.”  Rhiannon leaned in and looked into Kelly’s eyes. “But by that time we were already in love.  However, I still have to go and do my duty,” she said in a forlorned voice.

“Unfortunately duty does take precedent over love at times, and that is difficult. However, if the two of you are committed to one another, and are always honest with one another, you can make it work.” Kelly gave Rhiannon a hopeful smile. “Now though, what about your father? You haven’t found him yet, have you? When you do, what are you going to do? I’m sure you will have many questions, but…he did take you from here to Earth for a reason. Do you forgive him for not telling you everything? Or is that still difficult to accept?”

Rhiannon got a faraway look in her dark eyes.  finally a tear slipped down her cheek.  “I do forgive my father.  He was doing what he thought was right.  He was trying to protect me from Baobh.”  She sadly shook her head.  “We have not been able to rescue him.  Baobh still hold him in her dungeons, hoping to lure my to Sona Tuath.  The only hope I have of seeing my father again is if the Archigos help to overthrow Baobh.”  Rhiannon smiled again.  “And then we will have a reunion and I will finally get to ask all those questions that I wanted to.”  Suddenly Flath called out to Rhiannon, “hurry it up, Greannmhor, we must leave soon!  Looks like the weather is turning.”  Rhiannon waved him away in a dismissive manner.  “Sorry about that, Kelly.  Go on.”  She smiled warmly at the woman.

Kelly looked up at the sky and saw clouds were beginning to gather. She could also tell the time of her interview was coming to a close, so she knew she had to wrap it up.

She smiled at Rhiannon. “Flath is right. I’m going to have to go soon anyway, but one final question, do you miss the simplicity of your life back on Earth? Would you trade one for the other? Or are you very content with the new life you’ve found here?”

Rhiannon looked out again over the Alba Forest and mindlessly stroked Luna fur. Finally she sighed and spoke.  “I do, at times, miss the care-free life I had on the ranch.  But I’m part of something so much bigger, now.”  She looked into Kelly’s eyes.  “I have to avenge my mother and help the people of Beaynid who suffer under Baobh’s rule.”  She got a little smile on her face, then.  “And then there’s Flath, of course.  I’m so thankful I met him.”  She laughed.  “I know, sappy.”

Kelly shook her head with a smile. “Not sappy at all.” But then she sighed and rose to her feet. “I must apologize, but my time here has come to an end. I need to be leaving. However, I appreciate you taking the time the talk with me and answer all my questions. I hope you the best with all your endeavors.” She smiled at her.

Rhiannon stood with Kelly and smiled.  “Thank you for your time, Kelly.  You gave me a lot to think about, and hopefully I’ll be more prepared when I do meet my people in Ventra.  Have a safe journey, friend.”

“And you as well.” With that, Kelly bowed to Rhiannon and then turned and went on her way.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Melissa E. Beckwith’s novel, ‘The Empress of Ventra: The Sword of Rhiannon: Book One’ can be found on Amazon here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Empress-Ventra-Rhiannon-Fantasy-Romantic-ebook/dp/B01NBNZ6VJ

Social Media

Website: http://www.melissaebeckwith.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/M_E_Beckwith

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMelissaEBeckwith/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/M_E_Beckwith/

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-e-beckwith-Author

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/109438403164764731559

Author Interview: Melissa E. Beckwith

I met with FANTASY author, Melissa E. Beckwith, today and had a lovely chat with her. I got to know a bit about the author behind ‘The Empress of Ventra: The Sword of Rhiannon: Book One’. It’s always nice pull back the veil and understand the mind behind the book. As in every interview, ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Melissa’ was written by Melissa E. Beckwith. Enjoy the interview! 

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The door chimed when Kelly opened it and stepped into the coffee shop. She looked around and saw a young woman sitting at a table with a laptop in front of her. Kelly smiled but didn’t go to her right away. Instead, she went to the counter and ordered some hot chocolate.

Once she received it, she turned to the table and went to it. “Melissa Beckwith?” Kelly raised her brows then held out her hand to shake. “I’m Kelly. Thanks for meeting with me.” She saw down at the table across from Melissa. “How are you doing today?”

Melissa took a slow sip from her strong coffee. “I write full-time now that the kids are out of the house.  I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful husband who pays the bills and let’s me just worry about my writing.”   Melissa’s lips curved into a huge smile at the thought of her husband of almost thirty years.

“That is fantastic! You are truly blessed.” Kelly grinned at her and wrapped her hands around her mug. “So, when did you first become interested in writing?”

Melissa cocked her head to one side, her long, brown hair falling over her shoulder. With a nostalgic look on her face, she answered, “I started telling stores as far back as I can remember.  Even before I learned how to read, I “wrote” stories in the form of picture books.”  Melissa chuckled softly, “I went through a lot of crayons.”

Kelly’s grin grew. “I was like that too! Did pictures because I didn’t know how to write, but had so many stories in my head!” She shook her head, still smiling, remembering those memories, but then she focused on Melissa once more. “Now a lot of writers have had a love for writing since they were children, but it wasn’t until years later that they actually became serious about writing. Was that the case for you? Was there a specific time when you suddenly just woke up and decided, ‘I am going to be a writer!’ Or did you know since you were a child that you were going to be a writer?” Kelly tilted her head to a side as she watched Melissa.

Melissa looked over Kelly’s shoulder with an unfocused look in her blue eyes.  She finally spoke.  “I always wanted to be a writer.  When I was young I told everyone that I was going to be an author when I grew up.  But some how when children start to grow up they lose that abandon and start getting self conscience.”  Melissa looked at Kelly, a serious expression on her face.  “I was not encouraged as a child to write, in fact I was discouraged.  In my family, people didn’t do that sort of thing seriously.  So I grew up, got married right out of high school and had three kids right away.  I just got busy raising kids and didn’t write much.” 

Melissa took another sip of her coffee and looked down at the floor as if she were wrestling with a decision.  Finally she took a deep breath, apparently making a choice and started to speak to Kelly again.  “I have bi-polar, and it has haunted my life for a very long time.  So much of my life was spend in deep despair.”  Melissa peered deeper into Kelly’s eyes, wanting to say the right words.  “Last summer was one of those times.  However, I just finally made the decision that I would get serious about my writing once and for all.  I had these two finished novels waiting to be edited and published, and darn it, that was what I was going to do.  I pushed aside my crippling self-doubt and just went for it!”

Kelly nodded as she listened to Melissa, and she leaned forward, locking eyes with her. “I am really sorry your family wasn’t supportive of your dreams, but I am glad you circled back round to it, and have managed to write and publish a book.” She smiled at her then sat back once more. “So, tell me about your book. What is it about?”

Melissa leaned back in her chair and took another drink of her hot coffee, her smile returning to her face.  “The Empress of Ventra is really about self discovery and overcoming self-doubt….with a little thread of romance thrown in, just to keep things interesting.”  Melissa laughed and looked out the window.  The sun had hesitantly come out and started to melt the light snow that was clinging to the ground.  She looked back over to Kelly. “Rhiannon Kossi had questions about her past. The answers she received took her to another world and changed her life forever. Suffering from vivid nightmares, she is sure that she’s been lied to about her childhood. Seeking the answers to long forgotten questions, she is mysteriously taken from her quiet, simple life on a Montana cattle ranch and thrust into a new, violent world where she is forced to either fight or die. In her quest for answers to her past Rhiannon must accept hard truths that will forever change the course of her life…that is, if she can stay alive.”

Kelly stared for a long moment. “Wow. That sounds…rather complex.” Then she smiled. “But interesting all the same. I want to ask more about the story and the characters, but I’m afraid if I do, it’d probably spoil it for the readers.” Kelly frowned. That was the part of her job she hated, but then she smiled again. “So, Melissa, how did you come up with the idea for this book? What inspired it?”

Melissa threw her head back and laughed, a couple people near the two looked over for a second but then went back to their conversations.  “I had a dream!”  Melissa smiled and nodded her head.  “It was a very long time ago, about 1999 or maybe 2000.  I had a dream of a woman who gets sucked into another world and has to to all sort of things to stay a live.  Of course over about 16 years I finally polished up the story and wrote it down.”

Kelly grinned when she heard this. “Don’t you just love it when stories come to you in dreams? It’s crazy! You said this was over 16 or so years ago? And you stuck with it all this time? Good for you! Now, there are a lot of other writers who have become discouraged because it is taking them years, maybe decades to write their story. Since you have experience with that, what advice would you give them to persevere?” Kelly remembered her hot chocolate and drank so more. She was so drawn into the conversation, she had forgotten about it.

Melissa scratched an itch on her nose and cocked her head to the side again while she thought. “Well, I spend most of that time learning about the craft of writing,” she said slowly.  “It’s not as easy as it seems to produce a quality, marketable story.  So I would tell new writers to educate themselves as much as they can on the craft of writing well.  Also, read A LOT in the genres you want to write in.  Study the tropes and what readers want.” Melissa stopped and took a sip of her coffee, then started up again.  “And don’t give up.  It takes a long time to learn all this stuff and become good at it.  I would advise all writers to just keep writing everyday.  Give yourself little goals, like 100 words a day, then when you easily meet that goal everyday your self-confidence will grow.  Also, network, talk to other writers.  Writing can be a lonely job, but when you find others who share you passion it’s not so bad, then.  You can learn a lot from your fellow writers.  Just don’t give up.  Never give up.  It’s never too late.  Finish that manuscript, even if you think it’s garbage, do it anyway.  Always finish.  That is another way to build self-confidence.”

Kelly nodded, grateful for her words. “Very true. Thank you.” However, she glimpsed at the clock on the wall and saw the time. She looked back at Melissa. “Our time’s almost up. Have about ten minutes left, so a few more questions. What was your favorite thing about your story as you wrote it?”

Melissa fidgeted a little in her seat trying to get comfortable. “Well, it was very refreshing to write about a strong woman.  I have never considered myself anything resembling strong of independent, so it’s been fun writing Rhiannon.”  Melissa laughed.  “I guess she’s like my alter ego.  Also, it gets more into it in the second book, The War of the Gypsy, but it was quiet refreshing to create a kingdom in which women ruled and men had to follow.”

Kelly smiled. “That is refreshing to see. I’m glad you’ve completed it and published it. That wasn’t easy, and you have done well. Unfortunately though, our time has come to an end, and I have elsewhere to be.” She rose to her feet and reached her hand out to shake Melissa. “However, it was wonderful to meet you and to hear about your story. Keep writing, okay? And keep publishing. You’ve got this.” She smiled warmly at her.

“Thank you, Kelly for spending time with me this morning.”  Melissa grabbed Kelly’s warm hand and shook it.  She smiled up at the woman.  “Be careful out there, there are some crazy drivers in Indiana!”  Melissa laughed.

Kelly chuckled. “Ah, my dad grew up in Indiana, so I’m a bit familiar with it. You have a good day, Melissa! Take care!” With a wave and a smile, Kelly headed out.

Melissa waved and had a content, happy look on her face.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Melissa E. Beckwith’s novel, ‘The Empress of Ventra: The Sword of Rhiannon: Book One’ can be found on Amazon here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Empress-Ventra-Rhiannon-Fantasy-Romantic-ebook/dp/B01NBNZ6VJ

Social Media

Website: http://www.melissaebeckwith.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/M_E_Beckwith

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMelissaEBeckwith/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/M_E_Beckwith/

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-e-beckwith-Author

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/109438403164764731559

Character Interview: Nan Sampson’s Charlie

Over the last year or so, I’ve interviewed many of Nan Sampson’s characters. One of those characters was Charlie. If you would like to read the first interview I conducted with him, you can find it on Nan Sampson’s site here: https://nansampsonauthor.com/2015/07/30/an-interactive-character-interview-meet-charlie-mccallum-from-my-ellie-gooden-mystery-series/. 

In this interview, I was able to catch up with Charlie and see how life was treating him. As always, ‘Kelly’ was written by me while ‘Charlie’ was written by Nan Sampson.

book-3

Charlie McCallum sat in one of a pair of broad, chintz-covered, wing back chairs in front of the fireplace in the study of the Birches Inn, crossing one leg over the other and vice versa, drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair.  He ran long fingers through his mop of curls, which had grown overlong during his recuperation from his broken leg.  He really needed to find a place in Horizon to get it cut—maybe Per, his new landlord of sorts, could recommend a barber.

