Author: Sharon Clark Page 3 of 4

The First Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years.

It sounds ridiculously long when you say it out loud, but it feels like the blink of an eye. So much has happened since 1994 – not just in my life but in the world. Some notable events from that year include:

  • Nancy Kerrigan’s leg clubbing
  • the Northridge earthquake
  • the deaths of Kurt Cobain, Richard Nixon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
  • the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman (and the subsequent bizarre car chase through LA)
  • the cancellation of the World Series due to a players’ strike
  • the births of Dakota Fanning, Ansel Elgort, and Andrew Benintendi (go Red Sox!)
  • the debut of Barney, Friends, and ER, the 100th episode of the Simpsons, the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation

I also got married that year.

Andrew and I had a few chance encounters before we officially met. I think fate kept throwing him in my path, waiting for me to catch on. After our first date we were inseparable, and within three months I knew I was going to marry him.

Our wedding took place on a Friday afternoon in the Polk County Courthouse. It was only seven minutes long, but was perfect for us, complete with my nervous giggles and the inability to get Andy’s ring on his finger. Our parents threw us a reception a month or so later with everyone we knew in attendance. The things I remember most clearly: I hated our cake and thought *I* could have done a better job decorating it; one relative got drunk and decided to give a speech on the microphone; and we were surrounded by so much love it was overwhelming at times.

Our first child was born that September and we were thrust into parenthood which we – and our children – miraculously survived. Where I am tightly wound and overreact to almost everything, Andy is relaxed and underreacts to most things. Between the two of us, we managed to raise three adventurous, intelligent, hard-working human beings. Their successes are ALL their own doing and we are beyond proud of them.

This past quarter-century hasn’t always been easy. We have faced career changes, financial strain, an epilepsy diagnosis, the deaths of three parents, depression battles, and a variety of other issues. There were many times I thought I just couldn’t make it, but I had a secret weapon.

My husband, Andrew.

He is truly my “better half” and makes me a better person. I tend to be clinical and practical, but he brings art, beauty, and romance into my life. He is my biggest cheerleader when I lose faith in myself. Our children have grown up with the best role model they could have asked for. There is no one else who gets my humor, understands – and puts up with – my mood swings and idiosyncrasies, or loves me more than I could ever think I deserve.

Today, we are celebrating 25 years of marriage! It’s quite a feat in this day and age, and a rare milestone. The time has flown by and has thrown challenges and blessings in our path. It’s been wild, messy, and imperfect.

But totally worth it.

Happy Anniversary, Andrew. I love you.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 3

Up. Down. Twist, twist. Up. Down. Twist, twist.

I watched the rhythmic motion of the coffee sleeve as Jamie fiddled with it. He still hadn’t looked at me.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“No.” His gaze flicked to my face for a millisecond as I answered. “But I think it’s what I need.”

He nodded absently.

Up. Down. Twist, twist.

“I can’t say I understand why you want to postpone the wedding. I thought you wanted to get married. I thought you wanted to marry me.”

His voice was so quiet I could barely make out the words over the sound of the patrons around us. God, I was hurting him, and it was shattering my heart in my chest.

I really was a monster.

“I do want to marry you! I really do! It’s just…You know I love you, right? More than anything?” His hands stopped moving as I paused, then resumed their steady, distracted activity. “I can’t explain it. I just want to see…I need to make sure…it’s not that…”

I raked my hands through my hair and slammed against the back of the seat. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. I clasped my hands in my lap, pulling every muscle in tight and I held very still. I was losing control of the situation.

“Shit! This is coming out all wrong. I practiced what I was going to say a hundred times and it came out so much better than this!”

The corner of his mouth twitched into a smirk, the closest thing to a smile I’d seen since we sat down here thirty minutes ago. Maybe since he heard I climbed out that window.

“Only a hundred?” He flicked his eyes up to me then back at the table. I released my hands and relaxed  just a little.

“Well, maybe not a hundred times – but that’s not far off!”

How could I make him understand? I wanted to marry him. I loved him. But over the course of the last month, since he proposed and I accepted, I started worrying. It’s a thing I did, all the time, over everything. I had been in love before – at least I thought I had been. Why hadn’t those other relationships worked out? I had fallen out of love with other men, or they with me. Who was to say that this relationship, this love, wouldn’t fall to the wayside, just like the rest? In line with my regular prep work and checking and double-checking, I needed to find out why my previous loves had fizzled out – and how to ensure this one wouldn’t. Jamie was the best thing in my life and I couldn’t stand the thought of  finding out too late I wasn’t the best thing in his.