The Birches Inn was a lovingly restored Queen Anne Victorian that sat on a hill just outside the small, southwestern town of Horizon, Wisconsin.  Once the home of a mining baron, it was now the premier place to stay in the county for tourists, wedding parties, honeymooners and even the occasional temporarily displaced local.  Filled with period antiques and seamless replicas, it was genteel, elegant, and yet homey and comfortable.  He loved the place—the lace curtains, the damask wallpaper, the oriental rugs, the rich, mahogany furniture and best of all, the pocket doors.  If he ever had a house, he wanted one with pocket doors.

The study today was lit by firelight and table lamps, the pale winter sun shining ineffectually through the windows.  Outside, snow covered the ground, decorated the birches and aspens that graced the property, and the temperatures were closing in on zero again.  The study, however, was toasty warm and delightfully cozy.  It was the perfect setting and he’d asked Arabella, who owned the Inn with her husband Seth, for private use of the room today.  Since tourists this time of year were few and far between, she’d readily agreed.

He’d met his anticipated visitor, a woman named Kelly Blanchard, once before, at her little shop.  That had been almost a year ago, back when Ellie had first moved to this little one-horse town.  It had been the strangest meeting he’d ever had. 

And now, here he was, meeting with her again, and much like the previous time, he wasn’t really sure why.  But he didn’t mind.  Their conversation had been fun and, in a way, incredibly helpful in terms of his relationship with Ellie.  In fact, without Kelly’s advice, he might not even have a relationship with Ellie.  Not that Ellie was ready yet to admit they had one, but hey.  Baby steps.

He grinned, scrubbed his finger through his curls then stood to pace, trying to keep his hands off the plate of chocolate chip cookies he’d asked Arabella to bake.  Tit for tat, he thought.  Kelly had served him cookies last time, it was proper he return the favor.  His stomach fluttered nervously as he waited.  What on earth, he wondered, would they discuss today?

Kelly entered the inn and was grateful to get out of the cold. She was a Texas girl for a reason! But she did enjoy the occasional snow. The woman at the front directed her to the study, and when Kelly pushed open the door, she smiled at the warm and cozy atmosphere. “Now this is a place I could spend forever in,” she smiled at Charlie when she saw him there. She headed over to him with a plate of chocolate chip cookies she had made just for this meeting, but then she noticed the cookies already on the table. Kelly laughed. “I made these for you because I knew you liked them from our last meeting. Guess great minds think alike. But still.” She placed them on the table and shook Charlie’s hand before sitting down across from him. “So, Charlie, how have you been since our last chat?”

“Aw, you’re so sweet!  Thanks!”  He still remembered the taste of those chocolate chip cookies from their last meeting.  “I’ll save yours—I know they’ll be better, even though Arabella does a bang up job.”

He sat nervously, then stood up again almost immediately to pace.  “Things are good.”  He gestured down at his leg, which was finally cast-free.  “Leg is healing well.  I still limp some around Ellie, just to yank her chain.”  He paused.  “Oh, wait, you probably didn’t hear about that.  I broke my leg in November.  And Ellie nearly got herself shot.  One of her college friends was murdered and Ellie had to jump in to investigate.”  He shook his head.  “Girl needs to learn to wait for back up.”

“Hold up.” Kelly lifted her hand. “First off, was this another murder Ellie has solved? And secondly, she almost shot herself? How? And…how did you break your leg.” Then Kelly paused, realizing she had asked a lot of questions. She chuckled, sitting back in her chair. “And answer those in whatever order you want.”

He grinned, grabbed one of Kelly’s cookies. The things were like crack.  “Maybe I should start from the beginning.  Ellie came back to Chicago in November—she and Kate were going to meet up with their old college friend, Lacey.  But before the three could get together, Lacey turned up dead in an alley.  No one, not even me, believed it was a random street crime, so Ellie hired me to help her investigate.  In the end, we identified the killer and Ellie cornered them.  The killer had a gun, and before I could get into a position to help her, nearly shot Ellie.  As I raced to help, the killer fell and knocked me down a flight of stairs, resulting in me being laid up for eight weeks.”  He grinned.  “So just to keep my hand in the game, so to speak, I decided I’d recuperate up here in Horizon.  Gotta keep an eye on that girl.  I’m staying at her neighbors house, officially, since Per had a spare room, but I try to spend every waking moment in her cabin.  Worming my way into her affections.”  A chuckle.  “And I’m growing on her.  Like fungus!”

Kelly chuckled at his last statement, but she shook her head. “Hate to say this, but it almost sounds like Ellie attracts murder. It’s a bit dangerous to be her friend.” However she shrugged and grinned at Charlie. “But that’s why she has you there at her side.” She winked then leaned forward, took a cookie off the plate and met Charlie’s gaze. “So how are things progressing between the two of you?” She lifted her brows as she sat back in her chair and ate the cookie.

He stared out at the snow for a moment.  “Um…I liken it to the growth of a glacier.  A little progress everyday.  While it’s happening it’s hard to tell, but if you stand back and look at the big picture, you can definitely see the change.”  He rubbed his jeans, watched the fire dance.  “We’re getting somewhere.  Not sure where exactly, but somewhere.  I just need to be patient.”

“And how are you doing with needing to be patient?” Kelly tilted her head to a side. “Do you consider yourself a naturally patient individual, or is that a trait you need to strengthen?”

“Well, I’m not Yoda.  But I guess I’m more Yoda than Han Solo.  Ellie would be Han.  She needs to charge off in a direction—any direction—to feel like she’s getting somewhere.  I’m okay waiting.  One day she’s going to realize we’re an “us”, and it will have happened so gently and so naturally, she won’t feel the need to rail against it.”  He grinned.  “Meanwhile, living with her, around her, certainly isn’t boring.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “But hopefully she won’t trip over another body before spring.  I can’t remember ever being this cold.  And I’m a Chicago boy!”

Kelly tried not to laugh when he said what he said about Yoda and Han, but finally she cracked a smile. “Well, Charlie, gotta tell you somethin’. If she’s Han, then you need to be Princess Leia. Just forgo the whole golden bikini thing, okay?” Kelly laughed but then forced herself to regain her composer. “Okay, okay, I know that’s not what you meant, but just had to say it.”

He laughed, hard.  “So glad you’re one of my tribe, Kelly!”  He glanced down at himself.  “But hey, you don’t think I could pull that outfit off?  Have I gained that much weight?”

Kelly laughed again then tilted her head, giving him a thorough look. “Well, maybe you could pull it off. If you did, there would have to be pics for proof!” She grinned at him, but then shook her head still chuckling. “Okay, but back to the questions! What do you think of Ellie’s habit of stumbling upon dead bodies, and she’s not even a detective or anything. I mean…isn’t that a bit…odd?”

He paused, his expression darkening.  “Ellie…Ellie’s a magnet for shit like that.  I mean, I want to say it started with the murder of her parents.  God, what a horrific crime.  But really, based on stories I’ve heard from Kate about some things that happened back when they were in college and first learning about “the Craft”, it seems like dark stuff—woo-woo creepy stuff—has been following her around for a long time.  So the fact that dead people harass her, or that she stumbles over fresh corpses at the drop of a hat, at some level doesn’t really surprise me.  Death and tragedy seem to follow her around like Erik the Red.”

Kelly frowned. “It’s just odd…to me. But at least she has you there.” She smiled at him. “Are you still working for the police?”

He ducked his head, looked away.  “Um, no.  No, I’m freelancing now.  I got my Private Investigator’s license over the summer.”

This caused Kelly to furrow her brows, and she leaned forward. “What happened that caused you to leave the police?”

“It…the…the job just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.  Dan says I’m just being a flake, a spoilt prima donna.”  He gave a shrug.  “Maybe he’s right.  Maybe I’m just better off working for myself, doing my own thing.”

Kelly narrowed her eyes, and she regarded him for a long moment. “By all the ‘maybes’ you’re saying, it sounds like you’re not convinced yourself. Leaving your job like that isn’t something you just wake up one day and decide to do. It’s a decision that takes time to process and think through before committing to it. Did something trigger it? Did justice not get served on a case?”

He jerked upright, met her eyes, looked away again.  How did she do that?  “It wasn’t a knee jerk decision, I’ll tell you that.  As for justice…”  His tone became bitter.  “Well, apparently justice is a subjective thing.  Contrary to what I’d always been taught, it doesn’t apply equally to all people.  Whore, junkies, minorities, all those disenfranchised folks at the bottom, they don’t get justice unless it fills a quota or it helps someone’s political ambitions.”  He stood, paced back to the window.  “Hell, it isn’t even just the poor who get the shaft.  Look at Ellie.  Her parents’ were solid upper middle class and their murders were never solves nor will they be unless someone like me…”  He pressed his lips together, shook his head before finally turning to face her again.  “I still support the Force.  There are damn good cops, damn good men putting their life on the line every day.  But justice, the kind with a capital J?  Looking for that these days is like going on a snipe hunt.”  He shrugged again.  “So I got out.  Now I can give justice to people on my own terms, or at least kill myself trying.”

“And justice is supposed to be blind, but sadly it isn’t.” Kelly shook her head, but she leaned forward, intertwining her fingers as she locked eyes with Charlie. “But is it right for you to take justice in your own hands? You may be right on all accords, but…there’s a very thin line between the vigilante and the villain in all spheres of life.”

He clenched his jaw, forced himself to relax.  “Look, I’m no vigilante.  When we cornered Lacey’s killer, I had a cop buddy of mine with us.  He did the Law and Order thing.  I don’t intend to be judge and jury.  But I want like hell to make sure the alleged criminal gets to trial.  That’s all.  I just want to give Truth the chance to be spoken.  What happens after that is in the hands of the system.  I still believe in the system.  Just not some of the people who fancy themselves in charge of it.”

Kelly stared at Charlie for a long moment. She could feel his irritation with her questions, but that only probed her to dig deeper. When she spoke, she spoke with a soft voice. “What was the case that has troubled you so much? Is it Ellie’s parents’ case being unsolved and that is troubling you because you are getting closer to Ellie? What was the case that finally made you take that step?”

He sighed.  She wasn’t going to give up.  And maybe, just maybe, he was ready to talk about this.  “No, it wasn’t Max and Serena Gooden’s murders, although I haven’t given up on that case.  I have the files and one day…”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  he felt sweaty, nauseous.  “There was a young girl.  A young Asian girl.  Fifteen.  She was turning tricks in around Chinatown.  I knew her from working the beat there, knew which pimp she worked for.  I’d even tried to talk her into getting out, getting her into a shelter, but sometimes these kids can’t see the forest for the trees.  Anyway, she turns up in a dumpster near Ravenswood area—hell and gone from her normal haunts.  She’d been raped, strangled and tossed into a dumpster behind shop like a piece of trash.”

He paused, swallowed.  Felt the lump in his throat, the bile rising.  “There were no wits, very little in the way of physical evidence, at least in the official file.  My partner and I worked it hard for three weeks, but every day that passes, more cases pile up on your desk and she was just a girl, just a low class run-away hooker.  She didn’t rate. So we had to let it drop.  Officially.”  He glanced up at Kelly.  “But I couldn’t.  I knew her.  She was a sweet kid.  So I kept digging, on my off time.  And eventually I turned up a witness, someone who’d seen her getting out of a fancy car and heading into a building on the arm of a man.  A very well-placed man.  I took the evidence to my superior…”  He fell back against the chair.  “Well, you can guess what happened.”

“He told you to drop it, and you couldn’t, so you left the force,” Kelly guessed, but allowed him to confirm this or correct her.

“Basically.  I tried going over his head, to the DA, but got shot down there too.  The guy was untouchable.”  He rubbed his face.  “The hell of it is that I’ll bet money this wasn’t the only girl this guy killed.  And I can’t do anything about it.”  Outside, snow was falling again.  A white blanket, covering over the ground.  Hiding all the defects in the landscape.  “So yeah.  I left.  I suppose that makes me a coward, part of the problem.  But I just couldn’t face it.  Plus, by doing what I did, I’d pretty well screwed my chances to advance anyway.”

“Charlie, it doesn’t make you a coward.” Kelly shook her head. “You hold to a higher standard than most people, especially when it comes to justice, and when other people won’t adhere to your standard, you have to move on. It is better to do that than to compromise and lower your standard because if you did *that*, years from now you would look in the mirror and not recognize the man you have become. But standing firm on what you believe, *that* takes strength.” She gave him a reassuring smile then sat back in her chair. “However, have you thought about encouraging Ellie to get her PI license too? I mean, she’s the one who keeps stumbling upon the dead bodies. You two might as well be a team.”

He grinned but shook his head.  “Oh, no.  No, no, no.  I want Ellie to stay a civilian.  She’s a great business woman, and she makes a mean latte, but law enforcement would drive her absolutely crazy.  She’s not exactly a rule-follower.  Even as a P.I., there are a ton of rules to follow.  Besides.  Her getting a PI license would just mean she’d get into even more trouble.  And I don’t think I could take that.” He considered a moment.  “Besides.  We’re already a team.  She just hasn’t realized it yet.”

Kelly laughed at that then reached for another cookie. “Fair enough, and true, I would say you two make a good team.” She smiled at him and broke off a piece of the cookie to eat while she contemplated her next question. Once she had swallowed, she asked, “Now though, you are a PI, so you have other cases than just Ellie’s, right? Have you taken a break from all of that while your leg heals, or how does that work?”

He blew out a breath.  “To be honest, paying cases are hard to find.  I’ve been kind of coasting since I broke my leg.  I mean, it’s not like I’ve actually moved up here.  Not for real.  Most of my stuff is still at Dan and Kate’s – I’m sort of between formal addresses at the moment, since apparently being a PI doesn’t really pay very well and I lost my lease.”  He scanned the room, the book cases, looking anywhere but into Kelly’s penetrating gaze.  “I’ve sort of been helping the local Chief of Police out with a couple of things.  And once in a while I get tagged by a friend of mine who works for the Feds.  But really, at the moment, I’m on, um, oh, let’s call it a sabbatical.”

“And are you enjoying this sabbatical? or are you going stir crazy yet?” Kelly smiled at him.

“God!  Stir crazy doesn’t even cover it.  Especially now that the leg feels better.  So I had Kate send up some of my files – the ones from Ellie’s parent’s murders.  I know if I keep digging I can turn something up, despite how long it’s been.  But I’ve got to do that on the sly.  She’d kill me if she knew what I was doing.”

Kelly furrowed her brows. “She doesn’t want you looking into that?”

“You gotta understand, Ellie is a really private person.  And she has this thing about law enforcement.  They totally bungled the case and put her through hell over it. Because I used to be a cop, I’m sort of painted with the same brush.  If she knew I were looking into it—without her permission, without her asking me to – she’d probably break my leg on purpose.  And leave me out in the snow to freeze.”  He gave a rueful grin.  “She’s got a temper, our Glenda Goodwitch.”

This made sense to Kelly, so she nodded, but it only brought up another issue. She set her chin in her palm and raised her brows. “And what are you going to do when she does eventually find out because she will.”

“Ah.  Heh heh.  Yeah.”  He rubbed his hands on his jeans.  “That’s, um, going to be interesting.  I’m hoping I can find a good time to spring it on her.  Some nice, quiet moment.  After she’s had two or three mojitos maybe.  Or has been sedated for surgery?”

“Yeah, I can totally see you randomly saying something like, ‘Hey, will you marry me? Oh and I’ve been looking into your parents’ case…’ Not sure which of those statements would surprise Ellie the most.” Kelly shook her head, chuckling at the thought.

“I think either might be lethal!”

Kelly gave him a wicked grin. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to wear a bulletproof vest and stay a safe distance from her when you break the news. Hopefully she’ll be stunned for a moment, giving you enough time to get a little of a headstart to run away.” Then Kelly sat back in her chair. “But anyway, you will figure out what to say when the time comes. Hopefully you can tell her yourself rather than her finding out and confronting you. That would be bad.”

“Yeah.  That’s the plan.”  He sighed.  “Pretty sure the guy who wrote the book on relationships never counted on an Ellie Gooden.  She’s unique.  But I can’t imagine spending my life with any one else.”  He glanced up at Kelly.  “I’m sunk.”

Kelly smiled when he said this. She liked that he knew who he wanted to spend his life with but that he wasn’t forcing Ellie into a relationship. “Just be patient, Charlie. You’ve done well as far as I can tell. When the time is right, you’ll be able to tell her what she means to you, and I really hope both of you the best.” Then Kelly glimpsed at the clock on the wall and sighed. “Well, my time here is about done.” She looked back at Charlie and smiled as she rose to her feet. “It was great chatting with you again. Thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”

He stood as well. “No, the pleasure was mine.  I, uh, I haven’t talked about the thing… the reason behind my resignation, with anyone before.  I really appreciate you listening.  And uh, you were right.  About the fine line between vigilantes and villains.  I’ll keep that in mind, especially when I find the a-holes who killed Ellie’s parents.”  He stuck out his hand.  “So.  Thank you.”

Kelly shook his hand and smiled. “It was my pleasure. And some time another, you’re gonna have to be honest with Ellie. Honesty is very important with any relationship. For now though, I need to go. Enjoy the cookie!” With one more smile and a wave, Kelly turned and headed out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Nan Sampson’s third novel in her Coffee and Crime series, ‘Forest Outings’ is now available. You can find it, along with the other books of her series, at the following links:

Amazon Link to Restless Natives, Book 1 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:  https://www.amazon.com/Restless-Natives-Coffee-Crime-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01EQTOTOS

book-1

Amazon Link to Office Heretics, Book 2 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:

https://www.amazon.com/Office-Heretics-Coffee-Crime-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01KXW537Y

book-2

Amazon Link to Forest Outings, Book 3 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N6W6LCK/

book-3

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GoodReads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8386474.Nan_Sampson

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Nan-Sampson/e/B00LSWJ4Z6/

Character Interview: Arthur David’s Blackmail

I had the opportunity to sit down with Arthur David’s fictional secret agent, Blackmail, from his sci-fi spy thriller novel ‘Agents of the Third Party’. I learned some things about her agency, The Third Party, as well as her own motives to work for them. 

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BlackMail sat on a stone bench that was out on her estate. It was still a little crisp outside in New York at this time of year, but not so bad that she felt the need to be inside. Water babbled through a fountain behind her, the sound helping to calm her. Trees surrounded the yard, each flanked by heaters keeping the bats that live there warm throughout the year.

She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for an interview to start that she shouldn’t be having. The Party didn’t look nicely on anyone that gives out information on them, but she was going to do it anyways.

“Ma’am, a car has arrived at the front gate.” Alfred’s voice seemed to come from nowhere, just as it always did. “The occupant claims to have an appointment with you, shall I allow her in?”

BlackMail toyed with the idea of having Alfred send her away, she really shouldn’t be doing this. She felt like she should have some record though. She had been witness to too many agents who had died, the world never knowing what they had done for good or bad. She wasn’t looking for fame, just for someone out there to know that there were things happening, there were people making the world better.

“Alfred, let her in. I’ve kept her out there for too long already, and we really don’t have the time to waste. And make sure Jade doesn’t come around or that Kelly is here, this meeting is private.”

“Yes Ma’am. I’m opening the gate for Ms. Kelly right away. How shall I keep Jade away?”

“I really don’t care Alfred, lock her in her room if you have to, just keep this private.”

“Right away Ma’am. Excelsior!”

BlackMail got up to her feet trying to hide the smile Alfred’s last exclamation brought. He always reminded her of her great-grandfather, and he had always made her smile. She composed herself as the car with Kelly silently drives up to her fountain, lights along the driveway directing the automated system to a spot to park at.

Once Kelly parked and climbed out of the car, she looked around, taking in the sight of the estate. Then she saw a woman a little ways off, so Kelly dug her hands into her coat pockets and headed her way. “I’m assuming you are the one they call BlackMail? Thank you for meeting with me. Quite a place you have here.” She glimpsed around before looking back at BlackMail. “Is this something from your family or does the Party just pay their top agents that well?” She smiled as she asked this.

BlackMail smiled back at Kelly and glanced around her estate. “A little bit of both. My family was already very well off before I joined The Party. The Party certainly does take care of its agents, and there have been a few missions that have been pretty lucrative to me personally.”

“I’m sure.” Kelly nodded as she continued to approach. “So, was your family in politics or so? Or just….wisely invested?” She then sat on the bench across from BlackMail and observed her.

“No, my families money…” BlackMail laughed as she thought on where they got started “My family came into money thanks to my great-grandfather. Not a politician, though he did have a run in with politics. Nothing overly bad, more of the knee jerk reactions politicians have to things they don’t understand. He was a very creative man, and he turned that into a fair amount of wealth. He wasn’t always the best at managing it though. However the rest of the family was able to take what he had given them and turned it into much more.” BlackMail gestured around at the garden around them, “They had no idea, my family, what I would end up doing, what that wealth would ultimately help finance.”

“Interesting.” Kelly leaned forward, clasping her hands together. “So do you help finance The Party? Or just your own missions and side projects?”

BlackMail laughed softly for a second. “Oh no, The Party is well financed without me. As I said earlier, they take care of us pretty well. It’s an organization of global reach, interests spread out all over the world in just about anything you can imagine. The Party likes to have its fingers in everything, from the mundane such as entertainment, companies that specialize in computer science and security, Travel, banks and everything in between. I know none of that sounds particularly threatening, but The Party is involved in defense contracts, weapons, and scientific research for curing disease, to the worst of new weaponry. My wealth, really is just for me.”

Kelly smiled as she nodded. “At least you have it and can do whatever you will with it.” With that, she sat back and considered BlackMail for a moment. “I was informed you joined The Party at age 18, so what was life like before you became an agent? Do you have any siblings to speak of? And what of your parents”

BlackMails eyes unfocused for a moment as she thought back to the days before The Party.” Life was normal, I guess. I’m not really even sure what that means anymore. I grew up with my older sister, and my mother and father. My parents weren’t much for flashing our wealth around. You wouldn’t know it from my home now, but we grew up in a 3 bedroom house, with Toyotas in the driveway. They wanted us to know how it was to live like everyone else. Sort of. I mean, we had the latest things, traveled around the world. But nothing outwardly screamed ‘Filthy Rich’.” BlackMail paused a moment to catch her breath and gather her thoughts before continuing. “They, they’re all gone now. I’m the last one in my family. I don’t really see that changing any time soon. Very few agents live to be old or to have families.” A grim smile flickered across her face replaced with a bit of sadness, “My family tree will probably end with me. Thats why, ” BlackMail nodded towards her estate, “I built all this, have all the things I do. There won’t be anyone for me to pass it on to. I might as well enjoy it.”

Kelly frowned when she heard that. “And you’re happy with that. Happy to work so hard all your life and do all the deeds that you must do only for your name to perish with you when you die, for your wealth to go to someone you don’t know, and for you to be forgotten in history? Is it worth it?”

“Am I happy with it? I don’t know that I’m happy with it, I’ve come to terms with it I think. I know that everything I’m doing is for the greater good of humanity, for the betterment of the world. My life, my happiness is a small price to pay for the good that will come from it all.” She sighed and took a deep breath. “I asked you here, because we, Party agents, have done so much, changed the world in ways no one knows. The Party prefers is that way, but I wanted someone to know we exist, that we were here and we changed the world. I can live with that, I can die with that. My old partner, Aurora, taught me that. She died for those ideals, its the least I can do.”

“I understand that, yet you are not Aurora. Do you held firm to those ideals?” Kelly raised her brows as she observed BlackMail. “And please, be honest with me…and with yourself. I just want the truth because this may be the only time you will be able to truly be honest.”