I watched him for a few minutes, neither of us speaking. I didn’t know what else to say. Finally, he sighed and shrugged.

“I mean, I can’t make you marry me. If you need some time to figure things out, to make absolutely sure this is what you want, then time is what you’ll have. And you know I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.”

He was so accepting, so matter-of-fact, that I was immediately angry. One of the traits I had always adored about him was, at this moment, pissing me off. I wanted him to yell at me, to tell me not to go. I wanted to hear that he was scared, too, that his feelings weren’t so indisputable – and that we’d be okay anyway.

Leaning forward with both palms flat on the table I hissed, “Aren’t you at least a little bit afraid?”

At that, his head snapped up, his expression placid, his eyes like steel.

“No. Not at all.”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 2

This is a new series I’m working on that I want to share with all of you. Each week, I will post another chapter. I hope you enjoy it!

I am not known for wild behavior. I don’t think anyone has ever described me as “unreliable,” “reckless,” or “flakey.” When I say I’m going to be somewhere, you can count on me. I am ten minutes early to all appointments. I prepare a “just-in-case” bag when I meet up with people, filled with things someone might need based on the situation. I plan meals for two weeks ahead of time and have Christmas presents purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving.

Responsible. I have no doubt that will be etched into my gravestone.

So when I climbed out the window at the bridal boutique and disappeared, my family was frantic. I refused to answer my phone. I checked into a nondescript motel on the opposite side of town with nothing but the clothes on my back and whatever was in my purse. The only contact I accepted was from Jamie. My fiancé.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“People are worried about you. Your mom is about to call the police.”

I groaned. Of course she was. Overdramatic, as per usual.

“God, I’m sorry to have put you in this position, Jamie. It’s not fair. But could you…”

He chuckled.

“I’ll tell her I talked to you and that you are definitely NOT dead in a ditch.” There was a slight pause. “Do I get to know where you are?”

I slid from the bed to the floor, the phone pressed against my ear. “Jamie…”

He immediately backpedaled. “No, right. I understand. You need some space. That’s cool. I’m cool. Take whatever time you need.”

“Thanks,” I sighed. Good old Jamie. He was my rock and my favorite person. I knew he’d never push me. He would let me have my nervous breakdown and would cover for me for as long as I asked him to. If I needed clothes or money or even my passport, he’d find a way to get them to me, no questions asked. There had never been a better man on the planet than my Jamie. He was my ride-or-die.

And I was a monster for treating him like this.

“Just promise you’ll talk to me about this when you’re ready, okay?”

After a few more assurances, a few more apologies, and a plethora of thank yous, I told Jamie I loved him and hung up the phone.

I stared at the cell in my hand for several minutes. He didn’t deserve this. Everything about him was perfect for me: He was funny and kind. He loved to cook and was excellent at it. He loved animals and kids and old people. We’d been together for two years and when he asked me to move in with him – and I declined – he didn’t bat a lash. It wasn’t a major crisis and he didn’t automatically assume I didn’t love him. Where I was tightly wound and had to have a color-coded list or schedule for everything, Jamie was content to go with the flow. He even talked me down from the ledge whenever my intricate plans went off-course and I was convinced my whole life was ruined. Like I said, he was my rock. But he was also my soft place to land when things went off the rails.

So why was I afraid to marry him?

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 1

This is a new series I’m working on that I want to share with all of you. Each week, I will post another chapter. I hope you enjoy it!

I can’t do this.

Alone in the dressing room, my heart was racing and my palms were sweating. What made me think I was ready for this? I was 25 years old – barely an adult – and yet here I was. Trying on dresses for a wedding.

For MY wedding.

I stared at the woman in the mirror, knowing she looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her. Dark curls stifled in a French knot, lacy veil cascading over her shoulders, a sleek white dress hugging her curves. She was frozen in space and time, unable to move forward but unable to go back. Trapped in this room, trapped in planning a wedding, trapped in a life she wasn’t ready for and wasn’t sure she wanted.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.

Squeals of delight filtered through the door, snapping me out of my trance. I had to get out of here. This was all wrong, this was the personification of my nightmares. I tore the veil off my head, painfully pulling some bobby pins out in the process. I continued to yank at the rest until my hair was free and wild down my back. Then I twisted and contorted myself to reach the clamps holding the too-big dress on my frame so I could shimmy out of the lace and satin straightjacket. I left it pooled on the floor as I tugged my jeans up over my hips and zipped my hoodie.