“Those ideals have been my entire life. Even as a child, my parents would take us traveling. I saw the world, the incredible natural beauty and wonder of humanities genius.” BlackMail turned away staring off into the distance at the New York skyline, “But they didn’t shield us from the harsh realities of the world. Poverty, hunger, sickness were everywhere we looked. These things should not exist, not when we can fix them, not when we have the ability to ease or erase that suffering. My work with The Party will help to end all of that.” She turned back to Kelly “It’s a small price to pay. My life, one that may not have appeared to be one of privilege, yet very much was. To dedicate the rest of it, however long or short it may be, to that. It’s something I think that would have made them all proud. It’s something thats made it all worth it.”

“But do you think it’s truly possible…to accomplish what The Party wants to accomplish?” Kelly leaned in. “Yes, while it is good not to want hunger or poverty or sickness, and it would be nice if those didn’t exist, there are other evils that exist within each one of us that…if we have the ideal, someone will become discontent, and it’s a very slippery slope from that to full out war especially if the wrong people have the power.”

“Oh, I understand the evils that exist in us very well. We aren’t a charity, Party agents aren’t running around feeding the hungry or taking care of the sick. Assassination, sabotage, blackmailing, those are the tools we tend to employ. I told you earlier that The Party has its fingers in many pies, that isn’t done for money. Entertainment allows us to shape the attitudes of the public. Computer software and security. You put our systems on your computers and phones, and give The Party access to everything about you.” BlackMail gestured out towards the NewYork skyline, now filled with green growing along the sides and tops of the skyscrapers. “None of what you see out there happened by chance. America’s politicians didn’t suddenly see the light for fighting climate change and pollution. Some very dirty information suddenly appeared and would have made its way to the media. Some of that was because they were genuinely dirty, some was manufactured by Party Agents. All true, but things that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.  We work hard to curb the evils and excesses of those in power, and we do not always do so nicely. When the wrong people have the power, we try to work with them, reign them in, put them on the right path. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and then new people get the power.”

Kelly nodded as she came to understand. It reminded her of another agency she’d heard of from a TV show but couldn’t recall the name right now, but it made sense to her now. “I understand better now.” She sat back on the bench. “So, I understand Aurora brought you into The Party, but how did you come to meet her?”

“She and I had been very close for as long as I can remember. Growing up she had just been there, an ever present part of my life. Until she wasn’t anymore. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her, or what I would have become. Actually it would likely have ended up very similar to this. The Party seeks out its agents, not the other way around. It’s hard to apply for an agency you don’t know exists. Usually once The Party decides it wants someone, they end up working for them one way or the other. They most likely don’t even realize it. All those pies The Party has its fingers in. So even without Aurora, I would probably have ended up here anyways. Though I don’t think I’d be quite the agent I am now without her.”

“Are you saying that that the Party wanted you, so they sent Aurora to be a part of your life and gradually inform you about the Party and at the right moment bring you into it? Or what exactly? I mean, was she always an agent the entire time you knew her?”

“No, we grew up together. Both kids. I’m not really sure how or when she became a part of The Party. I don’t know when The Party became interested in me, if it was as a child or even earlier due to my families wealth, or later on in high school when I excelled to the top of my class. It may have been some combination of everything. I’m not in recruiting, though apparently I am now a trainer and a mentor.”

“Ah, I see.” This made sense to her now. “And your mentor was someone named Muse? What can you tell me about Muse? What was it like training under Muse?” It was odd asking these questions for Kelly because oftentimes she was considered the Muse, but Kelly dismissed this and looked to BlackMail for answers.

“Harsh. My first ‘mission’ Muse sent me on sent me into a random rundown shack of a house in the middle of nowhere. Supposedly, someone there had managed to develop a cure for HIV. It looked more like a meth lab then a facility for curing disease. But in I went to find the secret formula. God, actually talking about it makes it sound like a bad movie plot.” BlackMail pulled back her sleeve to show off a scar along the underside of her left arm. “I got this in that shack, when Muse caused it to collapse on top of me. It  was made of something that wouldn’t kill me when it fell on top of me, but it didn’t feel good either. When I managed to crawl out, she congratulated me on my death. That wasn’t the last time I ‘died’ under her tutelage. But it was designed to make me think and keep me cautious. To keep me from rushing in without thinking. It was necessary, it’s kept me alive. Earlier I told you most agents don’t live long enough to retire, Muse is one of the few who has.”

When Kelly heard this tale, she lifted her brows. “Well, she certainly sounds like a rough mentor. And you’ve said she’s survived long enough to retire? And the fact that you’ve survived longer than the average age of agents shows that Muse’s methods probably helped prolong your life. I’m assuming you’re teaching Jade similar things?”

“A friend, and fellow agent, Doomsday helped me set up her first mission. Sent her out onto a boat owned by a company with information on The Party. It was her job to find and destroy that information. She did fairly well, but ended up jumping out into the water in January, not a very good idea, and then I shot her.” BlackMail smiled at the reaction she received from that. “Not literally shot her, though Doomsday nearly did. Well not really though, he’s a marksman, he doesn’t miss. I made it very clear that she had died on her mission. She wasn’t happy with me. Doomsday wasn’t thrilled with my training exercise either, but he let me do what needed to be done.”

Kelly chuckled when she heard this, and she shook her head. “I’m guessing that, ‘you die on your first day of training’ isn’t on the contract you sign when you sign up.” She smiled although she suspected The Party didn’t have any actual contracts like that, but still, her point was made. “So what is like, being on THIS end of training?”

BlackMail made a sound of frustration. “Aggravating. Jade listens, thinks about what I tell her. She was pretty mad that first night I killed her. But she took it, learns, grows. But she’s still headstrong, questions me on everything, wants to know why we’re doing what we do. She can’t take an order and simply follow it.  I’m very proud of her. She’s going to be a great agent someday.”

Kelly smiled at the obvious admiration BlackMail had for Jade. “But has she taught you anything in return? You know how students tend to accidentally teach their masters something while being taught.”

“She’s certainly given me a new appreciation for what Muse went through with me. And to never underestimate her. She’s surprised me more then once particularly during some of our sparring sessions,”

Kelly chuckled when she heard this. “Sounds like she’s going to be an incredible agent for sure.” Then Kelly paused, considering the course of their conversation, and then she smiled because she knew her next question. “So, tell me, why is Zenith so annoying?”

BlackMail rolled her eyes at the mention of Zenith’s name. “Aside from him constantly inviting me over or trying to sleep with me. I’m surprised he hasn’t tried the inducer yet. Well no, that would have repercussions he would not enjoy. Zenith hands me my assignments, checks on me, assigned Jade to me. It gives him an inflated sense of worth I think. Unfortunately I can’t get a new contact, and I can’t kill him, ago I’m stuck dealing with him. Fortunately he’s only annoying.”

Kelly chuckled. “Well, at least you can take you anger out when you have to kill an assignment or something.” She shrugged. “Now, our time is almost up, but I’ve been curious. ‘BlackMail’ is your codename, but what is your real name? Or does it have no meaning to you anymore?” She locked eyes with the agent.

BlackMail returned the stare with the muse, “It doesn’t matter anymore. BlackMail is who I am now. The person I was before is gone. Very little of who she was remains. I’ve embraced this life, it’s really all I have anymore and all I’ll ever be.”

Kelly nodded. She had expected that answer. “Well then, BlackMail, this conversation probably hasn’t gone the way you expected it to, but I do appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.” Kelly rose to her feet. “And thank you for answering my questions. You sound like you have had a very interesting life. Be careful out there. Survive long enough, maybe you’ll be able to retire.” She smiled at her.

BlackMail smiled back as reaches out to shake her hand. “Nothing ever goes the way I expect. We’ll see what the future holds for us all.”

Kelly nodded. “And so we shall. Take care of yourself.” With that and a final smile, Kelly headed for her car.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Arthur David’s book ‘Agents of the Third Party’ is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to follow him on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Agents-Third-Party-BlackMail-Beginning-ebook/dp/B01N7OR766 

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Author Interview: Nancy A. Nation

I had the pleasure of meeting with sci-fi/urban fantasy author, Nancy A. Nation, to ask her a few questions about her writing and what inspired her series. In this interview, ‘Kelly’ is written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Nancy’ is written by Nancy A. Nation.

newest-book

Pushing open the door to the cafe, Kelly looked around, finding it to be a quaint little place. She smiled as she went up to the counter. “Just hot chocolate with whip cream, please. I’m waiting to meet someone.” After chatting a little with the woman behind the counter and coming to learn a bit more about this place, Kelly finally got her order and went to a table in the corner but near the front window. She sat facing the door, so if her interviewee, Nancy A. Nation, came in, she would see her.

After sipping on her drink then deciding to just wait and let it cool down, Kelly heard the chime of the door opening, and she lifted her gaze to see a woman enter. The woman matched the picture Kelly had seen, so she rose to her feet. “Nancy?” When Nancy looked her way, Kelly greeted her with a smile and reached out her hand to shake. “I’m Kelly. Thank you for meeting with me. How are you doing today?”

“I’m fine, and you?”

Kelly smiled. “I’m quite well. If you’d like to order something, you may, and then you can join me over here, so we can chat.” She motioned to the table she had been sitting at.

Nancy sat down, “Thanks.”

Kelly sat down as well and smiled once more. “So, Nancy, tell me a bit about yourself. Obviously you’re a writer and you’ve published several books, but when did you develop the interest in writing?” She tilted her head to the side as she listened.

Nancy ordered a hot chocolate when the waitress stopped by their table. “I’m a snowbird. When we came to Arizona, I didn’t have a lot to do. I saw a sign in the local library about getting your story published through a writing class. So I said, why not?”

“Well, I’m glad you took that chance. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here, and that would be unfortunately.” Kelly smiled then sipped on her hot chocolate. Putting down her mug, she asked, “So what kind of stories do you write?”

“I chose science fiction just because I feel it gives me more freedom to move the characters. But also I didn’t want to write non-fiction and have someone come after me. When I began writing in nano two years ago, I came into urban fantasy.  It’s a way to mimic today’s issues.”

Kelly had to smile. “I totally understand that–about not wanting to write non-fiction and have someone come after you. There’s much more freedom, in a way, with sci-fi and even fantasy. You can address today’s issues, but in a more…roundabout way without fear of being attacked by people.” She nodded, understanding this greatly. “So, you said you wrote sci-fi, but now you’re writing urban fantasy…do I understand that correctly?” She furrowed her brows. “Or you still writing both genres?”

Nancy’s hot chocolate came, and she stirred it some with a  spoon.  “I have written both. I have six in a series that is sci-fi and during NaNoWriMo month, I have been writing the urban fantasy. The series in in third person, and the urban is in first person. Just a way to be flexible. Since I still feel new to the writing game, I try different methods.”

“I really like that. Staying flexible works quite well and is really good for strengthening all kinds of skills in the craft of writing.” Kelly nodded. “So, how long have you been writing? You’ve written quite a few books already, yet you said you feel new to the writing game.”

Nancy took a sip of the delicious hot chocolate and looked over at Kelly. “I started the writing class in 2011, published the first book in 2013. By then I knew how to self-publish. I have been writing three books a year because my readers want to know what the next story is going to be. I feel new because I’m always learning something new in the craft. My mother said you will learn something new every day, and she was right.”

“No matter how far advance as a writer, you will always learn something new…actually, this applies to life in general to.” Kelly smiled then took another sip of her drink. Setting it down, she focused on Nancy. “Okay, so which book of yours would you like to focus on? I’m afraid we only have time for one although I’d personally love to hear about everything!” She grinned at her.

Nancy smiled and began, “Might as well as talk about my latest, ‘The Pottery Sale’. This urban fantasy takes place in a real town in Idaho. This is a sequel to the first urban book I wrote in 2015, Where did they go?  I had to make sure in The Pottery Sale that the reader was informed as to what happened in the previous book. The Pottery Sale is about an ordinary housewife/widow that is bored with her normal routines until her gnome friend takes her into another world.”

Kelly raised her brows, but then she smiled widely and set her elbow on the table and her chin in the palm of her hand as she listened. “Oh, this sounds like a grand adventure! Can you tell me more of who and what they encounter? Without spoiling it, of course.”

“Well, I show two worlds. My heroine takes up pottery that somehow becomes associated with the drug world. Hobs, her friend, finds a fantasy land in the same building the bad guys are using. When a few people die at the Pottery shop, Susan runs for her life and Hobs saves her. The land of Bailory is your typical fairyland that has a wicked witch. This land is a combination of Norse spirits and local Indian ones The two worlds come together when Susan and Hobs saves the day.”

“That sounds fascinating!” Kelly smiled widely as she sat back in her chair. “A bit complex too, and that’s great! So, where did you get the idea for this story? You mentioned you did it for NaNo, but what inspired you to shift from sci-fi to urban fantasy?”

Nancy took another sip of her hot chocolate, “I don’t really know, it just came to me unlike my other tales that have some basis in real news stories. I was writing’ Where Did They Go?’ for NaNo, and it just seemed boring for me. As soon as I had my character walk into another world, I finished it in 11 days. I finished ‘The Pottery Sale’ in 16 days. It’s like I’m watching a movie with specific characters in a certain location. The characters take off and do their thing. I just relay their story.”

“You finished it in 16 days??” Kelly raised her brows. “That’s fantastic! So will there be more to the series?”

“I hope so, but now I have been thinking of what to do for my next sci-fi adventure. I’m still waiting on my readers to proof ‘The Pottery Sale’.”

“Well, I hope it goes well for you. Now though, we actually have little time, so why don’t you tell me about your sci-fi series? What is it about?”

Nancy finish her drink and set the cup on the table. “My sci-fi series has many arcs. Basically how we may live in the future 300 years from now. The first book, Similar but not the same, is about first contact with a species of people that want to be our friends. From there, humans travel with them to another planet and back again. A take off in the same time with the same characters is a detective story and the murders he solves traveling to Mars and the Moon.” She took a deep breath. “I always put a moral tone into my books that expresses how greed can destroy. You see examples every day in the newspaper.”

“So like a homicide detective but in space?” Kelly smiled, her eyes brightening as she thought on this. “I’ve got to say, that is quite unique. I like it a lot! Of course you said there are other arcs to it as well, so it must be very complex, but that detective story…gotta be interesting.”

For a moment, she checked the time on her phone and frowned. “Our time is almost up, but tell me, what is your favorite thing about writing? What makes you keep coming back for more?”

“Writing is relaxing for me and helps get those pesky irritations off my chest. I want to thank you for doing this interview with me. As soon as you post it I will post on my blog. I want to add at my age, I have to write as much as I can.”

“You are doing quite well. Keep up the good work. It’s certainly been a pleasure to meet you and to hear your story. I can’t wait to see which character you will have me interview.” Kelly smiled then rose to her feet. She reached out her hand to Nancy. “Thank so much for meeting with me. I hoe you the best with all your writing endeavors! Keep writing, and keep publishing!”

“Thank you, have a good day.”

<~>~<~>~<~>

Nancy A. Nation’s novel ‘The Pottery Sale’ is available online. You can find it along with her other books at the following links. Be sure to follow her on social media too!

Similar:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HL2I084     

Deflection:    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PD8LW56

Crossroads:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E9N6FPW                                                     

Found:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015Y0OS1M

Return:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EP2C47U

Desert:     https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LZ43IQU

Where:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B019S493BU   

Pottery (soon):  https://www.amazon.com/Pottery-Sale-What-Beneath-Urban-ebook/dp/B01N49IECN   

Social Media:

FB:  https://www.facebook.com/anationauthor

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorANation   

Blog:  www.bloggingwrites.weebly.com 

Blog: www.anationbooks.wordpress.com     

Website: www.anationauthor.com

Amazon group page:  http://www.amazon.com/A-Nation/e/B00SUHXM6E    

Smashword group page::  https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ANation

Character Interview: Adam Priestley’s Lazarus Sinclair

Earlier this week, I had the honor of meeting with Adam Priestley to discuss his not yet released novel, ‘Lava Lounge Nights’, which is a blend of many genres—sci-fi, romantic mystery and thriller with a futuristic edge. However, in this interview, I was escorted into the story world of ‘Lava Lounge Nights’ and met, Lazarus Sinclair, one of Adam’s characters. ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Lazarus’ was written by Adam Priestley.

adam-priestleys-cover

Kelly was woken by the telephone constantly ringing. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock. It was 4AM. As she answered the phone, a gruff voice she didn’t recognise greeted her. “Ello darling a car has been arranged to take you to the Lava Lounge Night club, the boss Lazarus Sinclair would like a word. His wife went awol last night and the only person he’s prepared to talk to is you. I hope your not a bleedin’ reporter, I take it your not afraid of flying!”

Kelly barely had time to get dressed before there was a knock at the door. She opened the door to a blanket of white. It had been constantly snowing all night. A stranger in a sharp suit and a scar down his left cheek ushered her into the back of a stretched Rolls Royce. She held on tightly. Kelly heard the noise of the hover jets roar to life as the car took off into the night sky.

Kelly was quickly ushered into the club straight up past the punters. A cat like singer on the stage eyed Kelly suspiciously. Kelly’s eyes set on the mighty Sagosian Taunogh standing guard outside of Lazarus’ office. His stag like antlers almost scraping the ceiling. He bellowed down his nose as he saw her approach.

“It’s alright, Tauny.” She heard the gruff voice she recognised from her phone call. “This is Miss Blanchard. Mr Sinclair is expecting her.” Taunogh stood aside to allow Kelly access into the room.

Lazarus sat at his desk looking at a locket as saw the door open he quickly put it back in his pocket. He looked up and smiled as he saw Kelly enter. He steepled his hands in front of him. “Ah, Miss Blanchard. I am so pleased you could make it.”

Kelly greeted him with a nod. “Thank you for the invite. A little more notice would have been nice, but I work with what I get.” She smiled at him then glimpsed around the office. “It’s quite a place you have here. How long have you been running this business?” She raised her brows as she glanced back at Lazarus.

Lazarus smiled. He stared straight at her with his piercing blue eyes. “I’m sorry where are my manners.” He stood up to shake her hands. “My boys can be a little over zealous. i just needed to talk to you. You see I need someone I can confide in, there’s a lot going on at the moment and I need someone outside of the picture i can rely on.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Please sit down, would you care fior a drink?” He paused for a moment, the muscle in his jaw clenched. “Ah yes you wanted to know how long the Lava Lounge has been mine. Now let me think was it before Italy or after, yes, yes that was it. We, that is Angelica and myself took over the club in 2073 just before little Aaron was born.” He glanced at the holographic picture of his eldest son Aaron sitting on his grandmothers knee and smiled.

Kelly sat when he offered the chair, but she declined the offer for a drink. She nodded when she heard his answer, but the first part of his response had caught her attention. “What sort of things did you need to confide in someone?” She furrowed her brows.

Lazarus sat back down in his chair, pulled open the desk drawer and took out a tumbler of Rybekian brandy. As the dark red contents splashed into the glass, silver sparkles swirled in the light. “All this.” he sighed. “It’s been all over the holovids. My wife angelica disappeared last night.” He started to ramble, the words just falling out of his mouth. “My lovely, gorgeous wife. Some one  just took her, someone.” A hard lump started to form at the back of his throat and he struggled to continue.

Kelly tilted her head to a side as she observed his emotion of the situation. “And yet I understand you were with a mystery blonde last night. Is it an understanding between you and your wife that you have such…entertainment on the side? Or is this unique to last night?”

“Who told you that!” he snapped. “Nothing happened, we’re just friends. I loved….” He stuttered and corrected himself. “I love my wife dearly I would never do anything to hurt her, you have to believe me. I asked you here Kelly because I, I need someone to believe me.”

“Lazarus, let me explain to you how this works…” Kelly leaned forward and locked eyes with him. “Whether or not I believe you is irrelevant, but I do believe that you believe you are right, and I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to make you think, and some of the things you think about and realize might not be something you like, but it’ll be the truth. And the good thing about me is, after today you won’t see or hear from me again, and I won’t be spreading any rumors about you at all. I won’t speak a word of this conversation to anyone, so you can trust me, but I need you to trust me.” She made sure she had his attention before continuing. “You don’t love your wife anymore. I caught the use of past tense a moment ago. When did that change?”

Lazarus stood up and walked to the window, he gazed up at the stars through the glass doors of his office leading out into the hover car parking lot. He sighed heavily, as he glanced back over his shoulder at Kelly. “It’s no that I don’t love her anymore. I will always love her. She is the mother of my children.” He crossed back to his desk and took a big swallow of his drink. The brandy stung the back of his throat. “Okay.” he sighed “So I’ll admit I did have company last night but it’s not what you think and no I can’t name her, it would put her in danger if I did. But I did not kill my wife. You have to understand the stress I’m under at the moment. The club is crawling with filth, all of them certain I have done something.” He paused and glared at her. “Which I did not, no matter what anyone says. I wanted you hear because somebody has to know the truth. The press are going to have a field day with this one. Do you know how many years they have been waiting for me to slip up. Every little thing they are at me like a blood hound trying to get the big scoop and why because I’m a little bit more successful than some.” He sat back down, heavy in his chair. “Do you want to know the real reason i used past tense?” Not really giving her time to answer he fixed her in his sights with his penetrating blue eyes.”Well?”

“Why did you use the past tense?” Kelly raised her brows but listened.

Lazarus sighed, not for the first time that day. He ran his hans through his hair, desperate to have something to do with herself. “Because I think she was murdered, and I think I know who did it!”

Kelly wasn’t surprised by this because he specifically said that he hadn’t killed her, and until that moment Kelly only thought she had been missing. Nevertheless, she nodded and continued to listen. “First of all, why do you think she was murdered?”

“The only possible reason.” He breathed down through his nose. He thought everybody would know. It just made sense to him.  “To get at me. Why else would anybody just grab a mother of two. When the police have had enough of torturing the innocent they’ll realise the same thing.”

“And what has happened to the children? I understand they were with her when she was taken.” Kelly watched him. “Are they home now?”

“No.” Lazarus looked away. “As the police suspect that I am guilty of murdering their mother. They have been taken into overnight care. They said something about safe guarding. What do they need to guard them from. I’m their father.”

Kelly nodded when she heard this. “And you said you believe you know who is responsible? Who might that be?”

“Thank you, that’s the question I’ve been waiting for someone to ask all day. The person, in fact the only person the police should be talking to right now is.”

The doors to Lazarus’ office suddenly hissed open and Lazarus twin sister, Lydia, walked in. Kelly noticed how identical they actually were, despite the obvious gender difference. They both had the same jet black, hair, mesmerizing blue eyes and thin aquiline nose, That on Lydia reminded Kelly of Audrey Hepburn. “I heard we had company.” Lydia said as she entered the room. She glared at Kelly as she walked across to the desk. She picked up the bottle of Rybekina Brandy. “Bruv, are you drinking again. You know how lethal that stuff is.” She turned to look at Kelly, sizing her up, glaring deep into her eyes, trying to psyche her out. “So who do we have here?”

Kelly just met Lydia’s eyes unbothered, and she even offered her a smile. “Hello, Lydia. I’m Kelly, and your brother was just about to tell me who he thinks supposedly killed his wife.”

“Was he now? Let me guess–Hartman.” She snorted. “You’re going to have to forgive him he thinks everything that goes wrong in his life is Wolfric ‘bleedin’ Hartman.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to hear it from your brother.” Kelly shifted her attention to Lazarus. As long as Lydia didn’t keep interjecting into the conversation, she didn’t mind her presence, but if she started answering the questions and such, Kelly would have to ask her to leave, but she understood the siblings were close.

Lazarus glared at his sister. “What do you want, Lyds, I was hoping for a private conversation.”

Lydia shrugged. “I’m trying to look after you bruv, you know what your like letting everyone in on all the dirty little secrets in your life. Do we even know who this Kelly is, I don’t know her from Eve.”

“Kelly is a friend of mine. Now if you don’t mind I’d like to talk to her alone.”

Lydia glared at him. “No bleedin chance, you’ve got cops all over the place down there and your up here having a nice cosy little chat with her.” She glanced over her shoulder at Kelly, who just shrugged and smiled.

“And yes, Lyds, yes, I do think Hartman killed Angelica. If you don’t mind I’d like to talk to Kelly for a while alone. Now get out.” Lazarus stared at Lydia. “Or I’ll have to get security in here to chuck you out.”