Slipping into my shoes, I tiptoed to the door. God, I hoped the saleswoman wasn’t on her way back with more dresses. I didn’t want to knock her down like a linebacker, but by god, if she got in my way that’s exactly what was going to happen! Opening the door barely a crack, I peeked into the hallway. Another party of excited young women were gathered around a mirror, oohing and aahing over the teary-eyed bride-to-be in her enormous white flounces. My stomach clenched, trying to suffocate the terrified butterflies trying to burst free.

When I felt the coast was clear, I slid out of the room, pulling the door closed behind me. I strolled down the hall, my hood pulled close over my head. The exit sign was right in front of me, just at the end of the hallway – I was almost out! I was in such a panicked state that I hadn’t stopped to think about my mom, my sisters, my best friend, waiting in the lounge for me. They’d be so freaked out when they realized I was gone.

Eh, they had champagne to entertain them – they wouldn’t miss me for at least another hour.

Three feet from the exit, I heard Janice, the sales attendant, calling my name.

“Alexis! What are you doing out here? Can I help you find something?”

Shit. I was SO CLOSE. I spun around with what I hoped was a pleasant expression.

“I was looking for the bathroom…?”

Janice forced a smile and inclined her head to my left. “Right there.” The smile didn’t reach her eyes and her voice was falsely upbeat. I didn’t blame her. She was nearly buried in a pile of new dresses for me to try on after putting up with my shenanigans all morning. I had been pretty difficult: One dress was too big, another was too slutty, the next accentuated my many lumps and bumps. I had shown my entourage one dress in more than an hour.

Janice probably hated me, and with good reason.

I shrugged an apology and ducked into the bathroom. Leaning against the door with eyes shut, I waited, counting to ten. That should be enough time for Janice to get back to the room so I could escape without her seeing me.

A sudden rapping on the door made me jump.

“Oh, Alexis? I brought five more dresses to the room – I know THE ONE is in this batch! I’m not sure if you remember the room number so I’ll just wait here for you!”

Great.

Opening my eyes, I glanced around, deciding to make myself comfortable until I could come up with an excuse to cut this torture short. Diarrhea? For sure. She’d probably shove me out the door herself. I just needed to give it a few more minutes to make it believable. Then my eyes landed on the window and another idea started to form.

It didn’t take much effort to pry it open – I just hoped it wasn’t hooked up to some security system that would give away my hasty retreat. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to squeeze all my parts through, but at least the window opened into a deserted alley. Over a closed and fairly clean dumpster, no less. With a little effort, I was able to shimmy through the opening onto the lid. Once on the ground, I straightened my sweatshirt, fluffed my hair, and slipped my purse over my shoulder.

Then I ran like hell.

Have You Met…Derek Franklin

Editing is coming along slowly, but I am enjoying getting to know my characters all over again! Previously I introduced you to Katie Parker. Now I’d like you to meet her delightful boyfriend, Derek Franklin.

Growing up in San Francisco and traveling extensively for work, Derek finds Katie’s small-town demeanor fascinating. Where she is quiet and awkward, Derek is charming with self-confidence oozing out of every pore. He is beautiful, turning heads everywhere he goes. More than once he is compared to sunshine – when he turns his attention to you, you can’t help but respond to the warmth. Women want him, men admire him, and mere mortals long simply to be near him.

I immediately saw Derek as the exquisite and adorable Chris Hemsworth. To be honest, I never paid attention to the actor until Thor: Ragnarok and his portrayal of Kevin in Ghostbusters. Seeing a far less serious side of him made him exponentially more appealing, and I definitely see that in Katie’s relationship with Derek.

But Derek has secrets. There is another layer to him, one that few get to see. Only Katie knows the way he manipulates and controls the people around him. While she sees glimpses of his darker personality, Katie is shocked when she learns the truth about him. Underneath the dazzling smile lie shadows that only come to light when it’s too late.

Derek Franklin is the perfect boyfriend, the perfect employee, the perfect male specimen. But Katie soon comes to realize that when you get too close to the sun, you can get burned…

Behind The Scenes: Editing Week 1

Every author I have spoken with decries editing as the worst part of writing a novel. They pour their blood, sweat, and tears into writing for weeks (NaNoers) or months (normal people), creating stunning images and weaving fantastical tales with their words. Then they are asked to take this beautiful thing they love and ruthlessly slash and burn until it’s barely recognizable.

Yep. That’s where I am right now.

This is my first time editing a novel. I wrote one years ago, I got feedback on it, then promptly put it on a literal shelf and haven’t looked at it again. The daunting task at hand is to pare down my monstrous 163,000-word giant baby into an entertaining and coherent story. I started editing earlier this week and I have to admit it’s slow going.

I’ve edited 10% so far and am 0% confident that I’ve made it better.

In an attempt to be impartial during editing, I haven’t looked at this project since July or August. This story has been simmering out of sight since then. I wrote another novel in the intervening months (Okay, practically wrote another novel…) but I think I’m still too close to this one and am struggling to edit it objectively.

These are my words and I love them all dearly.

And boy howdy, do I LOVE my words! I pack words into a sentence like I’m padding a fragile item for shipment on a jackhammer. Apparently I find it necessary to describe every single movement from action to action – saying, turning, walking, looking – and I blame my third grade teacher, Mr. Holman, and his “peanut butter and jelly sandwich instructions” exercise. *More information available on request.

And those pesky adverbs, so reviled by Stephen King and many other writers, seem to have multiplied while I wasn’t looking! That makes it marginally easier to make cuts. I’ve had to re-write some clumsy scenes and I’ve deleted others entirely, so maybe I’m not fully in love with ALL the words. Thus far I haven’t chucked my computer out of the window, burst into tears, or curled up into a ball in the corner. Maybe that ambitious end-of-January deadline could happen!

Now, if I could only find my focus…

What editing techniques do you find most helpful? How many rounds of edits do you go through before handing your work off to beta readers? Drop your advice, suggestions, and discussion points below!

 

Setting New Goals For A New Year

Christmas is over, the excitement has come and gone, and now it’s time to set our sights on the New Year. Every year I make a laundry list of self-improvement items that I somehow convince myself I’ll magically follow through on this year.

There are common resolutions that I have tried on a time or two: to eat healthier, to exercise more, to save more money, to take better care of myself. These – or some form of them –  have been the top American resolutions for many consecutive years, telling me that not only are these common but they are commonly failed.

Jim Carrey’s movie Yes Man was on television today and I couldn’t help thinking what perfect timing it was. For someone like me who overthinks and second guesses and avoids not just confrontation but general social interaction whenever possible, the premise of this movie sparked something for me today.

In Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays Carl, a loan officer who is meek and mild and finds himself at a self-help seminar where attendees are challenged to live a life of YES! They sign a covenant agreeing to say yes to every opportunity offered to them, whether they want to or not. Of course, that creates some highly amusing situations for Carl, pulling him out of his comfort zone, kicking and screaming. But through this covenant, he begins to free himself from his fears, to learn skills and meet people he wouldn’t have been exposed to normally.

I’m not about to go out in the world and take on every offer and every opportunity placed before me. That would be insane and I can guarantee nowhere NEAR as amusing as it was for Jim Carrey. However, in lieu of making “resolutions” for 2019 that will, as they so often do, fall by the wayside due to life and unforeseen circumstances…

I will resolve to say yes.

Not in a reckless, “sure I’ll get in your sketchy van” kind of yes. But I will say yes to invitations from friends, to opportunities to share my writing, to attending gatherings of like-minded strangers. I will allow myself the confidence to continue my journey as an author, to keep meeting people and trying new things. In the coming year, I will say yes to surrounding myself with kind, inspiring, creative people who are also generous with their time and their knowledge. And I’ll do my very best to emulate them and pay it forward every chance I get.

When the clock strikes midnight and rolls over to 2019, what goals will you be pursuing? What experiences will you say yes to and how will you use what you’ve learned? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

Happy New Year!

Favorite Holiday Movies, Favorite Christmas movies

My Favorite Holiday Movies

I know, I know – everyone is doing a “Best Christmas Movies” list right now. The thing is that this list is not the “best” anything. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on film making or acting or screenwriting. This is merely a list of my favorite holiday movies that I will watch pretty much any time they are on, if I don’t own them on DVD already.

There won’t be any surprises here, I’m sure – anyone who knows me can probably name my top two or three Christmas films without hesitation. Nevertheless, here is my personal Top 10 Favorite Holiday Movies!

10. Last Holiday  This cute little film stars Queen Latifah as a meek and mild salesperson in a department store. She lets people push her around and keeps a secret “Possibilities” notebook full of all the things she would do if she could. After a bump on the head at work, a visit to the ER, and a terminal diagnosis, she decides to live what’s left of her life to the fullest. In the process, she changes the lives of the people she meets. It’s a cute movie and I love Queen in it – Also includes LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Giancarlo Esposito, and Alicia Witt.