“Fine. but you just watch what your saying and don’t keep drinking that stuff you know you can’t control your moth when your on that muck.” Lydia gave Kelly a dirty look as she left the room. As she got to the door. “Brothers.”

As Lydia left the room Lazarus turned his attention back to Kelly. “Sorry about that, now where were we?”

Kelly nodded. She understood siblings all too well. “Hartman. I understand he’s been a rival of yours for a long time. Why would he take the chance to kill your wife?”

Lazarus sighed heavily and then looked up at Kelly. “Because it’s him, because he can.” He shook his head and reached for the bottle of brandy picking it up. He looked at it before deciding to put it down. “Me and Wolfric go years back, hell, we once even worked together once. Well for his dad anyway. It all used to be hunky dory, we’d hit a few securicor vans, split the dosh and go on our merry ways. then she came on to the scene.” He smiled as fond memories came into his head. “You know whatever he says she was mine first.”

“Sounds reasonable, but…too easy.” Kelly shook her head. “Yes, I know you two have a feud, and I’m sure both of you would like to possibly put the other in the ground—or out of business—but still, I say it’s too easy. You’re the obvious target for your wife’s death, and people would expect you to blame him. As I said, too easy.” Kelly sat back in her chair. “I’m not saying he didn’t have a hand in it, but…I think it’s more complicated than that. Think harder. Think back to the last time you saw your wife, and the last interaction you had with her. Did she let on to anything? Did she seem uneasy about something or someone?” Kelly felt more like a detective than an interviewer, but that was all right. If it opened him up and got her answers as well as possibly brought a bit of peace to him, she was okay with that.

Lazarus sat still for a moment, quietly contemplating what Kelly had just said. “She was at her parents all last week and what with running this place we didn’t really have that much contact. To be honest I didn’t even know she was back in the country until the Police rang. It all came as such a surprise. The only thing I do remember is that before she left she was banging on about some diamonds, called the Kadam stones or something. To be honest I thought she was just dropping hints as to what she wanted for Christmas presents.” He ran his hand shakily through his hair, thinking again. “You do know her mother hates me right. Whether she had an argument with her parents i don’t know but I wouldn’t trust her father as far as I could throw him.”

“I doubt either of her parents would kill their own daughter to get to you. There are other ways to hurt you than killing her.” Kelly pointed out then rose to her feet. “You don’t mind if I meander about, do you? Helps me think.” And she began moving around the room, looking at different things. “These diamonds though…that sounds like a lead. Have you looked into that?” She turned back to Lazarus with raised brows.

“No, like I said I just thought she was trying to give me an idea about what she wanted for Christmas.” He turned to look at her. “Feel free to have a good nosey around, Christ everybody else whose come in here today had. Why should you be the exception?” He looked absentmindedly out of the window again. “I wouldn’t rule her father out though. He’s no saint. Have I told you he once asked me to shoot somebody for him.”

Kelly wasn’t walking around to be nosy. To be honest, her mind wasn’t on what she was seeing but whether many other possibilities. “You think he would have killed his own daughter?”

“Christ, there was rumours he killed his own mother.” He looked at her with a straight poker face. “The thing you need to know about Roberto Accorsi is that he plays from his own rule book and boy does that one hold a grudge. Like I said he once asked me to shoot somebody for him. A business rival I think. I told him straight to forget it. Despite what anybody says i’m not a gangster.”

Kelly turned to look straight at him. “Have you killed anyone before? I’m not asking because I think you’re guilty of this, but depending your answer, I want to make a specific point.”

Lazarus shrugged. “What can I say stuff happens, but I’ve never killed anybody who didn’t deserve it.”

“Now, with that in mind, would you be able to kill your own children just to hurt someone you don’t like?” Kelly locked eyes with Lazarus.

Lazarus looked stunned. “No of course not.” Lazarus laughed. “I see what your driving at but hell I’m not Accorsi.”

“I’m not saying he’s not innocent. I’m merely giving you a different angle to look at. You can’t just pin it on someone you think is guilty.  You need to have people out there digging and trying to find the truth because right now, everyone thinks you’re responsible, so they’re not going to look any further than that.” Kelly stepped up to Lazarus. “But at the same time, you can’t control this to paint the target on someone else’s back. If you want to catch her killer, I suggest your people find the crime scene and work from there. Of course, if the whereabouts of that is unknown, someone needs to go to her last known location and backtrack her every movement. Have you done that yet?”

“That’s the police’s job, but I promise you I’m not exactly going to sit back and let them pin this on me darling, but what can I do I’m just a man in a sharp suit.” He poured himself a large glass of brandy. “You sure you don’t want one?”

“You may be a man in a sharp suit, but you have people, don’t you? Because, like you said, you’re not the kind of man to just sit back. It might be the police’s job, but how much do you trust them–really?” She raised her brows as a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “I’m sure they’d just love to put you away, so who’s to say they’re investigating wholeheartedly? Who’s to say they want the truth? Who’s to say they care about it? But you do, don’t you? You want to know what happened to the mother of your children, and you would like to see the person responsible for it punished. So…use your resources.” Then Kelly shrugged as she came around a chair and sat down once more. “That’s my suggestion anyway, but I’m really not here for the investigation. I’m here to discuss you. You said you have children. Tell me about them. What are they like?”

Outside of the room Eddie the gruff voiced man was stood outside of Lazarus office, trying to listen in on the conversation. When the cat like singer sashayed across the room towards him. Her amber eyes sparkled. “Darling, I never had you down as a gossip.”

“I’m not.” Eddie flushed. “But what’s going on in there? First Angelica goes missing, which I’m still not sure she just didn’t run off with another man.”

The cat like Singer glared at him, “Angelica wouldn’t do that. Then the place is crawling with cops adamant that he’s guilty as sin. Then he secludes himself with some mystery girl. I don’t like it I don’t like it one little bit.”

Inside the office, Lazarus smiled. “Oh honey don’t worry I’m not just going to sit here, curl over and die. I just don’t want to get you implicated in all of that.” He shuffled nervously in his seat. “I purely asked you here so that I could give you my side of events. To answer your question about my family. i couldn’t wish for better. I notice you keep looking at your watch when you ready to leave you can, say the word and I’ll have my guys drop you back home or anywhere else you’d like.”

“I have a few more minutes, but yes, I will be having to leave soon.” She smiled and nodded. “But answer me this, Lazarus…is there anything in your life that you would have changed if you could? That you would have done differently?”

“Never let my wife out of my sight.” He sighed. “My poor boys having to grow up without their mother.” He looked down at his glass. “You know what i really don’t need this.” He picked up the glass, walked to the widow and threw it out into the cold night. “I really do appreciate you giving me these two hours.” He said glancing over his shoulder at Kelly. “Especially when everybody else think I’m as guilty as hell. I promise you one thing Kelly I’m innocent and my boys are not going to grow up without their father.” Kelly smiled as she left the room, as she opened the door she almost tripped over Eddie who was still trying to eavesdrop. “Ah Eddie.” Lazarus smiled. “Please be a good chap and make sure Miss Blanchard gets home safely, won’t you?”

“Sure boss.” Eddie grunted.

“Goodbye, Kelly, and thank you.”

Kelly watched as the doors hissed shut behind her, leaving Lazarus alone in the confines of his office.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Adam Priestley’s novel, ‘Lava Lounge Nights’, is not yet published, but there is a taster chapter of Adam’s forthcoming story available on Wattpad: www.wattpad.com/story/85092855-lava-lounge-nights.

Author Interview: Yasmine Jameson

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Yasmine was written by Yasmine Jameson.)

Kelly stepped into the small town coffee shop and smiled at the warmth the place presented. She ordered a drink then took a seat near the front window with a view of the door. While waiting, she pulled out her laptop and began to work.

She got several paragraphs in when the door chimed, and Kelly lifted her head to see a woman walk in and glimpse around. When they made eye contact, Kelly smiled and lifted her brows. “ Yasmine Jameson?” When the woman nodded, Kelly rose to her feet to greet her properly. She reached out her hand. “Hi, I’m Kelly. Fantastic to meet you! You’re welcome to order something to drink and then join me here.”

Yasmine walked to meet Kelly and accept her outstretched hand.  “Hi, Kelly, yes I am Yasmine.  Pleasure to meet you!  I definitely need a cup of coffee.  I will be right back.”  Yasmine lay her coat on the back of the chair  and then walked to order her coffee. Light and sweet with cream was her favorite.  As she waited, she glanced around the coffee shop and noticed that it is filling up already.  She also had her laptop as well.  She was planning to do some writing after the interview.  Her name was called out by the barista to pick up her coffee.  She got her coffee and walked back to the table to sit down.

Kelly smiled at Yasmine as they sat across from each other. “So, Yasmine, tell me a bit about yourself. Are you a full-time writer? Or do you have a day-job?”

“I am not a full time writer yet, only when not working. I had a job as a paralegal but had to leave it.  That was my day job.  I took it after I stopped substitute teaching.  But  I maybe back at it soon. I am new writer although I have a couple of publications to my belt. Most of it is blogs and book reviews.  And I have an anthology and also a self published book of poetry.  Writing keeps me busy and on my toes.” She sipped her coffee and asked Kelly if she needed anything else to drink. She offered to buy it for her.

Kelly shook her head. She already had a drink, and she focused on the conversation. “And when did you begin writing? I mean, you said you’re a new writer, but have you always have an interest in it, or did something recently spark it?” Kelly tilted her head to a side as she observed Yasmine.

Yasmine thought for a while so as to give her a complete answer.  Then she smiled and said, ” Kelly, I have always loved to read.  I think that writing is an extension of that desire to read.  When I was young I used to write extra assignments because I could get some extra credit. I joined the newspaper as to have an in to the New York Times.  But  I didn’t actually decide to write as a career until recently.  I had some down time in between jobs and started to write poetry. Then I had decided that I wanted to be a mystery writer because I loved to watch mysteries and figure out who did it. Plus if you want to know the truth there was an underlying motive. I had thought that if I could learn how they wrote the novel it would help me solve the mystery.”  “Does that answer your question Kelly?  Yasmine leaned a little heavier on her arms that were on the table.

“Writing mystery novels! That is one genre that is hard for me to write, so I applaud you!” Kelly grinned at Yasmine. “So, have you had anyone who supports you with your writing, encourages you? Inspires you or even challenges you to write more?”

Yasmine laughed. “I have to admit although I like Sherlock Holmes I have mostly seen his mysteries on television.  I have read Agatha Christie and the like.  But what really got me into mysteries”- Yasmine looked around and said a little sheepishly, “I got into mystery through reading romance novels. Most of the authors that I read also wrote mysteries. Authors like Nora Roberts who also writes as JD Robb, Jayne Ann Krentz who also writes as Amanda Quick and of course Janet Evanovich. So I read their novels when I can faithfully and try to solve the crimes.  More recently I decided I liked PD James and some other newer authors.  Who supports me?  My friends support my writing.  They believe that I am good at it and like to read.  They give killer critiques. My family supports me but they are like you need to be more well spread out and known. So this mystery is my entry into it. Hoping for some good responses.”

Kelly smiled when she heard this. “I’m glad you have such a wonderful community of people around you to encourage you. That is fantastic. So, tell me about your story–whichever story you’d like to talk about. What is it about? I’m assuming it’s a mystery novel.” As she said this, Kelly sat back in her chair, smiled at Yasmine, then took a sip of her drink as she listened.

Yasmine smiled and said ” I love to talk about my mystery.  Yes it is a mystery. I started it in a writing course not really sure what I wanted to write about. What do you know about musicians?  A lot – a little?  And what do you know about when they write?  What you see on television or see in the biographies right?  Well  this novel is actually set behind the scenes of the musician’s life.  You know when they are actually making the album and deciding what to do with the album. You know tell a story and the like.  The main characters of the story are a band that is staging a comeback.  There manager is hurt when someone comes to steal their about to be released new single. An old band member had approached them with the idea to re-start his career as well and he had some songs that he thought would be good plus a deal with another label to sell them.  But he wanted to work with his old band again.  Despite their misgivings they band agrees. As soon as the single is stolen the band hires a group of private investigators- an entire firm of women.  ( I love the idea of women being in charge and investigating.)  “The head of the firm Darwin has friends in the police department like Peluso who help her and her friends with what they need to solve the case. By the end of the novel, old relationships are renewed, more music is made and they find out who stole the single and hurt their manager. Of note, I try not to kill anyone in the novel. Just hurt them. I have had good feedback on that technique.” She looked at Kelly and waited.