9.  While You Were Sleeping  Every single character in this movie is adorable and the relationships are sweet and sad and fun. Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a lonely Chicago Transit token collector who has developed a secret crush on Peter (Peter Gallagher), a commuter she has never met. He is mugged and pushed onto the tracks on Christmas Day and Lucy saves his life, although he remains in a coma. Through a misunderstanding at the hospital, his family thinks that Lucy is Peter’s fiancee and every attempt to tell the truth is thwarted. The love that builds between Lucy and Peter’s family – especially with his brother, Jack (Bill Pullman) – is so pure and sweet I fall in love with them all, too.

8.  The Family Stone This movie is full of star power and is a fun ensemble story. With Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Dermot Mulroney, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Luke Wilson you know you’re in for a treat. The Stone Family is gathering at Christmas, with a host of interesting characters, including Dermot Mulroney’s girlfriend that only Rachel McAdams has met – and doesn’t like. She is awkward, uptight, and always seems to say the wrong thing. There is a dinner scene that I actually have to skip through because it’s very painful to watch, where she keeps trying to explain what she means and it just gets worse every time she opens her mouth. It’s funny and sad and has great character development and I watch it anytime it’s on.

7.  Die Hard No Christmas movie list is complete without this gem, and mine is no different. You have Bruce Willis, the late and amazing Alan Rickman, explosions and some of the best one-liners out there – you can’t go wrong! NYPD detective John McClane comes out to LA to reconcile with his estranged corporate wife and happens to arrive at her work Christmas party at the same time as a band of international terrorists led by the delightful Hans Gruber (Rickman). Yes, there is lots of violence, gruesome deaths, and blood – lots of blood – so it’s not necessarily for the youngsters. But I still love it.

6.  Elf  This is one of the most family-friendly films that is loved by all ages. Will Ferrell gets to show off his physical comedy and is delightful (there is no other word) as Buddy, a human who was raised as an elf at the North Pole, and has come to New York City to meet his biological father. If there was ever a film that embodied the joy and wonder of the Christmas season, this one is it! Lots of laughs, adorable moments (Zooey Deschanel wins a lot of these) and a nice little lesson about Christmas spirit.

5. Scrooged This isn’t as family-friendly as Elf but I still love it! A retelling of A Christmas Carol where a television executive is airing an extravagant live production of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, Frank Cross (Bill Murray) gives plenty of examples of what a selfish, cheap, insensitive “Scrooge” he is. The iterations of the three spirits are a lot of fun – David Johansen as the gross taxi driver of Christmas Past and Carol Kane as a sadistic fairy of Christmas Present – and there are a lot of physical gags and terrific lines. Bobcat Goldthwaite, the appealing Karen Allen and the talented Alfre Woodard are just some of the other big names here. Not a huge fan of the “breaking the fourth wall” at the end, but the rest of the movie is worth it!

4.  The Year Without a Santa Claus If you don’t know this stop-motion classic, than what did you even do with your childhood? There are a lot of Ranking and Bass holiday shows out there, but this one is the best, in my opinion. Micky Rooney, of course, plays the jolly old elf who has a cold and is saddened by the lack of Christmas spirit in the world. He decides to take the year off. A couple of goofy elves, Jingle and Jangle, try to help and end up making a bigger mess of things. Mrs. Claus has to come clean things up and the scene with the half-brothers Cold Miser and Heat Miser is the BEST. I own this and will watch it whenever the mood strikes me. (Yes, I AM a giant child.)

3.  The Holiday I can’t think of another movie with Cameron Diaz where she is as adorable and endearing. Her chemistry with the dreamy Jude Law is amazing and you can’t go wrong with Kate Winslet and Jack Black, who also are very believable together. Two women on opposite sides of the world are both dealing with heartbreak at the holidays and decide to swap houses. Iris (Winslet) takes a vacation from Surrey, England to a mansion in sunny LA while Amanda (Diaz) travels to Surrey and sets up in Iris’s charming and tiny country cottage. Iris’s brother shows up at the cottage, drunk, not knowing his sister has left, and the sparks fly with Amanda. Iris quickly makes friends in LA and learns that she is worth so much more than she ever thought, as she imparts this same wisdom to the people around her. Such a sweet, charming story and I love the characters and the stories.

2.  Love, Actually Now, I know there is controversy about this film and that people either love it or hate it with a burning passion. I, obviously, LOVE it. Another ensemble cast including Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Andrew Lincoln and many other names you’d recognize, there are several stories that slightly intertwine and each one is a love story on its own. There is something for everyone – a love triangle, a widower and his stepson, an older married couple, a single woman devoted to her ill brother, an aging rock star, a chaste couple who meet as porn stand-ins, a single Prime Minister (and a sleazy American President), and so much more. I love the character development, the laughs thrown in to counteract the despair, and, above all, the message of hope that permeates the whole thing. I’m a sap, what can I say?