Kelly listened to all this and had to smile. “I like it that you didn’t kill anyone because that’s overdone and can become predictable. Having someone get hurt is different, and the possibilities are endless.” She then leaned forward, thinking more of what else Yasmine had said. “So, just curious, are you into music too? Or was it just what the story wanted to be able?”

She said in response, “I like music. But my tastes are varying depending on my mood.  When I was younger I was into and still am into R&B,some pop, some country. As I have gotten older I am into some jazz and some alternative.”  She looked at Kelly and asked, ” What type of music are you into?”

“As for the second question, I had originally set my story on a college campus with a much younger detective who thought she could set the world on fire.  But it didn’t seem to go anywhere. But this story did. So yes it went where it wanted to go the story.  I am not sure how crazy that sounds but it is kind of how I feel about the story.”

“Music is great. Sometimes it can be complicated, but it’s great!” Kelly grinned at Yasmine. “Okay, so…tell me about the characters of this story. Who are they? What are their main conflicts/struggles?” With this, she sat back in her chair.

“Kelly, these are my babies.  The band is made up of six members, Darius, John, Marcus & Marquis-twins,  Darnell and Louis.  And each brings their own unique brand to the music. All come from similar background experiences  and have managed to be friends.  The older member who wanted to come back was Abdul.  He served some time in prison which was part of the reason for the band letting him go.”

“Tell you about their conflicts and struggles. Let me think.”

“Without giving away to much  Louis is the space cadet of the group.  He appears to be elsewhere but when he is looking at you then you know he is paying attention.  He is the one that the band uses to scout out areas and venues to play at. John is the slow and deliberate one. He is their method man.  He will lay out a plan and follow it. The remainder of the band,  Darius, Marcus, Marquis, Darnell and Abdul all come from the similar background of the street growing up in the projects wanting to do better for themselves and make their mother proud.”

“The biggest struggle right now for them isn’t so much the music- that is the easiest part.  They have always been together when it came to the music. It was the outside world that had caused them problems.  With Abdul it was the drugs and the crime.  With Louis it was his family. With the twins it was finding their own identity.  With John it was not being seen as an opportunist. All of them have families to support meaning girlfriends or wives. Not all have children.  But they all want to find out who did this to their manager and also why they stole their music. Not trying to give anything away, each has their own theory as to who was and is responsible for the theft and event.”

Kelly smiled. “What I like most of that is how realistic it sounds, so good job on that.” She nodded at Yasmine. “So, what inspired this story?”

“Ah good question and one I have thought about.  I think I just wanted to write a story that I liked and could to relate to on some level.  Not that I am a part of the industry itself but I like a good mystery as much as the next. I like to see behind the scenes with the musicians life. I am a faithful watcher of certain shows. But also I think the background that I was in at the time when I started was listening to music.  My family had been interested in starting a company with family and friends. So it kind of fit. Would you start a company with your family and friends- and what would you like it to be?”

Kelly shrugged. “My family runs several businesses, and I’ve started this one—with interviews—on my own.” She smiled at Yasmine. However, she caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall and frowned. “Our hour is almost up! Can’t believe how quickly time flies!” She shook her head and gave Yasmine an apologetic look but speaking, “But before you go, what is one thing you’d like your reader to remember, to think about, to keep in mind even after they’ve read your book? if anything, that is.”

“Oh time has flown by Kelly.  I have enjoyed this interview.  What is the one thing that I would like my readers to think about and keep in mind even after they have read the book?  Interesting question. Let me think.” She said, ” I want the readers to remember that  as long as its a good story- no  matter where it takes you a clue will always lead you to solve it.   Because that is how I solve the mysteries I read and I am hoping that thinking will help them solve this mystery.”

“Thank you so much for this interview Kelly, I really have enjoyed it. And hopefully once my book is out all those who buy it will enjoy it and recommend it to others.”  Yasmine smiled and finished her cup of coffee.

Kelly smiled as she rose to her feet. “It was wonderful meeting with you, and I loved hearing about you and your story. What is it titled, by the way? So my readers can look for it if they want.”

Yasmine stood as well and reached out to shake Kelly’s hand.   “The title of the novel is Dreaming A Music Mystery.”

“I love it.” Kelly grinned. “And I’m looking forward to meeting whichever character you will have me meet in the next interview. For now though, I need to go. It was wonderful meeting you!” She gathered up her computer and put her bag on her shoulder. “Keep writing, okay? The world needs good mystery stories.”

Yasmine smiled and said to her, ” I agree.”

“Have a good day, Yasmine! Stay in touch!” With one final smile, Kelly headed out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Yasmine Jameson’s story, ‘Dreaming:  A Music Mystery’ is not yet released, but follow her on social media for more updates!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Madam_Mystery

Blog. www.yasminejameson.wordpress.com 

Website:  www.yasminejameson.webs.com 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yasmine.jameson

Character Interview: N. R. Tupper’s Kai

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Kai was written by N. R. Tupper.)

The overhead lights flickered before finally giving way to the bright light shining through the open shutters. Kai Brecken shivered as she paced the length of the HOPEBRINGER’s bridge. Why had she agreed to this? Battus, she hated this place. Everything about it brought back memories she’d rather not dwell on.

As soon as she entered this ship of demons, she lifted the shutters, opening the windows so sunlight could flood the space. This light was the only comfort this room could provide and Kai didn’t intend to deny herself that.

Outside the windows the blue and green beauty of Egeria still took her breath away, but she knew what waited outside. She knew the danger this beautiful little planet harbored.

As ideas went, this wasn’t one of her favorites.

She continued to pace as she waited for the interviewer to arrive.

Since this wasn’t her first time visiting the HOPEBRINGER, Kelly knew what to expect and dressed in a casual manner. She was much more was a bit more at ease. She knew there was something in the ship, but she didn’t know what exactly, but she made her way to the bridge and cleared her throat to get Kai’s attention. When the woman spun around to look at her, Kelly offered her a smile as she approached her. “Hello, Kai. I’m Kelly. Thank you for meeting with me.” She glimpsed around their settings. “So what history do you have with this ship?” She looked back at Kai for an answer.

Right to the questions. Typical of an interviewer, Kai supposed. She studied the thin wisp of a woman before her and shoved her hands into her pockets. Not that she didn’t want to shake the woman’s hand but it hadn’t been offered and Kai had no idea what traditions this particular woman came from. Some people shook hands, some didn’t. One thing Kai was good at was adapting to whatever culture she was facing.

The question made Kai look around. The history she had in this place wasn’t exactly a history she cared to explore. “My crew and I spent a brief time in this ship. Used it to escape an unpleasant situation. It’s not… my favorite place.” She didn’t return Kelly’s smile. Not that she wanted to be rude, but she didn’t particularly feel like smiling and she’d given up on trying to fake it when she didn’t feel it.

Sensing how her warmth wasn’t really accepted, Kelly nodded and tucked her hands behind her back as she meandered around the bridge. “I understand you rescued each crew member, and that’s how you got your crew. How did you start that endeavor of rescuing such people?”

Kai watched Kelly, blue eyes following the woman closely.

The thing was, this woman didn’t seem a threat so Kai wanted to trust her, but it wasn’t easy to trust. Not even when her instincts told her to. “I didn’t rescue them. They’ll tell you I did, but I didn’t. I merely helped them rescue themselves. Tucker hadn’t needed rescuing, just guiding. Mallik definitely wasn’t the sort to need a hero. Haydn too. If anyone could claim they were ‘rescued’, it was Uri but she didn’t think asking to be given a slave and then freeing that slave was necessarily a ‘rescue’. You spoke to them then? My crew?”

Kelly smiled and shook her head. “Not exactly. I’ve merely heard this. But helping or rescuing…what were you doing when you first encountered the first individual you helped?” She raised her brows as she continued to roam the bridge, her skimming over the desks.

“Surviving,” Kai murmured. When she met Tucker she’d been with the pirates. She’d just been inducted into the Masked Princes, but of course nobody knew. It was bizarre walking amongst those people and them not knowing who she ‘was’. They still didn’t know, not even Tucker. “Tucker was working for the pirates. A good kid, too honest for his own good. He made a mistake, I intervened. He says I saved his life but I didn’t… I really didn’t. After that he started following me around and next thing I knew he was my right hand man.” Kid. Right hand kid. He wasn’t a man. Not even now.

Kelly nodded when she heard this. She took a seat and swirled it around to face Kai. “And who was after that?”

“Mallik. Then Bristol and with Bristol came Haydn and then Uri. That’s the order.” The questions irritated her, though she wasn’t sure why. Well, she did. She didn’t like talking about how they met. She didn’t like being painted like a hero because she just wasn’t. She crossed her arms over her chest, “My crew are a team. We’re a unit. We’re… a family. How we started doesn’t matter. What matters is, we’re together and we’ll always be together. They’d die for me, I’d die for them.” She immediately regretted her tone. “Sorry I just… I don’t like being here…”

“Well, is there someplace else you’d like to go? It’s not like I chose this as our meeting place. I just came here because I was told you would be.” Then that made Kelly think. “Did you choose to meet here?”

“No,” Kai said quickly, “no, no. No. Who would want to be here?” She waved her hand towards the windows, “You know what’s out there! Or… they didn’t tell you?” She shook her head, “It doesn’t matter. Let’s just get this over with. They said if I answered your questions, you’d help me find my sister.”

Kelly opened her mouth to correct her but then decided otherwise. Kai wasn’t trusting her yet, and if Kelly revealed she didn’t know anything about her sister, Kai might get up and leave immediately. That wouldn’t do.

So, she decided to shift topics. “I understand you don’t trust me, and you may not like talking about yourself, but I’d like you to consider this as your one and likely only opportunity to be true to yourself. You can talk honestly with me. I have no one to tell. After today, you won’t see or hear from me again, so you can trust me. Can you do that?” She raised her brows.

Kai closed her eyes with a sigh. Then she nodded, “Yeah. I can do that.” What did it matter if she was honest? It was true, she’d never see this woman again. And it wasn’t like her crew would read the interview when it came out… well, she didn’t think they would. “Sorry.” She ran her hand over her hair and shook out her shoulders to try and relax.”Right. So. Okay. Mallik, she definitely wasn’t rescued. She was with the pirates, like we all were. Thing is, she liked getting into fights. I just happened to be there, I helped, and uh… now she says I saved her life. I didn’t. It was just a simple bar fight. Bristol, she was different. She, uh, she got herself in a real bad situation. The thing is, she’s way too gentle. Way too… pretty. A pirate named Garis had taken her as a…companion. She wasn’t too happy about it but didn’t know how to get away. I talked to Garis, convinced him it was in his best interest to leave her be. It was safer after that for her to stick with me, so she did. Haydn had just escaped from the Alliance when I met him. He was still pretty sick, actually. The pirates would have ate him alive, but Bristol, she found him and she begged me to help. So we took him in and he just became one of us. He’s a badass though, not weak. Not even a little. And Uri was a slave. When I left the… pirates,” she wasn’t willing to say she’d been a Masked Prince, that was too much, “I asked for a gift. They said I could have anything, so I asked for Uri. And that’s how I got my crew.”

“Nice, so what do you all do? I’m assuming it has nothing to do with the pirates, but you’re a crew, so you have to do something.” Kelly sat back in her chair to listen.

“Transports,” Kai answered, “it’s… you know, a living. And when you’ve got a record like we do it’s hard to get other work. Right now we’re trying to earn a ticket, so we can get the bigger jobs. The dream is to be fully independent, no more pirates, no more jail time.” Kai had ceased her pacing. She stood near one of the consoles and finally leaned back to sit on it.