1.  It’s A Wonderful Life This is the ultimate holiday film whose appeal has stood the test of time. Directed by Frank Capra, this 1946 movie received 6 Oscar nominations, winning only for Technical Achievement. I cry at the end every time – sometimes even just thinking of Harry Bailey’s line near the end is enough to start the waterworks. There is so much comedy and heartbreak here. James Stewart and Donna Reed play perfectly together as George and Mary Bailey. The evil Mr. Potter gets me riled up every time, shaking my fist at the screen and wondering when he will get his comeuppance. I am in love with the idea that we have no idea how many lives we have touched and that each one of us is valuable, even if we don’t see it, ourselves. I will never get tired of this film.

The thing about this list, for me, is that these movies are uplifting at any time of year. Whenever the ugliness in the world around me starts to get me down, I can pull out one or more of these films to restore my faith in humanity. I hope some of them do the same for you.

This is my personal list of favorite films; some are classics, some are reviled, and some are just plain silly.Comment below to share your thoughts on these movies and tell me about some of your own go-to holiday films.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Short Story: Watching

My editorial calendar says today’s blog post is supposed to be a book review. Well, I am fully unprepared to do that today. Instead, I will be sharing my latest creepy short story with you!

My family will agree that inside my mind is a mysterious and sometimes frightening place. I consider myself to be friendly and pleasant with a big imagination and an alarming amount of anxiety. These factors, coupled with the amount of Criminal Minds in my mental repertoire, are the generous sponsors of this little gem. Enjoy!

 

Watching

He took a drag off his cigarette, his eyes lighting up from more than the glow of the embers. She sure was beautiful. Flipping her long blonde hair over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows in a flirtatious challenge. His heart skipped a couple beats.

When she smiled, he could feel the warmth of it, even from this distance. Her eyes sparkled in amusement at something she heard around her, and she threw her head back to laugh. So free. So full of life.

She was so animated as she talked. Shrugging her shoulders one minute, pouting the next, her arms waving to punctuate whatever point she was trying to make. It seemed as though a light surrounded her, drawing him in, and he was powerless against it.

He licked his lips, imagining how her mouth would taste. That necessitated a shift in his stance, since his body reacted strongly and immediately to that idea. It was okay, though, she wouldn’t notice how excited she made him. She couldn’t even see him.

But she would.

Crushing out the spent cigarette, he quickly picked it up and pocketed it. He certainly didn’t want to leave his trash around – especially when it would have traces of his DNA on it. Once he introduced himself to the object of his affection, he knew the very spot he was standing would be scrutinized thoroughly. He sure as hell wasn’t going to make things easy.

This was his favorite time of year, the early winter. It wasn’t too cold yet, but cold enough that doors and windows were closed. It got dark pretty early, too. No one ever noticed him walking on the path behind the row of houses. He could find a solitary spot to set up for the night before the residents were even home from work. And they were never the wiser.

His lip curled as he lit another smoke. These people. They fancied themselves so far removed from any danger just because they lived in a nice suburban neighborhood. With their big houses, expensive cars, fancy security systems, they felt so safe. Even though it was pitch black outside, it was barely dinner time, so there was no reason to set the alarm quite yet – that would happen just before they all went to bed. At least it seemed that’s the way they went about their lives every night.

They’d arrive home just after dusk, flipping on their lights, rifling through their mail. Always leaving their curtains and blinds open. Dummies. It was almost like a delicatessen or a bakery, allowing him to make his selection based on what he could see, displaying their wares just for him. It was the ultimate in window shopping.

He chuckled at his own joke.

Husbands kissing wives, kids begging for this toy or that new gadget, dinners being made or delivered. He could see it all. He watched it all. The sliding glass doors shining brightly, like a movie screen just for him, letting him peek into the lives he would interrupt very soon.

Yes, the blonde. She was definitely the winner. He could see her smiling up at a man – Husband? Boyfriend? Lover? Didn’t matter. They were all the same to him. Merely an obstacle to be overcome, an appetizer before the main course. Damn. There went his libido again, trying to jump the gun. He adjusted himself and took a few deep calming breaths, to remind himself he had to wait – it would be so much sweeter if he could just wait.

While he had a general plan he followed every time, he cocked his head to the side and tried to determine the best order to do things with this family. Kids first – always the kids first, there was no need for them to suffer in terror for long. It was usually his plan to take them out immediately so they didn’t have to face the fear that would be visited upon their parents. But would the blonde or her husband be the most satisfying?