“At least you have something, and you have people you can trust.” The next question Kelly wanted to ask might get Kai to shut down again, but she had to breach it. “What happened between you and your family? And I’m not talking about your crew. Why are you so distant from them?”

Kai visibly stiffened at the question.  She didn’t like talking about it. She licked at her lips and shook her head, “I left them,” she said quietly, “I left them and… you know, they won’t talk to me.”

“Family doesn’t just not talk to one of their own. Trust me, I know. I’ve got a large family and totally understand all the complicated dynamics of a family.” Kelly was thinking of her five sisters and four brothers. “Why did you leave them?”

Kai shook her head, “I was 13. I was a kid. I wanted… things they didn’t want to give me. So I ran away. And, I’ve tried to contact them but they won’t listen. Family shouldn’t just not talk … but they have cut me out so completely… I don’t even know if they’re alive anymore.” Which is why she’d agreed to this interview. She needed to know if her sister was alive… if she was okay.

“It hurts when they cut you off like that, and I completely agree with you that they shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry they did.” However, Kelly wasn’t about to let it go. “Tell me about your parents. Before you left, what were they like?”

“My mother is… was… a gentle woman. She had a rebellious streak but she didn’t show it much. My father was a dick. He didn’t think much of women, really didn’t think much of pirates, he would absolutely hate me now.”

“And siblings?” Kelly raised her brows, leaning forward, resting her forearms on her knees and clasping her hands together.

“Lily is the older of my sisters,” Kai smiled as she spoke, “She’s a real dreamer. She always had her nose in books. She’s the one I thought for sure would find me.” Her smile faded. After a moment she continued, “Dayli was just a baby when I left. But she was a funny kid, always laughing and doing that funny dance toddlers do. You know what I mean? Like, she could feel music in a way we can’t and she’d just jiggle her little body however she could. It was cute… funny. I miss that.”

Kelly chuckled when she heard these fond memories, and she nodded. “Did either of your sisters ever teach you anything–something you may not have realized but have carried with you all this time?”

“To dream,” Kai said quietly, “to always dream. To chase your dreams. To not be afraid…”

“And were you afraid of something at home?” Kelly asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Kai nodded. She sighed and pushed away from the console. This was odd, talking so openly, sharing her true feelings. It wasn’t anything she would normally do. Not even with her crew. “Can we change the subject?”

“Sure, we can change the subject, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back to that topic,” Kelly forewarned her as she eased back in her chair. “So what happened after you left your family? Where did you end up?”

“I hitched a ride on a transporter and they sold me to the pirates. I spent the next twelve years with the pirates, right up until I gathered my crew and we decided to go our own way.” Kai rubbed at her arms,  “You know, people say the pirates are bad. I grew up being told how evil they are but they aren’t. They took care me, a scared lost kid and sure they were rough and at times scary but they gave me the chance nobody else would.”

“Were you with a specific pirate crew? Or did you float around several crews?” Kelly tilted her head as she observed Kai.

“I moved from ship to ship. Just whoever needed, whenever they needed me. I was a bit of a specialist. I had specific… skills. So if a crew needed those skills, they sent me that way.” That was how she earned the interest of the Masked Princes. “You understand, I can’t talk too much about that. I wasn’t exactly involved in the most… legal activity.”

“Kai, do you have any idea the kind of people I talk to? Several of them were/are serial killers, others are plotting to take over the world, and then there are thieves, and don’t forget the demons, and so on and so forth.” Kelly looked at Kai and shrugged. “You doing illegal work doesn’t really bother me. I’m not here to judge you. Just want to get to know you, and no, I’m not going to let you skim topics.” With that, she crossed her arms because she could be stubborn too. “What specific skills did/do you have?”

Demons? Was this woman nutty? It wouldn’t surprise Kai if she was, although demons might just be some kind of euphemism or title. Her ‘skills’ were not exactly something she was proud of. “In the course of my… training, the pirate who took me on discovered I had a particularly good eye. He trained me to shoot. Special weapons, special circumstances…”  That was a part of her life she really didn’t like discussing. It’s not as if she was proud of how she’d climbed the ranks, or how she’d made a name for herself. Ruthless killer was not the title she wanted to embrace.

“And they made you kill.” Kelly nodded as she came to understand this. She softened her voice. “Do you recall the first kill you had to make?”

“They were not good people,” Kai said firmly, “every one. I made sure of it.” It was how she made it okay, in her head. She wasn’t killing the innocent, or the good. She only killed people who didn’t deserve to live. She was hating this. Every moment of it… but at the same time it was almost a relief to speak it all out loud. She hadn’t told anyone any of this before.

“Still you took people’s lives.” Then Kelly paused as if she realized. “Is that why you don’t feel like you should ever be called a ‘hero’? Because you killed people?”

“I’m not a hero,” Kai repeated firmly, “I won’t ever be a hero.” She paced the length of the bridge, pausing near the windows to look out at the stunning view. She whirled, pinning her gaze on Kelly, “Do you know where she is? My sister? Lily?”

“I understand you don’t like the weight of the title of ‘hero’, but you seem firmly against it—moreso than most people. Why is that?” Kelly asked, knowing she was completely ignoring the question Kai asked.

“Do you consider yourself a hero?” Kai asked. “I’m just a normal person. I’m just some chick who’s out there doing what I can to survive. There’s nothing hero about that. But people keep trying to put that title on me and it’s stupid. I’m just Kai. I’m just me. Everytime I do something good they say: Oh, you’re a hero. No. I”m a human being. I did the human thing, the right thing. I do wrong things too. I’m not some idol. I’m not some statue. I’m just me.”

“And are you happy with who you are?”

Kai paused at that. She hadn’t been asked that question before. She wasn’t sure how to respond. She didn’t answer quickly. She chewed over the question a long while before finally shaking her head.

“Why don’t you like who you are?” Kelly asked softly as she leaned forward, her eyes locked on Kai to catch any and everything she might not actually say.

“I left them behind,” Kai said softly, “I left them behind… I didn’t care what it would do to them, I didn’t care how it would hurt them… I only thought about me and I left them behind.” And now she couldn’t reach them, she couldn’t contact them and she was so scared they weren’t okay.

“If you could go back in time and change it all, would you?” Kelly watched Kai then pressed. “Would you *really* change anything?”

That was the hard part. Because as much as she protested, she knew her presence had changed five very important lives. If she hadn’t left her family, she wouldn’t have met them. “You can’t go back, Kelly the interviewer. You can only go forward.”

Kelly tilted her head to a side, observing the dodge of the question. This time she would let it slid. “So, tell me, who’s Hawthorne?”

Kai’s cheeks turned ever so slightly pink. She coughed, “What? Where did you hear that name? Why are you asking?”

Kelly chuckled when she watched her reaction. “Because I know things. Otherwise I wouldn’t be good at my job. You didn’t mention him as part of your crew, so who is he?”

Freaking Hawthorne. He just had to show up everywhere, didn’t he? She sighed, eyes rolling to the ceiling for a moment, “We met him here. He’s a sneaky Rebel spy. About as trustworthy as a clown. If he’s talking, he’s lying. Far as I can tell.”

“Really? Because I know you don’t think that. You blushed and you smiled when I mentioned his name, so what’s up with that…or would you like me to draw my own conclusions?” Kelly had to smile.

“He’s an idiot!” Kai said quickly, “but he’s useful and…” she paused, coughing softly, “Look. I’m not dead. He’s got good abs… that’s all. That’s it.” She couldn’t even admit to herself that she might like him. He was useful and he worked with them. That’s all.

“Uhhum.” Kelly didn’t sound convinced, but she decided to shift the topic as she sat back in her chair. “You said you met him here?” She looked around at their surroundings. “Describe that meeting to me.”

“We were stranded here together. He was injured, seemed harmless, so we helped him and he helped.” Sort of. In the end he hadn’t been that useful but Kai was a sucker for helping people who needed help.

“Why do you always help people? I mean, that’s great and all, but…can’t it be exhausting?” Kelly raised her brows as she folded her arms. “Why are you so driven to help others?”

“Aren’t you?” Kai snapped, “Don’t you help people when they need it?”

“Sure, but I know why I do it. I’m asking you why you do it. Do you even know why?” Kelly raised her brows.

Kai frowned. It was on the tip of her tongue to say it was the ‘right thing to do’ but that wasn’t it. She did lots of things that weren’t the ‘right thing’. “When I needed it, there were people who helped me. I’m just returning the favor.”

“Do you feel that it balances out the wrong you’ve done in life…with all the different lives you’ve taken. Does it somehow clear your ledger of the blood?”

This woman…Kai’s eyes narrowed. She sniffed, arms crossing yet again. She was just about at her limit. She’d had enough with this truth business. “There is no ledger,” she murmured. But maybe it was true. She hadn’t thought about it before, she just did it… she just helped those who deserved to be helped. She hadn’t considered why she felt compelled to do that. She knew she wasn’t a good person. She knew what she was capable of. But she also knew she didn’t want to be ‘that’ person. Not anymore.

Kelly could tell Kai was beginning to clam up on her again, but they still have some more time left. Kelly intended on using every moment. She leaned forward to lock eyes with Kai. “What are you most afraid of?”

“Spiders,” Kai said with a shrug. And then, and she wasn’t sure why, she answered truthfully, “Hurting people I love.”

“Can you ever forgive yourself for hurting your family?”

Kai’s brow furrowed, her eyes closing for a brief moment. “Could you?”

“It’s not about me, Kai. This is about you.” Kelly shook her head. “You made your choices. Bridges have been burned, but forgiveness is always possible. It might not be easy, but it’s possible. And if I may say so, I don’t think you’ve forgiven yourself for your past actions. Instead, you’ve run from them. Sure, you tried once to reach out to them, but that burned you…and, in a way, justified your excuse never to go home. Yes, they should forgive you as well, but I’m talking to you–not them. If you ignore and suppress it, it will eventually rear its ugly head, and it will be for too strong for you to handle, and it will utterly break you.”

Was this a counseling session? Kai turned away, breathing in deep and letting it out slow as she forced herself to refocus. /Focus, Kai./ “I’m going to find them,” she turned back, “and you’re going to help me.”

Kelly shook her head. “Yeah, I hate to tell you this, but whoever told you that I knew anything about your family–specifically your sister–lied to you. I know you don’t like the Alliance and you despise ‘Comrades’. I knew about Hawthorne, and that your crew thinks of you as a hero. But that’s about all the info I was given prior to this conversation. I’m sorry to disappoint you.” And Kelly braced herself although she wasn’t afraid of Kai.

Anger burned hot in her veins. Kai clenched her hands into tight fists and shook her head, “Oh man…”  Somebody was going to pay for this one. But instead of being angry she found herself letting out a soft laugh, “Well, I should have known. Can’t trust anyone to tell the truth. I should have known better.”

“I’m really sorry about that. I wish I had some info because I would love to help, but…I don’t know anything.” Kelly sighed as she rose to her feet. She knew their time was almost up, but she still had time for a few more questions. “You fight so hard to find her. Are you hoping to restore what you’ve lost with your family?”

“No, I don’t have any interest in what I had with them before. I want to keep her safe. That’s all. If I find her, and Dayli and they’re okay, that’s enough. I just need to know they’re okay. And if they can’t forgive me, maybe they’ll at least let me know they’re safe.” Because if they weren’t safe…well, she would make sure they would be.

Kelly considered her for a moment–so many questions still in her mind, but time was short. She tried to think of what to say. “You may be trying to save them, but when you find them–and I’m confident that you will–don’t push them away, don’t shun them because you don’t like yourself. They are your flesh and blood, and sisters have a very unique bond. I pray you find forgiveness and that you learn to forgive them as well.” With that she straightened and cast Kai a smile. “Well, my time is about up. I will leave you, so you don’t have to put up with my pestering questions, but thank you for answering them.”

Kai nodded, “You’re all right, Kelly interviewer but no offense… hope we don’t meet again.”

She headed for the exit, “Want me to walk you out?”

“I think I can find my own way. Thanks. You take care!” With one final smile, Kelly headed out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

N. R. Tupper’s novel, TYR, is now available. Be sure to follow her on social media as well for more updates!

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