The man was tall and thin, didn’t look like a fighter – more of an accountant. In a suit and tie, probably didn’t even own a hunting knife, much less a gun or any kind of survival skills. It should be easy enough to subdue him so he could enjoy the show. That was always how he liked to work. Maybe this guy could even be a participant this time. That was something he hadn’t tried yet. He wasn’t opposed to taking the man, too, it just hadn’t really occurred to him before. And then, after…then he could focus on the blonde.

His eyes closed as a thrill ran through him. The thrill of the chase. The ecstasy of seeing the confusion and fear as she ran. That was almost the best part. The moment she realized exactly what was happening – what was going to happen – and that she was powerless against it. He could tell this one would be a screamer. Delicious. She would beg and plead, try to bargain, try to figure out what she had done to deserve this. There would be tears, many, many tears, and he would lap them up like mother’s milk.

The anguish of the significant other who felt he had failed to protect his family…that was almost as satisfying. They always yelled, made threats they had no way to carry out, offered him money. He sneered. It almost always came down to money. That’s not why he got into this recreational activity. He never took anything with him – just the sights, sounds, smells of the encounter. That’s all he needed.

Creeping closer to the edge of the tree line, he leaned against a trunk where he could see the scene a little better. The man hovered around the pretty blonde, pecking her on the cheek every now and then. Oh yes, he would feel guilt. And shame. The last thoughts in the husband’s head would be of despair and self-loathing.

Voices on the trail behind him caught his attention. He froze and cupped his cigarette in the palm of his hand to hide the glow. It was a pair of middle-aged biddies, power walking and chatting up a storm, arms pumping nearly as fast as their jaws. Neither one even glanced in his direction, although he heard one complain, “Ugh – can you smell that? Someone must be out on their back porch sneaking a smoke. I hate having to walk through that! Anyway, Louise was just devastated, and the stylist refused to fix the color…”

The sound of their droning faded into the night. Did they have even an inkling of how close they passed to death just then? No one ever saw him among the trees. Was there nothing left in people, in the modern Homo Sapien, that triggered that sense of danger? No wonder it had gotten easier and easier for him to satiate the need for violence that he’d been carrying inside him most of his life. These meat sacks all around him had gotten soft and weak. He was the apex predator now. And these rich neighborhoods were full of easy picking.

It wasn’t just the complacency that gave him nearly free reign. People were more isolated now than ever before. Most of these folks barely knew their neighbors’ names, much less paid any attention to what was going on in their homes. He lived in a society of ‘none of my business’ where everyone was afraid to stick their noses where they weren’t invited. The busy body with the binoculars on that one show about the witch might have saved a few lives, had she been the norm now. Glancing from house to house on display in front of him, he shook his head and sneered. Even if there was screaming or yelling or even a gunshot, not one of these lazy pieces of garbage would do more than peer out the window, pressing their faces against the glass and shading their eyes to see in the dark a little better. But it would be too late.

Okay, one more cigarette and then the kids would be in the basement while the parents were curled up in the den above them. Each would have their own idiot box commanding their attention – the adults watching scary movies or reality tv and the kids engrossing themselves in the latest bloody video game, their headphones firmly in place to block out any distractions.

He’d been watching them for close to a week. A WEEK. During the day, he would show up at his job, clean and handsome and charming. Making eye contact and small talk with everyone who stopped into his store. Some he even got to know by name, they spoke to him so frequently. Pushing the dark drive down inside himself for so long had taught him how to appear ‘normal’. He was a pro at showing his teeth and asking if there was anything else he could do for them. A wink here and there almost always produced a pretty blush in the housewives who smiled so invitingly at him. Through mimicry he had perfected the most disarming tone of voice that put people at ease almost immediately. When families came up missing or when bloodied and violated bodies were discovered, no one ever thought of him as ‘suspicious’.

Picking up the latest spent filter and tucking it away, he shifted his weight from one foot to another. The kids were getting settled, he could see them through the walk-out basement sliders. Checking all the other windows, he grinned when blondie and her beau settled themselves down to stream some mind-numbing television and ignore their offspring. God, this was going to be easy.

Whoever planned out this neighborhood obviously didn’t have any kind of darkness inside them. A person who had at least a little bad inside would have thought like a monster for at least a minute and tried to figure out how to thwart one. But no…there were no fences, no barriers at all – unless you counted the line of trees that had been left standing after the cement for the path had been poured. But really, anyone with half a criminal mind would have seen it for the perfect camouflage it was. There was barely fifty feet of yard separating the trail from the back of the house. Pulling on his second pair of latex gloves, he threw a silent “thank you” to the powers that be. None of this would have been possible without all of you milk toast suburban developers.

He hated wearing the gloves but it was a necessary precaution in these endeavors. It was so easy to leave fingerprints – there was no way, in the throes of ecstasy, to remember every single surface you had touched to wipe it down after. He had started wearing two pairs of gloves after a particularly lively encounter that had ripped a hole in the fingertip of his solitary pair. No sir, that was not a risk he would take again, no matter how much the gloves interfered with the full sensation of feeling a life leave a body.

Walking through the back yard, he was able to take his time. No one here had dogs, no one here looked out their windows – hell, a lot of them were covered now. But not this one’s. The angle from outside the house let him see into both the den on the first floor and the basement game room at the same time. The anticipation was glorious, knowing what was coming and knowing that they…didn’t.

Oh, his heart was racing and he was no longer able to control his arousal. Pulling the gun out of the back of his waistband with one hand and rubbing the front of his jeans with the other, his tongue darted out to lick his lips. This was it. God, it had been so long. A quick slide of the basement door, two head shots through the silencer, then it was up the stairs for the main course. A solid shot to the shoulder – maybe one to the knee – would put mister man down pretty good, and then the panic would begin. Her eyes would fly open wide, not sure what she just saw, and she would freeze in uncertainty. It was getting harder and harder to keep his hand away from his crotch now, but no – not yet. The knife was burning a hole in his pocket and it was the wet work that this was all about. If he could just hold onto that arousal without giving in for another thirty minutes – sixty, tops – it would be so worth it.

As he expected, the walk-out door was unlocked. He slid it open just far enough for him to slip inside, shutting and locking it behind him. When he turned and lifted the gun, the older kid saw him in the screen’s reflection and his mouth made a horrified “O” before his brains marred the image and his brother had time to react. Two quick shots, older brother first, no suffering. No kid deserved that.

His eyes were lit up with excitement, his breathing fast and shallow – oh thank god, it was finally time! – and he crept up the stairs. Silently, slowly, there was no need to rush. No one had heard a thing. His teeth were bared in a wide, delirious grin as he reached the main floor. He could see the flickering of the television from the room in the hall.

It was time, at last, to meet the neighbors…

 

Have You Met…Katie Parker

I can’t wait to meet my characters again as I start the editing process on my previous novel. That behemoth has been riding on my back since November of last year, finally coming to a close in July. It is a rambling pile of garbage consisting of roughly 163,000 words and 346 word processor pages. Following the advice of a number of prominent authors, I finished WIP2017 (current working title) and set it aside to percolate for six weeks.

Okay, well, for nearly five months. Don’t judge.

I have to admit I am both terrified and excited to look at the story again. In my memory there are blazing triumphs of literary genius as well as festering bits of nonsense. But I can’t wait to revisit some of my characters! Here, I will introduce you to my Main Character and Protagonist, Katherine “Katie” Parker.

Katie Parker grew up in a small town in Iowa, and couldn’t wait to leave it behind. She moved to San Francisco, took a job at a prestigious marketing firm, and quickly hit it off with attractive and engaging Derek Franklin. Katie and Derek lived a satisfying life filled with work and friends until Katie started receiving threatening letters. Tragedy struck, turning her world upside-down, so she moved home searching for a sense of safety. But it wasn’t long until she realized she was putting everything and everyone she cared about at risk. Katie knew she would have to fight if she wanted to keep the new life she’d built.

There is a lot of me in Katie Parker, especially her sense of humor and her insecurities. I like to have a visual representation of my characters, making artistic adjustments here and there to make them unique. For Katie, I immediately saw Ginnifer Goodwin. She’s adorable and seems friendly, accommodating, and harmless. But we come to learn she has hidden depths and a fierceness underneath her sweet appearance.

I had a lot of fun bringing her to life, but what I most enjoyed about writing Katie was watching her grow. When we first meet her, she is fairly naïve, living in her boyfriend’s shadow where he calls the shots and seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. She’s intelligent, but complacent. People like her, but don’t take her seriously – and she doesn’t fight that perception. Throughout her story, however, a series of events create a dark cloud over her head, making her look at herself and the people around her in a different light. She learns to stand up for herself, to go after what she wants, and to take her future into her own hands.

December may pass before I get a chance to revisit Katie’s story but I’m excited to get to know her again, hopefully with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of the way she sees the world. I can’t wait to share her and her story with you!

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